Posts Tagged ‘REVIEWS DRAMA’

The Duke (2020)

Dir: Roger Michell | Cast: Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent, James Wilby, Matthew Goode, Anna Maxwell Martin, Fionn Whitehead | UK Drama, 96′

Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren are the stars of Roger Michell’s jaunty swan song that premiered at Venice in 2020 but has only just been released in the UK five months after his death.

In 1960s Newcastle working class amateur playwright Kempton Bunter (Broadbent) – a cheerful ‘Victor Meldrew’ type – blazes a trail for the common man with his outspoken take on social justice. And while his long-suffering wife Dorothy gets on with the business of living, determined not to let the side down, he nobly flouts the Law.

At the heart of all this lies a poignant sadness for the loss of their teenage daughter in a bicycle accident. A stoney silence has fallen between them on the subject, house-proud Dorothy channelling her grief into cleaning the life out of everything in their crummy red-brick house, and Kempton determined to champion the poor. We feel for them in their efforts to make the best of things. Dorothy works as a char lady for decent local dignitary Mrs Gowling (Maxwell Martin), while Kempton is to be found on his soap box voicing his views. Broadbent is amusing and vulnerable as the down-beaten hero who regularly gets the sack for his forthright opinions. But when he finds out that Goya’s painting of the Duke of Wellington has been acquired by National Gallery, at vast expense to public purse, he oversteps the mark with a plan to “borrow” the work to fund TV licences for the needy.

Richard Bean and Clive Coleman’s script is wittily adapted from a true story and bathed in the golden glow of nostalgia at the expense of dramatic tension. Broadbent and Mirren are the epitome of old-school Englishness, bringing out the humanity in two noble souls who have been through the mill – not to mention two world wars – determined to keep a stiff upper lip without resorting to maudlin introspection in this warm-hearted crowd-pleaser. MT

NOW IN CINEMAS

 

 

 

Farewell, Mr Haffmann (2021)

Dir: Fred Cavaye | Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Gilles Lellouche, Sara Giraudeau | France, Drama 115′

Daniel Auteuil is the quietly mesmerising star turn in Fred Cavaye’s sombre but satisfying occupation drama that sees a Jewish craftsman’s act of benevolence backfire with tragic consequences.

He is Monsieur Hoffmann a popular and talented jeweller with a live-in corner atelier in Montmartre when the Germans move into Paris in 1941 setting in motion a mass exodus of Jews and the rounding up of those unable to get away. Seeing a chance to escape and save his business, by transferring it to his  crippled (and it soon turns out impotent) assistant Francois Mercier (Lellouche), he sends his wife and family to the country, but is unable to get away in time and is forced back to take refuge in the basement of his former home, now occupied by Mercier and his mousy wife Blanche (a subtle Sara Giraudeau).

Based on Jean-Philippe Daguerre’s award-winning play and adapted by Cavaye and Sara Kaminsky for the screen, it’s a twisty little story that goes to unexpected places with a compelling undertow despite the rather grimy wartime settings and stultifying atmosphere. Hobbling around on his callipers and unable to impregnate his wife (Haffmann stepping in to do the honours) Mercier will also turn out to have feet of clay – and his hands are not much better either: the Nazis giving the thumbs down to his inferior design skills, forcing Mr Haffmann to burn the midnight oil from his underground ‘prison’ to provide elegant pieces to satisfy the Nazi molls and allow Mercier to keep up pretences.

Obviously it’s not going to end well given Mercier’s severely dinted ego (it’s a hapless role for Lellouche but he plods on undeterred…) and his wife’s sympathies turn to Mr Haffmann rather than her husband in a morally complex character study which hints at Roman Polanski’s The Pianist. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN FRANCE

 

Cyrano (2021)

Dir: Joe Wright | Writer; Eric Schmidt | Cast: Peter Dinklage, Haley Bennett, Ben Mendelsohn, Kelvin Harrison | UK Musical drama, 124′

Joe Wright gives Cyrano De Bergerac a musical makeover with this soft-centred lyrical approach to the time-honoured French classic, transposing the action to early 18th century Italy and dressing the love story up in macaroon pastels and tender gazes as delicate as the Capodimonte porcelain of the region that clearly inspired Sarah Greenwood’s production designs.

Peter Dinklage plays the sweet-natured romantic soldier unlucky in love due to his unfeasibly large nose and lack of stature, but whose way with words woes Haley Bennett’s wistful but unwitting maiden Roxanne (Bennett) through poetic billets doux penned on behalf of the real object of her affections, Christian (Harrison) a recruit in the service of her caustic suitor Duke De Guiche (an ebullient Ben Mendelsohn).

The everlasting appeal of the story lies in the cherished belief that inner beauty and noble intentions can override physical imperfections in our quest for love. And Wright certainly moves us with this woozy concoction and its touching performances particularly from Dinklage in the leading role as a captivating Cyrano crooning original tunes from Aaron & Bryce Dessner.

There have been several adaptations of the 19th century novel, the most famous, from 1990, stars Gerard Depardieu as the disillusioned dreamer, and this one is based on Erica Schmidt’s 2018 stage show, which also starred Dinklage in the title role. A little bit lightweight but intoxicating nevertheless.

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Courageous Mr Penn (1942)

Dir: Lance Comfort | Cast: Clifford Evans, Deborah Kerr, Dennis Arundell, Aubrey Mallalieu | UK Drama 78′

A straightforward history lesson plainly aimed at drumming up support from the isolationist United States of 1941, Penn of Pennsylvania wasn’t ready for cinemas until Pearl Harbor had already forced America’s hand and thus rendered this film obsolete by the time it finally opened in Britain at the end of January 1942. It received only a perfunctory New York airing at the end of 1943 retitled Courageous Mr. Penn to suggest action rather than history and was then quietly forgotten. (The print on YouTube is of the US version, with hasty-looking credits containing errors and omissions – Edmund Willard is billed as ‘Edward’ and the name of director of photography Ernest Palmer is missing altogether.)

Precisely because it’s moment was so brief makes Penn of Pennsylvania extremely interesting viewing today. In many respects it ironically resembles a German ‘genius’ film of the same period such as Friedrich Schiller (1940), in which a fiery young hero back in the Bad Old Days defies convention and outrages the reactionary old establishment. Both a jury of Penn’s peers and Charles II himself (played by Dennis Arundell) are shown taking the side of the dashing young Mr. Penn against the dead weight of the establishment.

The Merry Monarch thoughtfully opines for the benefit of any future waverers across the Pond that “We could take America and turn it into a vast continent whose freedom of thought and liberty of conscience will be the birthright of every man”. Penn goes one better by declaring “We would treat the Indians as brothers and gain their friendship”; although he’s later required to show himself handy with his fists to prevent the lynching of one of his new brethren. Penn also makes a point of obliging his colleagues to leave their weapons at home when he comes to negotiate with the local chief.

(A strange moment occurs when the King himself solicits the opinion of a gentlemen that he addresses as “My Lord Halifax”, who we then cut to in close-up – the actor himself is like many others in the film unidentified in the credits – so that he can respond “I think that Mr. Penn is an extremely brave gentlemen, and I should like to wish him luck.”)

The cast includes many familiar faces in wigs – including Henry Oscar as Samuel Pepys and Gibb McLaughlin as the Indian Chief (fortunately the latter isn’t playing a speaking part) – embellished with handsome sets and photography and William Alwyn’s first score for a feature film. A radiant young Deborah Kerr plays his wife Guli, whose memory a title informs us “was always with him” after her death in 1696. The film omits to mention that he remarried two years later and fathered nine more children. @RichardChatten

NOW ON YOUTUBE

Venetian Bird (1952) ****

Dir: Ralph Thomas | Wri: Victor Canning | Cast: Richard Todd, Eva Bartok, John Gregson, Morgot Grahame, Sidney James, Meier Tzelniker, George Coulouris | UK Thriller 95′

Another film shot on location abroad despite claiming in the credits that it was “Made at Pinewood Studios, England”. Adapted by Victor Canning from his own novel, and making vivid use of Venetian locations, marred Nino Rota’s noisy score; it attempts to do for the city of gondolas what The Third Man did for Vienna (except the venue for a meeting is the Cafe Orfeo rather than the Cafe Mozart) populated by spivs, sinister foreigners and such well-known Italian types as John Gregson, Sid James, Miles Malleson (who’s plainly been dubbed) and Meier Tzelniker.

A British private detective in the shape of Richard Todd travels to Venice to make contact with an ex-partisan, unaware he is just a pawn in a political assassination plot (hence the film’s US title The Assassin). After a meandering first half the drama picks up considerably midday when it turns into State Secret, complete with a speedboat tearing along one of the canals and Richard Todd obviously doing his own stunts. The cast even includes the earlier film’s General Niva (the equivalent in this film is called Nerva), Walter Rilla, who effetely requests of Todd:”Please don’t get blood on my cushions”.

Leading lady Eva Bartok isn’t called on to do much as the female lead, described by Todd as a “glacial, dark-eyed Madonna”. More interesting are Margot Grahame as a throaty-voiced lady who keeps a gun in her flat, “never kept a man UNDER my bed in my life!” and offers Todd “the nicest hide-out in Venice” as the action hots up. One would also like to have seen more of the young Eileen Way, who makes a dramatic entrance as a rather menacing Venetian policewoman before promptly disappearing again. Richard Chatten.

NOW ON TALKING PICTURES TV | Amazon DVD 

 

Les Miserables (2019) ***

Dir: Ladj Ly | Cast: Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti, Djebril Donga, Issa Perica | Crime Drama, France 104′

Nobody is a winner in this incendiary urban thriller that turns on a good cop bad cop premise as violence erupts in the multicultural melting pot that is Les Bosquets in the backstreets of Montfermeil to the east of Paris.

As the title suggests these are grim times. First time director Ladj Ly, who has himself had a brush with the law knows, the territory well. His high octane movie opens with an ecstatically joyful pre-credit sequence and builds to a cataclysmic crescendo that will leave you deflated and down in the dumps at the depravity and disillusionment of our times, admittedly no worse that those of Victor Hugo whose 1862 novel Les Miserables captured a similar time in the early part of the 19th century when the June Rebellion caused violence in the French capital. We are left with the realisation that are no answers. And that makes this a depressing watch.

The film kicks off in jocular mood as two hard-nosed local cops Chris (Alexis Manenti, who co-wrote the script) and Gwada (Djibriare Zonga) shoot the breeze with their new colleague from the provinces Stéphane (Damien Bonnard), and their boss (Jeanne Balibar in witty form). But soon the fraught intricacies of this urban terroir are exposed, along with the ethnic divisions governed by the key figures in a locale where policing has become just another dirty word on the streets. Chris has linked in with his own strategic network, a local, nicknamed “The Mayor” (Steve Tientcheu), who acts as a police go-between. Another ‘neutral’ authority figure is Salah (Almamy Kanouté), a reformed jihadi who has been busy converting people to Islam.

The action is sparked off by Issa (playing himself) a young tearaway who has stolen a lion cub from a gypsy travelling circus. The cop trio must cruise the streets and gather ‘intel’ from their informants in order to recover the animal. But the situation soon escalates after the police are ambushed as they chase their suspect through the playing fields, one of them ‘accidentally’ firing a ‘flashball gun’ that injures Issa. What’s worse is that the incident is being filmed by a drone, spelling disaster for Chris and his colleagues.

Amid the simmering violent ambience, Stéphane soon emerges as the ‘good cop’ and is determined to hold his colleagues to task: they often resort to what they consider ‘necessary’ tactics, and there are times when you actually root for them given the complexities of the task at hand in this understandably lawless environment. The paucity of influential female characters makes this a very macho affair which works best in the scenes where livid anger, resentment and retribution sizzle below the surface. The mayhem that erupts in the finale – though cathartic for Ly himself – feels overblown, destabilising the subtle human stories at the tragedy’s core that are worthy of a more thorough and satisfying exploration. But Ly opts for full-on mayhem and melodrama. And these brilliantly executed crowd-pleasing moments will have appeal for those who identify with the young reprobate Issa. Les Miserables is France’s entry to next year’s Academy Awards. MT

IN UK and IRISH CINEMAS | 4 SEPTEMBER 2020

 

 

Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy (2013) | We Are One Festival

Dir/Wri: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit | Cast: Chonnikan Netjui, Patcha Poonpiriya | 127’ Thailand   Drama

The second film from Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy follows in the footsteps of the Thai director’s debut, 36, by continuing his examination into life in the digital age. Much like 36, Mary… concerns itself with our relationship to technology, this time looking specifically at the effect social media has upon narrative forms – not only conventional storytelling, but also the way that we as individuals attempt to construct narratives out of our lives.

Adapted from 410 consecutive Tweets from a real life Twitter user, @marylony, Mary… is by nature a bitty, picaresque affair (the source Tweets are presented as on screen text, the noise of typing ringing beneath them on the soundtrack). Ostensibly, the Tweets have been worked into a narrative concerning Mary’s attempts to finish her school yearbook in time for her graduation, but by following the free-flowing stream of @marylony’s twitter feed, Thamrongrattanarit’s film has no choice but to adapt to a similarly free-form approach, both in style (handheld and jump-cut) and narrative.

Mary Is Happy

Indeed, in just one of many reflexive moments within the film, even Mary says that she seems to do things randomly and for no reason. Thamrongrattanarit has said that, in part, the film is meant as a play on the scriptwriter’s control over narrative, but when Mary asks if there is ‘some force controlling my life’ the question can be understood just as easily as a theological concern as it can a reflexive statement. However, by posing questions about narrative authorship within film, Mary… also examines the way people author their own lives on social media. Like conventional storytellers, users of social media sites open windows through which their audiences can come to engage with their created protagonists, be they real or imagined (or a mixture of the two). Whether they realise it or not, Twitter users are unfolding a narrative and revealing something of themselves with every single Tweet they publish. In a world crammed with information, there may never have been a bigger need to turn our lives into stories, and Mary… raises important questions concerning randomness and predestination.

So it’s a shame, then, that the film never quite comes to life. It’s filled with humour and captivating moments, but at 127 minutes its looseness begins to feel baggy and tedious. But if Mary… fails to recreate the magic of Thamrongrattanarit’s pitch-perfect debut, it is nevertheless an interesting experiment, and certainly marks him out as a director to watch.  Alex Barrett

MARY IS HAPPY, MARY IS HAPPY | WE ARE ONE FESTIVAL 2020 4 June 2020

 

 

Wake in Fright (1971) ****

image004 copyDir: Ted Kotcheff | Writer: Evan Jones, based on the novel by Kenneth Cook

Cast: Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty, Sylvia Kay, Jack Thompson | DoP: Brian West | 108min   Drama

The maverick and multi-talented filmmaker Ted Kotcheff grew up in a Macedonian community in Toronto, eventually becoming the youngest drama director in the country at only 24. Working extensively for theatre and TV, his well-known series ‘Play for Today’ and ‘Afternoon Theatre’ became household names.  His features have become cult classics from Life at the Top with Jean Simmons and Honour Blackman; Golden Bear winner: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974) that launched the career of Richard Dreyfus to Uncommon Valor, considered one of the greatest dramas about the Vietnam war. First Blood defined the Rambo series and his North Dallas Forty is considered to be one of the best sports films ever made. Turning his hand to successful comedies: Fun With Dick and Jane and Weekend at Bernie’s, Kotcheff has also been behind the popular ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit’ for the past 12 years.

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His second feature, Wake In Fright, screened to massive critical acclaim at Cannes in 1971, whereafter it did very poor box office internationally: a not unusual occurrence – Rome, Open City (also re-launching this week), was also unsuccessful on its first release. But Wake In Fright is considered by many to be one of the best Australian films ever made, revitalising the flagging film scene and ushering in the Australian New Wave movement and Ozploitation movies (low budget horror, comedy or action), along with others that wandered into the same cinematic territory: the Barrie McKenzie series, Mad Max 1 & 2, and Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout.

Based on a book by Kenneth Cook, Kotcheff opens with a 360-degree pan of the isolated sun-baked wilderness of the outback establishing the de-humanising environment into which our protagonist John Grant wanders when he fetches up in the Australian mining town of Yabba on his way to Sydney for the Christmas holidays.  Played by the impossibly good-looking Gary Bond, he’s a dapper and fresh-faced young intellectual. But when he comes across the local bobby Jock Crawford (Chips Rafferty) in a bar, he ends up on a drunker bender, gambling away his earnings in the hope of winning enough to leave the job he hates in a dead-end location.  Up on the money, he retires to bed, then making the classic mistake of returning to the gambling game. And so begins his descent into a nightmarish hell, isolated from civilisation, in the back of beyond with a collection of raucous locals.

Grant emerges a malleable, weak-willed man who dislikes the people he comes across but is unable to extricate himself from their company or show any restraint in dealing with them. Serving as a parable for the Innocent’s descent into Hell, Wake in Fright perpetuates the theory that men will turn into monsters given sufficient alcohol, testosterone and bad company. And the Yabba is a place where you can murder, rape and kill but it’s a criminal offence not to hang with the boys; and once you spend time here the law of the jungle prevails.

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Forcing themselves onto Grant’s urbane gentility, the locals ply him with drink and inane banter which he parries with good grace and without restraint until he becomes a lightweight creature of scorn. These are men who slaughter animals for fun and undermine women. After his skinful on the first night, Grant then encounters Tim Hynes, a local ‘businessman’ who invites him to stay in his ranch.  His daughter Janette (Sylvia Kay in a gracefully alluring turn), has also been forced to her knees emotionally after years of disdain from the local menfolk. Donald Pleasence plays a flippant, roguish doctor, struck-off in Sydney and now in the Yabba to ply his trade to the initiated and uncaring.  Of all the characters, Dr Tydon and Janette are probably the most well-matched, occasionally ‘friends with benefits’; Dr Tydon is a sexually ambiguous character. He’s also the most psychopathic and least red-necked local, but there’s a hard-edged sinister quality hiding behind his glib charm and well-manicured hands. Kotcheff remains completely neutral to his characters, observing their antics dispassionately and giving us space to be disgusted or pitiful at Grant’s fate and introducing an element of realism into the drama. But it’s difficult not to be sickened by the unrelenting depravity which peaks during an horrific night-time foray where they indulge in kangaroos shoot-out from their jeep, in a set piece which remains seared into the memory.

Although Wake in Fright is not classified as a horror film as such, the narrative contains elements of horror in its sinister build-up. There are no moments of explicit terror; just an unrelenting stream of offence that gradually has a corrosive effect on the psyche and soon the long-cherished idea of Aussie manhood and camaraderie is shot down and exposed for what is ultimately is: a  lame excuse for wanton brutality and mayhem. By the end of the film, nobody emerges unscathed by the events or worthy of our sympathy and so this becomes a drama entirely fraught with antagonists, leaving us desperate to find some kind of redemption where none exists, putting this on a par with John Boorman’s Deliverance or Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch: quite an achievement given its low budget, lack of stylistic effects or any real bankable stars apart from Donald Pleasance, who shines out with his richly-crafted portrait of Dr Tydon.  Wake in Fright is a chilling but universal portrait of a civilised man who falls victim to a community he holds in contempt. MT

NOW AVAILABLE ON BFI PLAYER

KOTCHEFF ON THE KANGEROO FOOTAGE: “I loved the kangaroos. I spent a lot of time with them, intimately close: they would lie around my director’s chair, waiting, like extras to be asked to do something. They are the most anthropomorphic creatures I have ever encountered. Nothing on earth would persuade me to hurt them or any other animal for any reason whatsoever.”

Animals (2019) ****

Dir.: Sophie Hyde; Cast: Holiday Grainger, Alia Shawkat, Fra Fee, Dermont Murphy, Amy Molloy, Dermont Murphy; UK/Australia/ROI 2019, 109 min.

In her sophomore feature Australian filmmaker Sophie Hyde (52 Tuesdays) directs Emma-Jane Unsworth’ script of her own novel. It centres on two close friends Laura (Grainger) and Tyler (Shawcat) in Dublin who spend most of their time in being drunk and high on drugs. Well at least that’s the way it’s seemed for the past ten years. But now in their thirties, things are about to change.

Their story unfolds from the perspective of Laura, a struggling writer whose novel progresses a line a week – meanwhile she works as a barista in a coffee shop, to make ends meet. Her sister Jean (Molloy), once a wild child herself, announces that she has now chosen adult life and motherhood. Laura reacts with panic: suddenly casual boyfriend Jim (Fee), a very serious pianist, becomes a plausible alternative to her living the life of Riley with Tyler. But then along comes uber-pretentious author Marthy (Murphy) and Laura soon sees the error of her ways. And somehow the never fully explained cloud over Tyler’s life (some trauma in the past) becomes more important – or is it just the realisation, that their friendship is much more of a love story then they want to admit. Most features are built on the rock of a happy-ending with friendship being replaced by the great love conquering all – but Hyde raises doubts: is it really inevitable that all women should spend their life with the opposite gender just because mother nature and a concept called adulthood dictate it – or can Goethe’s Elective Affinities overcome the norm – at least sometimes?

Grainger and Shawkat carry the feature – their relationship is anything but ideal – but at least it is honest, and we are never allowed to forget it. Hyde directs with great sensibility, athough there are more than enough emotional episodes to go round. DoP Bryan Mason has a fine feel for the Dublin scene, even though the film actually takes place in Manchester. Animals is full of surprises and never resorts to the banal. It is a brave attempt at trying to align the impossible, but it manages to remain sincere: when Jim calls Laura Tyler’s wife, he is not too far off. AS

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 2 AUGUST

       

Robert the Bruce (2019) ** Edinburgh Film Festival 2019

Dir: Richard Gray | Cast: Angus MacFadyen, Gabriel Bateman, Macaulay Callard, Jared Harris, Zach McGowan | US Drama

Headlining Edinburgh Film Festival’s latest edition this very Scottish saga is unconvincing and lacklustre, and far too ambitious for its limited resources. Directed by the Australian Richard Gray and made in the US it comes hot on the heels of another disappointing exploration of the Hibernian legend of machismo – Outlaw King from last October’s London Film Festival.

Setting itself up as a sequel to the superlative original interpretation of the story, Braveheart starring Mel Gibson, Robert the Bruce is much anticipated, particularly by the Scots. And with Angus MacFadyen in the leading role as the swashbuckling Scottish king – what could go wrong?. The answer is a great deal.  Co-scripter Eric Belgau sets the epic during the interregnum between the death of hero William Wallace and the First War of Scottish Independence. Heavy-handed and decidedly dour this is a film with an overinflated sense of its own importance despite its lack of authenticity and dodgy Scottish accents (due to a largely US cast). A restricted budget and pallid performances across the board further ensure that Robert the Bruce will fall on the sword of its predecessor.

In 1306 the war-weary Robert has been violently attacked by his former henchmen keen to get their hands on the bounty of 50 gold sovereigns offered as a reward for his death by the English King, Edward I. A family of crofters take the injured nobleman turned outlaw under their wing and he sallies forth again keen to avoid further ado with the bounty seekers. But brutal scuffles continue to break out as he goes on his lonely way plagued by doubt and desperate to survive the inclement winter of discontent. Rather than make the best of its indie low budget credentials with a pared down, gritty character study about a beaten down hero, the film tries to channel Braveheart‘s epic quality with a smattering of wide screen set pieces, while the Robert ruminates introspectively with squirrelly speeches about honour and duty.  And that lack of cohesion is ultimately the film’s downfall. MT

EIFF 2019 | 19 -30 JUNE 2019 

Lolita (1961) ***

Dir.: Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Sue Lyon, James Mason, Shelley Winters, Peter Sellers; UK/US 1961, 152 min.

Vladimir Nabokov wrote a screenplay of 400 pages for Stanley Kubrick’s film adaption of his 1955 novel – it would have amounted to a running time of over seven hours. Kubrick also had to take into account the Hays censorship code, which made it impossible to show detailed sexual aspects of the love between Humbert Humbert, a middle aged college lecturer and a twelve-year-old girl named Lolita, whose name became synonymous with any young temptress – even though she was the victim of adult male predators.

Lolita opens with a murder: a drunk elderly man is shot dead while playing Chopin on the piano. Then the linear events leading to this crime unfold: A lecturer in French literature Humbert Humbert (Mason), arrives in Ramsdale, New Hampshire, in search for lodgings. On the verge of turning down the rooms on offer from Charlotte Haze (Winters), he is just about to reject them, when he sees her daughter Dolores ‘Lolita’ (Lyon) and falls in love. But Charlotte has a shine for Humbert too, and drives her daughter to a girl’s camp, leaving a letter for Humbert, telling him to move out – or marry her. Humbert, still obsessed with Lolita, then marries Charlotte who later reads his diary where he confesses to his love for the school girl. Charlotte runs out of the house to post a letter to the authorities, but is killed in a car crash. Humbert fetches Lolita from the camp, pretending that her mother is in hospital, but seduces the girl in a motel. They set off on a romantic adventure, and are followed by an obnoxious stranger. In the autumn, Humbert enrols Lolita in a nearby High School where she is to participate in a school play. A discussion with Dr, Zempf (Sellers) upsets Humbert and he takes Lolita out of the school, touring the country again. Finally, Lolita disappears; leaving Humbert desolate. Much later, he learns that she is pregnant, living in a tranquil suburb. He gives her money, from the sale of her mother’s house, but she wants to stay with her husband Dick. She also tells Humbert that she ran away with Clare Quilty (Sellers), a famous playwright, who impersonated Dr. Zempf and followed them on their journeys. Humbert dies before the murder trial.

Kubrick set his sights on Mason to play Humbert from the beginning, but he was unavailable due to other commitments. Laurence Olivier and David Niven also turned down the part, but finally Mason took it on board. Kubrick and Nabokov were happy with the casting of Sue Lyon – who was fourteen, playing a twelve-year-old – Nabokov later admitted he would have preferred the French actress Catherine Demongeot, who played Zazie in Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le Metro. Over 800 actresses had test screenings for the young Lolita. 

Meanwhile, a 1977 remake by Adrian Lyne –  much more faithful to the novel – made a colossal loss at the box office.

And while Kubrick tried to make Humbert into an “Unreliable Narrator” telling the story from his own selfish viewpoint, he fails to do the Lolita character any justice. Lolita certainly has its merits as a drama, but it’s un-conceivable that such a film could ever be made today. AS

Stanley Kubrick RETROSPECTIVE | APRIL AND MAY AT THE BFI 2019  

    

 

Khrustalyov, My Car (1998) ***** Bluray

Dir: Aleksei German | Wri: Joseph Brodsky | Comedy Drama USSR, 147′

Named after the apocryphal exclamation of Soviet security chief Lavrentiy Beria as he rushed to Stalin’s deathbed, this raucously, rip-roaring ride through Soviet history captures the anticipation and anxiety in the Moscow air, as the Soviet despot lay dying.

In January 1953, the Vladimir Ilin’s camera thrusts us right into a surreal snowbound Moscow where Stalin still rules like the ‘man of steel’ of his nickname. An alcoholic military surgeon, General Yuri Georgievich Klensky (Yuri Tsurilo), finds himself a target of the “Doctors’ Plot”: the anti-Semitic conspiracy accusing Jewish doctors in Moscow of planning to assassinate the Soviet elite. Captured, arrested and marked for the gulags, Yuri enters an Hieronymus Boschean hell where characters abuse each other, one stubbing a cigarette out on another. Sexual acts are degenerative and ubiquitous but caught off camera, dialogue random as the characters come and go, fight and wrestle in the dizzying dystopia. At one point Yuri wipes his nose and moustache on his wife’s fur coat. The fractured narrative of this demonic, chaotic, histrionic yet delicately poetic dark comedy captures the madness of a desperate era where everyone had lost the plot.

Filmed in high-contrast monochrome by Vladimir Ilin and directed by Aleksei German (Hard to Be a God), Khrustalyov, My Car! went on to win multiple awards long after its premiere at Cannes where it picked up the Palme d’Or. wildly provocative when it was screened at the 1998 Cannes film festival, despite being championed as the best film of the festival by the president of the Cannes jury that year, Martin Scorsese. A one-of-a-kind collision of nightmare and realism, German’s film is presented here in a new restoration with a wealth of illuminating extras. MT

ON BLURAY 29 APRIL 2019 COURTESY OF ARROW 

Vladimir Ilin won Best Cinematographer at the NIKA Awards 2000

 

Winterlong (2018) ***

Dir: David Jackson | UK Drama | 90′

TV director David Jackson’s bleak look at dysfunctional Britain sees a mother abandon her son to live with her lover.

Sixteen year old Julian (Harper Jackson) is left with his estranged father Francis (Francis Magee), an ageing hippie who lives in a caravan, scratching out a living doing ‘odd jobs’. A fragile bond develops between them but is soon blown apart when tragedy strikes a second time.

Winterlong is tonally all over the place: drifting from social realism to quasi- romantic comedy, with a set of facile caricatures and dialogue to match. We feel sympathy for Julian as the most relatable character, despite his young years, having to contend with puerile adults when strong parenting is what he needs. He feels like a bewildered bystander, while the adults take centre stage with their nonsense. Not much backstory is provided for either father or son, but Francis is clearly a mess, a selfish womaniser who rocks a battered deerstalker and takes pot shots at wildlife, fancying himself as an 18th century highwayman who’s wandered onto the set of Midsomer Murders. And as Winterlong plays out that’s what it reminds us of. How can any sane adult in Britain have a line like: “I’m out here on my own because it’s safer that way”. Where does he think he is: Afghanistan?

Once Francis’ girlfriend Carole appears the story starts to take shape. With a positive outlook and her head screwed on, she demands Julian has a proper roof over his head (well, a plastic caravan one), then disappears back to Belgium, wearing a coke can ring – all Francis can offer from his forages through the ‘dangerous’ woods. Then in wanders batty Barbara (Doon Mackichan), the new neighbour and soi-disant ‘opera singer’ whose desperation for Francis puts all middle-aged women to shame. A weak romance rears its head between Julian and Taylor (Nina Iceton) serving the final melodramatic scenes, but never really coming to anything. Despite its tonal inconsistencies, Winterlong makes a strong statement: It’s a sad reflection on adults seen through innocent children’s eyes – clearly they deserve better. Atmospherically filmed in the Sussex environs of Rye, and accompanied by Rob Lane evocative occasional score, Winterlong is a wake-up call for modern parents. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 29 MARCH 2019

Tribute to Richard Lormand (1962-2018)

It is with great sadness that we pay tribute to one of our greatest supporters, film consultants and readers Richard Lormand who has died aged 56.

During a long and distinguished career Richard was a leading light in international communication, film publicity and marketing, specialising in launches at the Berlin, Cannes, Locarno and Venice festivals, and just recently, Marrakech 2018 where he was preparing the 17th edition, when he died.

LOCARNO credit

Richard was a true professional and always a pleasure to work with. He handled world premieres for numerous award-winning films, including Maren Ade’s TONI ERDMANN, Ildiko Enyedi’s ON BODY AND SOUL, Fatih Akin’s IN THE FADE and SOUL KITCHEN, Alice Rohrwacher’s THE WONDERS and HAPPY AS LAZZARO, Christian Petzold’s BARBARA and PHOENIX, Samuel Maoz’s LEBANON and FOXTROT, Lav Diaz’s THE WOMAN WHO LEFT, Ritesh Batra’s THE LUNCHBOX, Takashi Miike’s 13 ASSASSINS and BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, the Taviani Brothers’ CAESAR MUST DIE, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s UNCLE BOONMEE, Jerzy Skolimowski’s ESSENTIAL KILLING, Amos Gitai’s RABIN, Lucrecia Martel’s ZAMA and LA CIENAGA, Alexander Sokurov’s RUSSIAN ARK and FAUST, Jafar Panahi’s THREE FACES and THE CIRCLE, and Takeshi Kitano’s ZATOICHI and HANA-BI.

Richard was part of the press consultancy team of Locarno Festival and the producing teams of Mitchell Lichtenstein’s cult favourite TEETH, HAPPY TEARS (starring Demi Moore, Parker Posey, Ellen Barkin and Rip Torn) and ANGELICA (starring Jena Malone and Janet McTeer). He was also a producer on Amos Gitai’s DISENGAGEMENT, starring Academy Award-winning actress Juliette Binoche.

Born and raised outside Lafayette, Louisiana, Richard was the son of a Japanese mother and a native French-speaking Cajun American father. He began his career as a reporter/journalist for Reuters in New York City, then went on to work for the Cannes Film Festival (France), Taormina Film Festival (Italy), Torino Film Festival (Italy) and the Viennale/Vienna Film Festival (Austria). Richard also wrote and directed the 1994 award-winning short TI-BOY’S WIFE/LA FEMME DE TI-BOY (Clermont-Ferrand, Locarno, Torino).

His charisma, warmth and professionalism are rare in these days of increasingly faceless public relations, focussing on ‘hits’ and ‘likes’ on social media. Passionately driven by genuine talent and strong stories, Richard often took chances with small independent films and invested his time and talent to make sure they were noticed. His was a personal approach, genuine and always with heart. We shall miss him so much. MT

RICHARD LORMAND

Orphée (1949)*****

Dir: Jean Cocteau | Drama | France | Jean Marais, Maria Casarès, François Périer, Marie Déa | 95′

Jean Cocteau’s modern version of the Orpheus myth still retains its poetic magnetism and astonishing freshness despite a primitive post-war budget that features Cocteau’s delicately drawn astrally inspired opening credits. But this adds to the film’s allure just as it did four years earlier with La Belle et La Bête, also made on a shoestring budget.

There is a dreamlike logic to Cocteau’s narrative that combines with Nicolas Hayer’s inventive camera angles and Jean d’Eaubonne’s set design to give the film a fantasy feel where Orphée (Jean Marais) is transformed into a Left Bank singer obsessed with an enigmatic raven-haired demon princess (Maria Casarès) who captures his imagination inspiring him to follow her into the underworld.

Cocteau brings his talents as a novelist, playwright and artist together to impress his longtime mentor Diaghilev in a gleaming mythological drama whose contemporary resonance is clearly felt throughout the sumptuous production featuring a glittering cast of French talent and his own partner Marais. Particularly enjoyable is the scene where we take a backseat in a chauffeur-driven a Rolls Royce Fantom Cloud for a mystery journey through the French countryside

Orpheus and Eurydice (Déa) are lovers. We first meet the tousle-haired Orphée in the opening scene at the ‘Café des Poétes’ where the postwar Left Bank credentials are effortlessly established with writers and creative types shooting the breeze over Gauloises and Pastis. Death soon arrives in the shape of the Princess (Casarès) making her presence known gracefully in her black Rolls-Royce. Over the car’s radio the BBC’s coded instructions to the Resistance ring out. Meanwhile in Hell lurks the shadow of the German Gestapo. In Cocteau’s version of the story Orpheus and Eurydice are saved by Death’s self-sacrifice along with her soigné assistant Heurtebise.

Orphée has a mildly melodramatic tone, a lightness of touch and an appealing wit that complement the gorgeousness of its mise en scène making Cocteau of most admired and revered filmmakers of his own generation and the New Wave. So much so that Truffaut produced his  sixth and final film, Le Testament d’Orphée, which reunited most of the cast of Orphée and is dedicated to the Nouvelle Vague.

“Quite apart from its symbolism Orphée is tells a mystical adventure, sustaining a balance between the real and the magical and maintaining its hypnotic rhythm beyond the first scene in the poets’ café, at the end of which Orpheus goes off with the Princess in her car, and slowly building up a poetic and beguiling atmosphere – creating a fascinating dramatic arc as the mirror opens, the Princess appearing and disappearing again in the streets of Paris while Orpheus desperately pursues her, the motor cyclists shoot past along the dusty road, as the radio echoes its impenetrable messages in the car. The original tagline called it  – “The immortal thriller”.  

Cocteau replaces the arbitrary force which death represents in Greek mythology by human figures with human desires and feelings.  The Princess loves Orpheus: Heurtebise loves Eurydice: both sacrifice their love, knowing it cannot successfully be pursued. Poets have always been obsessed with death: here, death also falls in love with poets. The symbols, the mysteries and the powers of death must by their vibrant nature be “living”. The princess is a tragic creation despite her haunting beauty and Gothic allure. Auric’s recurring flute score is eerily evocative along with the striking drum rhythms of the Bacchantes, making this fantasy drama both ravishingly elegant and chilling’.

The magic of cinema is sensationally realised in Jean Cocteau’s darkly enigmatic Orphée, one of the great masterpieces of the French avant-garde. Newly restored by SNC (Groupe M6), Orphée returns to the big screen on 19 October 2018, released by the BFI in selected cinemas UK-wide and screening at BFI Southbank from 22 October as part of The Deep Focus season on the French Fantastique. 

Simultaneous bluray and iTunes release on 21 January 2019 

 

Russian Film Week 2018

Russian Film Week is back for the third year running. From 25 November to 2 December the event will take place in London at BFI Southbank, Regent Street Cinema, Curzon Mayfair and Empire Leicester Square before heading to Edinburgh, Cambridge and Oxford.

The eight-day festival celebrates a selection of award-winning new dramas, documentaries and shorts, bridging the gap between Russian cinematography and the West with the aim of building bridges rather than enforcing tensions. The festival will culminate in the Golden Unicorn Awards. This year’s selection has certainly upped its game and comes thoroughly recommended. Particularly worth seeing is Rashomon re-make THE BOTTOMLESS BAG, a magical mystery drama, in black and white.

Russian Film Week opens with Avdotya Smirnova’s prize-winning historical drama THE STORY OF AN APPOINTMENT (prize for Best Script at Russia’s main national film festival Kinotavr). Based on real life events, it follows an episode from Leo Tolstoy’s life. The opening night will be held at the largest screen in the UK – Empire IMAX Leicester Square.

Other seasonal highlights include Kirill Serebrennikovэ’s Cannes awarded biographical film LETO (Summer) and SOBIBOR, Russia’s foreign-language film Oscar submission 2018. The film is the debut feature for actor-turned-director Konstantin Khabensky, and focuses on events in the titular Nazi extermination camp during 1943. The film also stars Christopher Lambert and Karl Frenzel. Danila Kozlovsky, known for his role in BBC series McMafia (2018) and numerous Russian blockbusters, will present his debut project, sports drama TRENER (‘Coach’).

The festival c Golden Unicorn Awards ceremony, including the Best Foreign Film About Russia. British actor Brian Cox will head up the jury. The awards ceremony is in aid of Natalia Vodianova’s Naked Heart Foundation.

Russian Film Week and the Golden Unicorn was founded in 2016 by Filip Perkon with a group of volunteers on a non-profit basis. From 2017 the festival supported by the Russian Ministry of Culture, Synergy University, and the BFI.

RUSSIAN FILM WEEK 2018 | 25 NOVEMBER – 2 DECEMBER 2018

UK Jewish Film Festival 2018

The 22nd edition of the  UK Jewish Film Festival this year runs from 8th-22nd November 2018 at cinemas across London, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham, Brighton and Glasgow.

The programme features a Philip Roth Retrospective in tribute to the much loved author, with a screening of three cinematic interpretations of his work: Goodbye, Columbus; Human Stain and Portnoy’s Complaint.

Other strands include: The Alan Howard International Documentary Strand, Israeli Cinema, Made in Britain, European Cinema, Education Programme, The Sound of Silence providing a spectacular journey back to the 1920s with beautifully restored classic films, Across the World – from Argentina to Russia in 15 days.

Films in Competition for the Dorfman Best Film Award are: The Accountant of Auschwitz, Foxtrot, 2017/Samuel Maoz); Promise At Dawn (2017/Eric Barbier); Three Identical Strangers (2018/Tim Wardle); The Waldheim Waltz (2018/Ruth Beckermann/Berlinale Doc Winner); and Working Woman (Isha Ovedet/2018).

The jury presided by Michael Kuhn includes Anita Land, Clare Binns, Andrew Pulver, Henry Goodman and Michael Rose.

Best Debut Feature Award contenders are: Closeness (2017/Kantemir Balagov/FIPRESCI prize winner, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2017); Doubtful (2017/Eliran Elya); Driver, Outdoors (2017/Asaf Saban); Red Cow (2017/Tsivia Barkai) and Winter Hunt.

Claudia Rosencrantz will lead this jury.

Up for Best Screenplay Award is: Budapest Noir (2017/Eva Gardos), Death of a Poetess (2017/Dana Goldberg/Ephrat Mishori), Foxtrot, Promise At Dawn, To Dust (2017/Shawn Snyder) and Winter Hunt. Jury headed by Nik Powell.

The Opening Night Gala on the 8th November at BFI Southbank is the UK Premiere of Working Woman, directed by Michal Aviad and starring Liron Ben Shlush, Menashe Noy and Oshri Cohen. This film has been nominated for the Dorfman Best Film Award. Released in 2018, this cautionary tale could hardly be more appropriate in the current climate, and follows an ambitious career woman who struggles with harassment in the work place.

The Closing Night Gala, Eric Barbier’s Promise At Dawn will take place on 22 November at Curzon Mayfair and stars Pierre Niney with Charlotte Gainsbourg (Best Actress Cesar Nomination) playing the overbearing Jewish mother in a powerful adaptation of Romain Gary’s memoir.

The Centrepiece Gala is the London Premiere of Three Identical Strangers, directed by Tim Wardle won the Special Jury prize at Sundance Film Festival and involves three men raised by their respective adoptive families within a hundred-mile radius of each other. These siblings Robert Shafran, Eddy Galland and David Kellman were oblivious to the fact that each had two identical brothers until a chance meeting brought them together, aged 19, for the first time since birth. MT

UK JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL | NATIONWIDE | 8-22 NOVEMBER 2018

First Man (2018) **

Dir.: Damien Chazelle; Cast: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Olivia Hamilton, Patrick Fugit, Derek Stayton, Corey Stoll; USA 2018,  135 min.

Based on the novel by James R. Hansen and scripted by Josh Singer, director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to the overrated La la Land, is a mixture of Buddy movie and historical comic-strip, painting a picture of a time where everything was still OK in the USA. But like Lala Land, Chazelle has no gift for good storytelling: everything about his narrative is episodic, there are some stunning scenes, but they never form a whole, or bridge the gap between the personal and the factual in this space adventure story, which sometimes feels quite clunky.                     

Set between 1961 and 1969, First Man tells the story of Neil Armstrong (Gosling), the titular first man to set foot on the moon. Neil and his wife Janet (Foy) lose their baby daughter to a brain tumour, and we all know immediately where her wristband will end up. Most of Neil’s mates – Kyle Chandler (Stayton), Corey Stoll (Aldrin) and Elliot See (Fugit) come across as cyphers. Only Edward Higgins (Clarke) and his wife Pat (Hamilton) are fleshed out convincingly, but Higgins is written out half-way through, dying in a fire during a test run with two colleges. 

Ryan Gosling is not the ideal choice, being too introverted for the part, stonewalling his emotions, the actor’s face betraying his real feelings. In the end Janet has to force him to tell his two sons, that he might not return alive from the Apollo flight. Lots of time is wasted with technical explanations, the running time could have easily been cut by thirty minutes. We get newsreel flashes about the Vietnam War and other newsworthy topics of the period, but the real issues are never tackled. For example, Wernher Von Braun, the program director, was a staunch Nazi in charge of the V-Weapons in WWII, who used slave-labour, for which his boss Sauckl was executed, Von Braun’ status was changed from ‘committed Nazi’ to ‘Neutral’. It is true that the USSR also used Nazi scientists for their Sputnik programme, initiating the joke “We speak German in Space”. Last, but not least, Chazelle never challenges the validity of the whole undertaking: what did Armstrong’s fellow astronauts really die for? The scientific value of the Apollo project was limited, but the political victory over the USSR – who had won the first leg of the space race – was immense. One could expect at least expect some form of statement from the filmmakers.            

Overall First Man is as disjointed as it is patriotic, centred around a male culture of bonding which is never questioned. The political issues of the 1960s are used merely as a backdrop, the only important aspect is the male world order, which is re-enforced continuously. An undistinguished feature, told with the simplicity of a Boys-Own adventure. AS 

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 28 AUG – 9 SEPT 2018 | NATIONWIDE FROM 12 October 2018

Peterloo (2018) ***

Dir/Writer: Mike Leigh | Cast: Maxine Peake, Rory Kinnear | Historical Drama | UK | 154′

Mike Leigh’s PETERLOO is a lavishly mounted period drama that delivers in robustly verbose detail the story of the massacre that took place in Manchester on 16th August 1816 when cavalry charged into a crowd of some 80,000 members of the public demanding parliamentary workplace reform.

While Leigh’s epic slowly builds to its climactic carnage scenes, which are brutally realistic without resorting to gratuitous gore, it expansively explores both sides of the conflict between the British aristocracy and the rebellious working classes in a plodding way that destroys dramatic tension as it trundles through its bloated running time of two and a half hours. With incendiary performances from its sterling cast – Rory Kinnear and Maxine Peake are splendidly vehement – this is certainly one of Leigh’s most heartfelt dramas, and clearly a personal moral crusade that charts a gritty and violent episode from the socio political history of England. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 2 NOVEMBER 2018 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW 2018

Temptation Harbour (1947) ****

Dir: Lance Comfort | Cast: Simone Simon, Robert Newton, William Hartnell, Margaret Barton | Noir Thriller | UK |

The story of Temptation Harbour is straightforward but morally complex. One night a railway signalman on the quay observes two men suspiciously embarking from a ship. Later he witnesses a fight between the men for possession of a suitcase. A man is deliberately pushed into the water and the killer runs off. The signalman retrieves the suitcase to discover it contains £5000 in banknotes. The police are not informed. He hides the case in his house. Conflicts concerning family trust, the appearance of a femme fatale and further violence ensue.

Lance Comfort’s Temptation Harbour (1947) is one of three film adaptations of Georges Simenon’s novel L’homme de Londres: Newhaven-Dieppe. The other two are Henri Decoin’s L’homme de Londres (1931), and Bela Tarr’s The Man from London (2007). The 30’s French version is moody but stolid (An earnest voice-over ‘guilty conscience’ and a chanson-singing prostitute almost sink the production.) The Tarr film is brooding and metaphysical. Brilliantly shot in black and white but mysteriously abstracting Simenon’s story: making it more a Bela Tarr experience than a noir-thriller. Only the British film, Temptation Harbour comes closest to Simenon’s fatalism where his icy sympathy is tempered by the sensitive direction of Lance Comfort. Whilst a sense of the French cinema of the 30s and 40s (Quai Des Brumes and La Bête humaine) aids the atmosphere.

Film noir is a highly influential force in cinema: depicting a treacherous world of darkness and pessimism where characters engage, or deliberately strain your sympathy. Not normally a world in which much compassion is shown to those who do wrong. The word “generosity” doesn’t come readily to mind for its heroes, villains or even victims. Yet the noirish-stained Temptation Harbour has a warmly rounded sympathy for its signalman protagonist Bert Mallinson (Robert Newton) and his involved people, daughter Betty Mallinson (Margaret Barton) side-show performer Camelia (Simone Simon) and “the man from London killer” Jim Brown (William Hartnell). The emphasis is placed on vulnerability, understandable corruption and stress: all are highlighted instead of noir’s usual amorality, obvious greed and sweet revenge.

The degree of tenderness that Lance Comfort brings to this dark melodrama is remarkable. Bert Mallinson, Betty Mallinson and Camelia are played out as subtle variations of innocence and experience. Bert is basically a decent man who holds onto the £5000 realising it would be impossible to earn so much in a lifetime of work. Betty is a kind daughter who (in her father’s eyes) does wrong by stealing some kidneys from the butcher’s she works at – a small misdemeanour, but enough for Bert to momentarily ‘flaw’ her character. Camelia is an unhappy orphan of the war, now trapped into playing the part of a ‘radio-active mermaid’ beauty in a tacky fairground act. She want to escape and tries to seduce Bert, with his suitcase of money, for this is her only means to return to a comfortable life in France. Even the killer Mr.Brown is treated with compassion once we learn the circumstances that led him to crime – a distressed Mrs.Brown (Joan Hopkins) is brought in for questioning by an ex-detective, Inspector Dupre (Marcel Dalio)

Temptation Harbour pays homage to both Jean Renoir and De Sica. Renoir for the film’s overall intense sympathy and De Sica for the lovely attention to detail and atmosphere that Comfort brings to the scene involving daughter Betty as she prepares her father’s breakfast. The camera accompanies her in a manner echoing the long sequence featuring the maid preparing for the day, in De-Sica’s Umberto D.

The film’s father/daughter relationship is handled with tender insight and affection. The rupture of this family bond emotionally breaks the recently widowed signalman, as much as his futile holding onto the money and a final act of self-defence. Robert Newton is excellent as the conflicted father. Margaret Barton (who began her film career as the tearoom waitress in Brief Encounter) gives a superb performance that is both heartfelt and poignant.

Bleak tale though it is, Temptation Harbour has humorous episodes. Irene Handl’s fake playing of the piano at the show and Simone Simon’s bored and detached delivery of her theatrical patter are beautifully comedic. It’s a perfectly cast film but not quite note perfect. There’s an extended voice-over by Robert Newton – the director ought to have trusted his actor to suggest character dilemma through looks. Yet this is a slight flaw in a moving and exciting film.

It seems that betrayal, error and the confused aspiration to a better life spill out from the family to encompass the needs of the other characters. It’s just after the Second World War and people are still poor and desire transformative social change. Lance Comfort and co-scriptwriter Rodney Ackland (author of the play Absolute Hell (1952) set in a club on the eve of the 1945 general election) plant this sub-text into their crime film. A better life, to remain decent people, avoid messes like the one Bert Mallinson has got himself into, and improve themselves, are their aspirations making up a redemptive goal – not in a religious sense – but for a deserved material well being. The urgent need to escape from an austere Britain of rationing and ‘making things do’ hangs over everyone.

“How by 1945, at the apparent birth of a new world, did the ‘activators’ – politicians, planners, public intellectuals, opinion-formers – really see the future? And how did their vision of what lay ahead compare with that of ‘ordinary people?’ The overlaps and mismatches between these two sets of expectations would be fundamental to the playing out of the next three or more decades.” Austerity Britain 1945-51 – David Kynaston

Temptation Harbour works as a social critique; film noir; domestic drama and crime movie. Visually stunning camerawork by Otto Heller creates much fine and appropriate shading of the foggy harbour and the house and hotel interiors. Mischa Poliansky’s music is very effective – particularly in the heart-rending final moments: Father locks up the house and says goodbye to his daughter, the music surges in and up with a Rachmaninov-like tone and power.

Temptation Harbour is rightly regarded as Lance Comfort’s best work and for me should be viewed alongside Cavalcanti’s They Made Me a Fugitive – also photographed by Otto Heller. It’s fascinating to compare the Fugitive spiv-corrupted London with the dangerous Folkestone of Temptation Harbour, as both were released in 1947. Fugitive has a demobilised RAF pilot Clem Morgan, played by Trevor Howard, drawn into a world of crime. Both Morgan and Mallinson seek justice either in the form of regained dignity (Fugitive) or deserved materialism (Harbour) and are impatient for the new world to deliver. Unfortunately Cavalcanti’s disillusioned ex-serviceman and Comfort’s corrupted signalman are left at the end with their fate uncertain (Only in The Man from London version of Simenon’s novel and L’homme de Londres is Mallinson sort of let off, by the police inspector, from his ‘crime’.)

The film has not been available until recently due to issues with the Simenon family estate, Temptation Harbour can now be viewed on the BFI online player for a small rental charge. I saw it this month at a one-off screening at the Southbank and their beautiful archive print, of what is probably a minor masterpiece, really ought to be released on blu-ray. Alan Price©2018

TEMPTATION HARBOUR IS AVAILABLE ON BFI PLAYER

La Belle et la Bete (1946) Bluray and Prime Video


Dir, Writer: Jean Cocteau | Cast: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Mila Parély, Nane Germon, Michel Auclair, Marcel André | 96min | Fantasy Drama | French with English subtitles

LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE is one of the most amazing fantasy films ever made, drawing you into its Gothic spell and enchanting beauty.

Jean Cocteau was a visionary intellectual and one of the creative geniuses of the 20th century.  A poet, writer, painter and filmmaker, the dreamlike nature of his work is perhaps best showcased on the silver screen.  Given the climate of austerity, shortages and widespread power-cuts when the film was being shot during the end of the Second World War, it seems even extraordinary – and nothing less than a work of art.  And although some of its effects may appear unremarkable to contemporary audiences, its mesmerising style and ambience was unlike any other film that had gone before.

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Based on a fairytale by Madame Leprince de Beaumont, there is something delightfully innocent yet sophisticated about this fable with its dark Freudian implications. Light of touch and ethereal in atmosphere – evoked by Henri Alekan’s sensual cinematography (assisted by Rene Clement) – there is nevertheless a sinister undertone to proceedings enhanced by Georges Auric’s haunting music, placed in a Gothic setting in the French countryside where La Belle lives with her family not far from the bewitched chateau of La Bête, inspired by Gustave Doré.  In LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE, Cocteau (who was 60 at the time) asks us to suspend our disbelief as adults and return to childhood with all its magic and mystery.

La Belle’s father is a refined merchant who has fallen on difficult times. Lamenting their reduced circumstances, La Belle’s two nasty sisters Felicié and Adélaide (played with coquettish petulance by Mila Parély and Nane Germo) and sneering brother Ludovic (Michel Auclair) constantly diminish her. Suitor Avelante (Jean Marais) who also plays La Bete, prancing around in his regal splendour in one scene, before descending into brutish behaviour in the next – fangs bared and eyes glistening: very much the epitome of the modern alpha male. His make-up alone is a masterpiece. The costumes were designed by Lanvin and Pierre Cardin.

There’s an experimental feel to the film with its trance-like episodes as La Belle glides through the corridors of La Bête’s bewitched Château, with its draperies wafting eerily and mysterious statues coming to life in the glint of lighted candelabras and goblets of wine:  There are even ‘electric’ gates and an enchanted white horse: Le Magnifique, whose rider’s wish is its command. This is the stuff of dreams; there a magic mirrors, and gauntlets that transport the wearer from one place to another. La Bête is a sad figure, almost like that of Count Dracula; forced to live a life without love entombed in a nocturnal doom, and forced to beg each night at seven for La Belle’s hand in marriage.  The answer will surprise you. Avant-garde fantasy coalesces with the peerless disciplines of traditional methods and drama, even teaching the American cinema of the day some tricks that it never thought possible. MT

LA BELLE ET LA BETE IS ON BLURAY and PRIME VIDEO

 

 

The Piano (1993) | Re-Release

Dir.: Jane Campion; Cast: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin; New Zealand, Australia, France 1993; 121 min.

As a landmark in film history, few features can measure up with Jane Campion’s epic The Piano: in only her third outing (after many successful short films) as full-length motion picture writer/director, she tackled all: feminism, racism and above all, sexual relationships. She won an Oscar for Best Director, The Piano got the nod for Best Picture and most wondrous at all, she was the first  – and, 25 years later – still the only woman recipient of the Palme d’Or, albeit sharing it with Chen Kaige’s Farewell my Concubine. 

Scottish widow Ada (Hunter) has been traumatised by the death of husband, who was killed, standing next to her, by lightning. As a result, she has lost her voice. Her father marries her off to Stewart (Neill), a farmer, living in the jungle: he picked her from a mail order catalogue. Ada, a former opera-singer like her late husband, arrives at the unwelcoming beaches of mid-nineteen century New Zealand with daughter Anna (Paquin) and her price possession: the titular piano. Stewart does not care about the instrument, and leaves its transportation to his second in command, Baines (Keitel), a native of the country. Ada, withdrawn from reality, falls in love with Baines, after the latter makes it clear to him, that she is more than a sex object for him. Stewart, jealous and out of control, extracts bloody violence; promising more, if Ada is seeing Baines again. One of the main features is the role of Ada’s daughter Anna, who, whilst loving her mother, sides with Stewart: she yearns for a stable home. Like young Helene in Chabrol’s Les Noces Rouges, she inadvertently gives away the game, whilst intending to help her mother.

Sumptuously photographed by British cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh (who collaborated with Campion on An Angel at my Table and The Portrait of a Lady), and  an eerie score by his compatriot Michael Nyman, The Piano seems head and shoulders about contemporary cinema. Alas, Jane Champion would never again be so brave and daring: apart from the Henry James adaption The Portrait of A Lady (1996) and the Keat’s bio-pic Bright Star (2009), both more sturdy than innovative, little can be said of her more recent output. It seems, like she was frightened by her own boldness – like a comet who bloomed to early and imploded. AS

ON RE-RELEASE IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS  in CELEBRATION of its 25th Anniversary | | 16th July 2018

  

A Gentle Creature (2017)

Dir: Sergei Loznitsa | Cast: Vasilina Makovtseva |143min | Drama

A Gentle Creature is a short story by Dostoevsky, narrated by a middle-aged pawnbroker whose wife kills herself. The tale was first adapted by Robert Bresson in 1969 as his first colour film. Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa’s sombre screen adaptation is a disquieting psychodrama that imagines the bitter frustration of a descent into Hell for its central character, an earnest young woman trying to track down her husband in the intractable Russian prison system.

This parable about contemporary bureaucracy and human rights it is also a cynical takedown of ‘everyman’. The woman, played thoughtfully by Vasilina Makovtseva, has decent intentions that lead her into a nightmarish journey that never ends. The film works on two levels: as a Kafkaesque psychological thriller and a brazen indictment of Russian society. A bit long at over two hours but deadly potent none the less.

From her ramshakle cottage in the middle of nowhere, the woman sets off to personally re-deliver a parcel of homemade food and clothing, returned to her by the prison authorities. The claustrophobic bus journey is fraught with vile and unhelpful characters who bicker and bait each other, spouting vile opinions that provide rich insight into Russian society and its current concerns. The most memorable scene is a mesmerising dream sequence that glistens with shades of Kubrick s Eyes Wide Shut offering the characters she meets along the way an opportunity to expound on the greatness of Mother Russia, but this culminates with a brutal rape scene as the woman is driven away in a van, full of misguided hope of visiting her husband. Loznita’s  modern day ‘Dante’s Inferno’ has no happy end. It is a mournful but moving reflection on the misery of mankind and the unkindness of strangers populating our broken society. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 16 APRIL 2018

 

 

 

 

Radiator (2014) | Home Ent Release

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Happy End (2017) ***** | Home Ent release

Dir: Michael Haneke | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Jean-louis Trintignant, Toby Jones, Mathieu Kassovitz, Franz Rogowski, Fantine Harduin Drama | 110min

HAPPY END is Michael Haneke’s satirical exploration of a rich family of industrialists whose dysfunctional daily lives become linked to the turbulent ongoing immigration nightmare that is Calais, thanks to the son and putative heir of the Laurent family’s building firm.

The ironically entitled HAPPY END joins Haneke’s film oeuvre with impeccable production values, sophisticated interiors and elegant performances from a starry ensemble cast, including veteran Louis Trintignant and, of course, Isabelle Huppert. This is a typical Haneke film: all his classic themes coalesce in a slow-burning treat, with an exquisitely judged script. Themes here include voyeurism, family guilt, shame, and revenge with social media and onscreen messaging topically enlightening the narrative and adding to a gritty subtext behind the beautifully manicured domestic scenes. In one involving and impromptu moment musicale for the scion’s 85th birthday (Trintignant as Georges Laurent), the female musician, a chelloist, is conducting a covert porn exchange with Thomas Laurent – revealed only to the audience as it scrolls down on his onscreen messenger.

Isabelle Huppert plays Anne Laurent, the chatelaine of the family’s Belle Epoque residence (complete with Moroccan staff) who has recently taken over the construction business from her ageing father Georges, who is stumbling on the foothills of decrepitude, and desperate to die, while actually being healthy, despite his advanced years. Recently engaged to Toby Jones’ English lawyer, and tasked with handling a UK deal involving the business, her son, Pierre (Franz Rogowski), is a non-starter prone to drunken outbursts, and her brother Thomas (Kassovitz) has a new wife, a baby and a savvy little daughter, (Harduin) from a previous marriage, who has broken into his computer and sussed his game.  So far, so dysfunctional. Meanwhile, we are treated to glimpses of the migrant crisis on the streets of the coastal city and an industrial accident on one of the Laurent’s main construction sites.

This is a malevolent movie that wears its unsettling credentials discretely hidden under its haute couture outerwear, and as in all Haneke’s fare, we know the ending will be far from happy, but provide first class entertainment from start to finish. MT

NOW ON BLURAY/DVD | 26 MARCH 2018

American Made (2017)

Dir.: Doug Liman; Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright; USA 2017, 115 min.

Doug Liman’s (Bourne Identity, The Wall) biopic of Barry Seal (1939-1986) could easily be mistaken for a Tom Cruise vehicle, in which the recently much maligned star plays a drug smuggler and money launderer for the CIA, putting on his megawatt smile and cheesy charm way through two hours of ludicrous mayhem. On the other hand, this feels like yet another Hollywood rewrite of American history.

We are introduced to a Barry Seal, who is naïve, but just a bit too greedy for his own good, when he starts to work for the CIA in the late ’70s, helping various suspicious South American groups to lay their hands on weapons and drugs – both seemingly necessary to fight communism in the sub-continent. Led by agent Mont Schafer (Gleeson), Seal, who once was the youngest pilot working for TWA, soon meets the Medellin Cartel and its main protagonist Pablo Escobar: After nearly coming to blows both sides see the advantages here and Tom – sorry – Barry is soon developing a lucrative side-line in drug-tracking – which naturally led to arms-dealing – for the Colombians, allowing him to trouser some pocket-bulging benefits. But soon everything goes bad: Barry is sucked into the Iran-Contra affair, with leading man Oliver North and a stonewalling White House led by Ronald and Nancy (‘Say No’) Reagan. Seal gets away from an Arkansas court, even though his guilt is proven, and gets a 1000 hour community work sentence. But the past catches up with him in a parking lot of the Salvation Army in his hometown of Baton Rogue, Louisiana in 1986.

Shot by DoP Cesar Charlone (Blindness) with competence but no imagination in the manner of all major Hollywood features, we are treated to two hours of escapism: just the right sort of juvenile nonsense without any impact, that might lead us to forget where we parked the car.

Not much to write home about – but looking into the CV of the real Barry Seal the picture changes dramatically. Born in Baton Rogue to a father who was an active Klansman, young Barry was in love with flying, and joined the Civil Air Patrol. In 1956/7 he met a certain Harvey Lee Oswald, and three years later became a member of “Operation 40”, a group of Cuban exiles, who where sponsored by the CIA and had been founded by then vice-president Richard Nixon. The group not only participated in the Bay of Pigs invasion, but staged assassinations in the USA and plots in many South American countries well into the 80ies, when American Made starts. And a sworn statement of his wife Deborah states “that Barry flew a get-away plane after the assassination of John F. Kennedy out of Dallas”, in which Cuban exiles played a significant role. An American made hero, indeed – but not the funny guy we are led to believe. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Wonder Woman (2017)

​Dir: Patty Jenkins | Cast: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis | US | Adventure Drama

IMG_3790That sound you can hear right now is hundreds, if not thousands, of film writers and critics breathing a huge sigh of relief that they won’t need to think too hard about the positives in DC’s newest reboot of Wonder Woman. With a cast straight out any fanboy and girl’s dreams and more roles for women over 40 than you can shake a stick at, WONDER WOMAN is not only a welcome break from the usual male-centric superhero movies, but it also presents its audience with a truly engaging and thoroughly enjoyable storyline. Staring Israeli actress Gal Gadot and directed by the excellent Patty Jenkins (Monster, 2003), the film manages to cleverly avoid the usual pitfalls of big summer blockbusters by offering up a plethora of very likeable characters and a wonderfully engaging plot. Fans and foes alike will have to admit that DC has finally got a big hit on its hands, and the fact that this was a female lead superhero movie is even sweeter for some.

​Diana (Gadot) lives on a mythical island inhabited by beautiful Amazonian warrior women, which has for centuries been hidden away from the prying eyes of the modern world. When American pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash-lands on the island with tens of German soldier in his pursuit, Diana goes to his rescue and helps free him from the wreckage of his war plane. Together, they hatch a plan to leave the island, him to go back to his top secret mission and her in search of Ares God of war, whom she believes is responsible for the current World War. Staring Robin Wright as the Amazonian warrior Antiope and Connie Nielsen as Diana’s mother Hippolyta, the film spends a rather unnecessary amount of time setting up the mythical story behind our heroine, but once it gets going, there’s no stopping it. Chris Pine manages to be both charming and insufferably smug, his performance is beautifully nuanced and commendably comedic at his own character’s expense.
​                                                                                                                                                                             Whether WONDER WOMAN is, as some have said, a feminist treatment of a classic story, remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, Gal Gadot not only puts in a brilliant performance, but also presents a whole new generation of little girls and boys with a badass alternative to the usual male counterparts. On the whole, the film is very silly in parts, but this does nothing to put a dampener on the proceedings. I would dare anyone not to be entertained, at least by its witty dialogue and touching storyline. A sure hit for DC and Warner Brothers. LINDA MARRIC.

WONDER WOMAN IS ON GENERAL RELEASE 1 JUNE


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Masaan | BFI INDIA Celebration

DIrector: Neeraj Ghaywan

Writer: Varun Grover| Neeraj Ghaywan

MASAAN enchants Un Certain Regard audiences with a painterly modern love story set in the holy city of Benares (Varanasi).

With his co-writer Varun Grover, Ghaywan creates a sure-footed character-driven debut that has all the intensity of a Bollywood drama but is told with a delicacy of touch similar to recent Indian dramas The Lunchbox and Udaan.

The three-stranded lyrical drama is essentially a coming of age affair where we first meet Devi (Richa Chadda) and her student friend Piyush checking into a hotel for an afternoon of sexual discovery. Both virgins, they are piqued to explore forbidden pleasures but Police break into the room before they have a chance to consummate matters. Piyush tries to kills himself during the onslaught and is rushed to hospital and the scandal brings shame on Devi and her father Pathak (Sanjay Mishra).

Meanwhile, in another part of the riverbank, Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) works at the funeral pyres of the ghats but his dream is to become to become an engineer. Shy yet stunningly attractive, he has set his heart on a Shaalu (Sheta Tripathi), who he meets on Facebook, but her higher caste means that their love affair is doomed before it begins.

This is a sweetly romantic and endearingly old-fashioned film that avoids sentimentality but finds a satisfying conclusion with some moving moments along the way. Although some of the musical choices feel slightly out of place – more locally-rooted music would have better captured the mood –  Avinash Arun Dhaware’s visuals of the exotic landscapes and rose-tinted sun-sets are amongst the most gorgeous of this year’s Un Certain Regard section, creating a real sense of place and transforming this beguiling drama into a memorial tribute to the people of Varanasi. MT

NIW SHOWING AT BFI AS PART OF THE INDIA SERIES

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 13 – 24 May 2015 | UN CERTAIN REGARD

Tanna (2015)

Director: Bentley Dean | Martin Butler

99min l Drama  l Australia

Dean and Butler are experienced TV documentarians whose first foray into narrative features is this stunningly cinematic tribal tale from Vanuatu in the South Pacific.

TANNA is a tragic love story whose implications ripple out into the wider world and connect us to the narrative of disappearing communities and survival of remote tribes. There is a disarming innocence and fierceness that marks the traditional tribal villagers out as philosophical and emotionally highly evolved, despite their frugal and backwood existence in the magical island set in its Pacific splendour. The Australian helmers make no attempt to trivialise these honest and gentle people, or diminish the very real threats they face from rival tribes who pose a very real danger if their customs and beliefs are not upheld. By incorporating elements of ethnography and spirituality in their storyline TANNA comes across as a serious study while cleverly also appealing to mainstream and arthouse audiences, children and adults setting the story from the young protogonist’s perspective.

The island of Vanuatu has around 30,000 inhabitants who form part of distinct tribes who embrace the Kastom system of beliefs, rejecting Colonial invasion, Christianity and the lure of 21st century economic advancement. Dean and Bentley lived amongst the islanders in a village called Yakel where they gradually put together a narrative based on tribal customs, rituals and traditional stories basing their drama on an incident that occurred during 1987.

Women play an important role in this patriarchal community and the story is seen through the eyes of a little girl called Selin who quietly observes a budding romance between her sister, Wawa and a the village chief’s orphaned grandson Dain, But Wawa is coming of age and been committed by her grandfather to an arranged marriage with a man from another tribe which will serve to heal a rift between the rival villagers. Both the sisters share a rebellious streak and Wawa has no intention of fallong in with the arranged marriage haven fallen in love with Dain. Selin’s grandfather is the village shaman, and he takes her to visit the island’s active volcano, Yahul. The vermillion sparks and fiery energy provides the focus for a spritual force that offers both comfort but commands supreme respect.

TANNA is a poetic and magical drama that also highlights the songs and music of the tribal traditions focusing on the virtues of conflict resolution, forgiveness and wisdom gained through experience. The film shows how the rival tribes are proud but deeply philosophical and always willing to ‘see another way’ in resolving their differences, and although they appear backward are highly evolved, bringing compassion and intelligent to their way they conducting inter-tribal relations.

With its tantalising score and natural performances from the villagers, Bentley and Dean have created a tense and tender drama that is instructive and dazzlingly cinematic harnessing the rain forests, colourful tribal costumes, volcanic landscapes and palm-fringed beaches of Vanuatu. MT

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 17 FEBRUARY 2017

 

Christine (2016)

Dir.: Antonio Campos; Cast: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, J. Smith Cameron; Tracy Letts; USA 2016, 119 min.

After his superb thriller, Simon Killer, Director Antonio Campos goes on to murder his biopic on newscaster Christine Chubbock, who killed herself on air in July 1974, aged just 29. This is an uneven production that doesn’t do justice to Craig Shilowich’s decent script and, despite a resonant turn from Rebecca Hall in the lead, the film is often shot like a parody of a 70s horror outing.

Christine Chubbuck (R. Hall) worked for the ABC affiliated WXLT-TV channel in Sarasota, Florida and suffered a depressive personality disorder brought on by illness and an unsuccessful love life. Living with her mother Peg (Smith Cameron), she developed strong feelings for co-worker George Peter Ryan (M.C. Hall), an Anchor at the TV station and was given the plumb job in Baltimore that Christine had yearned for. When Ryan told Christine that he was leaving Sarasota, taking with him her close friend and sports reporter of WXLT, this was the final straw for the unhappy journalist. On July 15th 1974, she read the news (even though she was employed to present her own show ‘Suncoast Digest’), and when the item about a local restaurant shooting jammed, she calmly announced “we are bringing you the latest in blood and guts and in living colour –you are going to see another first – attempted suicide”. Taking a handgun out of her bag, she calmly shot herself behind the ear. On her desk, police later found a manuscript of her last TV appearance, including a third-person account of her suicide.

Christine Chubbuck died 14 hours later in hospital. Shilowich’s narrative includes many highlights of her career, such as Chubbuck’s constant run-ins with new-director Mike Simmons (Letts), who accused her of “being a feminist, always being too loud, to drown out others”. But the way women in the workplace are treated makes Chubbuck’s point crystal clear: far from being too loud, the female employees were always at pains to soft-pedal the males, who went on to get the promotions, with Ryan a good example of macho posturing with deals were concluded over a glass of beer at the bar.

The scenes between Christine and her mother are very emotive: whilst daughter criticises mother for her flings with younger men, she still dreams of being taken out. Whilst Christine Chubbock was intellectually and professionally ahead of her times, her lack of emotional satisfaction made her fight even harder for recognition at work. So the problems at WXLT snowballed, and when she feared that she would lose even her professional identity, she gave up.

Why director Antonio Campos and DoP Joe Anderson decided on a near gothic treatment, with shadows dominating even the sober atmosphere of the TV studio, is inexplicable – surely the story of Christine Chubbuck has enough dramatic impact on its own. PD Scott Kuzio recreates the 70s communication world to a tee – with manual typewriters and huge, handheld cameras. He and lead actress, a superbly convincing  Rebecca Hall, have to overcome the director’s penchant for stylistic indulgence, which takes so much away from an otherwise perfect basic concept. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 27 JANUARY 2017

Ethel & Ernest (2016)

Dir: Roger Marwood | Voices by Jim Broadbent | Brenda Blethyn | Animation | UK

Jim Broadbent and Brenda Blethyn are the voices behind Roger Marwood’s ETHEL & ERNEST, an animated portrait of marital togetherness in suburban England. Based on Raymond Briggs’ biographical tribute to his own parents, this is an emotionally resonant drama that glows in its water-coloured tenderness echoing the likes of John Betjeman and Alan Bennett in capturing the quintessential middle class tolerance and quiet humour of the era.

Against the dramatic background of the 20th century, Ethel and Ernest’s modest story unfolds as a delicate domestic tapestry. They first meet in 1928 and go to enjoy 40 years of marriage that sees them through the privations of the Second World War, the start of the Welfare State and other national events, and the birth of their son who went on the create the evocative children’s animation Snowman.

For the most part enjoyable, some of the dialogue verges on twee in phrases such as “Mr Hitler”, and “this nice Mr Atlee” which feel like an attempt to trivialise Ethel – as if women were so ignorant back then. While some of the scenes begin to feel rather predictable, this is a touching arthouse treasure that will appeal to patriotic mainstream audiences and cineastes alike. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 28 OCTOBER 2016

Planetarium (2016) | LFF 2016

Dir|Writer: Rebecca Zlotowski | Cast: Nathalie Portman, Lily Rose Depp, Emmanuel Sallinger, Alexandre Zloto | Drama | 105min | Franco Belgian

Rebecca Zlotowski follows her nuclear-power-based love story Grand Central with a drama that is more about psychics than physics. PLANETARIUM is of the ether and floats sumptuously and delicately through a pre-war story of supernatural powers possessed by two gorgeous sisters who arrive in Paris from New York to perform seances, connecting the living with the dead. Zlotowski has written the script herself in an meandering and impressionist style-narrative that gracefully conjures up the febrile state of Europe in the late 1930s, capturing a magical moment in time that is both starstruck and doomed. The girls’ whimsical story is firmly anchored by a powerful racist subplot involving its lead male character André Korben, a wealthy Polish Jew.

Natalie Portman is the brightest star of PLANETARIUM as Laura Barlow, but she is surrounded by a galaxy of sparkling performances from Lily Rose Depp, who comes into her own as the younger and more ethereal sister Kate;  Emmanuel Salinger as Korben, a film producer who part-finances and accommodates the girls in his elegant Art Deco home; and Alexandre Zloto who plays a silver-tongued René-Lucien Chomette (aka René Clair best known for his work with silent film in the 1930s and titles such as A Nous la Liberté and Le Million). Seeing that times are hard seance-wise in the run up to the war, Korben seizes on the potential of a supernatural-themed film harnessing the skills of The Barlow Sisters, as a potential career in acting beckons for Laura. Sadly despite a fascinating detour into cinematic methods of the era, this film within a film burns a financial hole into Korben’s production company and the story ends as a tragedy after his Jewish roots are exposed and he is sent ‘East’ (to the gas chambers). But not before the champagne flows and a seriously soigné time is had by all. So even if Zlotowski’s storyline often blinds you with its science and the odd plothole, it does so in such a fabulously enjoyable and inventive way with stunning costumes, glamorous locations and starry encounters, by the end it’s all been a blast. MT

SCREENING DURING BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 16 OCTOBER 2016 | VENICE REVIEW

 

Little Men (2016)

Dir: Ira Sachs | Cast: Jennifer Ehle, Greg Kinnear; Paulina Garcia, Theo Tapitz, Michael Barbieri, Talia Balsam | USA 2016, 87 min.

Best known for his theatre work, director and co-writer Ira Sachs’ follow up to his screen debut Love is Strange is a keenly observed story of two teenage boys whose friendship is threathened by parental intervention and an overdose of middleclass cultural aspirations.

Jake (Taplitz) moves with his parents, psychologist Kathy (Ehle) and actor father Brian (Kinnear), from a small flat in Manhattan to a bigger place in Brooklyn. The reason for their advancement is the death of Brian’s father, who left them the flat and a shop, where Chilean emigrant Gloria (Garcia) works and lives in a small backroom with her son Tony (Barbieri). Both boys are in their early teens, interested in art, and want to go to a prestigious high school. Due to her friendship with Jake’s grandfather, Gloria is still paying the same rent as when she moved in years ago and Brian needs to increase her rent to supplement his meagre income as a fringe actor and he is encouraged in this decision by his sister Audrey (Balsam), who owns a share. But Gloria cannot to pay any more and when Jake learns about the eviction order for his friend Tony, he breaks down in tears and asks his father in front of Gloria, to reconsider.

Even despite its meagre running time of 87 minutes, LITTLE MEN suffers from this rather slim narrative but the glaring flaw lies in the cultural discussions between father and son. Sachs takes very much an adult view of teenage boys: fourteen year olds do not engage in lengthy discussion about the proper way to become an artist – unless they are child prodigies – and very few are capable of intensely watching a performance of Chekov’s Seagull, even with a parent as the lead. LITTLE MEN would have been more convincing if Sachs had focused more on the conflict between Jake’s high-minded parents and the Chilean immigrant, Gloria. Performances on the whole are convincing, with a brilliant turn from Paulina Garcia in the role of Gloria. DoP Oscar Duran employs sensitive panning and long tracking shots to show the anguish and disappointment of all concerned. But a superfluous ‘second’ ending leaves even more to question. Had Sachs taken a more teenage viewpoint of the storyline, LITTLE MEN could have been a real gem. AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 23 SEPTEMBER AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS.

 

The Deer Hunter (1978) | Tribute to Michael Cinimo

Dir.: Michael Cimino

Cast: Robert De Niro, John Cazale, John Savage, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep

USA1978, 182 min.

Michael Cimino only directed seven feature films, yet he can claim to have put a maximal impact on film history – even if not always for the right reasons. His third feature HEAVEN’S GATE (1980) bankrupted the production company United Artists, but he will be even more remembered for THE DEER HUNTER. Only his second film is nevertheless caused a world wide political storm – and garnered five “Oscars”, including “Best Director” and “Best Film” in 1979.

Whilst THE DEER HUNTER was premiered on 8.12.1978 in New York, the film had its international coming out at the Berlin Film Festival in February/March 1979. Even before the screening, the Soviet delegation protested about the film and wanted it withdrawn. After very mixed reviews, the Soviet delegation withdrew all their films and walked out, followed by Cuba and the rest of the East European countries, including the jury members Vera Chytilova (Czechoslovakia) and Pal Gabor (Hungary); a third, Julie Christie, left well before the end of the festival. (Ironically, nine years earlier, the festival was abandoned, after the Jury president, the American director George Stevens walked out in protest against the Anti-Vietnam war film “o.k.” by the West-German director Michael Verhoeven, shown in competition).

Seeing THE DEER HUNTER thirty-five years later after the great scandal (festival director Wolf Donner was pushed to resign), it surprises how quaint the first third of the production is: the scenes in the little Russian-orthodox enclave near Pittsburgh, with the steel mill and the church as centre points, are overly idyllic and the male protagonists acting out the rituals of arrested development, with the occasional casual violence against women thrown in. Frank Capra would have loved this version of small town America. But therefore, the shock of the bestial North-Vietnamese torturers in the middle part is far greater, as if the movie would have started with this segment. The chaos of the last war years is again shown out of the perspective of the American soldiers: victims to the end. Part three, back home, trying to put the broken lives together, seems to be more sober, until the very end, the rendering of “God Bless America” by the survivors (plus Meryl Streep’s Linda, the token woman of the narrative) shows patriotism as it worst.

Peter Biskind (“Vanity Fair”) wrote in 1978: “..that the political agenda of THE DEER HUNTER was something of a mystery. It may have been more a by-product of Hollywood myopia, the demands of the war-film genre, American parochialism and simple ignorance than it was the pre-meditated right-wing road map it seemed to many”. Pauline Kael argued: “The impression a viewer gets is that if we did some bad things there we did them ruthlessly but impersonally; the Vietcong were cruel and sadistic”. And John Simon in the “New York Magazine” summed it up for all: “This film is only an extension of the old Hollywood war movie lie. The enemy is still bestial and stupid, and no match for our purity and heroism; only we no longer wipe up the floor with him – rather, we litter it with his guts”. Today, after Iraq and Afghanistan, we might point to THE DEER HUNTER more with sadness than anger. AS

MICHAEL CIMINO 1939 – 2016

 

 

 

 

 

Cemetery of Splendour (2015)

Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Cast: Banlop Lomnoi, Jenjira Pongpas, Jarinpattra Rueangram

102min   Drama   Thailand

Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the Palme d’Or in 2010 with his strangely-titled piece of poetic reverie Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past LivesCemetery of Splendour premiered at Un Certain Regard in 2015. Taking up the fashionable theme of psychogeography, it is a blissful and serenely spiritual study of a group of soldiers who have fallen ill with sleeping sickness while working on a government building project. Their convalescence is overseen in the tropical surroundings of a “laying in” hospital by the calming presence of elderly volunteer, Jenjira, and a local medium, Keng, who is uses her spiritual powers to heal the soldiers. The women are also visited by the spirits of two Laotian princesses who appear naturally and calmly: dressed as mortal women.

Cemetery works as a clever allegory of the suffering of the Thai people. The twist is that this ground was once the site of an ancient Royal Palace. The spirits of past royals (who also represent the unquiet ghosts of the corrupt Thai nation) are drawing on the energy of the soldiers and using it to fight their own continued battles, causing a generalised sleeping sickness amongst the veterans.

Weerasethakul’s film is beautifully-framed in a series of long and medium shots. On a spiritual level, it serves as a meditation that contemplates the value of harsh western medicine in contrast to the curative powers of touch and silence that assist healing. An atmospheric soundtrack of ambient insect sounds and cicadas lull us into a deep sense of calm, making this an affecting and deeply restorative experience. MT

THE TATE MODERN is currently running a film installation entitled PRIMITIVE 2009 

CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR is on general release from 17 JUNE 2016

 

 

 

Louder Than Bombs (2015)

Director: Joachim Trier   Writers: Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Isabelle Huppert, Gabriel Byrne, Amy Ryan, David Strathairn

105min  Drama

Anyone who has experienced a sudden and controversial family death will identify with the father and two sons in LOUDER THAN BOMBS, a drama exploring bereavement.

The Norwegian director is known for his previous character-driven dramas Reprise and Oslo and August 31st but this is his first film in English, with regular scripter, Eskil Vogt (Blind). He subtly explores the aftermath of the death of a dedicated photographer Isabelle Reed (Huppert), who has spent her career in war zones, shuttling back and forward on the brink of danger. Huppert brings a loving yet detached feel to her part as mother and wife. Clearly though there were cracks in the marital facade before she died, and Gabriel Byrne, as her placid and appreciative widower, Gene, picks these up with tearful concern and he grapples with a trucculent teenager and an academic son, who is out of his depth emotionally with the recent birth of his first child.

This story unravels slowly as Trier gradually fleshes out characters who genuinely feel like people you feel you know. It emerges that Gene gave up his career to support the boys before the tragedy and is now sensitively treading his way through a minefield of feelings as events continually surface to challenge his perceptions of this constantly shirting emotional scenery. Byrne plays him as an appealing, gentle man. Clearly lonely, he is at odds with both his sons and yet desperately tries to reach out in to both of them, while he also tries to find his way into a new relationship with a woman who happens to be his son’s teacher. Although Trier uses some images and techniques to explore the bereavement reveries of his characters, these feel unnecessary and out of place, as he has already proved that he can craft imaginative and authentic types who hold our attention, without resorting to gimmicks.

Huppert’s character threads through the fractured narrative, appearing as dedicated, yet also opportunistic in her need for emotional fulfillment during her overseas career. She also appears ignorant of the effects that her professional life has had on the rest of her family while she has been away, as her focus has been self-absorbed by her need to carve out her own professional niche, very much in common with the character Juliet Binoche played in Haneke’s recent outing A Thousand Times Good Night.

The story turns on the suspenseful news that her ex-colleague Richard Weissman (David Strathairn), is writing a piece in the local paper in tribute to her life, to coincide with a posthumous retrospective of her photos. He has warned Gene (Gabriel Byrne), that the piece is likely to reveal some personal details of their trips together and this causes Gene to reflect on his marriage and put his sulky teenage son, Conrad (Devin Druid) in the picture. As the older son, Jesse Eisenberg, plays his usual neurotic role as Johan, who is academically gifted yet emotionally much less mature that we first imagine. Although there are clearly some misjudged moments, this is an absorbing and at times affecting piece that shows the Norwegian director gradually developing his craft in promising ways. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE VENUES

Mojave (2015)

Director: William Monahan

Cast: Oscar Isaac, Garrett Headlund, Walton Goggins, Mark Wahlberg, Dania Ramirez

93min  Thriller  US

Disenchanted with his charmed life, a Hollywood hipster heads out to the desert where he meets a dangerous drifter with nothing to lose but everything to gain by following him back to his existence home home.

Director and Oscar-winning scripter William Monahan’s noirish thriller occasionally feels rather forced and artificial but his clever casting of Garrett Hedlund and Oscar Isaacs ensures an entertaining ride through contemporary California urging us to contemplate the meaning of fame, love and the ties that bind and asking the question: “When you get what you want, want do you want?”

MOJAVE‘s premise is actually very solid and even a noble one: the world of stardom is full of narcissistic types who can turn extremely dangerous if they don’t get the fame they think they deserve and this kind of twisted psychology runs rife in the concentrated toxicity of Hollywood’s starry Hills. Garrett Hedlund plays Tom, tells us in the opening scene how he’s “been famous since he was 19”. But in his early thirties, this facile success has left him empty and deluded: his English wife and daughter have abandoned him with his part-time lover (Louise Bourgoin) in a bijoux villa with infinity pool, and he is bored with the present and truculent about the future. Casting off to the Mojave desert in his jeep, in the hope of shaking off this ennui, he comes across a well-kemp wayfarer whom success has clearly deluded but whose articulate if embittered patter (“I’m into motiveless malignity”) indicates he’s no fool.

But things turn nasty as Tom immediately spots his alter ego, and after a brutal scuffle Tom takes Jack’s gun and finds refuge in a cave from whence he shoots and kills a federal officer mistaking him for Jack in the half-light of dawn. Tom then destroys the stolen gun and heads back to Los Angeles.  But Jack follows him back and after killing a gay guy who tries to pick him up, he uses his house for a base from which to stalk Tom, as he re-invents himself with a new look. Essentially a two-hander, support comes from Walton Goggins in an campy cameo as his agent and Mark Wahlberg as  his stroppy and petulant producer/partner.

Chocful of witticisms and literary allusions, Monahan’s script makes this desert duo slick and entertaining – but in a way that feels rather overplayed and pleased with itself. Clearly these two are easy on the eye and amusing to be around but Wahlberg’s turn just doesn’t work and is something he will regret in retrospect. These are people we don’t care tuppence for and so the denouement evokes little reaction other than reminding us that Hollywood and Los Angleles are places that echo loudly with an emotional and spiritual void.

Ultimately MOJAVE is a well-paced thriller: over-talky but always entertaining, Oscar Isaacs does his best at being a nasty psychopath but previous roles in A Most Dangerous Year and even The Two Faces of January have suited his talents better. Hedlund’s role is rather one-dimensional, but he plays that dimension very successfully and is mesmerising in each scene. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM MARCH 25 2016

The Finest Hours (2016)

Dir: Craig Gillespie; Cast: Chris Pine, Casey Afflick, Holliday Granger, Eric Bana, Ben Foster

118 min. Drama  USA

Set off the coast near the town of Chatham, Massachusetts in February 1952, THE FINEST HOURS tells the story of the “most daring sea rescue operation in history.” Whilst director Craig Gillespie (Fright Night) has come with some stunning images, the script somehow fails to bind the three main narrative strains together.

After a not particularly exciting courtship, Bernie Webber (Pine), a member of the Chatham Coastal Guard, is asked by Miriam (Granger) to marry her. The young man stutters to say no, but soon agrees to a wedding in April. But on February 18th two oil tankers break up near Cap Cod and Webber leads a small rescue boat with a crew of three, among them his mate Richard Livesey (Foster), to rescue the thirty odd seamen of the SS Pendleton, since all the other coast guard boots were helping the SS Fort Mercer.

The action shifts from the rescuers to the men on board of the Pendleton. Miriam accuses the strict Chief Warrant Officer of the Coast Guard, Daniel Cluff (Bana), of scarifying her future husband and his crew in a suicide mission. Indeed, some of Webber’s friends suggest that he should not leave the harbours, telling Cluff that he would not be equipped to overcome the 25 metre high storm waves. But Webber has none of it and reaches the Pendleton more by luck than judgement. After the majority of the survivors are on board the small rescue boat, one of the crew suggests to Webber to leave and come back for the rest of the seamen later. But Webber stays strong and what follows nect is nothing short of a miracle. “We are all going to die or to live”.

THE FINEST HOURS works best during the battle on board the Pendleton. Ray Sybert (Afflick), runs the ship to ground, against the will of some the men who want to use the life boat. The inside of the split tanker looks like a scene from Dante’s inferno, with the men working hard to keep the ship afloat. Miriam encounters some resentment from other citizen’s of Chatham, regarding a failed rescue mission of the past. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the small rescue boat is enhanced with dramatic effects. Overall, the CGIs help to make some memorable images: DOP Xavier Aguirresarobe captures the chaos and despair on the Pendleton with mesmerising panorama shots, creating a hell on the five levels of the ship cut in half. But the script lacks any coherence, with wooden acting reducing THE FINEST HOURS to an old-fashioned ‘boys own’ adventure yarn without any properly explored characters. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19 FEBRUARY 2016

 

Youth (La Giovinezza) |(2015) Prime Video

Director: Paolo Sorrentino | Cast: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Ed Stoppard | 118  Drama  Italy

Sorrentino’s second film in English, YOUTH, opens with the Sicilian director’s signature razzmatazz and rhythm: a girl singing on a revolving bandstand in a luxurious Swiss mountainside Hotel, possibly Davos. This is where Michael Caine, as retired conductor Fred Ballinger, is meditating the future – missing his wife, but not his music. Joined by his film director friend, Mick (Harvey Keitel) their contemplate life and their married kids, Lena and Julian, (Wiesz and Stoppard).

YOUTH is a leisurely-paced drama that feels like a languorous troll down memory lane punctuated by explosions of dramatic choreography and entertaining vignettes from Jane Fonda, who plays an actress friend of the men; a voluptuous prostitute who services the male guests, and a couple who sit in silence at dinner, and an obese footballer who can barely breathe.

This riff on the pleasures of physical and emotional love has a three-stranded narrative that explores Lena’s sudden break-up with Julian, who has supposedly found a better lover (she spends the rest of the film talking about her own bedroom skills to anyone who’ll listen). Mick is meanwhile putting the finishing touches to a film script with the ‘legendary’ Brenda Morel (Fonda). Paul Dano, plays another filmmaker guest and stooge for Fred as the two shoot the breeze on the subject of fame and being type-cast for one’s previous successes.

YOUTH works best in the scenes involving Keitel and Caine who create some touching emotional moments and pleasant comedy. Caine is especially good as the staid yet sensitive ageing conductor – he’s similar in some ways to Toni Servillo’s Tito di Girolamo in Consequences of Love, Sorrentino’s first and most satisfying film to date.

Very much a case of style over substance, Youth occasionally feels like a series of interesting moments strung together rather than a satisfying whole. That said, it looks fabulous, Luca Bigazzi continues to wow us with some dazzling camerawork including a magnificent sequence of St Marks Square, and Venice sinking into the sea. There is plenty to enjoy performance-wise thanks to the sterling talents of Keitel, Caine and the rest of the starry cast, Youth is great while it lasts but instantly forgettable once the credits have rolled. MT

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO |  CANNES 2015 PREMIERE

Turkey of 2015 | Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)

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

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

125min   Drama

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Dir.: Rob Reiner

Cast: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby

USA 1989, 96 min.

Often described as “Woody Allen light”, Rob Reiner’s WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, has aged well and cements its place as a quintessential feel-good romantic comedy of the late 80s. This is mainly due to the the chemistry between the leads Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan, but even more so because of Nora Ephron’s script, which was the result of interviews between her and Reiner as well as producer Andy Scheinmann between 1984 and 1988.

What emerges fro the interviews was that Reiner was permanently depressed, his sardonic humour saving him from becoming morbid. When Billy Crystal (who was at that time Reiner’s best friend) joined the production, he witnessed Reiner’s despair after his divorce from the actress/filmmaker Penny Marshall. The Sally identity was a mix of Ephron’s own relationship experiences and the ones of her girl friends.

The nods to Allen are clear: there is the use of the split-screen (when Harry and Sally phone in bed, watching their TV sets), and the Manhattan references are clearly visible. During the pre-production time, Ephron would interview people who worked for the company about their relationships, these interviews were shown in stylised interludes in the film. Regarding the end, Ephron and Reiner realised that the most realistic outcome would be the permanent status quo of friendship between the couple, but they chose a more optimistic finale.

Harry (Crystal) and Sally (Ryan) meet after graduation on the campus of Chicago University in 1977, to drive off together to New York, where he starts his career as political adviser, she as a journalist. Having witnessed Harry’s long, passionate goodbye from her friend Amanda, Sally is annoyed that he immediately makes a pass at her. They argue, non-stop, and Sally is relieved to see the last of Harry, when they arrive in NY, even though he is the only person she knows in the whole city. Five years later, they meet by accident in an NY airport, both having relationships, their rather frosty relationship continues. In 1987 they bump into each other in a bookshop, both their relationships have ended, and they start a sort of friendship, even though Harry still insists that a platonic friendship between a woman and a man is impossible, because the man’s craving for sex would interfere. At the famous scene in Katz’ Deli in Manhattan, Sally stimulates an orgasm, to prove a point to the still rather misogynist Harry. After meeting with their respective best friends, Marie (Fisher) and Jess (Kirby), to end their single status, Harry and Sally watch, as the two run off together, blissful in love. After a one-night stand with Harry, when Sally breaks down after her ex-boyfriend marries another woman, the couple have a vicious argument at Marie’s and Jess’ wedding reception.

Reiner recalls, that at a test screening, all the women in the audience laughed at the Deli scene, whilst the men were dead silent. The director’s mother, Estelle, had a small part in the film, as the woman sitting next to Sally in Katz’, ordering “the same as she had” from the waiter. Even today, there is still a sign above the famous table, saying “where Harry met Sally…hope you have what she had.”
Twenty-six years later two elements stand out: there is the shock to see a world without mobiles, as well as a very basic, noisy computer, and the emotional intensity of the couple, which still reverberates today, in spite of the rather light weight narrative. AS

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE IN A SPARKLING NEW RE=MASTERING COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS

 

The Surface (2015) GFEST 2015

Director: Michael J. Saul

Cast: Harry Haines, Michael Redford, Nicholas McDonald

USA 2015, 81 min.

The line between art and caricature is a usually a fine one, but Michael J. Saul (Crush) has managed to cross the line with this wrong-footed romantic drama THE SURFACE.

Set in contemporary California, where the sun always shines, two high school students, Evan (Haines) and Chris (McDonald) live together, their beautiful bodies permanently on show, director Michael J. Saul doubling up as DoP. Chris is rich, and Evan is an orphan, always on the search for his identity. One day, he buys a 8mm camera from an old man. When he returns to see the man, his son Peter (Redford) tells him that his father has died. Peter gives Evan old home movies, shot by his father, and Evan re-edits them for a school film festival. He falls in love with Peter, and moves in with him. But said search for his identity starts to muddy the waters…

The only value of THE SURFACE is as a vey badly-acted soft porn movie. Dissolves and slow-motion are reminders, and not by chance, of the bad taste of some 1970s films. But it is the dialogue which takes first prize for sheer awfulness . When Peter philosophically states “people leave your life or they don’t”, Evan answers soulfully “I think that is sad”. Evan’s musings are equally deeply felt: “I don’t even know what happiness is, but it is not so important as people think”. And finally, he leaves us with another gem: “Some people find themselves when they are young, some, like me, take a lifetime”.

To say that THE SURFACE is an amateur production, is a slap in the face to amateurs. AS

The Surface screens at ArtHouse Crouch End on Tuesday 17 November as part of the LGBT ARTS FESTIVAL | GFEST FROM 9 NOVEMBER – 21 NOVEMBER 2015 | LONDON UK

Right Now Wrong Then (2015) | Locarno

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

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

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

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

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

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

SCREENING DURING LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 7-18 OCTOBER 2015

 

 

Office (2015) | HUA LI SHANG BAN ZU | LFF 2015

OFFICE (HUA LI SHANG BAN ZU)

Director: Johnnie To;

Cast: Wang Ziyi, Lang Yueting, Sylvia Chang, Chow Yun-Fat, Eason Chan, Tang Wei

Hong Kong/China 2015, 117 min.

Johnnie To’s stock in trade has been violent gangster movies and recently those gangsters have been capitalists in suits as in: Life Without Principle (2011), Don’t Go Breaking My Heart (2011) and its sequel (2014), deal with life at the upper end of the corporate world.

Set in the premises of the Chinese company Jones & Sunn before and after the world wide financial crisis, started by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, OFFICE is a musical – but very much nearer to Brecht than any Hollywood musical. Shot in cinemascope and 3D with rather eclectic lyrics, production designer William Chang has created a corporate structure of black, white and grey, with a central clock (shades of John Farrow’s Big Clock from 1948) reminding all protagonists that their time is running out. Jones & Sunn are going public on the stock market and are preparing their IPO’s. One of the leading men is Lee Xiang (Ziyi), who sems to be omnipotent to a degree that we sometimes believe that he is pure satire.

Lee works in tandem with a female employee, in this case the somehow overqualified Kat (Yueting), who appears to be a plant. At the top, the leading couple of CEO Winnie Chang (Sylvia Chang, who adapted her own play ‘Design for Living’ for the screen), is a real low-life, well suited to having an affair with chairman Ho Chung-Ping (Yun-fat), who creeps in and out of the hospital room where his comatose wife is fighting for her life. But the most reckless character is the chief executive David Wang (Chan), who cooks the books mercilessly, or tries to seduce another major player like Sophie (Wei). When Lee and Kat perform a love duet, the “fake it till you succeed” mood of the film is highlighted.

Overall though, the musical numbers are not particularly impressive, certainly no catchy rhythms to sing along to; perhaps the high-pitched chorus playing over the opening and final credits could qualify for a signature tune. OFFICE is always ready to parody: when the highly-charged employers stream to the elevators, all eyes glued to their smartphones, their lockstep recalls Chinese films of the past, when crowds walked the same way in Odes to chairman Mao. The parallels go further: just as Mao did destroy his erstwhile followers in the Cultural Revolution, so does the capitalist system does away with the men and women, who created it.

In spite of all the achievements of all departments and the actors, notably DOP Siu-Keung Cheng, who created a look of constrained chaos, OFFICE is much less than its particular parts. All elements in themselves are near brilliant, but there is no cohesion. To’s detached style doe not help: it is like watching a procession of single units, but somehow the unity is missing. Which is a shame, because Office cannot be faulted in any way – it is just like an elaborate,wonderful charade without any emotive power holding it together. AS

OFFICE | LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2015

Fidelio: Alice’s Journey (2014)

Director: Lucie Borleteau

Cast: Ariane Labed, Melvil Poupard, Anders Danielsen Lie

97min  Drama   France

A female engineer on a container vessel manages to have a man ‘in every port’ in this drama that navigates emotional, sexual and romantic waters on the high seas.

Fidelio: Alice’s Journey (Fidelio: L’odyssee d’Alice), is an absorbing and gripping drama that won Ariane Labed Best Actress at Locarno Film Festival 2014 for her characterful performance in the lead and at the helm of the ship. It’s also the feature debut of writer director Lucie Borleteau who manages to enfuse the masculine world of international shipping with female sensuality and a certain finesse.

There is never a dull moment on board the good ship Fidelio, once known as the Eclipse when Alice (Labed) first sailed on her, below decks. After a lusty scene on a beach with her land-based lover Felix (Anders Danielsen Lie), Alice discovers, when she re-joins the ship to replace the deceased Patrick, that her old sea-going flame Gael (Melvil Poupard) is the new Captain of her heart – literally and sexually. The two go on to enjoy a great physical and working relationship – and Labed injects her ‘all’ convincingly into both roles: personal and professionally. Meanwhile, back on shore, she re-discovers the delights of her Norwegian dalliance who admits that her long absences at sea keep the winds blowing pleasurably through their relationship sails.

Borleteau’s script – co-written with Clara Bourreau – goes full steam ahead at first and avoids over-working tedious ‘woman in a man’s world’ tropes by keeping things engaging and authentic as Alice enjoys the best of both worlds in this cut and thrust male environment of the French merchant navy; where the ship’s destination can change daily depending on commodity market movements back home. But the narrative becomes rather becalmed in the third act where Alice and Felix’s affair enters stormy seas – although this is less of a problem by this stage as the focus is on the journey ahead  and Simon Beaufils’ magnetic cinematography broadens the appeal, both on the widescreen and in intimate close-ups on board the Fidelio. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 3 OCTOBER IN SELECTED CINEMAS

 

By Our Selves (2015) | FID Marseilles | June 30 – July 6 2015

Director:  Andrew Kotting

Cast: Toby Jones, Iain Sinclair, Eden Kotting, Freddie Jones

UK  Experimental Drama

Experimental filmmaker Andrew Kötting is very interested in English journeys. Whether on foot or in a duck-shaped pedalo to Hackney – as in his previous outing, Swandown (2013) or on the coastal foray of his feature debut Gallivant (1996) – these gentle filmic wanderings unearth a stream of thoughts and memories that are nestling in the English countryside scattered by those that lived or worked there before he came, and waiting to add flourish and meaning to his own mysterious musings.

Before the 2012 Olympics, Kötting joined regular collaborator Iain Sinclair (in a Savile Row suit), for a wry and quintessentially English journey by pedalo on an expose of the thoughts of a private few. Taking inspiration from Sinclair’s psychogeographical work ‘Edge of the Orison’, BY OUR SELVES, sees the two together again in selvine seclusion, apart from a few close friends – a bewildered Toby Jones and his father Freddie, Kötting’s daughter Eden (as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz) and Kötting dressed as a straw bear –  as they trace the tortured yearnings of John Clare, a humble English poet who “went mad”, was committed to a mental asylum in Epping Forest and thence attempted to reunite with his last true love Mary Joyce, rather than with his actual wife who had sent him there. Based on Clare’s book ‘Journey Out of Essex’, and diosyncratic as ever, the troupe wander from the wayside to discover their own unique and deeply affecting impression of the woodland experiment.

BY OUR SELVES follows Toby Jones (Clare), as he meanders, slightly disorientated, through this mystical woodland, bear in tow and occasionally taking control until it finally takes the lead. Sinclair joins him in a ‘Wicker Man’ style mask, lending a slightly troubling tone to the piece as he reads from Clare’s poetry and engagers with those they stumble across on the way. Later the pair are joined by Simon Kovesi who opines on the poet’s work in greater detail, before engaging with Sinclair in a pugilistic punch-up, as passers-by occasionally follow on conversing in a desultory way.

It is a pleasingly English portrait of a fairytale woodland, exquisitely framed and captured in delicately rendered monochrome visuals by Nick Gordon Smith; often voyeuristically tripping over the shoulders of Jones or viewing him, gnome-like, from afar surrounded by the gentle carpet of casual countryside, with the blend of ambient sounds and songs that softly envelope them in an atmospheric bubble of downy black and white.

BY OUR SELVES was made on a shoestring budget, largely financed by kickstarter, and proves that with the right blend of experimental wizardry, perfectly pitched performances from the pros and some pizzazz, perfect pictures can give pleasure to the arthouse crowd. MT

BY OUR SELVES SCREENS DURING FID MARSEILLES 

War Book (2014)

Director: Tom Harper      Writer: Jack Thorne

Cast: Sophie Okonedo, Ben Chaplin, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Shaun Evans, Kerry Fox, Adeel Akhtar, Phoebe Fox, Antony Sher, Nicholas Burns

UK Drama

Wide in scope and intellect, Tom Harper’s WAR BOOK  is a chilling chamber piece based on a ‘game’ that took place regularly during the sixties and seventies in the political backrooms of Whitehall and is set here in contempo London. Key political staff assemble each day and are given a ‘scenario’  such as the aftermath of an international nuclear attack.  As ministers, they are then tasked with reporting their individual strategies to cope with the ensuing meltdown, in a roundtable discussion.

Sharply performed by a glittering ensemble cast of British acting talent including: Sophie Okonedo, Ben Chaplin, Antony Sher and Kerry Fox, WAR BOOK bristles with political intrigue and in-fighting from the arcane to the trivial: a coruscating ‘corridors of power’ drama, it ducks and dives through the personal feelings, sexual predilections, and intellectual standpoints of some of ‘finest minds’ in politics, who make decisions on our behalf, but who are not all elected.  Knives are drawn on the political front, and dirty washing is aired shamelessly behind an agenda of ethical and political stance-taking. Particularly good here is Ben Chaplin, an actor with ‘matinee idol’ looks who has been working away effectively for several decades in a variety of roles in both indie film (Dorian Gray) and TV (Game On). Here he shines as a suave and narcissistic sexual predator, Gary, to Phoebe Fox’s dilligent and seductive secretary who is tasked with taking the minutes. Antony Sher is integrity personified, in a ‘less is more’ role of senior advisor, elderly statesmen and contemplative intellect. Kerry Fox plays the soignée and experienced Maria – ‘you can’t put an old head on young shoulders’ type who fashions herself as a more glamorous and more sensual version of ‘the Widdy’ (Ann Widdecombe), and is in recovery from breast cancer. Token ‘Ethnic minorities’ are repped by a brilliantly measured Adheel Akhtar at Mohinder (Mo) and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as the fresh-faced but highly capable Austin. Shaun Evans is the subversive and strung-out Tom, who goes against the grain and has to be cautioned by Philippa for his strident views and outbursts. And last, but not least, is Sophie Okonedo as Philippa, the dispassionate and masterful ‘Chair’, who turns in a performance that is both subtly nuanced and striking.

Anyone with a keen interest in the workings of politics and ‘the powers that be’ will find this quietly gripping and restrained drama an immersive and entertaining experience. MT

PREMIERED AT THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS

The Wonders | Le Meraviglie (2014) | Grand Prix Cannes 2014

safe_image.phpWriter/Director: Alice Rohrwacher

Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Monica Bellucci, Maria Alexandra Lungu, Sam Louwyck, Sabine Timoteo, Agnese Graziani

100min   Drama   Italian with subtitles

GRAND PRIX WINNER – CANNES 2014

Writer/Director Alice Rohrwacher’s debut feature Corpo Celeste was a delicate coming-of-age drama that had a brief outing in London cinemas in 2011, introducing us this new director. She returns with THE WONDERS another wistful but sure-footed rites of passage tale of an enigmatic family of bee-keepers, eking out a living in challenging circumstances in rural Tuscany. This time our heroine is 13-year-old Gelsomina (Maria Alexandra Lungu), the eldest of four daughters who work hard in this cottage industry, helping their father with the hives and honey bottling.

Rohrwacher’s restrained, impressionist approach creates a vague feeling of suspense that allows our imagination to wander and luxuriate in this magical story. A palpable tension is felt amongst the sisters as they carefully spin the honey and decant it into plastic buckets and jars without losing any of the precious nectar in the process. They tiptoe round round their cantankerous father who lives in the fear that colony collapse disorder or contamination with ruin the family’s future. Gelsomina absorbs all this angst at a time where she is also growing up and finding her feet as a young woman and the second in command of the business, and all the responsibilities involved.  Out of the blue, the police entrust the family with a teenage boy delinquent who needs rehabilitation into the community. They are then asked to take part in a TV competition for local farmers to enter their produce – Gelsomina develops a teenage crush for the glamorous presenter in the shape of Monica Bellucci – who dazzles the impressionable girls. The preparations are fun but nerve-wracking involving national dress in local Etruscan costumes. Rohracher’s bitter-sweet depiction of teenage awakening is brought to life by Pina cinematographer, Hélène Louvart who beautifully captures the young girls’ dreams and anxieties while growing up in the country. THE WONDERS is naive, surreal and absolutely enchanting. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE 17 JULY 2015

Still the Water (2014)

Director: Naomi Kawase

Cast: Niijrô Muramaki, Jun Yoshinaga, Miyuki Matsuda, Makiko Watanabe,

121min  Drama     Japan

Set on the subtropical Amami Island off the South coast of Japan, there’s a blissful serenity to Naomi Kawase’s tender tale of love, ancient traditions and the healing power of nature that connects to a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the world.

Spiritual, intense and occasionally a tad pretentious in tone, very much in the vein of her previous outing, The Mourning Forest, Kawase explores how the cycles of nature are central to our existence and must be respected throughout our lives. Sumptuously captured on the widescreen and on intimate close-ups by Yutaka Yamazaki (I Wish), particularly magnificent are the aerial panoramas of lush jungles, turbulent sea-swells and the skylines of Tokyo.

Life and death coexist against the backdrop of everyday events and first love for teenager Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga) and the ‘boy next door’ Kaito (Niijrô Muramaki), who is moody, awkward and emotionally less aware. Kaito’s father works as a tattooist  and is divorced from his mother, a cook. Kyoko’s mother is slowly dying but her spiritual training as a shamen has prepared her to deal with the pain in a dignified and elegant way. In the midst of all this – a dead body floats on to the beach one morning after a heavy tropical storm. There is a vague connection between the drowned man and Kaito’s mother, although Kawase never really clarifies this in her otherworldly-style narrative. Clearly, the trauma affects Kaito’s ability to bond physically with Kyoko.

Exotic and surreal, the sea and verdant scenery has a hypnotic effect, lulling our senses with its gentle piano score and some island ‘Full-Moon’ dances performed by Kyoko and her extended family. Animals, however, do not get the same respect as Nature’s other creatures, and there are two highly graffic scenes of goats being slaughtered that seem to conflict the otherwise spiritual narrative flow. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 3 JULY 2015

 

The Third Man (1949)

Dir.: Carol Reed   Screenwriter: Graham Greene

Cast: Joseph Cotton, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Bernhard Lee, Ernst Deutsch, Erich Ponto, Siegfried Breuer, Paul Hoerbiger

UK 1949, 104 min.

Like many classics, THE THIRD MAN benefited from the director standing up to the producer: Carol Reed insisted on shooting in Vienna (as opposed to an all-studio set), and he also chose Orson Welles to play Harry Lime, whilst (the un-credited producer) David O. Selznick would have preferred Noel Coward. Reed also argued in favour of Anton Karas’ zither music, which carried the film. Finally, Selznick and Reed successfully teamed-up to convince screenwriter Graham Greene to forsake a happy-ending, which would have seen Joseph Cotton and Alida Valli walk out of the cemetery, hand-in-hand.

Vienna in 1949 was a city (like Berlin) divided in four occupied zones, the centre being an international zone where the rule changed monthly between the four powers. Like Berlin, Vienna was a paradise for spies and black marketers; the murky atmosphere producing a background for the beginning of the Cold War. Naïve American pulp fiction writer Holly Martins (Cotton), married to the bottle and always in need of money to sustain his alcohol habit, arrives in the city, because his friend Harry Lime (Welles) has promised him a job. But Holly arrives just in time for Harry’s funeral, where he meets Harry’s girl friend Anna (Valli) and falls in love. Researching the circumstances of Harry’s death, who was supposedly killed in a road accident, Holly encounters three dubious friends of his: Baron Kuntz (Deutsch), Dr, Winkler (Ponto) and Popescu (Breuer), who, it turned out, helped the very much alive Harry in the black market distribution of diluted penicillin. Major Calloway (Howard), all stiff upper lip, shows Holly the victims of Harry’s trade, and hopes to rail him in, to catch Harry. The two friends meet in the Prater’s Ferry-wheel, where Harry gives its famous speech about the Cuckoo’s clock (which was actually not a Swiss, but a German invention), to justify his profiteering, which lead to many deaths. Holly finally gives in and rats on Harry, but Anna warns him, still loyal to the man who saved her life. The rest is (film) history.

Carol Reed, who was a member of the British Army’s Wartime Documentary unit, had DOP Robert Krasker (Senso/Trapeze) shoot THE THIRD MAN like a nightmare vision: instead of the glory of the allied victory, we see bombed houses and equally distraught citizens, who seem to have lost all moral compass. Harry is not alone in his crass materialism, his Austrian helpers, obviously with a fascist past, take full advantage of the new system (democracy), helping themselves to a nice fortune. The shadows are long, images tilt, the light is diffuse and opaque, as are most of protagonists with their shady dealings. But most interesting, is that one of the victims, Anna, a very haughty Alida Valli, sticks to Harry. She sees him as her saviour, never mind the way he made a living. Holly, befuddled, is out of his debt, and in spite of his decision to help the major, hankers after Harry and has lived a much too sheltered live in the USA to even begin to understand Anna – he arrives at a stranger and leaves as one. In The Third Man Reed created the hellish vision of a city between WWII and the Cold War: the human rats crawl in the sewers, morally bankrupt, with no alliances, but surviving at all cost. 
AS

THE THIRD MAN IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19TH JUNE 2015 COURTESY OF STUDIOCANAL

The Overnight (2015)

Dir.: Patrick Brice; Cast: Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, Judith Godreche

USA 2015, 79 min.

Writer/director Patrick Brice (Creep) can lay claim to having created the most toe-curling movie of the decade.

A young and very straight couple Alex (Scott) and Emily (Schilling) have recently moved to Los Angeles with their small son RJ, who introduces himself in the first scene, disturbing his parents’ lovemaking.

Later on in the park, his parents meet Kurt (Schwartzman) and his French wife Charlotte (Godreche) with their son Max, who invite them over to their house. Alex and Emily feel inferior since this home is vast and expensively furnished. After inhaling some substance from a pipe, the couples go swimming in the pool – Alex keeping his shorts on, because, as we soon learn, he has body problem: he considers his penis too small. Given that Kurt is extremely well-endowed we can appreciate his modesty. But Kurt, a pseudo-artist, who makes a living from self produced DIY videos featuring his attractive and well-stacked wife, is only too willing to help Alex with his problem. Charlotte than takes Emily to a massage parlour where she gives a stranger a hand job; Emily watching through a one-way window.

Back at the show home things come to a head – quite literally- Charlotte tells her guests that Kurt wants to sleep with Alex, explaining that “we do everything together, but have no sex life”. Alex and Kurt kiss, fall together onto the bed, fumbling prudishly, whilst the women grope them. Luckily JR and Max interrupt further action. Back in the park, we learn that all is solved: Charlotte/Kurt are seeing a therapist (!), and Alex/Emily will acquire a really big dog.
If you imagine that THE OVERNIGHT is aesthetically as bland as it’s narrative is cringeworthy, you get the general idea. AS

SCREENING AT EDINBURGH FILM FESTIVAL | ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 19TH JUNE 2015

Blind (2014) | DVD BD & VOD release

IMG_1484Dir|Writer.: Eskil Vogt

Cast: Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Henrik Rafaelsen, Vera Vitali, Marius Kolbenstevdt

Norway/Netherlands, 96 min.

After writing the scripts for Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st and Reprise, Eskil Vogt’s debut film as a director, BLIND, is a stunning chamberpiece: a psychological cat and mouse game, truly original in its concept, and stunningly photographed by Greek DOP Thimios Bakatakis (Dogtooth, Attenberg).

Ingrid (Petersen), a woman in her thirties, has been blind for many years. She is losing her fight for independence, unable to leave her flat in Oslo, where she lives with her husband Morten (Rafaelsen), a successful architect, and finding the simplest of tasks, such as making tea, almost impossible. As soon as her husband leaves for work Ingrid imagines the world outside, constructing scenarios for her memories and imagination to wander through. One of these focuses on Einar, a former friend of Morten’s from his student days and now a reclusive, overweight figure who is addicted to internet porn. In her imagination, Morten is unfaithful to her with the imaginary Elin (Vitali), a lonely, divorced mother of a young daughter whom he goes to bed with (also in Ingrid’s imagination) and who soon suffers the same fate as Ingrid, when she starts losing her sight and also discovers she is pregnant from the one-night stand with Morten. This is in some ways a wish fulfilment on the part of Ingrid, who would like to have children. When Ingrid refuses to go to an office party, to celebrate Morten’s achievements, she imagines the (now blind) Elin, attending and being mistaken for Ingrid, only to find Morten in the company of three hookers. From here on matters take an even more unexpected turn.

Ingrid’s flat is a prison from which she tries to conjure up images with the help of a gadget, which is able to tell the colour of any object that it’s pressed against. This way, Ingrid hopes to stem the complete death of her optical nerves, which would otherwise die completely if not stimulated by her, by remembering the sensation of sight caused by the familiar objects. But BLIND is by no means a horror movie, on the contrary, it is utterly realistic in the way it takes the power of electronic communication just a step further to feed Ingrid’s imagination.

In a difficult role, Petersen’s Ingrid emerges a strong figure, despite her perceived handicap of blindness. She is stunning, not only in her portrait of a blind person, but in her ability to somehow transcend reality, whilst making it seem utterly realistic despite also being part-fiction. Bakatakis repeats his staggering skills of his Greek films, making everyday life seem threatening and oddly deranged in this sightless world, mired in an insipid and antiseptic aesthetic. BLIND shows a micro-cosmos of a society, were everybody has, literally, lost touch with each other, relying on the internet. Perception and reality blend in a fantastic way. Screen images allow the characters to engage in a life that avoids engaging emotionally, and particularly when it comes to sex. This emotional blindness makes it possible for a woman without sight, isolated in her home, to infiltrate the minds of others, who have given up on any form committed relationship. BLIND is a unique experience, if a coldly alienating one, in demonstrating the power of the mind and of fiction. AS

NOW ON DVD from 22 June 2015 | COURTESY OF AXIOMFILMS.CO.UK 

 

 

Queen and Country (2014)

Dir/Writer: John Boorman

Cast: David Thewlis, Richard E Grant, Tamsin Egerton, Callum Turner, Percy Hapgood, Sinead Cusack, David Hayman.

UK  Postwar Drama

John Boorman’s follow-up to his wartime drama Hope and Glory is a gently rousing and entertaining family drama which will please the arthouse crowd and mainstream audiences alike. It offers a rites of passage snapshot of a golden era that seemed so important then, but now is just a cherished memory of fifties England with pretty frocks, cream teas, ginger beer and walks into the sunset.

After a scary childhood in London’s Blitiz, it’s 1952 and Bill has reached the tender age of 19 and is discovering girls and the joys of National Service. Britain has survived the War but is now entering an age of enlightenment where the younger generation have put away their flags and are challenging the new order and starting to think for themselves, or trying to. With rebellion in the air, and a new Queen (almost) on the throne, Bill (Callum Turner) is starting to question his allegiance to the Army: he could be sent to Korea or Kenya or he could just end up in a quiet backwater managing civilians. So in the comfort of his Home Counties mock tudor family home, he is very much an innocent young guy who has no experience of the real world or, indeed, the opposite sex.

Boorman’s faintly autobiographical piece evokes this post-war atmosphere with the verve and whimsy of ‘Five Go Mad in Dorset’. Mum is lovingly played by Sinead Cusack (her previous ‘dalliance’ with a neighbour acknowledged only by a knowing wave), Dad is a ‘pipe and slippers’ David Hayman. Bill’s best friend Percy is a subversive Caleb Landry Jones and the Sergeant-Major in the Barracks is brilliantly fleshed out ‘Dad’s Army-style’ by the reliable David Thewlis. In the absence of any real action, and certainly no ‘active service’ Bill and Percy play the usual insubordinate pranks on the Sergeant-Majors. Bill’s new love, Ophelia, is the elegant and luminous Tamsin Egerton who manages both f’emme fatale’ and ‘girl next door’ charm and could even be the making of him. Queen And Country is a gloriously upbeat message of innocence echoing all the sentiment of the Empire! God Bless John Boorman. MT

QUEEN AND COUNTRY WAS REVIEWED AT CANNES 2014| ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY

 

The Rough and the Smooth (1959)

Director: Robert Siodmak

96min  Drama   UK

In 1959 Siodmak worked in the Elstree-Borehamwood studios, to direct THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH, based on the novel by Robin Maugham. Robert Cecil Romer, 2nd Viscount Maugham, nephew of Somerset Maugham, was the enfant terrible of his family. Socialist and self-confessed homosexual, he was a very underrated novelist: “The Servant”, filmed in 1963 by Joseph Loosey, with Dirk Bogarde in the title role, is one of the classic’s of British post-WWII cinema. THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH shows similarities: Mike Thompson (Tony Britton), an archeologist, is engaged to Margaret (Natasha Parry), the daughter of his boss, who finances his work. Mike feels trapped in a loveless relationship, and falls for Ila Hansen (Nadja Tiller), a young and attractive woman. But she has a secret: not only is she in cahoots with the tough gangster Reg Barker (William Bendix), but there is a third man in her life, who has a hold over her. After Barker commits suicide, driven by Hansen’s demands, the latter tries also to blackmail Mike and Margaret. The ending is quiet original. There are very dark undertones, particularly for the late 50s, when Ila comments: “I don’t cry much, I have been hurt a lot”. THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH is a subversive film considering the context of its period. The camera pans over stultified Britain of the last 50s, where there seems to be no middle-ground between boring respectability and outright perversion. When the two worlds collide, the conflict is fought on both sides with grim, violent determination. With THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH, Siodmak, would, for the last time, come close to his American Noir films, for which he was called “Prince of the Shadows”: referring not only to the quality of the images, but also to a society, where, to quote Brecht, “we are only aware of the ones in the light, the ones in the shadow, we don’t see”. Robert Siodmak made sure, that the ones in the shadows played the major roles in his Films Noir. Andre Simonoviescz ©

The Goob (2014)

Director/Writer: Guy Myhill

Sean Harris, Sienna Guillory, Hannah Popplewell, Marama Corlett, Oliver Kennedy, Liam Walpole

Drama  UK

In his enigmatic debut, Guy Myhill evokes the open spaces of the Norfolk countryside veiled in golden summer. This unsettling coming of age story pits a young man’s burgeoning sexuality against that of his mother’s boorish boyfriend – an avid stock-car racing champion and local grower.

Simon Tindall’s ethereal camera-work captures the rough and ready allure of this farming landscape and its gutsy inhabitants recalling that motorcycle opening sequence of Lawrence of Arabia with a soft-focus arthouse twist that contrasts well with a pumping score of hits that include Donna Summer. Bristling with sexual tension and dreamy awakenings from childhood to young adulthood in the Fens, it teases with an enigmatic storyline that weaves into focus then departs again in a different direction, never quite revealing itself but conjuring up a family in turmoil.

‘The Goob’ is newcomer Liam Walpole who lives with his single mother Janet (Sienna Guillory) and her vicious partner Gene (Sean Harris) in a run down shack of a roadside cafe. Gene Womack dislikes the boy and makes no bones about showing it. Matters worsen when the Goob and his brother crash Gene’s prize-winning car in a boy-racing moment, which results in forced labour on the beet farm for the Goob, threatening to curtail a potential relationship. He does however stoke up new friendships with gay farm-hand Elliott (a buzzy Oliver Kennedy) and Eva (Marama Corlett) another picker who takes a shine to him during an impromptu midnight party in one of Gene’s fields.

This is a story that brims with intrigue and erotic tension not only between the Goob and Eva, but also in enigmatic subplots where there’s a constant suggestion that Gene (a spiteful, mincing Harris) is drawn to the other female characters – but quite why Janet is involved with him remains a mystery. Guillory’s character remains unexplored – a shame for such a brilliant actress. The intensity of the racing fraternity adds a rough machismo to the narrative, adding grit and texture and placing it firmly in Swaffham and the locale. The cast is also almost entirely drawn from Norfolk. Liam Walpole has a gangly vulnerability about him which brings a unique appeal and gentleness and contrasts well with the otherwise hard-bitten, rough-edged masculinity of Sean Harris. This is a spectacular debut for Myhill with some great ideas that could be expanded upon in future. A really watchable indie Britflick. MT

THE GOOB – reviewed at VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 27 August – 6 September 2014 is coming to British screens from May 28, 2015.

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Madonna (2015) | Un Certain Regard | Cannes 2015

Shin Su-won

81min  Korean   Drama

South Korean filmmaker Shin Su-won is no newcomer to Cannes, where this year she shows a Noirish thriller MADONNA in Un Certain Regard.

This glossy, well-mounted affair transports us back to the Dickensian days where grave robbers regularly dug up bodies to sell to the medical profession. Here in 21st century Seoul, organ transplants thrive in the cut-throat (or even chest?) world of private medicine. Here a nurse attempts to stymie a heart transplant operation involving a pregnant sex-worker with low self-esteem and a wealthy industrialist, and you can guess who has the good heart.

Shin Su-won is not afraid of dangerous subjects and unpleasant characters who operate in a dog eat dog world where only a social elite can survive. Her LFF hit Pluto centred on rich high school kids desperate to get to the top and will trample on their fellow schoolfriends on the way. A this is a fight for life – at its most fundamental state – with a brilliant central performance from Korean star, Seo Young-hee.

Slightly marred by overlong flashbacks that rob the film of tension and dramatic punch,   its fractured narrative draws a vibrantly contrasting picture of the haves and have-nots.

In a downbeat Seoul, a pudgy Hye-rim (Seo) is seen is surviving on the edges of society in a grim bedsit as she stuffs her face with noodles while watching the Korean equivalent of X Factor on TV.  In an expensive private hospital her new job involves pandering to the egos of captains of industry who exert their power with selfish and demoralising demands. A billionaire living vegetable with a failing heart has repeated coronary transplants while he lies on life-support as shadow of his illustrious past.

When a donor finally arrives Hye-rim discovers she is not on death’s door but merely pregnant – her business card reveals she is a part-time prostitute called Madonna. The tycoon son (Kim Young-min) has a vested interest in keeping his father alive (as a cash cow) and orders Hye-rim to locate the ‘victims’ next of kin for a ‘sign-off’ form for a transplant.

This is a well-paced drama that intrigues for the first hour then starts to drag as it becomes over-involved in the backstory of Madonna, which is predictable and tedious to the main action. Kwon So-hyun’s gives a worthy performance as the pitiful Madonna whose life speaks volumes about the misogynist world of elitist South Korea, but it’s also a rather exaggerated portrayal of a social outcast that often draws an unsympathetic response. Nevertheless by the finale, it emerges that at least Hye-rim’s heart is in the right place. MT

CANNES FILM FESTIVAL runs until 24 May 2015 | Un Certain Regard | Cannes 2015

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) | Blu ray release

Director: Albert Lewin

Cast: James Mason, Ava Gardner, Nigel Patrick, Sheila Shim

122 min   Drama   US

Albert Lewin’s PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN is a film that skirts the borderline of kitsch without collapsing into absurdity. A vigorous, high flown, yet emotionally engaging, version of the legend of the 17th century seaman condemned to sail the seas forever, until salvation comes from a woman who will sacrifice her life with him.

In The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, David Thomson describes Pandora as ‘gaudily ridiculous’ and ‘impressive in a romantic, thundery way’. About its visual style he says ‘In such moments as Ava Gardner in her nightie on the edge of a cliff, romantic sensation comes inadvertently near the vision of Delvaux and Ernst.’

Thomson aptly mentions surrealist artists. Yet there is an even more relevant artist homage. When Pandora Reynolds (Ava Gardner) first meets the Dutchman, Hendrik van der zee (James Mason) she discovers that she bears a great likeness to the woman, in the painting he is finishing, who in turn resembles Hendrick’s dead wife: and the painting itself has a Dali / De Chirico appearance – more so when Pandora physically attacks the canvas and Hendrik paints over the damage, creating a strange imprisoned egg-head look to the portrait.

Their romantic Wagnerian tryst is revealed to us earlier on. The lover’s drowned bodies are discovered in their boat, washed up on a Spanish coast circa 1930s. We see a picturesque close shot of entwined hands next to a fishing net and an opened copy of Fitzgerald’s ‘The Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam.’ The film’s narrator, Pandora’s friend, Geoffrey Fielding (stiltedly played by Harold Warrender) is introduced. He’s an archaeologist and literary gent prone to quoting poetry. “The measure of love is what you are willing to give up for it” Lines repeated throughout a film that savours its love of poetry and myth.

Director Albert Lewin was an unusually learned man to work for Hollywood. A cultured Harvard graduate with a predilection for quotation. James Mason’s silky toned voice enthrals Ava Gardner whilst reciting Mathew Arnold’s poem ‘Dover Beach.’ And in the period costume flashback scenes Hendrick’s jealously motivated killing of his 17th century wife has the ring of Browning’s poem ‘My Last Duchess.’

If all this poetry and art makes the film sound pretentious that’s not so. Pandora has abundant romantic passion – greatly aided by the tone of Jack Cardiff’s beautiful Technicolor photography. Concise dramatic music from Alan Rawsthorne. Good performances from Pandora’s other suitors and female rivals. And Ava and James convey a seductive and expressive eroticism. (They’re like characters clashing in a Powell and Pressburger movie.)

‘Watching this film is like entering a strange and wonderful dream’ is what Martin Scorsese declared. If you’re a fan of doomed love stories like Portrait of Jennie or Vertigo then Pandora and The Flying Dutchman will have you sighing with pleasure. To watch the beautiful Ava is to willingly give up everything for this radiant Hollywood star. So dream on in Gardner and Mason’s presence in this superbly restored film, now on Blu-Ray. Alan Price 

NOW OUT ON BLU-RAY 

 

Spring (2014)

Directors: Justin Benson/Aaron Moorhead

Writer: Justin Benson, Caste: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Vanessa Bednar, Shane Brady, Francesco Carnelutti

104mins   US    Horror/Sci-fi

You can run but you can’t hide, is the message that American Co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead deliver in this curio. Their low budget indie mix of mumblecore and mystery takes place in a picturesque seaside cove in Apulia (southern Italy) where a recently-bereaved American (Evan) has fetched up following his mother’s death and a string of bad luck back home. Almost at once he strikes up a relationship with a strange and sultry local girl whose enigmatic behaviour is the recipe for a ‘head over heels’ love affair.

Lou Taylor Pucci is compelling as the naive chancer who strays into Paradise and gets more than he bargained for. Finding a job and a billet with a local olive farmer (an unconvincing and poorly-drawn sketch of what Americans imagine Italian country life to be), Evan pursues his elusive paramour Louise with a vengeance. Meanwhile, she is struggling with a rare ‘skin disease’ that requires her to drink the blood of local cats and even her pet rabbits. As Louise, Nadia Hilker’s ill-pitched American twang and foxy confidence take a great deal away from her character’s potential mystique, making her feel more like the ubiquitous teen vampires of recent dramas rather than an intriguing European muse. What’s more, Evan is so lacking in any direction or judgement on this aimless jaunt, that he is prepared to tune out of reality and take Louise’s perpetual signals to back off (is she a ‘vampire, werewolf, zombie, witch or alien’): he just rolls over like a proverbial lamb to the slaughter.

Moorhead’s bleached out visuals contrast and alternate with occasional vibrant frames which, combined with shaky camerawork, are intended to create a sense of disorientation, but just feel ill-advised and slapdash and special effects echo Aliens. And despite a theme of recurring insect close-ups and a crypt vignette, the filmmakers disregarded the naturally sinister locale that could have added so much more by way of texture and atmosphere . Sharply-scripted early scenes give way to slackness in the later stages: conversations between Louise and Evan lose their acuity and pithiness, descending into endless ‘folkloric’ nonsense. All in all, this feels more like a teenage boys’s ‘wet dream’ territory with Sci-fi undertones than affectingly immersive and spooky Gothic horror. MT

THE LONDON FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 9-19 OCTOBER 2014

Last Day of Summer (1958 ) Ostatni Dzien Lata |Kinoteka 2015 | Martin Scorsese presents

Director/Writer: Tadeuz Konwicki    Cinematographer: Jan Laskowski:

Cast: Irena Laskowska, Jan Machulski

66min  Drama  Polish

Tadeuz Konwicki’s hints at melodrama and impending doom in this elegantly-crafted mood piece set on a vast deserted Baltic Beach in amongst windswept dunes. As fighter planes pass overhead on a training sortie, two strangers meet tentatively, an older woman (Irena Laskowska) and a young man (Jan Machulski), each seemingly traumatised by memories of the past, unsure of each other and guarded in their attempts to reach out. The woman gradually warms to the man’s advances and they start to communicate with gestures and brief exchanges. Jan Laskowski’s sublime visuals conjure up a mood of sombre anxiety, perfectly capturing the feeling of reticent hope and restless energy in these troubled souls. There is an idyllic scene where the couple embrace in the rolling tide that echoes From Here to Eternity. LAST DAY OF SUMMER is perhaps a metaphor for the re-birth of the Polish nation in the aftermath of War; edging gradually towards the hope of renewal after a traumatised past. It won the Grand Prix at Venice in 1958. MT

MARTIN SCORSESE PRESENT | POLISH MASTERPIECES | SCREENS DURING THE KINOTEKA FILM FESTIVAL 2015

Otto e Mezzo | 8½ (1963)

Dir.: Federico Fellini

Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee, Sandra Milo

Italy/France 1963, 138 min.

After the success of La Dolce Vita, Fellini decided that the time had come to make films which relied less on a narrative structure, but more on an aesthetic concept. 8 ½ turned out to be a self-portrait of the director, played by his “Alter Ego” Mastroianni and combined favourite themes from his earlier films in a vivid collage of carnival-like picturesque settings, questioning not only beliefs but the form of film-making itself.

Middle-aged film director Guido Anselmi (Mastroianni) tries to escape from the self-inflicted pressures of his personal and professional life to the spa of Chianciano. But his “harem” as well as his problems with his next film  compound to make his stay anything but relaxing. The original title of 8 ½ was La Bella Confusione (The beautiful Confusion), and Fellini literally throws everything into the mix: Anselmi’s dreams are interrupted by nightmarish visions from his childhood where he meets his dead parents on a cemetery and his guilty feelings towards Catholicism manifest themselves in scenes were he is haunted by clerics. His love life is equally bizarre: having invited his mistress Carla (Milo) to stay with him, he soon begs his long-suffering wife Luisa (Aimée) to join him in the circus which his life has become. His producer is very anxious that Anselmi starts shooting the film – instead of changing the script and having endless screen tests; the huge structure for an S-F film has been erected near the beach and the costs are mounting. But Anselmi is more interested in his past: he relives the dance of Saraghina, a frightening and alluring woman who chased the boys away. And whilst in reality he is ‘cheating’ both on his wife and his mistress, in his dreams he swings the whip, hoping to frighten them into submission. Enter Claudia (Cardinale), seemingly an innocent young girl, but really an opportunist, but Anselmi has retreated too far into himself to even try his vain charm on her. He dreams of suicide, before he turns the implosion into his only way out: he starts the film, incorporating actors and friends into a giant carnival of lost souls.

Fellini’s Anselmi is a sex maniac, a sadist, as well as a masochist, in love with myths (not real feelings), a coward, never having grown up from being a mother’s son, a fool, a phony and impostor. In one word, he is the archetypal Italian man of a certain class and education. In his review of the film, Alberto Moravia compares Anselmi with Leopold Bloom, the hero of James Joyce’s “Ulysses”: he is a neurotic, his failings make him withdraw more and more into an inner world where he tries to gain control. 8 ½ is a film, where reality intrudes into Anselmi’s nightmares and visions – not the other way round. Anselmi only seems to be in touch with his feelings as a young man – the images of the countryside in Emilia Romagna being the only peaceful ones in the whole film. AS

OPENING IN SELECTED CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 1 MAY 2015

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Exit (2015) |

Director: Hsiang Chienn

Cast: Ming Hwa Bai, Shiang-chyi Chen, Ming-hsiang Tung, Chen-Ling Wen

90min  Taiwanese   Drama

The menopause is a topic that rarely figures in modern drama. Certainly not a positive time in most most women’s lives – in the West it is viewed with a range of emotions ranging from mild pity to downright derogation. But in the Far East, where older people command respect and often admiration, the emotionally effects of the menopause are often milder both physically and mentally suggesting that positive societal attitudes can alleviate symptoms.

And there is something admirable about Hsiang Chienn’s gentle and sensitive handling of this theme that affects its central character Ling (a subtle and measured performance by Chen) a Taiwanese woman in her forties who is clearly suffering the effects brought on by this change of life .

Having just lost her job in a garment factory, Ling is preoccupied with the future, anxious for her mother-in-law in hospital and dealing with a troublesome and distant teenage daughter. Her husband is working abroad and never returns her calls so she appears to be isolated and lacking in any emotional support. Hsiang Chienn shows insight and understanding of her character’s anxiety. Though there are occasional longueurs and the classic Taiwanese static shots where Ling moves in and out of the frame, the narrative maintains a manageable pace, allowing us time out for contemplation.

In the same hospital ward lies Chang, a young man who has undergone eye surgery and in incredible pain. His suffering seems to suffuse the drama with added poignancy as Ling develops a strange and attachment to him and she starts to day-dream of romantic scenarios as she intimately tends Chang, possibly excited by his vulnerable and semi-naked, blindfolded state. Gradually she becomes more excited about her visits to the hospital as a unorthodox intimacy develops with this mysterious young stranger with beautiful feet.

With it soft-lensing and delicate aesthetic EXIT is a daintily-crafted piece with shades of Wong Ka Wai’s IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, the voyeuristic camera lingers on well-composed shots, drifting around, often out of focus. Summer Lei’s tango score ramps up the erotic expectancy surrounding the couple and soon Ling is undressing him to gently give him a bed bath, her touch increasing positive healing in them both, showing how physical re-connection can be therapeutic and emotionally affecting, even if the outcome is ultimately frustrating. A graceful and appealing drama. MT

SCREENING ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 27 APRIL 2015

 

 

Gente de Bien (2014)

Dir.: Franco Lolli

Cast: Brayan Santamaria, Carlos Fernando Perez, Alejandra Borrero

France/Columbia 2015, 86 min.

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

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

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

ON GENERAL RELEASE

A Little Chaos (2014) |

Director: Alan Rickman   Writer: Alison Deegan

Cast: Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Stanley Tucci, Hellen McCrory

116min   UK  Drama

A woman’s touch sweeps through the court of Versailles in Alan Rickman’s second feature in which he also stars as a stately Louis XIV. The green fingers in question belong to Madame Sabine De Barra (Kate Winslet) who is hired by an inspirational, André Le Nôtre, to help him add a flourish of herbaceous perennials to the design and landscaping of the formal 17th century Palace.

As Sabine De Barra, Winslet is a breath of fresh air in the stultifying artifice of court life, where acolytes fester under Louis’ strict regime as absolute monarch. In a performance of confident grace and gentle determination, Winslet not only charms the birds from the trees but also the recently bereaved King himself, and they bond during an impromptu a tête à tête in the potager. Matthias Schoenaerts oozes a brooding sensuality, and even sings, as the legendary landscape architect, lashed by the tongue of his vituperative wife, a foxy Helen McCrory.

Alan Rickman shines in a sardonic and thoughtful turn as the King who eventually moves from Paris to Versailles to oversee the completion of the works  (“I felt I shouldn’t get the builders out, unless I moved in”). His sumptuously-crafted tale of intrigue and inventiveness is wittily scripted by newcomer Alison Deegan, who adds a contempo feel to the dialogue, makes this 17th century tale feel fresh and ‘de nos jours’: Molière would be proud. In a sterling cast of British acting talent Jennifer Ehle is luminous as Louis’ mistress, Madame de Montespan, Phyllida Law plays a warm and reassuring courtier, Steven Waddington adds ballast as a hard-landscaper and US actor, Stanley Tucci, adds a touch of class as a flamboyant roué.

A subplot concerning Sabine’s family life and the death of her daughter feels slightly superfluous and unconvincing but her onscreen chemistry with Schoenaerts’ Le Nôtre certainly isn’t and, in contrast to the tawdry world he inhabits with his wife at court, their budding romance blossoms naturally and freely in this glorious British production. MT

NOW SCREENING ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

 

 

 

20 Hot Titles | Indie film | Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EXACT RELEASE DATES TO BE CONFIRMED

Aniki-Bóbó |Tribute to Manoel de Oliveira | 1908 – 2015

Director:  Manoel de Oliveira | Script: Manoel de Oliveira, Alberto Serpa, Joao Rodrigues de Freitas (novel) | Cast: Americo Botelho, Feliciano David, Nascimento Fernandes, Fernanda Matos, Rafael Mota, Antonio Palma | 71′  | Portugal  | Drama

Manoel de Oliviera who died, aged 106, was an extraordinary man not least because in a career spanning over 80 years, he made 62 films and starred in 11; winning 47 awards along the way.  Aniki-Bóbó, was his first film, the name coined from a Portuguese children’s rhyme similar to Eeny Meeny Miney Moe.

Carlitos is a shy, naïve boy, in love with Teresinha, but with a love rival in the shape of the charismatic, seemingly fearless bully Eduardinho. Despite the fact Teresinha spends her free time with Eduardinho, Carlitos knows she likes him, but how can he win her heart?

Based on Joao Rodrigues de Freitas’s short story “Little Millionaires’, Aniki-Bóbó was Olivieira’s bold, allegorical shot at dictator Antonio Salazar’s Portugal, which managed to slip through the net of the draconian regime. Only three films a year were being made during this ten-year period and all of them were under state control as war raged through the rest of Europe and the threat of Fascism was never more real.

Derided at the time of release for its depiction of childhood as a difficult and scary minefield to be negotiated: full of deceit, cruelty and manipulation. It is only in retrospect that the value of Aniki-Bóbó is being fully appreciated, and its place as a founding stone of the Italian Neo-Realist movement, is being recognized. Oliveira successfully managed to subvert his message – that figures of adult authority were not to be trusted, and were out of touch with what was really happening.

On the face of it then, Aniki-Bóbó is a straightforward ‘morality play’ with a cast of kids, many of whom were local friends of de Oliveira in his native city of Oporto. A fascinating film on many levels, its cast of children are engaging, but it bears all the hallmarks of a low-budget first feature, with an unevenness in continuity and performance. However, it is such an important film as well as a testament of the times, that its minor flaws can be ignored as being endearing glitches in the first steps of the director’s monumental career.

What sets it apart and the reason it has withstood the test of time, is how Oliveira made a film concerning adult problems and anxieties with a cast of children. In that place and time, with all the resources that he was lacking,  Aniki-Bóbó is a stroke of genius. Oliveira had such a hard time bringing this first feature into being, that he didn’t make another film for 21 years. Eventually, it was to mark the light-footed beginning to a very sure-footed and magnificent body of films. MT

MANOEL DE OLIVEIRA (1908 – 2015)

 

Woman in Gold (2015) |

Director: Simon Curtis   Writer: Alexi Kaye Campbell

Cast: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Charles Dance, Tatiana Maslany, Allan Corduner, Jonathan Pryce, Max Irons

Helen Mirren plays the star turn here as a sensible elderly Jewish woman who sets off to Vienna with her reluctant young nephew, PHILOMENA-style, to recover the artistic heritage of her ancestors stolen by the Nazis. But Maria Altmann is no ordinary woman and the artwork in question is by Gustav Klimt, a painter from the Vienna Secession whose works now feature on fridge magnets and greetings cards. Amongst the collection is The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I who happened to be Maria Altmann’s aunt.

But don’t expect to discover more about this fascinating artistic era in turn-of-the-century Vienna. The focus in this light-hearted caper is the pursuit of justice and Maria Altmann’s nephew happens to be a lawyer, Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). The painting is hanging in the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna and the only way of recovering it is to take the Austrian government to court for its rightful restitution. But why would Randy be interested in helping an old woman take on a lengthly and expensive legal case. Happily married to a placid wife (Katie Holmes) and with a baby on the way, and a new job in a Los Angeles law firm whose senior partner is Charles Dance?  Tooling through the internet, Randy then discovers that the painting is worth millions and so, tempted by the his aunt’s money and her delicious apple-struedel cake, he embarks on a journey back to his Jewish roots, to bring the painting back to his family estate. .

In Vienna the pair team up with an investigative journalist (Daniel Brühl) who helps them navigate the corridors or power with his local expertise, although his keen interest in the project is never revealed. Flashbacks transport us back to the 1940s where we meet  the younger Maria, an elegant Tatiana Maslany, and her father, an admirably proud and defiant Allan Corduner. These are the most enjoyable scenes adding historical texture and context along with those in the courtroom with Jonathan Pryce’s impressive vignette as the judge of the case. There is much negotiating and sifting through archives in dusty museum vaults. Eventually an outcome is achieved in a surprisingly moving finale. Once again Simon Curtis (My Week With Marilyn) serves up a dumbed-down but easy-to-digest and enjoyable slice of the past. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 10 APRIL 2015 | REVIEWED AT BERLINALE 5-15 FEBRUARY. OTHER COVERAGE IS AVAILABLE UNDER BERLINALE 2015 IN THE SEARCH BOX

 

Asia House Film Festival 2015 | 27 – 31 March 2015

The 7th Annual Asia House Film Festival which takes place from 27 March to 31 March 2015 at various venues around London. This year’s theme of NEW GENERATIONS reflects on all that’s new about cinema from Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesian, India, Japan and Uzbekistan, with a special focus and retrospective on Mongolia.

The festival includes an selection of features including two European premieres. Opening the festival on Friday 27 March at the Ham Yard Theatre is the European Premiere of Indonesian film IN THE ABSENCE OF THE SUN, which frames the modern metropolis of Jakarta as never seen before. Directed, written and edited by Lucky Kuswandi (Madame X), it is a bittersweet tale of universal appeal, as its nostalgic memories unfold over the course of a single night.

Closing Asia House Film Festival 2015 on Tuesday 31 March at The Horse Hospital is the UK Premiere of YANGON CALLING – PUNK IN MYANMAR, directed by Alexander Dluzak and Carsten Piefke, an award-winning documentary about Myanmar’s underground punk scene filmed secretly in the former military dictatorship using hidden cameras. It provides a rare portrait of the rebels who really do have a cause, introducing us to their personal lives and their hidden world of rehearsal rooms and illicit concerts.

The European premiere of Kulikar Sotho’s THE LAST REEL presents different versions of the truth unearthed from a lost film, buried beneath Cambodia’s killing fields and the London premiere of PASSION FROM MONGOLIA, a poignant portrait of a man’s struggle to bridge two very different ages, is a great introduction to Mongolian cinema which will be showcased at the Cinema Museum on Sunday 19 April.

The festival will also host the UK Premiere of a musical documentary FLASHBACK MEMORIES 3D, that received the Audience Award winner at the 26th Tokyo International Film Festival. Directed by Japan’s Tetsuaki Matsue, it focuses on the didgeridoo maestro GOMA, who suffers from an inability to form new memories following a traffic accident at the peak of his career. Also on offer is a cult classic Uzbekistani “Red Western”. MT

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VENUES: Ham Yard Theatre, Rich Mix, The Horse Hospital and the Cinema Museum | 27 – 31 March 2015

 

A Second Chance (2014) |

Director: Susanne Bier

Cast: Marie Bonnevie, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, May Anderson, Ulrich Thomsen

Susanne Bier is well known for her stylish if schematic melodramas – along the lines of BROTHERS and AFTER THE WEDDING. A SECOND CHANCE is another enjoyable, if cliched, collaboration with the dogma crew and regular scripter Anders Thomas Jensen (IN A BETTER WORLD).

The impossibly good-looking Nordic couple Andreas (Coster-Waldau) and Anne (Marie Bonnevie) share a designer beach house in the outskirts of Copenhagen with their new-born son Alexander. Meanwhile, Tristan (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and his partner Sanne (May Anderson in debut) are slumming it up as intravenous drug abusers in an urban hovel with their neglected bab,y Sofus. However, it’s important at this stage not to draw too many conclusions on the perfect family versus the ‘lowlife’ one.

Police detective Andreas is on a drug-releated hunt for Tristan and is attempting to get Sofus into care, with the help of his partner Simon (Ulrich Thomsen). So far their attempts have proved unsuccessful but when tragedy intervenes, Andreas makes an error of judgement changing his life forever.

Motherhood and parenting are always at the heart of Bier’s narratives and A SECOND CHANCE is no different. There’s no harsher judge of women than a woman herself, as Bier proves one again by portraying her female characters as somehow lacking: Although Anne appears to be the perfect caring mother in her softly lit and freshly laundered surroundings, she is also neurotic, self-centred and suffering from postnatal depression and her mother (Ewa Frowling) is not much of a help on the childcare front. Sanne is so angel either, leaving Sofus rolling about in his own excrement as she catnaps through another dose of crystal meth or is it pethidine? Nikolaj Lie Kaas is powerful as an irresponsible dad but also a controlling, abusive husband.

The story really centres on Andreas and his integrity as a man of the law, versus his vulnerability as a new father, desperate to satisfy the woman he loves, his moral compass briefly skewed by the hormonally-charged state of becoming a new father. Strong performances are compelling and slightly manage to counterbalance the narrative’s slow crescendo of doom-laden melodrama, accompanied by a sinister score, gusty winds and the classic Nordic Noir negativity that increasingly threatens disaster in every rain-soaked frame. Even after the initial booboo made by Andreas, it’s clear that life will never be the same in this chilly tale of woe. MT

A SECOND CHANCE IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 20 MARCH 2015. SUSANNE BIER IS CURRENTLY WORKING ON AN ADAPTATION OF JOHN LE CARRE’S THE NIGHT MASTER WITH HUGH LAURIE AND TOM HIDDLESTON. 

Amour Fou (2014) | DVD release

Dir.: Jessica Hausner

Cast: Birte Schnoeink, Christian Friedel, Sandra Hueller, Stephan Grossmann, Barbara Schnitzler

Austria/Luxembourg/Germany 2014, 98 min.

AMOUR FOU opens in 1811, in with a painterly image of a Berlin intellectual household listening to Mozart’s “Das Veilchen”, performed by a professional singer. This is a typical setting for the classic “Hausmusik” (musical salon) chez Friedrich (Grossmann) and Henrietta (Schnoeink) Vogel and their twelve-year old daughter Pauline. Significantly, one of their guests is the poet and playwright Heinrich von Kleist (Friedel). The latter is in love with death and has already asked his cousin Marie (Hueller) to ‘die with him’ as a expression of their mutual feelings; Hausner implying that she is not the first to be asked this question. Henrietta, who appears a contented and modest mother and wife, is next in line, and she vehemently denies any interest in a suicide pact. Later on, she falls ill; what seems to be at first just a psychosomatic symptom, turns out be terminal cancer, and von Kleist seems to have found a companion to die with at last. But the couple’s first try falls due von Kleist’s boorish and petty behaviour, before the poet makes a second attempt to inveigle Henrietta at the “Kleine Wannsee” into to his pathetic scheme, near Potsdam on November 11th 1811.

Hausner portrays von Kleist not very sympathetically: he comes over as egocentric and not at all romantic or even physically appealing. After Henrietta’s illness is diagnosed, von Kleist rejects her wish for a suicide pact and tries his luck again with the much more upper class Marie, who rejects him again as she is now betrothed to a Frenchman. Left with no alternative, Heinrich returns, apologetic, to Henrietta. Friedrich Vogel seems to be a much better person, really in love with his wife, even though he treats her (as was common at the time) like an infant daughter. The most unpleasant person in the Vogel household is certainly Henrietta’s mother, a bitter and resentful person, who seems to dislike everyone.

Hausner (Lourdes) succeeds not only in revealing Heinrich as a manipulator, she also indirectly answers a question many asked after WWII: how could such a culture-loving nation like Germany commit so many crimes against humanity. The answer can be found in AMOUR FOU, and in historical figures like von Kleist himself. Right after listening to Mozart, the discussion at the table turns to the new Prussian tax laws which, according to Friedrich Vogel, a government official, will set the peasants free as with taxation comes more freedom. The undemocratic argument at the middle class table was “one cannot give the lower classes the freedom to do what they wish, since they are not capable of making decisions”.

Whilst cultural appreciation went hand in hand with reactionary arguments at this level of society, on a higher level, the togetherness of culture and aggression led to continuous wars: Frederick the Great, who played many instruments, among them the flute to a semi-professional level, led the most bloody wars of his period, including the Seven-Year war (1756-1763). He was not by chance the idol of Adolf Hitler. And one should not forget that Heinrich von Kleist himself spend the years between 1792 and 1799 in the Prussian army, seeing action in the “Rhine” campaign and leaving with the rank of a lieutenant. Hausner shows clearly, that all characters in her narrative have an emotional deficit, and that von Kleist’s false romanticism is really a death wish, accompanied by the need to murder somebody else in the process. There is a direct line from von Kleist’s Wagnerian dream of destruction and self-destruction, to Ucicky’s U-boot film Morgenrot (premiered not accidently on the 2.2.1933) and his hero declaring: “We Germans might not know how to live but we certainly know how to die”.

Hausner sets AMOUR FOU in expertly-framed and sumptuously-lit tableaux, showing distance and analytical endeavour and giving us a formal yet exquisitely pleasurable impression of looking at pictures in an exhibition. Schnoeink’s Henrietta is vulnerable, but still caring. All the men, including the doctor who treats her, suffer from a total lack of empathy; Friedel’s von Kleist leading the field. The set design and general aesthetic underline the lack of any sensual enjoyment in life: the bedroom of the Vogel’s looking like a luxury prison cell. AMOUR FOU is a brilliant portrait of a society unable to be in touch with emotions or any kind of sensuality. The relationship between von Kleist and Henrietta is symbolic: there is no passion or love, just a quiet resignation and a desire for death.

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6TH FEBRUARY 2015 | DVD from 5 March 2015

So Far, So Good (2014) | Cinema Made in Italy | 5-9 March 2015

FINO A QUI TUTTO BENE

Dir; Roan Johnson

Cast: Alessio Vassala, Silvia D’Amico, Melissa Anna Bartolini, Paolo Cioni, Isabella Ragonese, Gugliemo Favilla)

Italy 2014, 80 min.

Roan Johnson follows his first film, The First on the List, with SO FAR, SO GOOD, another outwardly enjoyable but ultimately empty film.

In Pisa, five flatmates are facing up to the end of their lives as students with varying degrees of success – or failure, as the case may be. Ilaria (D’Amico) is pregnant by a married man who has not returned to his wife but to a new mistress.  Instead of writing her PHD thesis, she will have to return to her very traditional parents in a small town. Vicenzo (Vasallo), the only scientist in the household, has landed a job at Rejkavik university. His girlfriend Francesca (Bartolini) is a theatre student and actor like the rest of the group and doesn’t want to go with him and be jobless in Iceland. Cioni (Cioni), the odd man out and least selfish of the flatmates, offers to live with Ilaria and adopt her baby, in desperation. But over this whole story hangs the ghost of their flatmate Michele, who killed himself in a staged car accident a year ago. Andrea (Favilla), was going to follow Michele’s brother Marco to Nepal – until he bumps into his ex-girl friend Marta (Ragonese), an established TV actress, at the farewell party. So, the quintet is left at sea in a motorboat, without any gas in the tank.

SO FAR, SO GOOD suffers from the fact that Johnson can never make up his mind if he wants to direct a rather silly comedy or something more substantial. His protagonists are a selfish bunch and not very endearing. The men don’t even try to hide their rank machismo. The women blame the men for everything, whilst having a tendency to indulge in self-pity. All this would work with a much more serious approach, but Johnson takes a much more light-hearted look at their ups and downs, which are admittedly funny but detract from the underlying problems of the group. Instead of showing five people in search of an identity, SO FAR, SO GOOD is just another comedy about a group of young people who don’t know how to grow up. A  shame then, since the ensemble acting is brilliant and the fresh and lively camerawork shows Pisa from an interesting and novel perspective. An opportunity missed. AS

CINEMA MADE IN ITALY RUNS FROM 5-9 MARCH 2015. FULL PROGRAMME HERE

Hinterland (2014)

Dir.: Harry Macqueen; Cast: Harry Macqueen, Lori Campbell

UK 2014, 78 min.

Brilliant film debuts are rare: mostly we get to watch “calling-cards for Hollywood”; but British director/writer/actor Harry Macqueen’s HINTERLAND, produced on a shoestring (£8,000) is a film poem, realistic and magical with minimal dialogue, this two-hander delicately draws a picture of a young woman and her male friend set against the gentle Cornish landscape, to tell the story of a re-union which eventually becomes a homage to youth and its lost illusions.

When Harvey (Macqueen) fetches his friend Lola (Campbell) from her London flat to travel to Cornwall in an ancient Volvo – Lola greets the car enthusiastically with “Hello, old friend” – we know very little about them, apart from the fact that Lola has been away for a long time. The importance of her presence for Harvey lets us assume that he had not had the best of times during her absence. All this is relayed to the audience indirectly, sparing us long monologues and details. Instead we share their feeling of nostalgia as they set out to the Cornish seaside to visit a cottage where they had been close and happy together some time ago. Lola takes photos on the way, as if to prove to herself that the past is still alive.

In the cottage they revert to being young and silly, using walkie-talkies whilst evoking the past as if they were suddenly middle-aged. But the brittleness of both of them shows through: Harvey talks about a relationship with a certain Sarah, who wanted children and security, and found both with another man. Harvey’s professional life is equally unsatisfactory; he is re-writing his novels forever and the work in a publishing house is badly paid and boring – he “just tries to get noticed”.  Lola, a musician, seems to have come to a sort of end-point too; she will try to support her mother, who has been left by a partner who had cheated on her for a long time. She complains: “What is it with middle aged-men, it’s like a switch is pulled and they are off and mess everything up”. Both Harvey and Lola swear never to become ‘mature” the way most people do: children and marriage after thirty. They’d rather hide forever in the illusionary world of their youth where everything is pure and noble, the grey of adulthood has no place in their wishful, independent world. There is a heavy languidness about them; a much too early resignation; an expense of spirit which leaves only place for nostalgia. Two wounded animals looking for cover in their past.

Macqueen and Campbell have a near telepathic understanding, they react to each other subtly, always emotionally alert. The camera captures the seaside imaginatively as a (lost) paradise, a dreamy, misty, fabled land from the past. Every object touched in the cottage is full of meaning and this is accentuated by a change of light. Finally, the music is unobtrusive but stays, like the whole film, for a long time with the viewer.

HINTERLAND’s uniqueness is perfectly captured by the mood of the first stanza of Verlaine’s poem, taking the name from its first line: “It’s Languorous ecstasy/It’s amorous syncope/It’s all the wood’s trembling/In the breeze’s embrace/It’s in branches grey/All the small voices singing. A poignant, magical debut. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 27 FEBRUARY 2015

HINTERLAND is a carbon neutral film. www.hinterlandthefilm.com

 

 

 

Love Is Strange (2013)

Director: Ira Sachs

Writer: Mauricio Zacharias

Cast: John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Darren E Burrows, Marisa Tomei, Charlie Tahan,

94min  Drama  US

Ira Sach’s previous feature Keep the Lights On was an exploration of gay love seen from the perspective of a young man in a troubled relationship. Fraught with despair and conflict it was a difficult film to watch. Here is something more gentle and kind about a couple who have been together for nearly forty years are appear to have found true love and contentment together.

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) finally decide to formalise their relationship but scarcely have the champagne glasses been put away than outside influences put a strain on their their early days of marriage. George is fired from his job at the local church because his new status is not considered acceptable there. During an odd interlude with their their close family and neighbours the pair fail to raise enough capital to pay their bills so while selling their place and searching for new accommodation Ben moves in with his nephew Elliott (Darren E. Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their teenage son, Joey (Charlie Tahan). George manages to find a room with some neighbours.

Forced apart, their relationship comes under strain and this is where Love Is Strange gradually becomes unconvincing. For a start, it seems implausible that this affluent-looking and established couple in their sixties/seventies would prey upon their younger family for help with accommodation and then agree to living apart in a rather bogus set-up. Once Ben is established at his nephew’s place he becomes unbearably self-centred and particularly irritating in his insensitivity towards Kate; seemingly unable to understand how their family functions and lacking any graciousness in his status as a guest. Yet when he meets up with George in the evenings, he behaves in quite a different way: as a normally-adjusted and sympathetic adult. As a result we feel little for this rather spoilt old man whose only focus is to paint on the roof of his nephew’s apartment block in the afternoons. As George, Alfred Molina shines as the more mellow and appealing character of the couple. The fact that they are gay is incidental here as Sachs’s narrative focuses on love, coupledom and the nuclear and wider family dynamics. Whether Sachs is simply telling a story or whether he is trying to probe and explore the differences between the intimate love of two people (essentially coupledom ) and the love of a couple and their inherent responsibility to their kids and extended family network and community is unclear. However, the result is that we feel nothing for Ben and George as they simper over their cocktails but every sympathy for Kate and Elliott, who are holding their union together with the additional stress of kids, while trying to be supportive to their rather cantankerous uncle.

Make of it what you will. Ira Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias craft some interesting characters in this slim but engaging drama which has some wistfully dreamy moments (such as those when Ben is painting over the New York skyline) that allow space to drift and imagine the strangeness of love, responsibility and human dynamics to an appealing piano score. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 FEBRUARY 2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

In Order of Disappearance (2014) ****

Dir: Hans Petter Moland | Writer: Kim Fupz Aakeson | Bruno Ganz, Stellan Skarsgard, Goren Navojec, Pal Sverre Hagen, Peter Andersson | 116min  Action comedy  Norway/Denmark

The late Bruno Ganz and Stellan Skarsgard star in Hans Petter Moland’s outrageously absurd follow-up to A Somewhat Gentle Man (2010). The film competed for the Berlinale Golden Bear in 2014 and went home empty-handed but its an honest and enjoyable crime caper and offers some of the best snowscapes of the year so far, and some arch political incorrectness.

Skarsgard plays Nils, a dour but appealing Swedish immigrant, who drives a snow plow and has just been awarded ‘Best Citizen’ by the local community. But when his son dies in a drug overdose, Nils turns vigilante to find out who is responsible.  That said, the tone is light-hearted and upbeat: Moland wanted s narrative reflecting what happens when society’s attributes of decency get mixed up with the baser instincts that kick in when we are threatened: “Norway has a history of being generous to people in need, but now this is being challenged” he said at the press Berlinale conference. “The comedic style was the best way to deal with this theme positively: Violence lurks within us and occasionally erupts in normal, well-adjusted people like Stellan’s character.”  What ensues is an unfeasibly violent chase to track down the two rival gangs of traffickers: one Serbian (lead by Ganz as Papa), one local (led by Pal Sverre at Greven).  There are some great gags arising out of ‘ad-libbing’ rather than sticking rigidly to Kim Fupaz Aakeson’s script that give this piece a fresh and authentic feel, although 115mins is stretching it for a comedy caper. MT.

Available on Amazon Prime

 

 

Wim Wenders | Kino Dreams 2022

The films of Wim Wenders focus on alienation, trips between city and the countryside KINGS OF THE ROAD, countries THE AMERICAN FRIEND, ALICE IN THE CITIES, reality and visions WINGS OF DESIRE and simple alienation from humanity THE GOALIE’S ANXIETY AT THE PENALTY KICK.

They are often urban stories, but human survival seems only possible in the countryside according to PARIS, TEXAS and UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD. Wenders’ protagonists make their journeys weighed down with emotional baggage, and as much as they try, this is often hard to leave behind.

PINA

 

TOKYO-GA and PINA, city nightmares and visions of dance seem to complement each other despite their different topics: the only way out in all Wenders’ films are the flights into another dimension: represented by the director’s obsession with American culture, his emigration to, and remigration from the USA. At home in both “realities” he is nevertheless a stranger in both and therefore seeks a less earthly vision to make up for it – permanently on the road of visions.

THE GOALIE’S ANXIETY (1972), after a novel by Peter Handke, is the simple story of man losing his identity. The goalkeeper Josef Bloch causes a penalty and is later sent off, this drives him over the edge and he starts murdering at random, hellbent on being caught by the police. Vienna is the main background, a city devoid of tourist trappings it emerges just a grim place for the story to enfold. Bloch is already in another world when he is sent off, the unfolding drama is told as a series of banal but brutal acts. Bloch is alone with his demons, jail seemingly the only answer to his being lost in the real world – which he cannot escape despite his violence. A film about ordinary madness told in form of a chronicle; Kafka and “Weltschmerz” rolled in one and perhaps Wenders most austere feature film.

Alice in the CIties

First of a trilogy of road-movies, ALICE IN THE CITIES (1974) features the German writer Philip Winter, stranded in the USA after having missed a deadline for his publishers. He meets his compatriot Lisa and her daughter Alice who seem equally lost. Lisa leaves her daughter with Philip and then disappears. On his return to Germany with Alice, Winter is faced with only one clue to Alice’s home: a photo of the front door of her grandmother’s house. The journey turns into an act of self-disclovery for Winter and ends in Wuppertal, a city with a tube like construction which carries its denizens over the river Wupper, reversing conventional means of transport. Shot in black and white by Robbie Müller, ALICE is a poem of travels as means of a search for identity.

Kings of the Road (1975)

 

KINGS OF THE ROAD (1976), the third part of the “Road-Movie” trilogy, features Bruno Winter, a projection equipment repair mechanic on the road along the border with East Germany, repairing the projectors in old, decaying cinemas. He picks up the depressed Robert Lande who has just tried to commit suicide after the divorce from his wife. Both men are fearful of women (a central theme in nearly all Wenders films), they don’t trust them – meaning, they don’t trust themselves. Again, Müllers b/w camera catches the gloomy landscape beautifully, and the main protagonists seem to be dying on their feet, like the cinemas they visit.

My American Friend

In MY AMERICAN FRIEND (1977), Wenders re-stages Patricia Highsmith’ moral drama “Ripley’s Game” in Hamburg, where the picture framer Jonathan Zimmerman becomes the victim of the cynical Tom Ripley. With Samuel Fuller as Mafia boss and Nicholas Ray as Pogash, this is an homage to American cinema even though European directors like Lilienthal, Schmid, Blain and Jean Eustache also appear. Wender’s Hamburg seems to be a backwater compared with Paris, the city of light taking the place of LA – for the time being.

 

Paris, Texas (1983/84)

 

PARIS, TEXAS (1984) is the story of Travis Henderson who tries to reconcile with his wife Jane for the sake of their son Hunter. His brother Walt is trying to bring his brother’s family together but in the end, after finding out that Jane is working in strip club, Travis drives off alone having confessed to Jane that he ruined their relationship with his drinking and jealousy. Again, the main protagonist is unable to come close to the woman in his life – he leaves her for good, seemingly for altruistic motives, but in reality he is running away. Landscape again plays a dominant part, and Robby Müller shows that he is able to translate his poetic realism into colour. PARIS, TEXAS is a mournful poem, very much a replay of “KINGS OF THE ROAD” set in the USA.

 

Wings of Desire (1986/87)

 

WINGS OF DESIRE (1987) is Wenders’ most poetic film, where angels and trapeze artists meet in a sad Berlin, and Henri Alekan’s nostalgic camera seems to be find the past at every junction. This past echoes through all the buildings, giving even the angels a hard task. Without mentioning exactly what has happened in particular buildings (or their remains), Wenders portrays Berlin not so much as a city of angels, but as a city of sadness and ghosts where the violence of the past violence still peeps through contemporary city life. It seems that the past cannot be eliminated or forgotten amongst the new buildings, so even angels must suffer in sadness.

 

Until the End of the World (1990/91)

 

UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD (1991) is a film in two parts: the first segment is a mystery about a prototype which seems to enslave people. In the second part, we learn the secret of the device: it can record and translate brain impulses, a camera for the blind. A hitchhiker is traveling all over the world recording images, but this strange activity remains an enigma. Finally, a nuclear satellite is shot down causing an electromagnetic pulse which wipes out all unshielded electronics worldwide. We learn the hitchhiker has filmed the images to bring them home to his blind mother. The characters of the film end up in the Australian Outback where the device is used to record human dreams by the hitchhiker’s father. Nearly everyone becomes addicted to the machine except for a novelist who is writing a new book to prove words are more powerful than the device. Overly symbolic, UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD is a sort of compendium of all Wenders’ themes, filmed again by Robbie Müller, who creates many different worlds, all of them alienating, giving humankind very few places to connect with each other.

 

The Sky over Berlin

 

THE MILLION DOLLAR HOTEL (2000) is set in an LA flophouse where a murder has been recently been committed. Co-written by Bono, the narrative is contradictory, just two characters deserve to be mentioned: Geronimo thinks he is a tribal chief, but is in reality an art thief, posing as a artist. Eloise believes she does not exist, and is therefore immortal. The only reason to enjoy this drama is for the seedy LA background which cameraman Phedeon Papamichael has caught perfectly. Not one of Wenders’ best, THE MILLION DOLLAR HOTEL feels just like an étude, compared with the rest of this selected retrospective. AS

CURZON has announced a Wim Wenders retrospective called KINO DREAMS the first UK retrospective of his films in 15 years. Along with IN FRAME it takes a deep dive into into the work of some of the most outstanding filmmakers in the industry and takes place at the CURZON MAYFAIR and nationwide this summer | WIM WENDERS joins the live event on 24 June 2022 with a 4k release of Wings of Desire.

 

The Turning (2013)

REUNION, Dir.: Simon Stone; AQUIFER, Dir.: Robert Connelly; ON HER KNEES Dir.: Ashlee Page; THE TURNING, Dir.: Claire McCarthy; LONG, CLEAR VIEW, Dir.: Mia Wasikowska; COMMISSION, Dir.: David Wenham ; COCKLESHELL, Dir.: Tony Ayres; BIG WORLD, Dir.: Warwick Thornton; SAND, Dir.: Stephen Page; Australia 2013,107min

Even though the original format of THE TURNING had 180 minutes of running time and seventeen episodes, this shorter version, featuring only nine segments of the book of the same title by the Australian writer Tim Winton and the brainchild of producer Robert Connelly, is still very impressive. Somehow one would have liked to watch the full version, where the central character of Vic Lang is played by eight different actors, of varying age groups – with his wife Gail and his father Bob represented also by different actors.

But we are still left with a convincing picture of the not-so-sunny-side of Australia, where the over-riding optimism and material indulgence is replaced by sorrow, guilt and alienation. In REUNION Gail (Cate Blanchett) and her husband Bob (Hugo Weaving) celebrate an awkward New Year: egged on by Bob’s mother, their search for a relative ends up in a stranger’s house, where the two women end up in the swimming pool, to the annoyance of Bob, a police officer. Somehow we get the feeling that this displacement is not the first – Gail and Bob’s relationship is more than fragile. When she congratulates herself “on the best new year’s party for years’, we know how bad things are in her marriage, in spite of the couple’s tentative tries at some reconciliation. A macabre version of a marriage on the rocks.

Actress Mia Wasikowski’s debut as a director, LONG, CLEAR VIEW is a sensitive observation piece of a teenager’s sexual awakening – even though the girl he is courting is much more experienced then him, he is stubborn in his attempts, and, in the end, overcomes his shyness in a dramatic finale. The coastal setting contributes very much to the success of the film: this is not a glorious beach bathed in sunshine, but a dreary, lonely place, where people make a living from fishing. Never sentimental, LONG CLEAR WAY is a fine character study.

Staying with youth, Warwick Thornton’s BIG WORLD is a portrait of two young men, Biggie and Davo, already disappointed with life after working in a meat factory after leaving school. Their unsatisfactory grades prevented them going to university, and what was once a Saturday job, has become their life. They pick up a young hitchhiker, Meg, who falls for Biggie, who has so far had no success with women. Davo, until now the more successful of the two, is extremely jealous. The last word goes to the narrator, foretelling Biggies demise in an accident, and Davo’s uneventful life. BIG WORLD shows a moody, pessimistic outlook, reality overtaking any dreams the protagonists ever had.

THE TURNING by Claire McCarthy is outstanding. Set in a dreary trailer park near the ocean, Raelene (Rose Byrne) tries to leave her violent husband Max (the same character already showing signs of violence as a child in the episode SAND). When Raelene meets Sherry (Miranda Otto), a born-again Christian, who is married to an ex-alcoholic, still fighting against a relapse, a whole new world opens to her: Sherry shows her an alternative world. Raelene is impressed, but a new, even more vicious attack by her husband, drives her not into leaving him, but leads to a tragic end. Atmospheric and impressively acted, THE TURNING is a little gem.

With most of the other episodes it shares a multitude of great camerawork, which leaves the audience with a rather harrowing vision of Australia, where most of the fragile protagonists seem to teeter on a brink, a step away from falling over the edge of the world. The narration helps to sustain a literacy quality throughout. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 6TH FEBRUARY 2015

Corbo (2014) | Berlinale 2015 | Generation 14plus

Director: Mathieu Denis,

Cat: Anthony Therrien, Antoine L’Ecuyer, Karelle Tremblay, Tony Nardi, Marie Brassard

110mins  Drama  Canada

Montreal in the late sixties: the French-speaking minority are being repressed by the Anglophone majority in the rest of the county – English rules, not only in parliament. The “Liberation Front of Quebec” (FLQ) also holds sway in the region of Quebec. It’s a radical underground organisation, not unlike the “Baader Meinhof” Group in Germany and the “Red Brigades” in Italy, which followed in their footsteps by the end of the decade. The FLQ are using violence in the pursuit of their target: they want to bomb their way to independence from the rest of the country. Like the European groups that followed, the movement attracted, disaffected young people, mainly romantics from middle class backgrounds. Corbo is one of these young men.

Quebecois director, Mathieu Denis’s observational and linear narrative drives his elegantly-styled, classicly-framed drama forward. Jean Corbo (Anthony Therrien) is a shy boy who felt alienated even in his own family and persecuted in school, were he is a misfit due to his Italian origin. At home, Jean’s father is a Liberal careerist lawyer who does not want to be reminded by his son the Italian population of Canada were put in camps after the outbreak of WWIII. His older brother agitates for the “Quebec Independence Party”, a very tame outfit, compared with the FLQ. As is happened so often in “revolutionary” circles, alliances are often the result of love affairs (successful and failed ones), and Jean also falls first for Juliet (Tremblay), and joins the FLQ to impress her. Unfortunately for him, Jean has to prove to himself and the leading theorists of the movement that he is not a pampered result of middle class upbringing. And whilst Juliet and another comrade are not ready to use violence any more, after a woman is accidentally killed in a bombing, Jean develops a radical mindset that leads to tragic consequences.

Denis is careful in his characterisation of Jean, making him neither a hero nor a villain – just a mixed-up kid who wanted to impress his girl fr show his family that he was their equal, not the baby. His politics were immature, his longing to be a revolutionary founded on sentiments alone. CORBO shows the leaders of the FLQ (who, in 1970 would kidnap and kill a minister of the Quebec government and a British diplomat), as manipulative and remote. Therrien is convincing as Jean, showing youthful vulnerability and daredevil tendances. Denis and his cinematographer, Steve Asselin, capture the details sensitively, crafting the oppression of the secure, middle-class world Jean is desperate to escape. CORBO is a powerful and truthful portrait of a romantic soul lost in power games that lead to drastic consequences for all concerned. AS

CORBO IS SCREENING DURING THE BERLINALE  5 – 15 FEBRUARY 2015 

 

Berlinale 2015 | Panorama |Selection

P A N O R A M A   S E  C  T  I  O N  –  PROBING THE PAST TO SHAPE THE FUTURE

The 36th Panorama titles reflect global concerns from America to East Asia and tackle themes from the past that are still having a deep impact today on the society and people they represent:

DRAMAS

54 copy54: The Director’s Cut – USA  (SEX, DRUGS)
By Mark Christopher.

The full and un-expiated version of the famous Mark Christopher’s exploration of the famous 70s NYC nightclub seen and told through the eyes of a young employee. Ryan Phillippe, Salma Hayek, Mike Myers, Sela Ward, Mark Ruffalo star. World premiere

Chorus copyCHORUS –Canada (BEREAVEMENT)
By François Delisle.

There’s nothing like a good Canadian film and this one, in black and white, is a love story that emerges from mourning. With Sébastien Ricard, Fanny Mallette, Pierre Curzi, Geneviève Bujold. European premiere

Der letzte Sommer der Reichen (The Last Summer of the Rich) –  Austria  (CHILD ABUSE)
By Peter Kern

A rich financier from the crème de la crème of Viennese society is the centre of this fascinating drama from one of Austrian best-known directors. With Amira Casar, Nicole Gerdon, Winfried Glatzeder
World premiere  Der Letzte Sommer der Reichen copy

Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern copyDora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern (Dora or The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents)  Switzerland / Germany
By Stina Werenfels
With Victoria Schulz, Jenny Schily, Lars Eidinger, Urs Jucker
World premiere

Dyke Hard – Sweden (LESBIANISM/LGBT)
By Bitte Andersson
With Alle Eriksson, Peggy Sands, M. Wågensjö, Iki Gonzales Magnusson, Lina Kurttila
International premiere

Gukje Shijang (Ode to My Father) Republic of Korea
By JK Youn
with Hwang Jung-min, Kim Yunjin
International premiere

Michael_still5_JamesFranco_JanMaxwell__byCaraHowe_2014-11-28_03-15-51PMI AM MICHAEL – USA (GAY ACTIVISM)
By Justin Kelly
With James Franco, Zachary Quinto, Emma Roberts
International premiere of a yet another film starring James Franco – this time playing Michael Glatze, the co-founder of Young Gay America and former advocate for gay rights, in Justin Kelly’s debut.

Jun Zhong Le Yuan (Paradise in Service) – Taiwan / People’s Republic of China (GANGSTER with a heart)
By Doze Niu Chen-Zer
With Ethan Juan, Wan Qian, Chen Jianbin, Chen Yi-Han
European premiere

Meurtre à Pacot (Murder in Pacot) – France / Haiti / Norway  (HAITI EARTHQUAKE DRAMA)
By Raoul Peck
With Alex Descas, Ayo, Thibault Vinçon, Lovely Kermonde Fifi, Joy Olasunmibo Ogunmakin
European premiere

Mot Naturen (OUT OF NATURE) – Norway (FATHERHOOD)
By Ole Giæver, Marte Vold
With Ole Giæver, Marte Magnusdotter Solem, Rebekka Nystadbakk, Ellen Birgitte Winther, Sievert Giaever Solem
European premiere

NED RIFLE (Ned Rifle) – USA (CRIME)
By Hal Hartley

Parkey Posey stars in Hal Hartley’s latest part of the Grim family trilogy that Hartley began back in 1997 with Henry Fool that one him Best Screenplay at Cannes Film Festival. With Liam Aiken, Martin Donovan, Aubrey Plaza, Thomas Jay Ryan. European premiere

600 millas copy600 Millas (600 MILES) – Mexico
By Gabriel Ripstein

This Mexican thriller stars Tim Roth, Kristyan Ferrer, Harrison Thomas, Noé Hernández, Armando Hernández. World premiere

 

Al Ba  copyAL BAR MIN OURAIKOUM  (The Sea Is Behind) – Morocco

Hisham Lasri’s dramatic story explores violence, intolerance and conservatism in the Arab World. With Malek Akhmiss, Hassan Badida, Yassine Sekkal. European premiere

Al-Hob wa Al-Sariqa wa Mashakel Ukhra (Love, Theft and Other Entanglements) – Palestinian Territories
By Muayad Alayan
With Sami Metwasi, Maya Abu Alhayyat, Riyad Sliman, Ramzi Maqdisi, Kamel Elbasha
World premiere

ANGELICA – USA

TEETH director, Mitchell Lichtenstein’s ghost story is set in Victorian England where a young couple are driven apart after the birth of their child, Angelica. With Jena Malone, Janet McTeer, Ed Stoppard, Tovah Feldshuh
World premiere

Ausencia copyAusência (ABSENCE) – Brazil / Chile / France
By Chico Teixeira

Daily life in all its glory is examined through the eyes of a little boy growing up in a poor neighbourhood of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

With Matheus Fagundes, Irandhir Santos, Gilda Nomacce, Thiago de Matos, Francisca Gavilán. International premiere

 

Bizarre copyBIZARRE – France / USA

Working in a Brooklyn Nightclub, Maurice is haunted by a troublesome past that make him reject everyone who tries to love him. Étienne Faure’s drama stars Pierre Prieur, Adrian James, Raquel Nave, Rebekah Underhill   World premiere

De Ce Eu?DE CE EU? (WHY ME?) – Romania / Bulgaria / Hungary

Katalin Varga producer, Tudor Giurgiu, directs  this drama starring Emilian Oprea, Mihai Constantin, Andreea Vasile, Dan Condurache, Liviu Pintileaska  World premiere

El Indendio copyEl incendio (THE FIRE) – Argentina

In Argentina, a young couple’s love for each other is severely put to the test when their house purchase is jeopardised by unexpected disaster. By Juan Schnitman. With Pilar Gamboa, Juan Barberini. World premiere

Härte (TOUGH LOVE) – Germany
By Rosa von Praunheim
With Luise Heyer, Hanno Koffler, Katy Karrenbauer, Marion Erdmann, Andreas Marquardt
World premiere

HOW TO WIN AT CHECKERS  (Every Time) – Thailand / USA / Indonesia. By Josh Kim. World premiere

NastyBaby_still1_KristenWiig__2014-12-01_09-51-32AM_copyMariposa (BUTTERFLY) – Argentina
By Marco Berger
With Ailín Salas, Javier De Pietro, Julián Infantino, Malena Villa
World premiere

NASTY BABY – USA
Fresh from SUNDANCE FESTIVAL, Kristen Wiig stars in Sebastián Silva’s drama exploring a gay couple’s desperate search to have a baby with the help of their best friend. Also starring Tunde Adebimpe, Mark Margolis, Reg E. Cathey.  International Premiere

NECKTIE YOUTH – South Africa
By Sibs Shongwe-La Mer
With Sibs Shongwe-La Mer, Bonko Cosmo, Emma Tollman, Jonathan Young, Colleen Balchin
World premiere

Onthakan (THE BLUE HOUR) – Thailand
By Anucha Boonyawatana
With Atthaphan Poonsawas, Oabnithi Wiwattanawarang, Duangjai Hirunsri
World premier

out of my hand copyOUT OF MY HAND– USA
By Takeshi Fukunaga
With Bishop Blay, Duke Murphy Dennis, Zenobia Kpoto
World premiere

Paridan az Ertefa Kam (A MINOR LEAP DOWN) – Iran / France
By Hamed Rajabi
With Negar Javaherian, Rambod Javan
World premiere

Petting Zoo copyPETTING ZOO– Germany / Greece / USA
By Micah Magee
With Devon Keller, Austin Reed, Deztiny Gonzales, Kiowa Tucker
World premiere

Pionery-geroi (PIONEER HEROES) – Russian Federation
By Natalia Kudryashova
With Natalia Kudryashova, Daria Moroz, Aleksei Mitin, Aleksandr Userdin
World premiere

Que Horas Ela Volta? (THE SECOND MOTHER) – Brazil
By Anna Muylaert
European premiere

Sangailė (THE SUMMER OF SANGAILé) – Lithuania / France / Netherlands
By Alanté Kavaïté
With Julija Steponaityté, Aisté Diruté, Juraté Sodyté, Martynas Budraitis
European premiere

Sangue azul (BLUE BLOOD) – Brazil
By Lirio Ferreira
With Daniel de Oliveira, Caroline Abras, Sandra Coverloni, Rômulo Braga
International premiere

Zui Sheng Meng Si (THANATOS – DRUNK) – Taiwan
By Chang Tso-Chi
With Lee Hong-Chi, Chen Jen-Shuo, Huang Shang-Ho, Lu Hsueh-Feng, Wang Ching-Ting
World premiere

P A N O R A M A    Documentary FILMS

B MOVIE: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin
Germany
By Jörg A. Hoppe, Klaus Maeck, Heiko Lange
With Mark Reeder, Marius Weber
World premiere

Daniel's World copyDanieluv svet (DANIEL’S WORLD)

Czech Republic
By Veronika Liskova

Daniel is a student and a writer – he’s also a paedophile. This Czech title goes inside a community where people are desperately struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation. International premiere

El Hombre Nuevo copyEl hombre nuevo (THE NEW MAN)
Uruguay / Chile / Nicaragua
By Aldo Garay

Stephania is a transvestite born in Nicaragua. As a boy, he was adopted by a couple of Uruguayan leftist activists in the midst of the Sandinista revolution. In Montevideo, we explore Stephania’s journey to rediscover her home country where she now wants to be accepted for the woman she is. World premiere

Fassbinder copyFASSBINDER – lieben ohne zu fordern (Fassbinder – To Love Without Demands)
Denmark
By Christian Braad Thomsen
with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Irm Hermann, Harry Baer, Lilo Pempeit. World premiere

 

IRAQI ODYSSEY

Switzerland
By Samir
European premiere

STORIES OF OUR LIVES

Kenya / South Africa
By Jim Chuchu
With Kelly Gichohi, Paul Ogola, Tim Mutungi, Mugambi Nthinga, Rose Njenga
European premiere

THE YES MEN ARE REVOLTING
USA
By Laura Nix, Andy Bichlbaum, Mike Bonanno
European premiere

BERLINALE RUNS FROM 5 -15 FEBRUARY 2015.

THE FORUM, PANORAMA and other sections will be updated in due course. MLT

Sunflower (1970) | DVD release

Igirasoli_film_posterSUNFLOWER (I GIRASOLI)

Dir.: Vittorio De Sica; Cast: Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Lyudmila Savelava; Italy/USSR 1970, 107 min.

Perhaps not de Sica’s most intense drama, SUNFLOWER is still a moving film. Written by Tonino Guerra and Cesare Zavattini, mainstays of Italian neo-realism, the film tries successfully to get away from the pure melodrama that the plot might initially suggest.

Just before the outbreak of the Second World War, Antonio (Mastroianni) marries Giovanna (Loren) on a whim and we are left in no doubt that for him the twelve days leave he gains is more important than Giovanna. Having failed to convince the military board of his insanity, Antonio is a very reluctant soldier and is drafted to the Russian front.

SUNFLOWER is strictly anti-war in its ideology, avoiding any glorification of the hostilities. After a particularly gruesome battle, Antonio is left for dead but nursed back to health by Mascia (Savelava). They marry and Antonio adapts surprisingly well to the rural environment. Meanwhile, back in Italy, Antonia cannot find out what happened to her husband and sets out for Russia to look for him. After finding the couple, she corners Mascia: “If he really lost his memory, how do you know that his name is Antonio?” Antonio is shown as weak, oscillating between the much stronger women. De Sica splays up his opportunism to the full and on his return to Italy Antonio is in for a very rude awakening.

Naturally Loren dominates the film (produced by her husband Carlo Ponti) as she did in nearly all her collaborations with Mastroianni – the latter being a particularly sordid weasel, who does not deserve either of the women. But the images of veteran DOP Adriana Novelli, who would shoot de Sica’s masterpiece The Garden of the Finzi-Continis in the same year, remain most powerful along with HD elements from Giuseppe Rotunno, who lit most Italian headliners, including The Leopard. AS

SUNFLOWER DVD VOD re-master and widescreen format release on 26 January 2-15 with optional Italian audio.

 

 

American Sniper (2014)

Dir.: Clint Eastwood

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Luke Grimes;

USA 2014, 132 min.

Clint Eastwood is no stranger to films portraying war, “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Flags of our Fathers”, were lauded justifiably as projects trying to show the ambivalence of armed combat. Unfortunately, AMERICAN SNIPER, the portrait of Chris Kyle (1974-2013), a marine with the exclusive S.E.A.L. unit who had 160 kills as a sniper during his four tours during the Iraq war, is a one dimensional, patriotic hagiography relying for nearly all of its 132 minutes on combat scenes. Eastwood gives very little room here to explore Kyle himself, or his relationship with his wife Taya.

Kylimagee (Cooper) grew up in Texas, his father introducing a rigid, homespun philosophy of dominance by way of God, Country, Family; enlarging the concept by dividing humankind into three categories of sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. After buying his son a rifle at the age of three, Kyle senior remarks that his son has a “gift” for shooting after Chris killed his first deer. On finishing school, Kyle worked as a professional bronco rider before being invalided out due to injury. After enlisting with the SEALS in 1999, he serves on four tours in the Iraq war where his skills as a sniper earn him the name “The Devil of Ramadi”. The Iraqis put up a $ 80000 bounty on his head. Discharged in 2009, he published his autobiography “American Sniper” in 2012.

Kyle’s relationship with his wife Taya (Miller) is relegated to mere footnotes by Eastwood; the family scenes with their two children are clumsy and full of clichés. Instead of commenting on America’s passionate and deadly love affair with weapons – Kyle’s “American Gun: A history of the US in Ten Firearms” was published posthumously in 2013. AMERICAN SNIPER is dominated by endless combat scenes. Kyle’s comment to an army psychiatrist (another cardboard figure), when asked if he regrets any actions in the war is simple: “I only regret the people I did not save”; is one of many statements by Kyle, worthy of more exploration; after all he did lose his life in circumstances that question the overriding presence and use of weapons in American society.

Eastwood tried very hard to make Cooper into a second Kyle: the actor had to gain an enormous amount of weight and was coached to deliver the “Texan drawl”, which is vey hard to comprehend outside the state of Texas. But the director is unable or unwilling to discuss any concepts oitside those of naïve patriotism, ending AMERICAN SNIPER with a vast array of American flags, draped all over Texas on the final 200 mile journey of Kyle’s coffin to the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. AS

Out on general release from 16 January 2015

Big Eyes (2014)

imageDirector: Tim Burton

Writers: Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski,

Cast: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, Danny Huston, Jason Schwartzman, Terence Stamp

105min  Biopic Drama   US

Tim Burton’s latest film BIG EYES, is as weirdly kitsch as the paintings it features: they are the work of prolific artist Margaret Keane who enjoyed fenomenal success in the 1950s in California with her pictures of urchins with enormous, saucer–like eyes. Quite a departure from Burton’s usual work and particularly his last project Frankenweenie (a re-hash of an earlier outing), BIG EYES is a biopic, a psychological thriller and a portrait of narcissism which delivers a universal message to its 21st century audience.

With his regular collaborators, screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, BIG EYES also has echoes of Ed Wood (1994), Burton’s pic about a tortured artist. In California, we first meet Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), fleeing with her little daughter from the serene but sanitary housing estate outside San Francisco where she lives with her husband – who we never meet. Quite why she chooses to leave her marriage with no job or money in fifties America is never explained. Suffice to say, that Margaret lands on her feet and quite soon meets up with ‘fellow’ artist, Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz), a successful realtor and “Sunday painter” of Parisian street scenes. As is often the case, Keane is a better businessman than a painter and he soon cottons on to Margaret’s value in the marketplace and decides to make her his wife, gradually taking credit for her work.

Margaret is a submissive woman who suffers from low self-esteem and is only happy to trust in her new husband’s confidence and considerable business acumen. Amy Adams is perfectly-cast in the role of Margaret, a typical fifties housewife and shrinking violet. Resembling a modern-day Doris Day, her delicate features and retroussé nose are just right for this highly-stylised drama with its technicolour palette of rich pastels and the usual Burton touches of early sixties high kitsch (Mood Indigo springs to mind here).

For his part, Christophe Waltz is also right for the role: his slightly unctuously manic demeanour and genial smile belie his credentials as a fully- blown abusive narcissist, as the story unfolds. Controlling and egocentric, he has tremendous appeal providing when getting his own way. Once thwarted, he transforms into a vicious monster with a ego the size of the turquoise blue swimming pool in the couple’s luxurious California villa. While Margaret slaves away at painting (the celebrated “Keane’s”) in a darkened studio, Walter is out there schmoozing and selling ‘his’ wares to the great and the good.

The reason to see BIG EYES is for its portrayal of female empowerment: woman artist finds the strength to confront her own demons in the male-orientated society of the sixties. Margaret must have had some ‘balls’ to walk out in the first place, but Burton never plummets the real character behind the facade so she remains largely a mysterious cypher as a character in a stylised construct. That said, BIG EYES also deals with contemporary issues of modern day fame and the abuse of power in a patriarchal society which, in the workplace and the boardroom, still exists today.

Burton’s drama is far from subtle with most of the characters blurting out their opinions raucously as exponents of ‘the male point of view’ rather than these attributes being skilfully woven into the narrative and script; although there are some moments of dark humour. Terence Stamp plays a strident New York Times’ art critic  and Jason Schwartzman a bigoted gallery-owner. Amy Adams gives a moving performance although there’s little to enjoy in the dreadful paintings that are merely there to illustrate how easily money can be made for old rope. The main point here is that her joy at painting them was a therapy itself, proving that artistic endeavour can indeed save our souls. Danny Huston gets short shrift as Walter’s journalist buddy, and only appears in a few scenes. He could equally have played Walter, but Waltz is the bigger actor and so naturally the box office would demand him in the lead. All in all, BIG EYES presents an intriguing look at American social history of the sixites showcasing the birth of the American dream in all its sad tawdriness. Perfect Christmas fare!. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 26 December 2014

 

School of Babel (2014)

SCHOOL OF BABEL (LA COUR DE BABEL)

Dir.: Julie Bertucelli; Documentary; France 2014, 89 min.

Julie Bertucelli (SINCE OTTO LEFT) has filmed students at the special reception class of “La Grange aux Belles” Secondary School in Paris’ 10eme arrondissement for one year. All of the eleven to fifteen year olds have one common denominator: they come from four continents and have to learn French, before they are transferred into the normal school system.

Taught by Brigitte Cervoni (her last class, before she will exchange the care for 24 students to oversee 300 teachers in the Ministry of Education), the students bring not only the fears and traumas acquired in their homelands with them, they are isolated in France, because they speak French poorly. On top of it, adolescence is never easy, particularly when some of the students have to be the interpreters for their parents. Considering all this, clashes with teachers are relatively rare, most of the students see France as a stepping stone to a prosperous life – they try, with exceptions, much harder than English children in Secondary Schools, who on the whole, rely very much on their parents bailing them out with private tutors.

Rama, who comes from Senegal, is one of the exceptions. The young girl is lazy and unmotivated, even though she was beaten by male family members at home. Her older cousin, who is looking after her in Paris, tells her in front of Cervoni, that she will be send back home, if she is not more compliant. But at the end of the school year, Rama blames racism (unjustly) for her poor results.

Religion and fear of the future plays a major part in the life of the students. They discuss their upbringing under different religions; one girl grew up in a home split between a Muslim father and a Christian mother. A young Serbian boy had to flee with his family, because Neo-Nazis persecuted them in his homeland. Overall, they question the usefulness of religion, even quoting the troubles in Ireland, where one of the boys suffered.

The class competed in a school film festival, and won second price at the Festival in Chartres. The unbridled joy showed is proof, what this medium can do for students having to express themselves in their second language. The last day at school is very emotionally charged, many of the students will move on into Secondary schools, others will remain. But together with their equally teary teacher, they can celebrate a first, giant step into integration. SCHOOL OF BABEL is informative and very moving, a testament to creative schooling.

On general release from 5 December 2014

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) | Days of Fear and Wonder

Dir.: Stanley Kubrick; Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Leonard Rossiter, Margaret Tyzack; UK/USA 1968; 141 min.

Who better to define Science Fiction than Arthur C. Clarke, co-author of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, on whose short story of the same name Kubrick’s film is based: “Science fiction is something that could happen – but usually you wouldn’t want it to. Fantasy is something that couldn’t happen – though often you wish it would”. This rather cautious outlook is also at the heart of Kubrick’s film, which does not engage us with the thrills of conventional Sci-Fi films – neither Clark nor Kubrick could come up with plausible aliens and the film is the better for it – presenting, rather, a visual/philosophical treaty. To start with, 95 of the 141 minutes are without dialogue, dominated by classical music and/or images – the dialogue could have easily been written on the inter-titles used in silent films. Needless to say, there are no statements or solutions just questions about a future, which remains enigmatic and open to all sorts of interpretations in the final images.

The first Homo-Sapiens opens the proceedings: some apes are thrilled by the appearance of a strangely glittering monolith – inspired by his awe. One of them uses a bone as tool, jubilantly throwing it into the air, where it transforms into a spaceship. Part two opens with the discovery that the same monolith has been found on the moon. It transpires that it is sending electronic signals to Jupiter. We witness space flights, as ordinary and routine as rail travel. Part three is set in 2001, when a secret mission is send to Jupiter, to find out if Aliens are responsible for the signals from the moon. There are five astronauts on board of the spaceship; three of them are scientists, kept in coffin-like boxes, put into an artificially induced coma. Commander Bowman (Duella) and his deputy Poole (Lockwood) are keeping an eye on the instruments, but their work-rate is minimal, since the super-computer HAL 9000 (voiced by Douglas Rain), who is infallible, is in charge of the journey. When Bowman and Poole find out that HAL is malfunctioning, they huddle in a closet to resolve the matter, but HAL is able to lip read and tries to do away with the whole crew. Firstly he kills the three scientists, then he cuts Poole’s air supply off when he is out in space. Bowman tries to rescue him but HAL sabotages his efforts. The computer than locks the space ship, to leave Bowman in space, but the commander outsmarts him and switches him off, HAL pleading like a human, for his life. After a journey illuminated by whirling colours, Bowman ends up in a flat full of Louis XV furniture, where he quickly grows old and dies. At the foot of his bed stands the monolith like a sentinel.

Music plays a central role in decoding the film: The opening scene is dominated by Richard Strauss’ “Also sprach Zarathrustra” (a re-occurring theme of the film; the docking sequences of part two are accompanied by the Johann Strauss’ waltz “An der schönen blauen Donau”; Bowman’s and Poole’s lonely life on board of the spaceship is mournfully underscored by Aran Khatchaturian’s “Gayane’ Ballet Suite and György Ligeti’s Requiem is the leitmotif of the whole film.

Even after 46 years, and without any CGI, the images of A SPACE ODYSSEY are still fresh and do not give away the real age of the film. Kubrick used simple tricks, like the scene with the ballpen in the spaceship, which seems to float, but was in reality only glued to a plate of glass. The images of the astronauts floating in space were achieved with circus equipment and models in real size, filmed against a black background, the camera shooting from the floor upwards. This way, the ropes under the ceiling were hidden by the body of the stuntman; the audience has the illusion, to watch him floating from a sideways position.

Music and visuals are dominating; the underlying philosophical questions, particularly the role of the computer, are very topical and evergreen and overall 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY still feels modern and wonderful to watch. AS

[youtube id=”lfF0vxKZRhc” width=”600″ height=”350″]

 

Winter Sleep | Kis Uykusu (2014)

Dir.: Nuri Bilge Ceylan; Cast: Haluk Bilginer, Melisa Sözen, Demet Akbao; Turkey/ France/Germany, 2014, 196 min.

Set deep in the mountain region of Cappadocia in Anatolia, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Palme D’Or Winner is, in spite of its considerable length, a dense and often very confrontational portrait of human fallibility. Even though it takes place inside a claustrophobic hotel, the outdoor scenes are riveting, set against the background of the majestic mountains.

Men are usually out of touch in all of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films, and in WINTER SLEEP, his new anti-hero Aydin (Bilginer) is no exception. An ex-actor, he owns and runs a hotel, but his real (inherited) wealth is derived from rentals and businesses in the nearby villages. Aydin sees himself as an enlightened feudal lord; mostly spending his days in the hotel, where he writes a daily column for the local newspaper, leaving the dirty work to his right-hand man Hydayet, his lawyers and the bailiffs. He is therefore shocked, when Ilyas, a small boy, throws a stone into the side window of his jeep. It later emerges that his father, Ismail, has been visited by the bailiffs for unpaid rent. In an absurdly degrading scene, Hamdi, Ilyas’ uncle and the local iman, brings the child to Aydin’s hotel, were he has to kiss “the master’s” hand in the presence of Aydin’s much younger wife Nihal (Sözen).

At home, where Aydin lives with Nihal and his recently divorced sister Necla (Akbao), he again presents himself as somebody he is not: the tolerant intellectual, man of the world, writing an history of the Turkish theatre, and letting the women get on with their lives – which is obviously not as important or interesting as his. The reality is, that Nihal lived for many years in fear of him, and even now, he tries to interfere in her charity work, treating her like a teacher would treat a not particularly clever child. His passive-aggressive behaviour towards his sister, the only person brave enough to tell him the truth (“I wish my threshold of self-deception was as low as yours”), culminates in him accusing her of failing to prevent her ex-husband’s alcoholism. Whilst he is benevolent and generous to the few hotel guests, he treats the women with arrogance and utter impudence.

Doubtless, Ceylan pays homage to Bergman and Bresson: in the long, vicious arguments between Aydin and his wife/sister, the camera catches the protagonists in shot/contra-shot movement, the close-ups showing the hurt on the faces of the women, and Aydin’s sarcastic smile. In choosing Schubert’s piano sonata no. 20, which Bresson used in Au hazard Balthazar, Ceylan connects not only Nihal’s treatment by Aydin to the French master, but also shows the wild horses of the region; one of them, Aydin, in a more generous mood, frees, so it can return to the wild.

In the last hour, changes are signaled, when Aydin decides to go to Istanbul for the winter, only to change his mind, landing himself and his wife in unconnected situations, which serve as a showdown for both of them. The widescreen camera catches the wintry landscape in panorama shots, as well the equally cold relationships inside the hotel. Bilginer’s Aydin is a wonderful study of a heartless tyrant, who tries to fool everyone, but only succeeds in being more and more isolated. Sözen’s Nihal is vulnerable, but she tries to fight her husband, even if he just chuckles, when called “selfish and spiteful”. Akbao’s sister is angry and alone, since she does not take Nihals’ side, instead she starts longing for her ex-husband, even he seems to be agreeable than her brother. Ceylan’s intensity never lets up, leaving WINTER SLEEP as an unforgettable chronicle of human psychological warfare, in the midst of a magnificent winter landscape. AS

On GENERAL RELEASE FROM 21 NOVEMBER 2014

Set Fire To The Stars (2014)

image008Director: Andy Goddard

Writers: Andy Goddard and Celyn Jones

Cast: Elijah Wood, Celyn Jones, Shirley Henderson, Steven Mackintosh

UK​ Drama ​90mins

One of the very few non-dreadful UK productions to premiere at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, SET FIRE TO THE STARS is the debut feature of Andy Goddard, whose previous directorial work includes TV’s Torchwood, Doctor Who, The Bill and, most recently, four episodes of Downtown Abbey as well as that show’s 2012 Christmas Special. Depicting the volatile relationship between Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and the American academic-cum-literary critic John Malcolm Brinnin, the film is a conceptually intriguing work whose chief strength is Chris Seager’s evocatively crisp monochrome digital cinematography.

Dylan Thomas (Celyn Jones) arrives in New York in 1950 with reputations preceding him: not only is he a much-lauded genius of poetry, he is also a drunken liability whose unfaltering approach to life is to enjoy it—to feel it and to sense it in all its excess. Drink now, worry later: Thomas is an unthinkably quick-witted partygoer who seemingly lacks an off-switch—though he arrives from Wales burdened with barely acknowledged psychological hang-ups and in palpable retreat from marital turmoil. Consequently, there’s a flipside never too far away. If he isn’t embarrassing himself before more attentive company by slurring his way through tortured, inebriated recitals, in private moments he stews in a debilitating swamp of depression.

Thomas is in America for a tour of performances organised by John Brinnin (Elijah Wood), who accompanies the poet after assuming responsibility for him and his behaviour. As one Yale academic puts it, Thomas is a “manchild… terrorising functions with his mischief.” Forever deflecting the serious professionalism required of him, the poet sends Brinnin out one night for milkshakes, candy and a comic book; when the latter returns, Thomas has disappeared. Before long, the hotel’s kicked the pair out, and they retreat to a picturesque country home in Fairfield County, Connecticut, where Brinnin feels better equipped to distract his visiting guest into something resembling a mental focus.

Thomas’ ceaseless antics not only test the patience of the more prudish Yanks around him, but also that of the film’s viewers. The dramatic crux of SET FIRE TO THE STARS is how far the man can go without confronting his alcoholism and apparently broken marriage—the sole reminding image of which is an unopened letter from his wife. While Thomas is the subject of Goddard and co-writer Jones’ script, it is through Brinnin’s perspective that the tale is framed. An obvious admirer of Thomas—perhaps beyond intellectual curiosity—Brinning asks the poet where he gets it all from: ‘it’ being his wit, his genius, his sensitivity and so on. Thomas snaps: “Why do you have to label it?” The film does little to demystify the poet.

Brinning is an unreliable narrator, and though telling their tale from his perspective facilitates an unusual narrative vantage point, the filmmakers don’t seem to know what precisely to do with it—beyond telling a tale about a tempestuous, uneasy relationship. Tellingly, STARS is at its best when its makers are compelled to explore the class tensions an appreciably popular working-class artist such as Dylan Thomas might stir. While earlier scenes—in which our temperamental but self-deprecating adult-baby outwits and outrages intellectual bowtie-wearing types while in full-on hedonistic pursuit of adoring babes—suggest a narrative pattern that may grow irritating rather quickly, the strongest (and funniest) sequence here involves deliberate crudity at Yale itself.

Obviously nervous about performing privately in front of the university’s higher ranks, Thomas takes a painful pause and many sips of water before beginning with a winningly stirring rendition of ‘And Death Shall Have No Dominion’. After, a more unbearable discomfort takes hold of the poet, as he finds himself at a formal dinner expected to keep up and hold court with the stiflingly snobby professors. As their highbrow pettiness leaks through, the Ivy Leaguers get their comeuppance when the Swansea-born writer deliberately lowers the tone by breaking into vulgar limericks. What better way to uproot the literary elite’s unflinchingly old-world views than by the evocative opening lines, “A whore from Timbuktu / Filled her vagina with glue”? Who said revolutions can’t start over dinner? MICHAEL PATTISON

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Alleluia (2014) -Frightfest 21-25 August 2014

Director: Fabrice Du Welz

Cast: Laurent Lucas,  Lola Duenas,  Helena Noguerra

90min  Belgium  Psycho drama

Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz’s spiky and unsettling indie feature was one of the best thrillers to come out of Cannes this year, screening in the Directors’ Fortnight strand. His previous outings Calvaire and Vinyan have both been adaptations of other films: Calvaire of Deliverance and Vinyan (loosely) of Apocalypse Now. And ALLELUIA bases itself on the US hit The Honeymoon Killers and a news event that shocked America in the late forties (the story of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez).

Guaranteed to put you off online dating forever, ALLELUIA is anointed with flourishes of weird brilliance that give real insight into the disturbed minds of his outwardly straightforward protagonists: Gloria and Michel who are people we might easily meet on a dating site. But when we see the Michel (Laurent Lucas) lighting a candle to summon his powers of seduction for his next victim, and Gloria (Lola Duenas) giving a delightful rendition of a self-composed song before sawing off her rival’s ankle, it’s clear that these two are broken individuals who should carry a public health warning on their teeshirts. But it’s the sensual overload of Manu Dacosse’s imaginatively suggestive cinematography, Vincent Cahay’s score and Emmanuel de Bossieu’s sound effects that hint at so much more, collaborating to make this a warped psychological drama soaked in horror and a potent winner for the art house circuit.

In the Belgian morgue where she works, Gloria is having an ordinary day, washing down the body of a corpse, an early hint that she’s comfortable with death and morbidity. A single parent: she’s lonely and looking for someone to share her life with.  Online, she meets Michel (Laurent Lucas), an inveterate womanizer and professional hustler but also an impeccable gentleman; quietly spoken and masculine with good looks and a way with words. Their chemistry is instant and palpable. During a romantic dinner, the camera views them in sensual soft focus with the emphasis on soundbites of Gloria’s sighs.  Rose-tinted images of Gloria in the afterglow of love-making are all that’s needed to convince us that she’s loved-up and smitten. The next day they go about their business, but something clicks in the minds of these two that is unleashed once they are drawn into the  emotional relationship. Gloria has somethings deeper and darker in mind for Michael: she wants to possess him. When she discovers that Michel inveigles women into his life for money, she decides to become his accomplice rather than risk losing him. It is clear Michel is a damaged, but clearly adept with words that he is able to make anyone believe anything he wants them to.

Fabrice Du Welz’s narrative focuses on this dynamic: two purportedly ordinary people bringing their toxic pasts to bear on their unsuspecting romantic victims. We do not know Gloria’s past but for Michel: his doting mother – who used him for sex when none was available with men her own age – seems to be the catalyst for the obsessional devotion he thrives on from his maternal role model: his brian is hard-wired to pleasuring older women and extracting their money. In her lust to possess Michel, Gloria offers him the ultimate ‘have you cake and eat it’ scenario: agreeing to put up with his philandering, even offering to aide and abet him; on condition that he continues their sexual relationship. The segments (‘Acts’) that follow are entitled: ‘Marguerite and Michel, ‘Gabriella and Solange’; each track Michel’s romantic seductions of wealthy and lonely women. Marguerite (Edith le Merdy – who he marries) is told that Gloria is Michel’s close sister; Gabriella (Anne-Marie Loop), an elderly Catholic charity worker, is also seduced and finally Solange (Helena Noguerra) who is an elegant, fresher-looking, younger version of Gloria, with a country house and vintage Jaguar to tempt him. Michel bonds with the little innocent girl in Solange, further angering Gloria. He seems genuinely happy although he tricks Gloria into believing that he is not sleeping with her rival, so as to further their complicity, making Gloria believe she is ‘in control.’  Each of these romances is threatened by Gloria’s insane jealously and demanding nature and Michel acquiesces to her demands that feed the dynamic he shared with his mother.

Increasingly desperate measures are required to satisfy Gloria’s obsession. Gloria has as strong a pull on Michel as he has on her. Duenas is superbly cast as the broken and raddled bunny-boiler Gloria, with her explosions of violent temper erupting unpredictably, exposing not only her desperate neediness but also her psychopathic tendencies: of the two, Gloria is the most evil. As Michel, Lucas has the good looks and flashing eyes of a lothario and the sexy, seedy quality that Gabriel Byrne does so well. ALLELUIA is the perfect psychological thriller ‘de nos jours’ showing how sometimes love and passion can really be ‘to die for’.  MT

SCREENING DURING FRIGHTFEST 21-15 AUGUST 2014  WHICH RUNS IN VARIOUS VENUES IN LONDON

We Gotta Get Out of This Place (2013)

Dir: Simon & Zeke Hawkins

Cast: Mackenzie Davis, Jeremy Allen-White, Logan Huffman, William Devane, Mark Pelligrino

USA 2013, 90 min.

In this decent Southern Noir debut, first time directors Simon and Zeke Hawkins have learned a lot from the master of crime pulp fiction, Jim Thompson and the weak, sleazy characters, which populate his novels. To start with, the sheriff is bent, a hallmark of many Thompson plots. Then there are the small time criminals, ready to be gobbled up by the real professionals. And there is also the continued threat to woman by their male counterparts. The woman here is Sue and when we meet her with Bobby for the first time in the café, she tries to interest him in “South of Heaven”, a novel by Jim Thompson, set in 1927 in Texas, at the height of the depression.

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Set in a small town in Texas, the film opens as one member of a teenage ménage-à-trois, carrying the narrative, takes part in a low-key robbery: B.J. (Huffman) empties the safe of his boss Giff (Pelligrino). He is going to spend the money with Sue (Davis) and Bobby (Allen-White), whom are then seen discussing their future at college in a greasy spoon café. Giff, ultra violent, beats his Mexican caretaker half to death in front of Bobby and B.J, wrongly suspecting him of the theft but when Bobby intervenes with his confession, B.J is only too happy to see somebody else taking the rap. But Giff shoots the caretaker, proclaiming him as the guilty party, since he was supposed to look after the funds. However, Giff is not done with the teenagers: they have to rob a depot to steal a much larger sum, so that Giff can pay back Big Red (Devane), a big time gangster, who owns his business. Bobby, being much more rational than the highly strung BJ, goes to the sheriff, to confess, but finds out, that the lawman is part of the Giff’s scheme.

Meanwhile Bobby and Sue have sex, overheard by a very jealous B.J., who left one of the walkie-talkies they are going to use in the robbery, with Sue, and has to listen in his car to the noisy lovemaking of his friends. B.J., who has an inferiority complex, since he will stay behind, not having got his college grades, is planning his revenge, but when Bobby and Sue find an empty safe and two dead people, we know that Giff had set the trio up. But Sue, much cleverer than the boys, has alarmed Big Red, and Giff has not only to face the teenagers in a bloody show down, but also a man much more ruthless and cleverer than himself.

The acting is convincing, and never over the top and the main trio, in particular, is restrained; showing their youthful vulnerability in a corrupt and violent adult world. The camera is particularly efficient in the night scenes, achieving a truly noir character of little light and many shadows. A small, but taut Southern-noir thriller, perfecly set in a time before mobiles and the internet. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

The Notorious Mr Bout (2014)

Dir.: Tony Gerber, Maxim Pozdorovkin;

Documentary; USA/Russia 2014, 90 min.

Tony Gerber’s documentary on Victor Bout suffers a little from too much footage of the man himself, and too little explanatory material. This way, Bout comes over too much as a one-off, and not as one of many perpetrators in a world-wide net of deadly dealingsBritish ex-minister Peter Hain called him ”Sanction Buster”, and for an UN-Official he was simply “The Merchant of Death”: Victor Bout, born in 1967 in the Tajik SSR, then part of the Soviet-Union, has been an arms dealer between 1993 and his arrest in 2008 in all the hot spots of recent wars: Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, DR of Congo, Afghanistan, Liberia, Kenya, Lebanon and Libya.

In most of these countries he had connections with the ruling classes, who (more often than not), were serial offenders against human rights. And like other psychopaths who felt that they themselves were the victims, he created the cult of his personality. In his case, this involved having friends and family members shoot an amazing amount of videos featuring” Uncle” Victor, a harmless, joy loving entrepreneur, making money for his family and friends. Much of the footage is not much different from holiday images of an ordinary family man. He is cultivating the image of the naïve salesman, transporting needed goods from one country to another – insisting, that he was not responsible for the cargo, consisting very often of weapons, apart from the more ordinary fair of produce or electronics. It is difficult to believe that a man who was a military translator in the USSR army, discharged in 1991 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, speaking six languages and having operated in the realm of Soviet military intelligence (the GRU) was really so blatantly unaware of his doings as he (and his wife Alla, who features extensively as his defender in this documentary) claims. Instead he was a not a particularly untypical product of Neo-Capitalism after the fall of USSR, where oligarchs took control not only of the economy but also of government. And compared with the real big-shots, he was only small fry during the formative years of globalisation– but a very dangerous one. It is true, that “making money” is never a clean business, but there are many shades. Bout, like all arms dealers, occupies the blackest spot in the hierarchy of commerce.

When he was arrested in Bangkok in November 2008, after a sting operation of the US government – Bout promised to procure military graded weapons for the guerrillas of the “Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia”, to be used against Americans – Bout became a political football between Russia and the USA, before he was extradited to the USA in 2010, were he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. It is true, that Bout is only one of many, and the main transgressors in the world wide arms dealings are still the governments, making a fat profit, whilst feeling superior to the Bout’s of this world. But this documentary might help to encourage reaction, in bringing at least one case to the public attention. AS. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

 

Who Is Dayani Cristal? (2013)

Dir.: Marc Silver; Documentary with Gael Garcia Bernal; UK/Mexico 2013, 85 min.

In August 2010 a male body was discovered in the Sonora desert in Arizona. No clues to the identity of the corpse were found, apart from the name “Dayani Cristal” tattooed across the chest. It became soon clear, that “Dayani Crystal” is one victim of over two thousand would-be immigrants found dead in Southern Arizona in the last ten years, after the 389 miles “Border Wall” between Arizona and Mexico was erected. The total length of the Wall between the two countries is over 650 miles, the loss of life is calculated of over 5000 people in the last ten years alone. The USA government has so far spent billions of Dollars on the wall, with maintenance costs accumulating.

Marc Silver avoids a purely documentary structure and after showing the work of the Tucson police department in identifying the corpse and the joint efforts of the Honduran consulate, he makes the actor Gael Garcia Bernal as “Dayani Cristal” the focal point of this moving docudrama, tracing the steps of the dead man’s journey from a little village in Honduras. We learn that he was married with three children, once stricken with leukaemia, which explained the debts the family had, and motivated the husband to emigrate. The journey through Mexico, mainly by foot and train, is hazardous, border police and kidnappers feast on the victims. In the end, we learn the identity of the victim: Dilcy Yohan Sandres Martinez, father of a baby girl named Dayani Cristal. He was 29 when he died twenty minutes away from Tucson, begging his friends to leave him die alone in the freezing desert, so as not to endanger their own lives. Unlike others, whose identity is never discovered, he at least found a sort of peace: his body is flown to Honduras, his burial attended by his family and friends.

In putting a face to victim, the film personalises the argument in a positive and a negative way: the brilliant acting of Bernal makes us identify much more with the character of Martinez than would have been the case in a pure documentary film. At the same time, this personalisation (and yes, sometimes sentimentality creeps in with much wailing and gnashing of teeth), occasionally detracts from the overriding conflict, even though the straight documentary passages of the film speak for themselves and are enforced repetitively.  In the end, the main argument is made by an American: Since it is proven, that (not only) the USA economy relies on low paid workers to do the jobs other Americans don’t want to do; would it not be more sane to invest in a proper immigration system, instead of this frontier of death. After all, weren’t we told that the Berlin Wall signified the superiority of capitalism over Communism? AS

ON GENERAL RElEASE FROM 25 JULY 2014

The Lady from Shanghai (1946/7)

Dir.: Orson Welles

Cast: Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders

USA 1946/47, 87 min.

Shot between October 1946 and January 1947, THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI cost Columbia in the end two million dollars (200m by today’s standards), although it was scheduled to come in after 60 days of shooting, at a cost of 1.25m $. And if Columbia boss Harry Cohn would have had his way, it would have never been seen in cinemas at all (it has its first preview in April 1948).  Having watched the finished film for the first time, he promised “the first person who can explain the plot to me’ a thousand dollars. The famous DOP Rudolph Mate had to do a great deal of re-shooting of Rita Hayworth close-ups at the Columbia studios. Welles seemed not be too sure himself, but later proclaimed the film (rightfully) a masterpiece. That did not stop it flopping at the box office. THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI was Welles’ last film as a director in Hollywood for ten years (he would shoot Touch of Evil in 1958). And it was his very last film with his wife Rita Hayworth: they were to divorce in November 1947. During the hearing Hayworth testified: “Mr. Welles showed no interest in establishing a home. Mr. Welles told me he should have never married in the first place, as it interfered with his freedom in his way of life.” Never mind that the couple had a three-year-old daughter, Rebecca. And whilst nobody can argue with Welles’ genius; his lifelong misogyny was something to behold, as he told the French film historian Maurice Bessy “Women are stupid; I have known some who are less stupid than others, but they’re are all stupid”.

And this opinion is written all over THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI. To start with, Hayworth had to loose her long mane, her trademark. Welles and Cohn made it into a publicity show, ordering the hair-dresser Helen Hunt from her honeymoon, so that she could “perform” under the eyes of the press, Welles asking Hunt to cut ruthlessly. Hayworth, now a “topaz blond”, was cast as the most evil and stupid woman on the planet: Elsa is the young and alluring wife of the crippled defence lawyer Arthur Bannister. Holidaying on his yacht in the West Indies, Elsa meets the Irish sailor Michael O’Hara (Welles), and lures him on board. There, Bannister’s partner Grisby (Anders) dreams up a plot to kill Bannister, so he and Elsa can share the insurance money. They set O’Hara up as the fall-guy, but Grisby looses his nerve and kills Broome, a detective hired by Bannister to spy on Elsa. O’Hara is accused of murder and Bannister defends him, to make sure he is convicted. But O’Hara escapes from the court house, is captured by Elsa and her Chinese friends, and ends up in a closed fair ground where he watches Elsa and Bannister shoot each other to death in the hall of mirrors. Elsa begs Michael to save her life, but he wanders off declaring full of self-pity “that I might die trying to forget her”. Male paranoia of women has never been expressed more artfully. AS

ON RELEASE IN A STUNNING NEW 4K RESTORATION IN THE BIF SOUTHBANK AND SELECTED CINEMAS FROM 25TH JULY COURTESY OF PARK CIRCUS FILMS

Of Horses and Men (2013)

Director: Benedikt Erlingsson

Cast: Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson, Charlotte Boving, Helgi Bjornsson

81mins   Drama Comedy

Horses are the stars of Benedikt Erlingsson’s raw and startling debut which was Iceland’s submission to the 2014 Academy Awards. In a remote Icelandic location, a community of earthy horse-breeders live hand in glove with their beasts, attuned to the animals’ needs that often mirror their own physical urges and desires. This is illustrated in darkly amusing episodes: a man (Ingvar  Sigurdsson) decides to pay a courting visit to his female neighbour (Charlotte Boving) riding his perfectly trained white mare. The woman’s frisky stallion pre-empts matters in a way that’s both hilarious and deeply embarrassing for all concerned. Another man (Steinn Armann Magnusson) rides his horse into the sea where they both boldly swim out to a Russian trawler, begging the captain for vodka.  There’s a raw savageness to these staggering events which feel natural yet strangely bizarre; taking us by surprise.

Of Horses and Men captures the sensitive but feral nature of the horses living in symbiosis with their (at times) equally wild owners in this remote and magnificent landscape.  Even the minimal dialogue seems redundant in a narrative told expressively through lenser Bergsteinn Bjoergulfsson’s extraordinary images: each vignette is introduced in the close-up of a horse’s eye. Erlingsson never loses his sense of humour in conveying the quirkiness of his Icelandic characters who perform with consummate ease and gracefulness in complete harmony with the animals they train and nurture.

David Thor Jonsson’s rousing original score is played on traditional European instruments. MT

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Winner – Best New Director – San Sebastian 2013

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 JUNE 2014

Downhill (2014)

image002 2Director: James Rouse  Writers: Torben Betts/James Rouse

Cast: Ned Donnehy, Richard Lumsden, Jeremy Swift, Karl Theobold, Emma Pierson, Katie Lyons

98min  UK   Comedy/Drama

Men and midlife crisis in all their glory are the themes of this hilarious and sometimes poignant ‘road movie on foot’ from commercials director James Rouse and playwright Torben Betts.

When four old school friends get together to walk coast to coast from the North Sea to the Irish Sea they also embark on a journey into themselves exposing insecurities and often tortured relationships. Fraught with setbacks and unexpected developments but always with a genial sense of the ridiculous, this is a passionate blend of well-judged wit and wisdom from a well-known cast of Richard Lumsden (Sense and Sensibility); Jeremy Swift (Gosford Park); Ned Dennehy (Sherlock Homes) and Karl Theobold (TwentyTwelve). A thoroughly enjoyable romp through the English countryside. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 30 MAY 2014

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Fading Gigolo (2013)

Dir: John Turturro

Cast: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber

USA 2013, 98 min.

After his excursion into musical films (Romance and Cigarettes and Passione), the director Turturro has returned to the theme of his debut film Mac (1992): the human male torn between lust and ideal, laziness and honest self respect. Murray (Allen) and Fioravante (Turturro) are nearly down and out: the much older Murray has just lost his second-hand bookshop, and Fioravante, a shy dreamer, is even worst off: he only works two days in a florist shop and has to borrow his rent money from Murray. After a visit to his dermatologist, the attractive Dr. Parker (Stone), Murray comes up with a solution: he will pimp Fioravante – for a hefty “agents” fee – to Dr. Parker, who wants to have a stud for a threesome with her equally stunning girl friend Selima (Vergara). Fioravante is not too eager, but the bills accumulate, and he gives into the Faustian bargain offered by his “friend”. Murray is much more eager than his younger friend, he finds another “client” for him: Avigal, a widow of a Chasidic Rabbi, who has been kept away from the outside world for twenty years by the strict laws of her religion. Fioravante, himself a non-observant Jew like Murray, falls in love with the shy mother of six, – in spite, or rather because of their relationship being rather chaste – but the Jewish vigilante Dovi (Schreiber), who himself is in love with Avigal, follows Murray and Avigal, suspecting “indecencies”. He finally kidnaps Murray with his fellow-vigilantes to get to the bottom of things. Meanwhile, Fioravante fails miserably in his task to satisfy Dr. Parker and Selima, who guess immediately that he is love…..

It is quiet clear from the beginning, which choices Murray makes: he is an old, sleazy, mean and totally corrupt man, whose greed for easy money is only superseded by his hypocrisy. Fioravante on the other hand, wants to do right, but he is too weak and malleable – the perfect victim for Murray’s scheming. Parker and Selima are at least honest in their quest for lust, whilst Avigal takes her time to develop a sense for right and wrong – no wonder after twenty years of “imprisonment”. Dovi is the self-appointed leader of an ultra-orthodox Jewish neighbourhood watch, a sort of misogynist mind police. Cruising along in his car all day, he is as lazy and hypocritical as Murray, the irony being that the kidnapper and his victim are the different side of the same coin. When Dovi asks Fioravante towards the end of the film “are you really a Jew?” the latter answers “I don’t know”. Because labels of identity have lost their meaning: there is no common ground between Dovi and Fioravante – apart from the fact that they love the same woman.

Turturro gently unmasks his characters, never judgemental, but painting a rather sad picture of human nature – apart from Avigal, everybody seems to have become a consumer, be it money, emotions or ideals. The camera elegises New York, the panorama shots are wistful, sometimes doleful, the tracking shots keep everybody distanced, there are few close ups: intimacy has ben lost. Allen’s viciousness is near psychotic; Turturro is mournful, with a permanent low-level depression; Stone and Vergara are slightly over the top in their total abandonment, with Paradis’ Avigal full of dignity, bravery and restraint – an outsider in this world of total sell out. AS

On general release from 23 May 2014

 

 

 

An Autumn Afternoon (1962)

Director: Yasuijiro Ozu

Writers: Kogo Noda and Yasuijiro Ozu

Cast: Chishu Ryu, Shima Iwashita, Keiji Sada, Mariko Okada

112min   Japan   Drama

The final work of master filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, An Autumn Afternoon portrays the inexorable decline into old age, as seen by irreverent youth. Ozu inspired many modern directors from Claire Denis to Aki Kaurismaki and Nuri Bilge Ceylan. His swansong pays homage to the universal theme of tradition; here seen in sixties Japan, casting the well-known Chishu Ryu in the role of Hirayama, an honourable gentlemen whose main concern in his twilight years is to find a husband for his daughter.  Rich with its spectacular use of primary colours, evergreen themes of loneliness; old age and family responsibilities are explored with cheeky and endearing humour that will resonate with art house audiences. While it may rile feminists with its male-orientated view of life, it will certainly entrance them with its delicate performances and lovely set design. MT

Opening on 16th May 2014 at the BFI Southbank, National Media Museum, Bradford and selected cinemas Nationwide.

Before the Winter Chill (2014) Avant l’Hiver

Director: Philippe Claudel

Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Kristen Scott Thomas, Richard Berry, Leila Bakri

Drama    French with subtitles

Novelist turned film-maker Philippe Claudel third feature is a gentle riff on the theme of  ‘A la Recherche de Temps Perdu’.  Intimate in feel and dialogue driven, it makes lavish use of its lush Luxembourgeois setting to tell a classic love story that interlinks the lives of three people and their close friends and family.  Naturally, being French, it’s also a ménage à trios and stars Daniel Auteuil and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Auteuil plays Paul, a neurosurgeon in his sixties whose long marriage to Lucie (Scott Thomas) is happy enough but lacking in sparkle.  Gérard (Richard Berry), their oldest friend, shares a medical practice with Paul and the three are close; Lucie spending her days working in the couple’s modernist house with extensive landscaped gardens and doting on her grandchild. But all is not well in paradise and when Paul starts receiving mystery bouquets of roses, the skies start to darken.

Around the same time, a young Moroccan waitress in Paul’s local cafe, engages him in conversation, claiming to be a former patient, Lou Vallee (Leila Bakri). Gradually Paul is drawn into her story, one of sadness and emotional trauma. Falling for her sultry charms, Paul leaves the family home to ‘get some space’. He’s a decent guy and unsure of himself  in this latelife crisis. At this point Gérard moves in for the kill, revealing his feelings for Lucie in a subtle interplay of shock and bewilderment. Through Gérard, Claudel lampoons this bourgeois set-up with its unfounded dissatisfaction and ennui. This couple appears to have had an easy ride of it: Paul has reached a professional plateau and Lucie moans that her days her full of emptiness in classic bored housewife mode. And Lou is a complex character and not all she seems and as Paul’s life spins out of control, it’s not just his marriage but his professional integrity that is on the line. Lou is ravishingly attractive but does she possess the magnetism to lure Paul away from his comfortable surroundings.  Auteuil captures the naivety of a man who’s been married a long time, but is unsophisticated when it comes to the game of love and out of touch with his feelings.

What makes this story appealing is the easy and watchable way that Auteuil and Scott Thomas inhabit their well-worn roles as an ordinary (albeit affluent) couple whose bond is deeper than the first flush of sexual attraction but has reached a point of mutual understanding and acceptance. They hold the narrative firmly in their hands and the support cast spin round them like acolytes unable to compete. It may not be an extraordinary drama but what it does, it does extraordinarily well.

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ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 9 MAY 2014

 

 

The Railway Man (2013) DVD

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky    Writers: Frank Cottrell Boyce and others

Cast: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgard, Jeremy Irvine, Hiroyuki Sanada

117min  Drama  Australia/UK

Colin Firth stars as a railway anorak and former British Army officer Eric Lomax, living in Scotland, but still deeply affected by his wartime experiences during the fall of Singapore in 1942.

The film opens with Eric’s dying moment (at 93 in 2012) and then casts back to his club in Berwick-upon-Tweed in the 80s as he reminisces with fellow Prisoner of war detainee Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard), recounting his recent meeting on a train with Patti (Nicole Kidman) who later becomes his wife. But soon after the wedding he starts to experience nightmares that transport him back to the evil camp and the Japanese officer (Tanroh Ishida) who tortured him as a young soldier during the Second World War.

The jumpy fractured narrative of this drama has the same effect as constant commercial breaks, diminishing the dramatic punch of this otherwise gripping story.  Scenes in the Far East are resplendently shot on the widescreen where Jeremy Irvine gives a stunning performance as the young and sensitive Eric, whose naivety and courage stand out as a tribute to all who fought and suffered at the hands of the cruel and barbaric Japanese warlords.

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Colin Firth is outstandingly sensitive as Eric, inhabiting the part with every fibre of his body while retaining integrity as a decent Brit in the face of conflict. But his relationship with long-suffering Patti lacks any real authenticity as a modern marriage under strain, feeling more like a Victorian one, with Nicole Kidman doing her best as a mousy Anita Brookner lookalike, without the literary angle to add texture to her character, who trained as a nurse. Eventually she summons up the courage to speak to the sober but decent Finlay (Skarsgard in King of Devil’s Island mode) who spills the beans about her husband’s ordeal in the jungles of Thailand.

It then transpires that Eric’s tormentor is still alive and kicking as a tour guide. A tragic (but rather implausible) event is the trigger that forces Eric back to confront the demons of his past with a surprisingly poignant denouement that clasps victory from the jaws of failure and serves as a touching tribute for ‘entente cordiale’ between Britain and Japan.

The Railway Man is an absorbing film that almost falls victim to its narrative structure and rather leaden script but is untimately saved by exultant performances and rousing score that evokes atmosphere and suspense in all the right places. Cinematographer Garry Phillips stunning visuals reflect the strong contrast between the muted shades of the Scottish seascape and the strident earthy colours of the Far East.  So it’s really the performances that win over with Irvine and Firth acting their socks off, Kidman doing her best and Skarsgard doing his steely strong and silent Swede. Not on a par with Bridge on the River Kwai but for Colin Firth, it’s definitely one that marks him out as one of the best British actors of all time. MT

NOW OUT ON DVD

 

 

 

A Thousand Times Goodnight (2013)

Director: Erik Poppe Writer:  Harald Rosenlow   Cinematographer: John Christian Rosenlund

Cast: Juliette Binoche, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Maria Doyle, Larry Mullen, Lauren Canny

117min  Drama

Juliette Binoche plays a war photographer whose relationship unravels when she escapes death in Afghanistan. Norwegian director Erik Poppe (Hawaii, Oslo) sets this absorbing story in a glorious seascape near Dublin and vibrant locations in the Middle East, cleverly casting Binoche in the lead role of a strong but feminine Rebecca. Clearly the main bread-winner, she’s married to Marcus (Danish actor, Coster-Waldnau) a teacher who looks after their two girls during her frequent trips to the war zones. Rebecca freely admits “I don’t do normal”, finding it hard to engage with the local mums in provincial life back in Dublin. But after returning home to nurse her physical and emotional wounds inflicted during a female suicide bomb blast in Kabul, she starts to reassess her life.

Erik Poppe’s work in the eighties as a war photographer makes this intense drama emotionally more resonant, and particularly because his protagonist is female – it’s fascinating how the tables are turned when a woman has the dangerous job.  Vilified by her Marcus and her kids for ‘torturing’ them emotionally, Isabelle remains steadfast in her commitment to her chosen vocation despite constantly risking her life to bring  worthy causes to the public domain: and there’s nothing more evocative than pictures in telling a moving story. There would be no question about a man working in a dangerous field, so why should a woman evoke a different response?. Binoche is so masterfully convincing here that we totally buy into her dilemma in a role that she handles without resorting to sentimentality; retaining her female qualities of compassion and affection.  Her relationship with Marcus is less convincing from his point of view: Coster-Walnau switches a little too abruptly from coldness to acceptance and back to resentment in his portrayal of the aggrieved partner. But this is very much Binoche’s film; she radiates calm capability outshining the support cast, ably assisted by Lauren Canny who makes a promising debut as her daughter.

READ OUR INTERVIEW A_Thousand_Times_Goodnight_1_Juliette_Binoche_½Paradox copy A_Thousand_Times_Goodnight_2_Nikolaj Coster-Waldau_Juliette_Binoche_½Paradox copy ATTGN_18 copy

 

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I Declare War (2014)

Director.: Jason Lapeyre, Robert Wilson

Cast: Siam Yu, Gage Monroe, Michael Friend, Mackenzie Munro

Canada 2012, 90 min.

Two groups of twelve year olds play “Capture the Flag” in a wood. One group is led by the enigmatic PK, the other one by the bully Quinn. When Quinn captures Kwon, PK’s best friend, a rather nasty element is introduced: Quinn starts to torture Kwon for real, and only Quinn’s stupidity and arrogance allows Kwon to escape. Surprisingly, PK insists on Kwan’s return to their HQ up in a tree, that Kwan returns voluntarily to Quinn, giving himself up, so that PK can execute his master plan. Whilst PK succeeds in humiliating Quinn, he looses Kwon’s friendship.

The main concern one has with the film, is that the weapons used by the children change often from make-shift to real, sticks to machine guns, balloons filled with red paint into grenades. Sure, the real weapons don’t kill, but the effect is very unsettling. Even though the child actors improvise their dialogue, everything seems stilted, unreal. The narrative is unstructured, and the actions seem accidental. There is no overriding concept, just endless fighting and very little real communication. Further more, the only female character, Jess, who is in love with one of the boys, seems to be totally displaced among the boys. One can’t always expect classics like Jeux interdits or La guerre des Boutons, but I DECLARE WAR not only fails in this respect, but opens itself up to some serious concerns regarding its use of weapons, and showing, more often than not, the rather dark side of its youthful protagonists.

The camera is as hectic as the action, the setting very unimaginative, leaving the child actors as the only positive element of this production. A film about children, seen through the eyes of adults, who seem to have forgotten any joy of childhood. Somehow, one understands why this film has been left on the shelf for two years. AS

 

 

 

You and Me Forever (2013)

Dir.: Kaspar Munk    Writers: Kaspar Munk, Jannik Tai Mosholt

Cast: Julie Andersen, Frederikke Dahl Hansen, Emilie Kruse, Benjamin Wandschenider

Denmark 2012, 82 min.  Drama

Kaspar Munk’s coming-of-age drama looks at teenage friendship. Laura and Christine have been friends forever, but when you are only sixteen everything suddenly changes. When Laura meets Maria she’s awestruck by this new sophisticated girl who puts her down: ‘You are boring, but have nice eyes” and has lived in New York. Hesitantly she follows her into the world of parties, drugs and drinking. But when it comes to sex, she is diffident about Maria’s experience with boys, especially Jonas, who lives in a condemned building and seems suicidal. But when Maria pays a boy to sleep with Laura for 500 kroner, she is forced to evaluate not only her new friendship but also her own sexuality.

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Munk revolutionises the genre with his subtle approach in this well-paced drama with its stand-out performance from Julie Andersen as the melancholic Laura, who seems unable to make up her mind about anything, particularly when it comes to her own life. A dreamer, she’s held back by doting parents who panic at the slightest threat of their daughter becoming independent. Laura dreams her way through life and she is drawn to Maria (Frederikke Dahl Hansen) as the polar opposite to her. Maria plays the adult, it’s an strong and alluring performance – but when it comes to the crunch, she’s very much a teenager: promising a couple of boys a blow job if they pay for a taxi, but running away with the overwhelmed Laura in tow and the money – then missing the last train. Laura puts herself out for Maria – whose response to boys is always “don’t touch me”. Maria makes the mistake of using money to soften-up Laura.

A “Sturm und Drang” feel dominates permeates this dark and downbeat piece with lightning, storms and heavy rain predominating. The murky interiors are never fully lit, going in tandem with Laura’s dreamy demeanour. The strongest scenes are close-ups between the three girls: Christine pleading in vain, Laura evasive at the beginning, than alienating her childhood friend; whilst Maria stays in the background, pretending to be the adult. Laura captures the imagination of the viewer because she is living in slow-motion, dragged forward by Maria, but never loosing her subdued hesitancy. Andersen’s Laura is moody, evoking insecurity and self-doubt, yet carrying the film with consummate ease. AS

YOU AND ME FOREVER is on general release in selected cinemas from 25 April 2014

 

Wrinkles (2011)

Director: Ignacio Ferreras

Writers: Angel de la Cruz, Paco Roca, Ignacio Ferreras, Rosanna Cecchini

Voices of Matthew Modine, Martin Sheen, George Coe

89min   Animated drama

One day, we will all have empathy for Ignacio Ferreras’ characters shuffling towards death in his brilliantly-bleak animated feature set in a retirement home. Based on a comic by Paco Roca, the tragic inmates compete to survive against the odds: bereft of dignity, bewildered and beset by Alzheimer’s, incontinence, drug regimes and each other.  As they regress into a childlike state of helplessness, an ill-judged bid for freedom results in a comic tragedy. WRINKLES is a film that bravely says “Do not go gentle into that dark night!”

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ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 18TH APRIL NATIONWIDE AND ON DVD AND BLU-RAY FROM 28TH APRIL 2014

Honour (2014)

Cast: Aisha Hart, Paddy Considine, Harvey Virdi, Faraz Ayub, Shubham Saraf, Nikesh Patel

UK 2014, 104 min.image005

HONOUR is one of those rare things – a meaningful thriller: whilst all the classic elements of the genre are aptly fulfilled, director/writer Khan never looses the moral thread of the story. Mona, a young Pakistani Muslim woman, is working as an estate agent in London. She falls in love with Tanvir, a young Punjabi man, who is working for a rival company. Mona was promised in marriage to a man in Pakistan at the age of three, and her family is desperate that she should stay a virgin. Encouraged by their two-faced mother, Kasim strangles Mona, just as Adel (who betrays the trust of his sister) in arriving home. But she miraculously survives and goes into hiding. Her family then hires a British contract killer (Considine), himself a racist, to track her down and kill her. But instead of killing her, he turns against her family. Kasim uses his powers a policeman to track them down, and corner them on a rooftop for a shoot out.

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Khan’s male characters are all accurately portrayed and believable: Kasim is a British Muslim hypocrite, who uses his role as a policeman in a western country to hunt down his sister in the name of a religion, who’s rules he does not follow himself. His younger brother Adel is not much better, he too enjoys the benefits of  western youth culture, but is quick to scarify his sister, when his brother puts pressure on him. The contract killer (without a name), has been abandoned by his mother, his tattoos shows racial hatred, but he is taken in by Mona’s fragility and when he learns that she is also pregnant, his own personal issues surrounding abandonment kick in, and he encourages her to keep the baby. Of the two women, the mother is most straightforward in her hatred of her own gender, her belief in male superiority and her pride that singles out one son (her eldest) but denigrates her others children; whereas Mona is a classical victim turned survivor model. Whilst being unrelenting on the religious fanatics that exist in British society, Khan also shows racial prejudice by the certain factions of the white population. But overall his attack on the perpetrators of honour killings is the driving force behind his film.

The film’s narrative is not linear, the flashbacks increase the suspense, and none of the characters is allowed to maintain a stable relationship with each other: alliances are shifting permanently, and Khan makes it clear that everyone has a choice in the end, whatever their past, beliefs or prejudice may be. The acting is convincing, and the classical film score helps to propel the narrative forward. Unusually, it is the cinematography which lets the piece down, shot mainly in the Glasgow rain: Whilst an action film obviously requires a certain tempo, the camera overdoes the hectic panning; there are few moments of calm where we might learn more about the protagonists. In falling victim to its own pace, the images of this film are often too fleeting to be impressive. But overall, HONOUR is a unique, ambitious achievement. AS

HONOUR IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 11 APRIL 2014

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Rome, Open City (1946) NEW 4k restoration

Director:  Roberto Rossellini
Script:  Sergio Amidei, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rossellini
Producers: Guiseppe Amato, Ferrucio De Martino, Rod E Geiger, Roberto Rossellini
Cast: Aldo Fabrizi, Anna Magnani, Marcelo Pagliero, Vito Annichiarico, Nando Bruno, Harry Feist, Giovanna Galletti

103mins        War film   Italian with subtitles

In 1944 Italy there was, understandably, no film industry or indeed any money. Despite this, Roberto Rossellini had persuaded a wealthy woman to finance a documentary about a priest who had helped with the resistance. She was also interested in telling another story of the children who fought for the resistance.

Rossellini approached Fellini with the ambition of casting Fabrizi for the role of the priest, but Fellini came up with the idea of combining these two documentary strands into one fictional movie and they set about writing the piece with Amidei, just two months after the Germans vacated Italy.

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Based on factual events of 1944 and filmed in Rome directly after the war, Roberto Rossellini’s masterpiece stands as one of the greatest war films ever made. Handheld camera, shot almost entirely on location: Rome, Open City is another superb offering from the Italian Neo-Realist stable. The hatred of the Germans and the freshness of the atrocities is palpable in all of the non-professional actors serving justice to this story; where one is never in any doubt about the authenticity of the mise en scene. Presumably a cathartic experience for all involved.

As the Nazi net closes in, more by luck than judgement, resistance leader Giorgio Manfredi is forced into hiding, entirely dependent on the kindness and assistance of friends and colleagues. However, the stresses and strains on the whole community inevitably begin to show, where what normally might be seen as easy neighbourliness, during wartime becomes a matter of life and death.

One of the things that is remarkable here is Rossellini’s ability to find sublime humour in the darkest of moments.  And there’s nothing quite like a war movie, with Nazis as the baddies exerting unbearable pressure, to extract the most extreme jeopardy and distress. The human condition is under the microscope and with this kind of duress, everyone’s character and resolve is forced to the fore; the subjugator as much as the subjugated.

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Anna Magnani has a quite wonderful role as the feisty pregnant Pina, who lives life with a passionate vibrancy that seems to epitomise Italy. But it’s interesting to note that both she and Fabrizi, the only professionals in the film, were, up to that time, well known only for their comedy, this being their first foray into serious drama.

Rossellini was a trailblazer in a great many ways, not only in the casting, but also in the manner in which he ignored the script that the financiers had agreed to and simply went out and shot the film he wanted to make. Rossellini had had terrible trouble financing it; the money he already had from his initial investor wasn’t sufficient to cover the whole budget, but other potential investors shied away from a film with scenes of torture, wondering who in their right minds would go and see it, so it was shot on the hoof very much out of necessity than design.

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Upon its completion, Paris lauded the film, but the premier in Italy was a catastrophe, audiences perhaps understandably wanting more escapism than the grim realities of what they had just been through. US soldier Rod Geiger then took it to the US, where the film made a fortune for the distributor and also opened American doors to Italian Neo-Realist films. It was only by gaining a reputation abroad, winning the Grand Prix at Cannes, that Rome, Open City gained more acceptance at home.

A massive achievement and a landmark film, that, like so many recognised classics, gained its reputation in the years long after a less than stellar launch. But even if you disregard its significance as a piece of cinematic history, or the innovations on filmmaking, just see this film as a truly amazing and passionate piece of storytelling. It’s got all you could wish for: Nazis, suave resistance fighters, beautiful women, plucky kids, homemade bombs, espionage, religion and Rome. You cannot fail to be moved. Andrew Rajan.

THE 4K RESTORATION OF ROME, OPEN CITY OPENS ON 7 MARCH 2014 AT THE BFI, CURZON MAYFAIR, IFI DUBLIN AND SELECTED CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.

Still Alice (2014)

Directors/Writers: Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland      From a novel by Lisa Genova

Cast: Julianne Moore, Alex Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish

99min   US Drama

In an extraordinary year for films about dread diseases, we’ve seen some superb performances so far: Agyness Deyn plays an epilepsy sufferer in ELECTRICITY, and Eddie Redmayne is heading for an Oscar with his portrait of Motor Neurone Disease in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING. Now along come Julianne Moore, with another winning performance to add to her growing list of best actress gongs.

As a fifty-year-old university professor diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in STILL ALICE, Moore is superb. Cleverly, the film incorporates a generalised and gnawing sense of dread throughout the rest of the cast when we learn that isn’t just early onset, it’s a rare genetic type with a 50/50 chance it will be passed to her children. With a daughter undergoing fertility treatment, which successfully leads to twins, Alice’s affliction leads to a wider sense of dread as the narrative unspools; pulling each member of the family into its web of fear and anxiety. Ironically, Alice and her husband, Dr John Howland (Alex Baldwin), are neuroscientists who specialise in the study of memory. So Alice has the added insight into her condition as it slowly develops.

Alzheimer’s is a condition that everyone fears and part of that fear lies in the loss of control it entails. From being responsible and free individuals we are gradually forced to rely more heavily on our families and, for many of us, this is an added aspect for concern in this world of family dysfunction. STILL ALICE ramps up these fears in quite a sinister way by also exploring how Alzheimer’s is worse when it effects the intellectual mind. These are facts that make the film much more depressing than it needs to be but strangely it fails to be move in the same way as THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, and for most of the time, it comes across as a film that been made for the Alzheimer’s Society or some Government body.

Undoubtedly, we feel for Alice – it would be inhuman not too, and Julianne Moore depicts her decline in a sensitive and gentle way: where she could have been more angry and bitter, she comes across as appealingly vulnerable. Yet the other characters feels vapid and rather formulaic and the film’s straightforward linear narrative fails to contrast its central story with other engaging narrative strands, making it ultimately feel one dimensional. Alex Baldwin, as her husband is simply terrible. Not only is he weirdly wooden, but it also feels like he’s actually acting in another film (Sleeping With the Enemy) as a break-out psychopath control freak. As her youngest daughter (Lydia) Kristen Stewart is cold-eyed and awkward throughout – and totally lacking in the empathy that you would expect from her character’s role as a budding actress. Kate Bosworth, her eldest daughter, feels flat and uninteresting. Unlike her intellectual parents she behaves like a woman who spends most of her days shopping and reading magazines and this feels totally unauthentic, in the circumstances. So Moore is left to carry the film entirely on her own shoulders, surrounded by a support cast who are, at best, vapid cyphers, and at worst, unappealing. STILL ALICE fills you with a sense of unremittingly gloom throughout; totally unleavened by humour or even pathos.

Alzheimer’s disease currently effects around a million people in the UK. Little is still known about its aetiology and care facilities are poor and underdeveloped. When it strikes, it gradually obliterates our personalities and woe betide those who lack a significant other to look after them as they become increasingly difficult to handle: and they will be. Here we see a woman who has had a successful life and is surrounded by a loving and supportive family. But it totally lacks any humour or, indeed, drama, concentrating on the romantic cheesiness of Alice and her husband and the worthiness of her ‘close’ family., none of which feels particularly believable. As an American film, it may well be that care is fare superior in the States than in Britain. But here the standard of treatment and care is currently pitiful. Where STILL ALICE succeeds is in showing how the individual can cope with the slow decline by taking some early precautions. Alice writes notes to herself on her computer desk top – to be opened when things eventually get worse. It also offers the idea of memory tests: we see Alice performing these exercises daily; keeping her cognitive impairment from going downhill too rapidly. Expounding the benefits of diet and exercise which can nourish the brain.

So, apart from Julianne Moore’s breakout performance, which won her the Best Actress at the 87th Academy Awards, and bringing the plight of sufferers to the international stage, STILL ALICE is otherwise a lacklustre drama which fails to convince, largely down to the unconvincing performances of the support cast. Alzheimer’s is one of the most devastating afflictions of our times and it would churlish to deprecate a film that aims sensitively to raise awareness of its the tragic effects it wreaks on the individual and those that care for them. Nonetheless this is a film that feels worthy and earnest and fails to deliver any great dramatic punch. But it’s nt a film to go and watch when you’re feeling low or lonely or in need of entertainment. It will bring you down, so be warned. MT

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE

The Monuments Men (2014) Berlinale 2014

THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014) ***
Director: George Clooney   Writer: George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Robert M Edsel
Cast: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Dimitri Leonidas
Original score: Alexandre Desplat     118min   US    Drama based on the novel by Bret Witter

George Clooney has made a brave and enterprising bid to shine a light on one of the most important episodes of Art history – the looting of paintings and artworks by the Nazis during their retreat in the Second World War.  The resulting historical drama, in which he also stars as art historian Frank Stokes, (a fictionalised version of George Stout) along with a fine cast of Matt Damon, Jean Dujardin, Bill Murray, and High Bonneville, is rather too worthy for its own good. This is Clooney’s 5th big screen outing and sees him and his colleagues setting out to France in 1944 where they discover the Russians are also hot on the trail and intend to keep to uncovered treasure as spoils. Cate Blanchett is magnificent as a bluestocking curator under the Nazis, who at first is unwilling to cooperate but finally falls for Damon’s charms and gives access to the archives.  The search goes underground and there is much ranting and raving in rhetoric about the supreme value of Art, driving home the salient points with vehemence, as if Clooney underestimates the intelligence of his audience, although naturally he has the best orating.  Production values are slick and strong and Alexandre Desplat’s score is well-pitched and surprisingly moving, but ultimately this is a rather artless drama that sacrifices suspense for altruism.  Possibly a documentary would have been a better way to raise the profile of this injustice. MT,  120mins  US IN COMPETITION

THE MONUMENTS MEN IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 14TH FEBRUARY 2014 NATIONWIDE.

The Patience Stone (2012) DVD/VOD

Director: Atiq Rahimi  Writer: Jean-Claude Carriere and Ariq Rahimi

Cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Hamid Djavadan, Hassina Burgan, Massi Mrowat

102min   Drama    FARSI with English subtitles

This poetic follow-up to EARTH AND ASHES  is Atiq Rahimi’s second feature and based on his book which won the French literary equivalent to the Booker Prize.  Essentially a chamber piece, filmed in a dusty house (putatively during the Afghan conflict), a woman is tending to her wounded older husband who has been shot.  Golshifteh Farahani gives a magnificent portrait of vulnerability and desperation in the central role. Recounting her memories and feelings to her comotose husband, she tells her story in an extended monologue that serves as a quiet backlash to their unsatisfactory time together.  The couple met when she was only 17.

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The ambient sound is of war: the only visits from men.  A Mullah who comes to pray for her husband, aggressive incursions from soldiers, one of whom rapes her then pays her to have sex (providing valuable income for the household).  It’s a drama very similar in form to that of Jafar Panahi’s recent CLOSED CURTAIN.  As ‘the woman’ talks she remains focused on the medical needs of her husband, and he represents a  “Patience Stone” (from Persian folklore), an absorbing ‘oracle’ that is reputed to shatter when it can take no more of the unburdening.

The woman is strengthened by this therapeutic, low-key, rant about his lack of lovemaking skills and her fear of doing the right thing.  She expresses and shares her new experiences of sexual awakening with her soldier pupil, who she’s ashamed of enjoying.   Her worldly and more sophisticated aunt (Hassina Burghan) also provides comfort although we only meet her once. More of Hassina Burghan’s input would had added texture and cinematic contrast to the narrative. She is evidence that more urbane women do exist in this closed society.

With its muted visuals and themes that focus on womens’ issues in a society of religious and social repression and bigotry, this is a brave and controversial drama.  Golshifteh Farahani now lives in Paris and is one of the most important and well known actresses working in Iranian cinema.  Her delicately sensual role in THE PATIENCE STONE shows how this repressed comes full circle from the submissive teenage virgin to a finale of sexual realisation where she gains control of her life, all within her husband’s earshot.

Golshifteh has previously given strong performances in Chicken With PlumsAsghar Farhadi‘s About Elly and Ridley Scott‘s 2008 Body of Lies. 

THE PATIENCE STONE IS OUT ON DVD AND VOD FROM 3 MARCH 2014 COURTESY OF AXIOM FILMS

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Viva La Liberta (2013)

Director: Roberto Ando

Cast: Toni ServilloValerio MastandreaValeria Bruni TedeschiMichela CesconAnna Bonaiuto

93min  Political comedy   Italian with subtitles

Even if politics leaves you cold you will warm to Roberto Ando’s imagined political comedy Viva la Liberta (Long Live Freedom) with its dynamite performance from Toni Servillo who recently starred in La Grande Bellezza). No stranger to Italian political roles, he gave an exultant portrayal of Giulio Andreotti in IL DIVO and here he plays Enrico Oliveri, a fictional leader of the shadow cabinet.

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Truth is stranger than fiction and Italian politics is certainly stranger than most with its colourful characters such as Berlusconi, and this opens up glittering possibilities for Roberto Ando’s provocative premise. Anyone with any knowledge of Italy’s state of affairs will appreciate the gently comedic take here: In Ando’s imaginary world, Oliveri’s opposition party has seriously lost its way so it’s not really surprising when its leader decides to go AWOL in exasperation. But it doesn’t end there. After disappearing,  Oliveri is replaced by his identical twin, Giovanni Emani, who seems to have completely lost his mind,  much in the sam vein as Nanni Moretti’s recent Habemus Papam.

Here Servillo plays both roles.  As Oliveri he is staid, serious and controlled.. He’s even distant with his understanding wife Anna (Michela Cescon). Naturally excuses wear thin after a couple of days and his chief secretary, Andrea Bottini (Valerio Mastandrea), is forced to come up with some sort of cohesive reason for his absence. After conferring with his wife, he discovers that Oliveri’s twin, Giovanni Emani (freshly out of a mental home) should take his place in the cabinet, to keep up appearances.  But he warms to the role: and Servillo flips with ease into the smug-faced, uber-confident leader glibly inspiring his colleagues, promising voters a shedload of reforms and generally galvanising the opposition into action.  As Oliveri, meanwhile, he takes refuge in the home of his ex Danielle (a calmly seductive Valeria Bruni Tedschi) who is now a wife, mother and script-superviser.

But it’s as Emani that Servillo really shines and although Ando’s film lacks the vibrant audacity of Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo, Viva La Liberta is a seriously grown-up, beautifully-crafted affair that stands up to scrutiny of politically engaged audiences and also looks superb thanks to Maurizio Calvesi’s sleek visuals. Servillo manages the dual roles perfectly mastering the slick, glibness of Emani and the quiet dignity of Oliveri with aplomb.

SCREENING AT CINEMA MADE IN ITALY WITH RUNS FROM 5-9 MARCH 2014 CINE LUMIERE LONDON SW7

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The Stoker (2010) Kochegar Aleksei Balabanov series

Director:                     Aleksei Balabanov

Script:                         Aleksei Balabanov
Producer:                    Sergey Selyanov
Cast:                            Mikhail Skryabin, Yuriy Matveev, Aleksandr Mosin, Aida Tumutova, Anna Korotayeva, Varvara Belokurova, Roman Burenkov

Russia 87mins   2010    Black Comedy

Balabanov follows up his successful period piece Morphia with something more in line with Cargo 200. The Stoker is a scathing attack on the nascent mob culture in Russia and with Pop composer Valeriy Didyulya providing the music that is the only thing that lends this film the comedy element to its tone. Otherwise, it is a pretty dark, stark depiction of life in the 1990s in the ‘burbs of a harsh, wintery St Petersburg.

Known more as a theatre actor, the recently deceased Skryabin is superb in the titular role. Skryabin is a Major, retired due to injury during the Afghan War and now the eponymous stoker, tending the furnaces of an industrial complex, owned by Russian mobsters.

Life here is cheap. You may not even be aware that you have transgressed, only to find yourself food for the fire. Skryabin turns a blind eye to the bodies fed into his coal box by erstwhile army colleague Misha (Alexandr Mosin), content to spend what little time he gets with his daughter and write a long-gestating book about the persecuted North East Siberian ‘Yakut’ people on an ancient typewriter set up by his bed in the boiler room adjacent to the voracious incinerators.

 First time actress Aida Tumotova is perfect as Sasha, the stoker’s daughter, now set up in business in the fashionable fur trade and in love with Misha’s taciturn hired gun, ‘Bison’ (Matveev). Indeed, the cast are terrific throughout.

Balabanov has extracted all of the sexiness out of killing, counter to the current American fashion. Here, it has become a sanitised occupation, a clinical undertaking, exercised with the practiced functionality of a fruit-picker or glassmaker and is all the more powerful for it. Likewise, nudity is treated with the same total lack of self-consciousness.

The only downside to this sparse, economically shot, finely executed and highly stylised drama is the pop music, which although making its comedic point quite obviously, finally grates in the use of the same pop song over and over; although this is of course is presumably also an artistic choice.

An eloquent, if somewhat light tragicomedy; in the end, it’s an exploration of the venality of life, where moral bankruptcy slips down through generations with ease, with even less compunction even than the generation coming before. At what point do you take a stand? AR

THE STOKER WILL SCREEN AS PART OF THE ALEXEI BALABANOV RETROSPECTIVE AT KINO KLUB, THE MAYFAIR HOTEL FROM 1 FEBRUARY UNTIL 25 MAY 2014 COURTESY OF ACADEMIA ROSSICA

 

 

La Prima Neve (2013) Venezia 70

Director: Andrea Segre

Cinematographer: Luca Bigazzi

Cast: Giuseppe Battiston, Anita Caprioli, Roberto Citran, Jean-Christophe Folly, Matteo Marchel, Peter Mitterutzner

103min  Italian with subtitles   Drama

Andrea Segre’s poignantly-observed but non-judgemental  ‘New Wave’ mood piece is an immigration story set in the Italian Alpine region of Trentino Alto Adige.  Segre stumbles at first but gradually finds his feet in telling the story of Dani, a grieving refugee from Togo, who has lost his family and fetches up in a remote community that has also experienced the tragedy of loss. Peter Mitterrutzner plays a woodcutter and his daughter Elisa (a brilliant Anita Caprioli) who are bringing up Michele (Matteo Marchel), a young boy who has been emotionally scarred by the loss of his father.

The local woods provide therapy for the pair as they work out their frustrations and disappointments on the land and although Dani feels very much at odds with his new environment, Michele leads the way, being familiar with the local countryside.  Newcomer Matteo Marchel is particularly good in a believable performance that combines childish anger with an ability to manipulate his elders.

Well-known for his documentaries, Andrea Segre uses his considerable talents in capturing the quiet beauty of the mountain landscape with the help of lenser Luca Bigazzi (La Grande Bellezza, This Must Be the Place).  Very much a character in its own right, the isolated mountain region provides an effective backdrop to this compelling narrative with its themes of nature, childhood and loss. Immersive and visually stunning, La Prima Neve is a promising feature debut. MT

SCREENING DURING CINEMA MADE IN ITALY WHICH RUNS FROM 5-9 MARCH 2014 AT THE CINE LUMIERE LONDON SW7

Snowpiercer (2013) Coming soon….

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Producer Park Chan-wook

Song Kang-ho, Ko Asung, John Hurt and Tilda Swinton and comic author Jean-Marc Rochette

South Korea

When Bong Joon Ho first opened Jean-Marc Rochette’s comic “Snowpiercer” in a Seoul bookshop, he supposedly devoured all three volumes on the spot. Eight years later, the French comic has been made into the most lavish Korean film of all time. Seolguk-yeolcha (Snowpiercer) describes an impending ice age caused by human hand, whose last survivors are left circling the earth in a non-stop express train. The rich are in the front carriages and the poor ¬– from whose perspective the story is told – at the back.

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Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013) DVD

Director: David Lowery

Cast: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, Keith Caradine, Nate Parker

105min  US Drama

What separates David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints from other contemporary tales of romance, is that when we are first introduced to our protagonists, we see them bickering, setting the precedent for the rest of this memorable Texan drama. Though hopelessly romanticised in its approach this is by no means a ‘Disney’ fairytale. Beneath the surface lies a pragmatic and bittersweet drama of a husband and wife desperately hoping to be reunited.

When Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) lands himself a lengthy prison sentence, having taken the fall for his wife Ruth’s (Rooney Mara) impetuous shooting of a police officer, he manages to break out of jail, eagerly hoping to be reunited with his wife and the daughter she gave birth to during his incarceration. However in the meantime, Ruth has struck up a strong relationship with the officer himself, Patrick Wheeler (Ben Foster), who is blissfully unaware that it was she who pulled the trigger, as both nervously await the impending return of the feared outlaw.

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is not your conventional love story, as the only time we truly see Bob and Ruth together they seem somewhat uneasy in each other’s company. Considering the entire film is built around these romantic notions and the foundations of their marriage, it’s a brave move to depict it so truthfully. To an extent, such an honest portrayal actually allows for the viewer to invest even more into their relationship, as we genuinely believe in it. However, Lowery can be accused of not presenting enough back story for our leads, as the jailbreak occurs too swiftly into proceedings, and because of this we don’t really get a sense for either of their personalities beforehand, which makes it difficult to then root for their cause as a result.

Meanwhile the crime itself is understated somewhat, which, considering the entire film hinges on this very moment, appears a strange move to have made for the filmmaker. But despite the lack of context provided, Lowery is evidently attempting to portray how life changing moments such as this can occur in the most unexpected of ways, and take us by surprise. Whilst appreciating the realism, the scene itself doesn’t feel like it is given quite enough substance or detail to help settle us into the story.

There is a gentle atmosphere prevalent in Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, enhanced by the A Cappella score, where mere clapping makes up much of the film’s soundtrack. However the clapping can also create a tense, foreboding ambience on occasion, as it speeds up dramatically to suit the nature of the scene at hand. Meditative and slow-burning in its approach, there is a pensive tone to this production, and though telling a simplistic tale, you never once question the significance or conviction of the narrative, despite so little actually happening for the most part. Unfortunately – and this is the case with many films of this type – Lowery can’t avoid unwanted bouts of tedium, but hey, we can’t all be perfect. STEFAN PAPE

OUT ON DVD FROM FEBRUARY 10TH 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crystal Fairy (2013)

Director/Writer: Sebastián Silva

Cast: Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffmann, Juan Andres Silva, Agustin Silva, Sebastian Silva

98min  Adventure/Comedy     Spanish with subtitles

You can’t be blamed for feeling distinctly apprehensive towards a film called Crystal Fairy, which stars US indie-chic sensation Michael Cera. It’s only natural to anticipate a forcefully quirky production, and one that has a contrived whimsicality running right through the middle of it. However any such trepidation is extinguished almost instantaneously, as Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Silva’s first English language film handles dialogue in a more naturalistic, compelling way than many of those in their native tongue would manage.

Cera plays Jamie, a narrow-minded, inherently naïve tourist, travelling in Chile, and staying at Champa’s (Juan Andrés Silva) apartment, a receptive and equable twenty-something. The pair – along with the latter’s brothers Pilo (Agustín Silva) and Lel (José Miguel Silva) – decide to take a trip to the coast, on a quest to get their hands on a fabled hallucinogenic derived from cooking a rare cactus plant. However, whilst high on cocaine at a party the evening before the trip, Jamie invites the eccentric, offbeat bohemian Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann) along for the ride – an invitation he certainly lives to regret, as the adventure takes something of a wild turn when she arrives the following morning.

Silva has created a world that seems entirely naturalistic, and yet he offers an almost heightened take on reality. Life seems exaggerated and overstated for comic purposes, yet nothing is actually too far out of the ordinary, as he plays on the quirks and spontaneity of everyday life. Crystal epitomises this notion, appearing as a caricature of the archetypal hippie, cliched and comedic – and yet there are people like this, they genuinely exist. In fact, they’re probably backpacking their way across Chile right now as we speak. In spite of the humorous elements to this film, some scenes are uncomfortable, as an awkward social dynamic is explored, particularly so when Jamie responds with vitriol towards Crystal to make a point that he’s not happy that she took him up on his invitation.

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Cera turns in one of his most mature performances to date, but he is blessed with a well fleshed out character, portraying somebody we all have the displeasure of knowing in real life. Though certainly flawed, Cera uses the vulnerability and naivety for which he has become so renowned to ensure we stay on his side. He has a physical fragility as well, and an awkward demeanour that puts him on the back foot somewhat, reminiscent of Woody Allen, and in many regards it enhances the immaturity of the character at hand. Meanwhile the three Chilean brothers – who are genuine siblings off camera – are our entries into this somewhat absurd world. Usually you’d take the perspective of the tourist in this situation, peering into a society and culture somewhat unknown, and yet we relate more to the pragmatic, placid nature of the brothers, causing us to feel rather embarrassed for the Americans and their cliched, almost patronising take towards this foreign land.

Silva portrays his homeland with a beautiful serenity, creating a picturesque film that truly takes you to the heart of the environment. However, despite all of the positives that exist, the unfulfilling finale does leave a sour taste in the mouth, with a ‘revelation’ that seems out of place, taking you away from the story at the very point you’re most engaged. Nonetheless, expectations have been suitably raised as we approach Silva’s next project, which also happens to be set in Chile and also features Michael Cera in a leading role. An idea that now seems somewhat more inviting. Stefan Pape.

CRYSTAL FAIRY IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 17 JANUARY 2014

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The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Director: Charles Laughton       Screenplay: James Agee

Cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish, Billy Chaplin, Sally Jane Bruce, Evelyn Varden, Don Beddoe, James Gleeson

Cinematographer: Stanley Cortez

93min   US Film Noir/Southern Gothic from the novel by Davis Grubb

Back in the fifties, Charles Laughton’s reputation as a flamboyant actor on stage and screen totally eclipsed THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, his only outing as a director. This magical piece of ‘Southern Gothic’ was America’s answer to German Expressionism.  Dark themes of religious fervour, sexual tension and fear strike terror into the subconscious. Coalescing with dreamlike set pieces rendered exquisitely in black and white, this masterpiece of chiaroscuro lighting has the ability to shock and enthral. The image of Willa’s corpse in her white winceyette nightie, languishing underwater in the Bayou, is one of the creepiest  sequences in Gothic cinema.

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However, the film was not a commercial or critical success at the time.  James Agee, scripter of The African Queen, was the brains behind the screenplay, based on the novel by Davis Grubb. He offered up the idea to Laughton providing the Britsh thesp with a ideal framework on which to unleash his creative genius on the silver screen.

The setting is the Christian bedrock of West Virginia during the Depression years, a  time of hardship and male chauvinism in the Deep South where Shelley Winter’s ‘Willa’ is left widowed after her husband, Ben Harper, receives the ultimate punishment of execution, having  left the secret of the stolen loot with their two young children. Posing as a man of God, Robert Mitchum plays psychopath Harry Powell who prays upon such widows, marrying them and stealing their money, he tracks Willa down through the criminal network. She is persuaded by the local matron, Evelyn Varden, that in their God-fearing community a widow is more respectable if she re-marries, particularly to a respectable man of the cloth. So Willa marries Harry, who only really worships himself.  On their wedding night, he makes it clear that sex in not on the agenda and he has no desire for progeny and so Willa’s dreams are shattered and her sexual energies are subverted into religious fervour. Joining Harry on a mission to prosceletize through fire and brimstone sermons, the piece is chockfull of religious motifs and sensationalism with its well-crafted Gothic art and set direction, redolent of the Silent Era.

Shelley Winter plays a similar role to that of Alice Tripp in  A Place in the Sun (1951): a gullible, disillusioned romantic, down on her luck and disappointed with life. Cowering under the dominating figure of Icey Spoon (Evelyn Varden) she brings a subversive quality to the role of a young and vulnerable mother who eventually becomes a victim.

Night_of_the_Hunter copyAfter the children evade Powell in a rowing-boat, the film takes on a fairytale feel as the fast-moving Mississippi carries them on a nightmarish journey through  starlit countryside: Stanley Cortez’s magical cinematography zooms in on all manner of local flora and fauna: a white owl swooping down on a baby rabbit is a metaphor for Powell threatening his step-children: “It’s a hard World for little ones”.

As Powell, Robert Mitchum gives one of his most innovative performances: menacing, cruel and demonic, as his black figure rides on horseback silhouetted against the sunset, whistling religious hymns.  Well-known for his langorous looks and lazy drawl in Noir classics such as Out of the Past (1947) and His Kind of Woman (1951), here he plays a more sinister role as a magnetic charmer who is a figure of fear to children but one of sexual allure to women, with his tattooed fingers and rakish respectability.  Purportedly, it was his favourite role in a film.

Lillian Gish gives an exultant turn as a winsome carer with attitude. Taking in the Harper children, she styles herself as a soft earth mother who is later to produce a rifle and to actually use it.  THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is one of the most mesmerisingly horrific arthouse films of all time.  Worthy of its re-mastering and ripe for a re-viewing. MT

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER completes GOTHIC: THE DARK HEART OF FILM series at the BFI, Southbank and selected cinemas nationwide from 17th January 2014

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Walesa. Man of Hope (2013) DVD

Dir: Andrzej Wajda; Cast: Robert Wieckiewicz, Agnieszka Grouchowska

Poland 2013, 127 min.  Drama

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One of the Polish ‘greats’, Andrzej Wajda ends his trilogy of  Man of Iron with his latest film Walesa, Man of Hope. Like the first two films, Walesa is set as an epic, Wajda being perhaps the last European director capable of this form. Whilst the politics of the film are obvious; being a staunch anti-Stalinist, he has avoided showing Walesa as a hero: actually in this film he is not a particularly likeable person at all. He succeeds in spite of his personal faults (womanising, a short temper, egoistical tantrums and narcissism).

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The film covers the years between the mid 70s and 1989, leaving out Walesa’s years as president of Poland and his loss of power. Wajda uses the city of Gdansk as a vibrant background, the camera always mobile in his signature style, tries to show (sometimes) too much of everything. Shot through with a palette of ashen-grey, it never gets really light, even in  moments of triumph for the Solidarnosc movement. The mass scenes are directed masterfully, and the emotions are always overwhelming. What is ironic, is that the film’s aesthetics are very much like soviet films, with the camera following the hero at the top of a movement who directs the masses; who follow him faithful.

The private scenes between Walesa (Robert Wieckiewicz bears a remarkable resemblance) and his wife Danuta (Agnieszka Grouchowska) are the weak points of the film. Whilst Wajda shows the male chauvinism of the main protagonist, he never really explores the personality of the woman, leaving her clearly in the shadow of her husband, an appendix. The same could be said for the portrayal of the children who are only shown as a troublesome group, functionless and anonym. Somehow the private and political never meet to become a unit.

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In spite of these reservations WALESA. MAN OF HOPE a major achievement of a veteran film maker, who shows on a purely technical level that he can still teach the younger generation of film makers a great deal.

Andre  Simonoviescz

WALESA. MAN OF HOPE is OUT ON DVD 24FEBRUARY 2014

7 Memorable Opening Sequences

THE CONSEQUENCES OF LOVE (2004) (Dir) Paolo Sorrentino

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THE SHINING (1980) (Dir)  Stanley Kubrick

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THE BANISHMENT (2007) Andrey Zvyagintsev

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THE MAN FROM LONDON (Part 2) (2007) Bela Tarr and Agnes Hranitzky

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LIFT TO THE SCAFFOLD (1959) by Louis Malle, Miles Davis (original score)

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POST TENEBRAS LUX (2012) Carlos Reygados

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THE GRANDMASTER (2013) Wong Ka Wai

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Our favourite in 2013 is from Jonathan Glazer’s UNDER THE SKIN.  The film releases next year so, for the time being, here’s a taster with the official trailer.

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)

Dir.: Ben Stiller

Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Kathryn Hahn, Shirley MacLaine, Sean Penn, Adam Scott

USA 2013, 114 min. Comedy Drama

i1-DF-03424crop copyFirst thought: Do we really need a remake of Norman Z. MacLeod’s classic from 1947, with Danny Kaye as the superhero of his own dreams? Thirty minutes into Ben Stiller’s remake (in which he also stars) we probably think: not really. In Stiller’s version, Walter is a photographic archivist at ‘Life’, which will close down in a few weeks after a takeover and go exclusively online.

Down in his basement office, Walter is meticulously preserving all the negatives, particularly those sent in in by Sean O’Connell, an elusive war and wild life photographer (Sean Penn) who embodies Walter’s romantic dream of an action hero (and also happens to be Stiller’s ideal actor for the part).  But the cover photo for the last edition of the magazine is missing – and Walter is to blame. Cue cringeworthy company liquidator played by Adam Scott in a performance epitomising glibness and corporate sleaze.

The only problem is that Walter – true to his legend – can only imagine his ideal life in “zoning out” experiences, where he becomes the romantic superhero, make his bland life bearable. During these episodes he saves humans and animals from great peril, and even getting the girl of his dreams, co-worker Sheryl Melhoff (Wiig), a single mum whom he is unsuccessfully trying to dating ‘in reality’ and on the e-harmony website. At this point the film, having shown off his big budget in special effects, changes gear.His desire to capture Sheryl’s heart  is the kicker that spurs him on to realise his full potential.

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DF-00187_WW copyEmbarking on a quirky and action-packed mission to find O’Connell (and the photo), all the way through Iceland, Greenland up to the Himalayas. his dream is tethered now to reality and this is where the narrative becomes both engaging and plausible despite the hysterical shenanigans that ensure.  Walter embodies you and I – his ‘Superman’  is a disorientated character, buffeted by external forces, running for his life in a hostile land/seascape, forced on by his obsession for Cheryl – Walter becomes a metaphor for ‘everyman’. He is really a blob on the landscape. And how magnificent is this landscape: huge panoramic shots of great beauty, but not in the way of a postcard idyll, but retaining all the rough edges, which  threaten Walter’s pursuit of his goal. Not to mention the humans he encounters: a drunken helicopter pilot in Iceland, who drops him into the sea instead onto a vessel, where he narrowly misses being a shark’s breakfast. And the perils of the English language, when Walter has to be saved from a volcano eruption in Iceland – he interprets the warning, Freudian slip-wise, as ‘erection’.

HM-620 copyIn his least cynical film (his own words) Stiller directs himself not as the slap-stick hero he normally portrays, but as (at least in the second half) the lonely, shy man Walter really is. Having been traumatised as a teenager by the death of his father (and supporting his family), he is still in the clutches of his mother Edna (MacLaine) and sister (Kathryn Hahn/Afternoon Delight). Cheryl is as many light years away from him as his fantasies, and he only makes contact with her via her son and a common love of skateboarding. In sympathy with many guys, Walter is not good at communication with women of his age; he feels a longing, but can’t articulate those urges in a coherent way. He’s much more able to react angrily to men, like the corporate baddy (Adam Scott). But he is not yet fine-tuned for a real partnership, because he has to embrace the Jungian concept of finding an adult version of himself, away from the stifling closeness of his mother and the hero-worshipping for O’Connell.

Stiller has presents a well-crafted film – the dissolves are stunning and he matches the narrative with a suitably emblematic score, always finding the right song for a particular moment, like the ‘fantasy’ Cheryl who morphs into his muse, singing “Major Tom” in a pub in Iceland, encouraging his to follow his ‘star’. The message overall is humanistic and anti-corporate – not without good reason, because the online version of ‘Life’ closed down for real in 2012, having lasted a fraction of the time of the newspaper. Stiller’s MITTY takes its time to find his human feet, but it deserves our attention like Walter his happy-end. AS

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY
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Cinema Paradiso (1988)

NUOVO CINEMA PARADISO 35 copyDirector/Writer: Giuseppe Tornatore

Cast: Marco Leonardi, Salvatore Cascio, Philippe Noiret, Antonella Attili, Isa Danieli

171mins   Italian with English subtitles   Drama

This cute cult classic from memory lane was garlanded with awards including an Oscar back in 1990. Now celebrating its 25th Anniversary with a sparkling re-master and back on our screens for more cinematic indulgence.  Nostalgia and sentimentality aside, we see Salvatore (Marco Leonardi), now a famous auteur, transported to his childhood Sicily when he hears of the death of his cinema mentor, Alfredo (Philippe Noiret), the village projectionist. As a young ‘Toto’, (Salvatore Cascio), he had been inspired to follow his star thanks to Alfredo’s fatherly inspiration. Now the world has changed and there’s no going back. That said, the drama made Marco Leonardi an international star.   A romantic tribute to the love of film and the love of life. MT

CINEMA PARADISO (RE-MASTERED) IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 DECEMBER 2013

A Long Way From Home (2013)

Sharing a dp (Ed Rutherford) with Joanna Hogg doesn’t guarantee the end result will produce her subtle brand of middle-class English drama. That said, this sun-filled story of elderly Brits in the South of France is not without merit, although dark clouds do occasionally appear.  Watchable and appealing, it successfully evokes the heady summer atmosphere of Languedoc-Roussillon with stunning visuals.

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It also has the suave acting talents of James Fox as Joseph, a debonair gent in his early seventies who’s enjoying a leisurely but aimless retirement in Nîmes with his motherly Irish wife (Brenda Fricker) scrabbling about on the foothills of senility.  At dinner one night they meet a young couple on holiday – Suzanne (Nathalie Dormer/The Tudors) and Mark (Paul Nicholls/Life Just Is). The pretty blond makes a palpable impression on Joseph, with her perfectly blow-dried hair and delightful smile.

At first this feels like an upmarket version of Bergerac, with equally inane dialogue, but then a tragic accident proves Brenda to be worth her weight in gold and the narrative gains momentum. The following day Joseph meets the couple again and they head off to the vineyards in Joseph’s car – cue idle banter about their respective relationships. Nathalie Dormer manages to be sexy and sensitive as Suzanne but Paul Nicholls is slightly miscast: he does his best to play a slightly vulnerable geezer but this role would have been perfect for someone like Jack Davenport who was wasted recently in the (dreadful) Mother’s Milk. Joseph and Suzanne grow closer while Mark proves to be a bit of a lad, chumming up with a local wine-maker Robert, on a business venture.

ALWFH EC-1207-7025 copyVirginia Gilbert’s well-paced  and convincing drama offers an insight into male sexuality and feels authentic and heartfelt (with echoes of the more robust Le Weekend). James Fox gives a poignant performance as Joseph; clearly smitten by a “late-life crisis” – his dormant libido flickering at  Suzanne’s frisky sexuality but his bittersweet voyeuristic moments (when he sees the couple later in the village) feeling sad and rueful rather than raunchy.  Ultimately, this is a story about revisiting the past with regret, about the quiet desperation of old age for those whose pleasure is not tethered to their family but to their cherished and much enjoyed sexuality.  A la recherche du temps perdu. MT

A LONG WAY FROM HOME RELEASES ON THE 6TH DECEMBER 2013

Domestic (2013) 10th Romanian Film Festival in London 2013

Director/Writer: Adrian Sitaru

Cast: Adrian Titieni, Gheorghe Ilfrim, Ioana Flore, Clara Voda, Sergiu Costache, Dan Hurdu

85mins   Comedy drama,   Romanian with English subtitles

Surviving every day couped up in close proximity naturally brings out the worst in this group of ordinary Romanians living in an apartment block, Adrian Sitaru’s third feature offers another Romanian New Wave meta cinema outing; a black comedy that draws its humour from inane conversations and small talk between families and neighbours, seen from a ‘fly on the wall’ perspective. Dialogue-driven, it takes a simple linear narrative style.

still2_Domestic Nothing really happens but they moan about everything from failing technology, pets fouling the common parts to immigration and these banal conversations take on a surreal aspect reflected, ‘fly in the wall style’ in long static takes from Adrian Silisteanu’s voyeuristic camera, which occasionally wanders out into the open air to capture cats, rabbits and other local fauna.

Mainly known for his TV work, Sitaru’s previous award-winning dramas Hooked and Best Intentions followed various characters and their relationship crisis.  When the subtitles in one long kitchen scene are almost impossible to read (as they are white on a very pale background);  this highlights just how much these meta dramas are rely on their dialogue, which is essential in driving them forward. MT

DOMESTIC IS SCREENING AS PART OF THE 10TH ROMANIAN FILM FESTIVAL IN LONDON

 

Jeune et Jolie (2013)

Director: Francois Ozon

Cast: Marina Vacth, Geraldine Paihas, Frederic Pierrot, Fantin Ravat

95min   French with English subtitles   Drama

Student prostitution has come under the spotlight recently with dazzling insight from Emmanuelle Bercot’s edgy Parisian drama Student Services (2012) to Malgorzata Szumovska’s intimate look at female grads on the game, Elles (2011).  Here the prolific and provocative French auteur, Francois Ozon, offers up his sultry and mischievous story of Isabelle.

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Once again the setting is Paris but JEUNE ET JOLIE (YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL) is a coming-of-age drama with a twist.  Avoiding winsome innocence, it focuses on a very confident, hard-edged 17-year-old from an educated background, played vampishly by French model Marine Vacth.

As the title suggests, Isabelle is a good-looking young woman who’s comfortable with her nascent sexuality and the power it enables her to wield, not least in flirtations with her mother’s partner who shares  their Parisian home.  Unmoved by her first sexual encounter Isabelle realises how to turn this disaffection to her advantage in financing her studies. Nothing new there. But Ozon cleverly keep us guessing about the power that women hold in the sexual arena. And although it appears that Isabelle is fearless and calculating, he shrouds her emotions in mystery leaving us to wonder whether this girl is really in control of her life and her relationships as much as she would have us believe.  Sexually available and canny she may be, but she is still immature emotionally and this comes across in Vacth’s subtle performance.

Ozon provocatively portrays the upmarket setting with its glossy visuals as being quite normal but then he blows apart this facade slowly teasing us with glimpses of reality as the drama unfolds. Isabelle’s dynamic with her mother (Isabelle Paihas) is a fascinating one. Initially the daughter appears to have the power but eventually emerges as the weaker of the pair, accurately reflecting the inner turmoil of adolescence but also examining the fading power of female sexuality as we saw before with in Juliette Binoche’s clever performance as Anne in ELLES.

Well-crafted and competent, this is a challenging film that asks questions, leaving the viewer open to doubt about the normality of a situation that on the surface feels straightforward but on reflection starts to raise complex questions about the nature of adolescence, innocence and female desire. MT

Parkland (2013) 70th Venice Film Festival 2013

Dir.: Peter Landesman; Cast: Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Colin Hanks, Mark Duplass, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, USA 2013, 93 min.

The only thing PARKLAND gets right is its timing: the 50th anniversary year of JFK’s assassination. But it is nearly impossible to imagine such a dull realisation of one of history’s most dramatic moments. To start with, the acting is wooden, with everyone is hamming it up, like they think it should have looked on November 22nd 1963. So we see Jackie clutching skull and brain parts of her husband, eyes wild. The trauma surgeon hammering away on JFK’s chest like a drummer; the nurse fetching a cross from the cupboard with all the solemnity of a papal ceremony; the CIA man dragging the coffin with the corpse through the plane door with the violence associated with American football players, just to underline their unwillingness for an autopsy.

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But worst of all is the total lack of standpoint – Landesman declared in the press conference, that he just wanted to show the emotional impact of the tragedy on the main participants but not touch on the question of who shot the president. How anybody can be so wilfully naïve is hard to understand. To make a point, the filmmaker mentions none of 18 material witnesses of the shooting who died: six were shot, 3 died in car accidents, 2 committed suicide, 3 died of heart-attacks, just two from natural causes. Did the shooting not impact emotionally on their lives and those of their loved ones? And how can we judge the impact on Harvey Oswald, when Landesman leaves it open as to if he was the assassin or not – even though the Abraham Zapruder film (which is used in  PARKLAND) shows clearly that JFK was shot from the grass hill and not from the fourth floor of the library, where Oswald was supposed to be.

PARKLAND’s film aesthetics top the list of conventional boredom and its supposedly naïve a-political message is disingenuous. Paul Giamatti convinces as Zapruder in a fine performance. Otherwise, this is one of the few films that can compete with any propaganda film – just by leaving out the truth. Make up your own mind.  If you’re looking for more on the Lee Harvey Oswald story, KILLING OSWALD makes the intellectual argument and works an interesting companion piece to this dumbed-down Hollywood pap. ANDRE SIMONOWEICZ.

PARKLAND IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 22 NOVEMBER 22 NOVEMBER 2013

 

0 stars

The Nun (2013) La Religieuse

Director: Guillaume Nicloux | Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Pauline Etienne, Agathe Bonitzer, Louise Bourgoin, Martina Gedeck | Cinematography: Yves Cape | 114min |France |Drama

Based on the novel by French writer, philosopher, art critc Denis Diderot (1713-1784).

The Nun has had a tough time.  Conceived by Denis Didérot in the eighteenth century, the nature of the work was open to controversy as a purportedly salacious account of innappropriate goings-on in a French nunnery. Jacques Rivette’s film version in 1966, was banned by French censors at the time of its release due to its negative representation of the Catholic Church. Now, nearly 50 years later, here is Guillaume Nicloux’s adaptation with a fine cast of Isabelle Huppert, Martina Gedeck, Agathe Bonitzer and Marc Barbé.

The Nun follows the story of a young woman, Suzanne Simonin (Pauline Étienne) who is confined to a religious order of sisters, under the auspices of Madame de Moni, due to her parents’ inability to fund her dowry.  Once enconsed in the convent, Suzanne is put under pressure to take her vows, against her wishes, and subsequently also discovers she is illegitimate and has been locked away to assuage her mother’s guilt and make her peace with God.

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This could be a brilliant opportunity for a discretely naughty insight or even a ‘no holds barred’ exposé surrounding the confessional memoirs of the provocative Sister Suzanne Simonin.  But Guillaume Nicloux’s goes to the other end of the spectrum offering a visually exquisite and stylishly sleek, part candlelit part naturalistic, masterpiece concentrating only on the ascetic aspects of Suzanne’s confinement. He highlights her disappointment with her mother’s deceit, the physical and emotional discomfort of being in spartan confines without affection, physical comfort or close friends but there is no attempt to delve further into her psyche.

Nicloux paints Suzanne as a picture of perfect introversion and blind innocence but also of passive resignation living under sensory deprivation. Although Pauline Etienne plays her part admirably, this bone dry and formal treatment lacks the necessary element of drama, tension or even empathy required to make the piece engaging in a way that Bruno Dumont achieves with Juliette Binoche in Camille Claudel 1915, which has a set of circumstances.

Isabelle Huppert lights up the screen when she finally arrives as the more motherly Mother Superior.  She is captivated by Suzanne’s pale beauty and serenity, for reasons that will become evident, and gives a delicious turn with wry, comedic appeal tinged with bittersweet sadness, as only she knows how.

The Nun is a technically accomplished film with a beautiful visual aesthetic and some strong performances but lacks dramatic edge to offer really appealing insight and plods along so slowly that it requires the patient of a saint, at times, to endure. MT

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THE NUN IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 1 NOVEMBER 2013

 

 

 

A Magnificent Haunting (2013) Now on DVD/BLU

Director: Ferzan Ozpetek      Writers: Ozpetek/Federica Pontremoli

Cast: Margherita Buy, Elio Germano, Vittoria Puccini, Beppe Fiorello

104min    Italian with English subtitles     Fantasy drama

Ferzan Ozpetek takes a spirited ghost story, adds a delicious Fellini-esque twist and offers up a quirkily humorous tale of wannabe actor Pietro (Elio Germano) and his uninvited house-guests. Sharing his newly-rented apartment with a troupe of 1940s ‘luvvies’ could be fun; the only catch is – they don’t realise they’re dead.

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A MAGNIFICENT HAUNTING is a departure Ozpetek’s edgier indie fare.  It has the delightful (and much under-rated) Margherita Buy, best known for his drama Le Fate Ignoranti, and exultant here leading the kindly ghosts and giving Pietro acting advice and impromptu entertainment.

Colourful and upbeat, it certainly plays out as an appealing drama with s touch of fantasy and only a few wrong notes: an attempt to inject seriousness by delving into Fascist history misfires: better to have  stuck with the light-hearted elements given the overall tone of the piece.  That said, A MAGNIFICENT HAUNTING has a slick, commercial feel that will likely help Ozpetek engage with a more mainstream audience.  Good luck to him with this well-crafted, cheerful endeavour. MT

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A MAGNIFICENT HAUNTING IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 25 OCTOBER 2013 AT SELECTED CINEMAS

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Broken Circle Breakdown (2013)

Director: Felix Van Groeningen          Adaptation: Carl Joos/Felix Van Groeningen

Cast: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh, Neil Cattrysse, Geert Van Rampelberg

The Broken Circle Breakdown is a musical love story.  Inspired by Johan Heldenbergh (one of the stars of “The Misfortunates”) and Mieke Dobbels, it’s cleverly brought to life by Van Groeningen in fractured narrative form, captured on the widescreen in the lush, bucolic countryside around Bruges, Belgium.

Didier (Heldenbergh), a singer and musician and his partner Elise (Veerle Baetens), a tattooist  discover during a hospital visit in Ghent that their 6-year-old daughter, Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse), has leukaemia.

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Flashing back to the moment they first met, the chemistry is ardent and their affair takes off as they instantly bond through music. Life takes its natural course, as the narrative dances back and forwards dipping into their lives in a way that feels natural and easy to follow.  They move into Didier’s restored barn and create a life together. There’s a vibrant energy to Moving Circle that echoes that of Cafe de Flore (2011). Heldenbergh and Baetens attraction feels real in moments of elation and sadness and they give passionate performances especially between the sheets, and when they perform with the Didier’s local ‘Blue-grass’ Band.

As the narrative develops, the storytelling becomes more erratic and a sudden shot of Elise in a ambulance fighting for her life, feels abrupt and disorientating, as if we’ve missed a vital clue.  What follows is heartbreaking and the tone becomes increasingly sinister switching from melodrama to something darker and more muffled.  Didier becomes unbalanced, ranting at the television in an unmoving outburst that attempts unsuccessfully to add a political dimension to proceedings. His touching sensitivity, previously anchored by Elise’s practical nature, transforms into the realms of psychosis and she also starts to lose the plot in a personality change that lacks believability as Broken Circle finally goes into meltdown in a dispiriting denoument to a promising start.  MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 18TH OCTOBER 2013

Tulpan (2008)

Dir: Sergei Dvortsevoy | Drama | Kazakhstan | 120mins

If you thought that Borat had Kazakhstan sewn up then think again. Dvortsevoy won the Prix Un Certain Regard for this endearing picture of life on the windswept southern Steppe for a family of nomadic herders.

This film is so cute you’ll want to pick it up and cuddle it but preferably with gloves on. Apart from a touching script and great performances not least from the animals it features mouth-to-mouth resuscitation with a newborn lamb and gets down and dirty with camels, a real tornado, endless sandstorms and some very grim weather indeed. Powerful wide-angled visuals combine with the cosy interiors of the yurt, the tent where the all live.

Asa, the gentle boy with a vivid imagination, has completed his navel service and wants to join his family of herders. In order to become a shepherd he must find a wife and women are thin on the ground in this part of the world. Infact the nearest one for several hundred miles is Tulpan. She doesn’t fancy Asa largely because of his ears but it may be because he talks too much. With the help of his friend Boni he tries to win her over. The alternative is a move to the city where he wouldn’t have his family’s love and support let alone a reliable job.

In contrast to the incredible hardships that the herders suffer they are entirely without anger or aggression. Their gentleness and perseverance is totally inspirational. There is no alternative but to learn to live in harmony with each other and with nature as a whole and therein lies the magic of their existence. Dvortsevoy succeeds with skill and patience in eliciting both humour and compassion in this exquisite debut feature.

WINNER | PRIX UN CERTAIN REGARD | CANNES 2008

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