Posts Tagged ‘Venice Film Festival’

Don’t Worry Darling (2022)

Dir.: Olivia Wilde; Cast: Florence Pugh, Olivia Wilde, Chris Pine, Harry Stiles, Gemma Chan, Kiki Layne, Douglas Smith; US 2022, 122 min.

Not even three three publicity stunts could elevate Olivia Wilde’s follow-up to her debut feature Booksmart at the Venice Festival this year where the film written by Katie Silberman, Shane and Carey Van Dyke was screened Out of Competition.

Was Shia LaBeouf really fired and replaced by Harry Stiles? And did Styles really spit at Chris Pine? And what about Florence Pugh. Did she cut down on press work because she was miffed by Wilde?

Don’t Worry Darling turns out to be a pale imitation of Stepford Wives, The Truman Show and Pleasantville rolled into one. In the southern Californian desert a model community called ‘Victory’ has been set up very much along the lines of Pleasant Living, with the wives cleaning and cooking while their menfolk put their minds to the top secret ‘Victory’ project, all kitted out in dapper 1950s suits and driving souped-up retro cars.

In this empty-headed utopian Eldorado Alice (Pugh) are Jack (Styles) are always hard at it – even on the kitchen table – cutlery and plates flying all over the place. Frank (Pine) and his wife Shelley (Chan) are meanwhile the leaders of the clean living brigade. Frank is not only the boss at work, he is the spiritual guru who keeps everything together like a scout master. Bunny (Wilde) and Bill (Smith) are trying hard to fit in with the set-up; the only one having doubts is Margaret (Layne).

One day a toy airplane lands in her lap and soon afterwards Alice sees a full size version falling from the sky and detonating in the desert. After Margaret commits suicide on the roof of her house, Alice takes matters into her own hands. But instead of offering insight into why these female characters are being gas-lit, Wilde opts for a car chase.

PD Katie Byron and Aronofsky’s regular DoP Matthew Libatique keep the production values up, mustard and pistachio dominating in the desert sand and the cloudless sky. Vacuous and totally humourless, Don’t Worry Darling is a void, held together by Pugh who struggles desperately to bring something fresh to the production. A first class actor in a lousy imitation game, she has all the right to be angry at Wilde – never mind the rumour mill. AS

VENICE REVIEW | ON RELEASE IN THE UK FROM 23 SEPTEMBER

Blonde (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Andrew Dominik; Cast: Ana de Amas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale, Julianne Nicholson, Lilly Fisher; USA 2022, 166 min.

Australian director Andrew Dominik adapts Joyce Carol Oates Monroe’s novel – all 738 pages – by the look of it, for this Golden Lion hopeful. Worth mentioning this because the feature is, like the book, a work of fiction; an imagined drama. Dominik is dealing with a myth, and the way he does it certainly raises questions of exploitation and voyeurism.

In the opening scenes a seven-year-old Norma Jean Mortenson (Fisher) is told by her single mother Gladys (Nicholson) that her father is a movie-star. A black-and-white photo is all the ‘proof’ she is given – and from that moment onwards Norma Jean, who will become the legendary Marilyn Monroe, will look for her Daddy in most men she meets. The real Marilyn believed Clark Gable was her father – ironically both starred in Monroe’s last feature Misfits (1961). During shooting Marilyn’s husband, the playwright Arthur Miller (Brody), fell in love with set photographer Inge Morath, and married her soon afterwards. Nothing of this found its way into Blonde, nor is there any mention that Monroe supported Miller in his legal battle with the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) – a move that could have ruined both their careers. Instead we get a choppily edited, slapstick parody of a three-some with Charlie Chaplin Jr. and Edward G. Robinson Jr. This symbolises the director’s salacious choices: the more scandalous, the better.

Suffice to show Monroe being raped by studio boss Daryl Zanuck at the start of her movie career, but Dominik decides to spice up his narrative with a full frontal display of her tumultuous time at the hands of JFK. Her comments: “that she felt like meat being delivered” only adds grist to this shameless ‘expose’.

Billy Wilder gets off far too lightly, into the bargain. Dominik still thinks the infamous scene in Seven Year Itch, when Monroe’s skirt is blown up around her ears by the passing subway, is ‘funny’, and not a provocation for Monroe’s newly wed husband Joe Di Maggio (Cannavale). The marriage, unsurprisingly, did not last long. Wilder also wrote a horrible monologue for Monroe in Some like it Hot, showing her off as the typical scatter-brained blonde and to underline the point Ana de Armas (as Marilyn) runs around semi-naked for no apparent reason other than titillation.

DoP Chayse Irvin uses all tricks in the book to get the bandwagon rolling: hopping from old-fashioned colour to pristine black-and-white, and using slow-motion sequences to accentuate what appears to be history. It is not.

Netflx, as the producers, as well as Dominik, can be sure that the kaleidoscopic mayhem will find a willing audience. It will no doubt sell like hot cakes in cinemas, where, after a brief run, it moves on to the beleaguered streaming platform.

But the real culprit is Alberto Barbera, director of the Mostra. Nobody held a gun to his head to make him chose Blonde. He just went for the glory, never mind a possible scandal. The result is at best a feature filmed for the voyeuristic male gaze, at worst pornography masquerading as an art form. @Andre Simonoveisz.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 2022 | IN COMPETITION.

Beyond the Wall (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Vahid Jalivand, Cast: Navid Mohammadzadeh, Diana Habibi, Amir Aghaei, Iran 2022, 123 min.

This nightmarish siege drama with a tentative love story at its heart is one of the most accomplished features competing for this year’s Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival. Iranian films can be weak on the cinematic front despite their gripping storylines but Beyond the Wall is full of spectacular action scenes and tender close-ups. For once content and aesthetics come together in truly unique form.

Told in a series of flashbacks the sinuous thriller takes place in an apartment block where Leila (Habibi) is looking for her 4 year old son after evading the police during a workers’ protest. Meanwhile, one of the occupants, a blind man called Ali ((Mohammadzadeh) is attempting suicide but only succeeds in dislodging some hot water pipes when he is interrupted by the concierge of the building with the news that a hostage is somewhere in the building. Ali soon realises that Leila is actually hiding in his flat and becomes obsessed with trying to help her, escaping his own personal trauma and disappearing into a fantasy world with the unknown woman. Why is Ali so adamant to help Leila? The flashbacks gradually reveal the disturbing answer, and the brutal finale will have you cowering in your seats. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | GOLDEN LION

 

Il Signore delle Formiche (2022) Venice Film Festival

Dir.: Gianni Amelio; Cast: Luigi Lo Cascio, Elio Germano, Leonardoc Maltese, Sarah Serraiocco; Italy 2022, 134 min.

Italian director/co-writer Gianni Amelio returns to Venice with a worthy but rather tired looking epic about the trial and imprisonment of 1960s poet and intellectual Aldo Braibante accused of ‘Plagiarism’, an old fascist law masking homophobic intent. The case went to trial in Rome when Ettore’s family brought a law suit against the academic, who enjoyed a consensual relationship with the student. 

Ennio (Germano), a Unita journalist, is sympathetic to Braibante but the communist newspaper refuses to support his case since they believe homosexuals should be punished in concurrence with the Italian state. Graziella (Serraiocco) joins Ennio in setting up an LGBT styled campaign. And while Graziella pursues her activism, Ennio then leaves the newspaper, potentially a victim of Aids. DoP Luan Amelio underlines the director’s stereotypical message with rather bland images in this quality potboiler. AS

 

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | GOLDEN LION 2022

 

The Son (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Florian Zeller, Cats: Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Zen McGrath, Vanessa Kirby, Anthony Hopkins, USA/UK/France 2022, 123 min.

The Son is a glib and one-note second feature for director Florian Zeller after his Oscar-winning debut The Father took the film world by storm with its authenticity. The Son is too verbose, and too monotone to be engaging despite its slick production values, never escaping its stagey origins in a screenplay adapted by Christopher Hampton from Zeller’s play.

Anthony Hopkins again stars as a father, this time to successful lawyer Peter (Jackman) who is on the verge of a potential White House association and has left his wife Kate (Dern) for a much younger trophy wife Beth (Kirby). The couple have just had a baby son but Kate contacts him about taking on board their own teenager Nicholas (an underwhelming McGrath ) who has obvious mental problems, self-harming and playing truant from school. Peter’s relationship with his stern father Anthony (Hopkins) has not helped him bond with Nicholas and after a suicide attempt, Nicholas is sectioned in a psychiatric ward turning his parents’ world upside down. Performance wise the standout is once again Anthony Hopkins who is commanding as a tough pragmatist, against Jackman’s dignified but hamstrung lawyer, with the female characters more or less brushed aside. The Son feels too redactive in contrast to its successful predecessor, with Zeller stranded in the middle between a film and a theatrical production in this depressing psychodrama. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | GOLDEN LION 2022

 

 

Saint Omer (2022)

Dir.: Alice Diop; Cast: Kayije Kagame, Guslagie Malanda, Valerie Dreville, Aurelia Petit; France 2022, 123 min.

This gripping feature debut from award-winning documentarian Alice Diop is a courtroom drama of a special kind. Saint Omer is a quest for a seemingly unobtainable truth in contemporary France.

Isolation and loneliness are felt particularly keenly by the main character Rama (Kagame), a Paris-based university lecturer who arrives in Saint Omer to cover the case of Laurence (Malanga), a mother on trial for killing her own daughter after a suffering the shame of being ostracised by her much older white husband.

The French-Senegalese director and co-writer is already a successful documentarian  and won the Silver Lion (Grand Prix) and the “Luigi De Laurentiis Lion of the Future Award” for best first feature at Venice Film Festival.

Diop could have hardly chosen a more incendiary subject based on the case of Fabienne Kabou, who killed her 15-month old daughter by drowning her in the sea off Northern France then going back to Paris as if nothing had happened. Diop used the trial documents as a basis for her heart-wrenching tale of the re-telling of the ‘Medea’ myth.

Rama – Diop’s Alter Ego in the film – is also pregnant but does not want to tell her family, since she has a dysfunctional relationship with her own, abusive, mother Odile (Kamate) shown in flashback. She’s also keen to collect collect information for her forthcoming book on Medea. During the trial, Rama finds more and more personal parallels to the life of the accused, Laurence Coly (Malanga), who was studying for a PHD in philosophy even though – like everything else in her CV – this is not really a given. Coly had hidden the birth of her daughter from nearly everyone, including her mother whom Rama meets during the breaks in the court proceedings. The two women wander through the streets of the small city, with Odile being really proud of her daughter’s academic style of conversation.

These encounters raise more questions than answers for Rama who has doubts about her ability to be a good mother. Her partner Adrian (De Pourquery) comes down from Paris and tries to puts her mind at rest. Rama’s partner is the exact antithesis of Luc Dumontet (Maly), the father of little Elise, who is 30 years older than Laurence. He too helped to hide Elise’ existence from the world by not registering her birth.

The Judge (Dreville) tries hard to find out what drove Coly to her desperate deed, and Coly seems equally confused about her motives throughout the trial. She mentions witchcraft, but has no proof. She is adamant about not wanting to hide the truth, and has a high IQ and proud of the fact. Laurence grew up in Dakar in a wealthy Catholic family and always achieved high academic results. But her personality remains an enigma throughout the trial and she is stubbornly closed to the help offered.

Saint Omer opens with an archive extract from the liberation of France in 1944: women collaborators are punished by having their hair cut off publicly. Are they victims, are they heroes? Diop insists throughout her film that she is not interested in easy solutions, wanting to question the objective as well as the subjective. Which brings us to Marguerite Duras. Rama is also a novelist and lectures on Duras (again shown in  flashback) and this certainly raises the question of how much she wanted to gain inspiration from the case. But the Laurence case unsettles her in a way she had not bargained for.

DoP Claire Mathon frames Laurence in the style of a Velasquez portrait, putting her firmly in the limelight. The close-ups clearly borrow from Ozu, the camera travelling slowly upwards – or downwards when it comes to Rama, who is hemmed into the rows of spectators. The light is sometimes diffuse, reflecting Laurence’ state of mind.

At the end, there are mostly women left: the protagonists of the legal proceedings, the crowd on the spectator benches. The same goes for the film crew.

Austere and fragmented, Saint Omer is not looking for solution but leaves us to make up our own minds, almost like an offscreen jury. Nowadays it seems as if the truth is becoming a moveable, mutating feast. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL WINNER | SILVER LION | SAINT OMER IS FRANCE’S ACADEMY AWARD ENTRY 2023

 

The Eternal Daughter (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Joanna Hogg; Cast: Tilda Swinton, Joseph Mydell, Carlly-Sophia Davis; UK 2022, 96 min.

Joanna Hogg’s envelopes her personal memories in her latest film combining Henry James and Sigmund Freud in an eerie tale about unprocessed grief and guilt between a mother and her daughter.

Rosalind and her middle-aged filmmaker daughter Julie (Swinton in doppelgänger mode) retreat into a stately haunted hotel in the Welsh countryside – which once belonged to Rosalind’s family, arriving on a miserable foggy night and appearing to be there only ones staying there. A celebration of Rosalind’s birthday is what they have planned, and Julie is hoping to get a few ideas for a film about her mother. The sequestered location sets an ominous the tone for the days ahead after an offhand receptionist (Davies) puts them in a dingy room where they are later disturbed by sinister noises during the night. Gradually they settle into a dreary routine where reality and fantasy seem to fuse. Then Julie’s dog goes missing.

Shot on 35mm film in Panavision with an evocative score, this is an imaginative reflection on how well we actually know our parents as people before we came along, and how their experiences colour our own lives. Rosalind lived through wartime but her recollections seem suppressed by a desire to put a positive spin on the past and bury her true feelings. And although the past is still a foreign country for Julie, she and her mother are actually more similar than they imagine, locked together in a timeless bond through their intimate background. Hogg’s unique idiosyncratic style with its witty English sensibilities once again triumphs and is instantly relatable. A piquantly tender often sadistic tour de force. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | GOLDEN LION 2022

 

 

Other People’s Children (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Rebecca Zlotowski, Virginie Efira, Callie Ferreira-Goncales, Roschdy Zem, Louana Yamee, Fred Wiseman, Chiara Mastroiani, France 2022, 104 min.

Rebecca Zlotowski (Planetarium) explores a woman’s desire to have children when she bonds with her boyfriend’s daughter. Hitting forty and changing her mind about becoming a parent, Rachel (Efira) decides to go for it with the help of her gynaecologist (Fred Wiseman!) and hunky Ali (Zem), who she falls for just in time. But there is a hitch: Ali is already a father but his cute daughter Leila (Ferreira-Goncales) wins Rachel’s heart. Leila’s mother Alice (Mastroiani) seems happy with Rachel getting involved and a holiday in the Camargue is the highpoint leading to a joyful epilogue. But somehow Rachel seems empty. Virginie Efira storms through the streets of Paris like a tornado in another pragmatic performance in a sunny snapshot that somehow lacks bite.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | GOLDEN LION 2022

 

The Whale (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Darren Aronofsky, Cast: Brendan Fraser, Hong Chan, Ty Simkins, Samantha Morton, Sadie Sink; USA 2022, 117 min.

The Whale never breaks free from its claustrophobic stage origins, adapted for the screen by Samual D Hunter and based on his 2012 play. In contrast to his usual fare Darren Aronofsky’s direction is restrained, by his own admission, in a feature that deals with the ‘elephant in the room’ of the 21st century: Obesity. Brendan Fraser beefs up for a gargantuan performance as the fated fatty Charlie, traumatised by his partner’s suicide and wallowing towards an early grave in a dour Idaho backwater where he teaches creative writing via Zoom.

Charlie has no desire to be hospitalised and his ample finances provide for nurse Liz (Chau) to look after him, his estranged wife Mary (Morton) and daughter Ellie (Sink) putting in appearances for obvious reasons. Christian cult member Elder Thomas (Simkins) brings a twist to the plot, completing the quarter of depressive truth-seekers.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | GOLDEN LION COMPETITION 2022

Argentina 1985 (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Santiago Mitre, Cast: Ricardo Darin, Juan Pedro Lanzini; Argentina/USA 2022, 140 min.

Multi-awarded director Santiago Mitre (The Summit) chronicles a dark episode in the history of his nation: the 1985 trial of the Junta’s generals. And although these military monsters had terrorised the country and murdered half a million Argentinians for nearly a decade during the ‘Dirty Wars’, this was the only trial that ever took place. The hero of the hour is General Prosecutor Julio Strassero (a masterful Riccardo Darin) who, undeterred by the military’s still considerable and corrupt influence within their fragile new democracy, assembles a team of hungry young lawyers for the monumental court battle. What follows – on the widescreen and in intimate close-up – is an incendiary race against time to bring justice, involving death threats as dirty as the wars themselves. DoP Javier Julia’s panoramic shots of the courtroom and specular street set pieces make this a real epic that speeds along with Mitre’s tightly written script making over two hours seem like minutes. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | FIPRESCI PRIZE WINNER 2022

Monica (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Andrea Pallaoro; Cast: Tracey Lysette, Patricia Clarkson, Joshua Close; USA/Italy 2022, 110 min.

Writer/director Andrea Pallaoro is back in Venice with a Lynchian riddle in the same enigmatic style and eerie atmosphere as his modest but memorable Hannah  starring Charlotte Rampling as a refined woman down on her luck. Once again family rejection is the crux of the storyline. Monica wallows in a seething atmosphere of doom and another downcast heroine who has lost her place in the social pecking order, rejected by her mother on spurious grounds, although on reasonable terms with her brother Paul (Close) who talks about the good times they had as children. Stultified by its 4:3 format and old fashioned colour system (rather like the 1950s Eastmancolour) this is another melancholy tale you will not forget. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | GOLDEN LION 2022

White Noise (2022) Venice Film Festival

Dir.; Noah Baumbach, Cast: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Raffey Cassidy; USA 2022, 136 min.

The curse of the festival opener is alive and kicking at Venice: Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, an adaption of Don de Lillo’s 1985 novel, is simply an embarrassment. In New York, Jack Glasdney (Driver) and Babette (Gerwig) have a brood of kids to look after from their own fraught marriage and earlier relationships. And they fail miserably: the toddler and younger children are a drain on their energy and, the older ones – including teenager Denise (Cassidy) seem more mature than their parents. Then en ecological disaster comes to town, and Jack is caught in the fallout. Mysticism and graphic violence ensues, but no plot resolution of any kind. DoP Lol Crawley does his best to keep the frantic tempo going, but it’s all empty noise.AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Tár (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir: Todd Field | Cast: Cate Blanchett, Nina Hoss | US Biopic Drama 158′

Cate Blanchett is sheer dynamite – allegedly mastering fluent German – as a world famous musician foisted by her own petard in this hefty near three hour biopic from US director Todd Field.

Field, in his first film since Little Children (2006), firmly establishes the gravitas of Lydia Tar’s prestigious position as head conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic in the prodigious opening scenes of a feature which luxuriates in its endlessly fascinating main character; her peripatetic high net-worth lifestyle amongst the great and the good, her pioneering grit and perseverance in accomplishing her multiple worthy achievements: now at the zenith of her career she is a pianist, composer, conductor and successful family woman who has adopted a Syrian refugee with lover Sharon Goodnow (the ever luminous Nina Hoss) and is seemingly un-eclipsible, or so it would seem.

Slow-burning towards a coruscating crescendo after a languorous, immersive overture, the denouement is decidedly gut-punching. Certainly a film for committed cineastes or fans of classical music, this is heavyweight stuff but a magnum opus for Field and a tour de force par excellence for Blanchett. MY

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022)

Wri/Dir: George Miller | Cast: Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba | Australia, Fantasy Drama, 118′

Best known for his groundbreaking saga Mad Max, Australian director writer George Miller turns his talents to another fantasy world with a fairy tale starring Tilda Swinton, in her second film at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL‘s 79th celebration.

Based on a short story by A S Byatt, she plays Dr Alithea Binnie who gets more that she bargained for after buying a trinket in a market stall on a visit to Istanbul. Polishing up the bauble back in her hotel bedroom out pops a djinn in the shape of Idris Elba, offering the good doctor three wishes in exchange for his freedom. The voluble djinn then rather outstays his welcome with endless exotic tales of his escapades in the style of the Arabian Nights. Certainly entertaining – up to a point – this is another enjoyable flight of fantasy with Tilda, and some spectacular special effects, stealing the show. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 2022 | UK Cinemas from Friday, 2 September.

Casa Susanna (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir/Wri: Sebastian Lifshitz | France, Doc 97′

In the open scenes of this well made gay interest film an American broadcaster talks to four dolled up women who turn out to be men. Shock horror probe. But that was back in the Sixties, Nowadays cross-dressing is par for the course thanks to ‘Full Personality Expression’ that allows people to wear whatever they want, wherever they go.

Back in the 1950s and ‘60s this underground network of transgender women and cross-dressing men were forced to find refuge at a modest house in the Catskills region of New York. Known as Casa Susanna, the house provided a safe place to live for a few days as they had always dreamed—dressed as women – without fear of being incarcerated or institutionalised for doing so. Told through the memories of those whose visits to the house would change their lives, the film looks back at a secret world where the persecuted and frightened found freedom, acceptance and, often, the courage to live their lives out of the shadows. 

Award-winning documentarian Sebastian Lipshitz enlivens his expose with wonderful photos of New York in the 1960s along with archive footage of Danish cross-dresser Christine Jorgensen, who became an overnight celebrity, and others who joined in. Another woman remembers her father paying visits to the Casa where he enjoyed wearing women’s clothing and only felt comfortable wearing a female nightie in bed. And although the doc slightly overstays its welcome in driving home the point repetitively, it certainly provides a unique and valuable insight for those interested or affected by the issues concerned. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 31 AUGUST – 1 SEPTEMBER 2022

 

Wolf and Dog (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Claudia Varejo; Cast: Ana Cabral, Ruben Pimento, Christiana Branquinho; Portugal 2022, 111min.

This impressionistic first feature film from Portuguese director/co-writer Claudia Varejo,  (Amor Fati), is set on Sao Miguel, an island in the Azores. A straightforward gay awakening story, Varejo puts tempo, heart and soul into a spirited debut that is structurally flawed.

Ana Cabral gives a sparkling performance as Ana, the neglected middle child of a traditional family where her brothers Tejo and little Simao get all the attention. Ana is best friends with Luis (Pimento), who is openly gay and dresses provocatively often attracting negative attention on an island still ruled by the old-fashioned values of the older generation. The church and patriarchy is on its last legs, ready to be swept away by the young who, more often than not, leave the island as soon as they can.

One day the mother finds her son unconscious in a drug den and he admits to being part of a narcotics smuggling ring. But once Cristiana (Branquinho) arrives from Canada, this heavy mix of personal and cultural rebellion will boil over. Meanwhile Ana finds all the answers to her questions in when she falls for Cristiana – but what will she do when Luis and her lover depart the island for good at the end of the summer?

Varejo goes hell-for-leather in her pursuit of youth revolution. Sometimes simplistic in the dialogue (“Binarism is a prison’), overly sentimental in the love scenes between the young women on the beach – but always galloping forward at an insane tempo, Wolf and Dog storms through classrooms, churches, family homes and places of traditional male refuge. In the disco, a girl band hold sway while the old women pray their offspring will not be seduced by ‘Satan’.

DoP Rui Xavier does his best to support this all-out assault: his handheld camera tracking Ana in her pursuit of love and freedom. But the lingering lakeside scenes don’t come off so well. Overall, Wolf and Dog is well-acted and beautiful to look at but the relentless emotional explosions make for over-kill, particularly with a generous running time, giving the director too much space for self-indulgence. Varejo was obviously afraid to leave anything on the editing-room floor – but self-discipline would have helped here. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | WINNER DIRECTOR’s AWARD | VENICE DAYS SELECTION 2022

Godard seul le Cinema (2022) Tribute

Dir.: Cyril Leuthy; Narrator Guillaume Goux; with Anna Karina, Marina Vlady, Anne Wiazemski, Hanna Schigulla, Judy Delphi, Jean-Pierre Gorin, Mirelle Darc, Daniel Cohn Bendit and JL Godard; France 2022, 100 min.

Jean-Luc Godard (1930-2022) was still out to revolutionise cinema, just before his death at 91, according to this latest documentary about the famous filmmaker and co-founder of the Nouvelle Vague who claims, in his defence “I don’t have my heart in my mouth anymore”.

“Godard is a legend, but we have forgotten the man”. In trying to uncover the real Jean-Luc director Cyril Leuthy sat down with Godard’s many collaborators, friends and critics who have a lot to say about an eternal rebel who was still exhausting himself in the hunt for a perfect cinema, even with 140 films under his belt.

We watch him on the set of Le Mepris in 1963, and in scenes from Breathless, for which Godard won the Prix Jean Vigo. At the ceremony he claimed: “awards matter, because they draw attention to the cinema”. The film changed society and the world (!), everything was possible from then on, even close-ups with a wide-angle shot.

Godard was born in a fashionable Paris district in 1930 and moved between Paris and Switzerland as a young man. His father Paul was a physician. His mother Odile worked for a bank, and died in an accident in 1954. The family did not want JLG to attend her funeral, since he had disgraced himself by stealing from his friends and family: he financed Rivette’s first film with the money he stole from his uncles. After the success of his first feature, Godard was happy that Le Petit Soldat (1960) was banned. “I am happy that my second film is hated, it brings me closer to the cinema”. Marina Vlady, star of Godard’s “Two or three things I know about her” believes he actually played the improvising genius. In reality, Vlady and the cast were dependent on their earphones: Godard directing them “like robots”.

Anna Karina, JLG’s first wife and muse is adamant: “he was irritated by happiness. He is pure spirit”. Macha Meril, who starred in JLGs Une femme mariee (1964) goes a step further: “I was like a substitute for Anna Karina. He treated me like an ornithological object”. Anne Wiazemsky, wife number two, was proud to be with the filmmaker, but also found JLG soft, funny and loving. Her recollections of her marriage are read out by a child. But after she starred in La Chinoise, the first cracks appeared. Daniel Cohn-Bendit claims the Chinese employees of the Paris embassy called JLG a moron, and would have forbidden the film title, had they had the power. Cohn-Bendit maintains Godard supported the Cultural Revolution, which the former calls “Ritual slaughters” JLG meanwhile was fighting the De Gaulle regime, calling democracy ‘a slow way of death’.

From then on JLG put his anger onto the big screen: Weekend (1967) saw mass slaughter on the auto routes of France, a metaphor for France’s capitalist take-down. After helping to support the re-instatement of Henri Langlois as leader of the Cinematheque, Godard and Truffaut helped to bring the 1968 Cannes Festival to an abrupt standstill. But the intended revolution did not materialise. JLG fled into the Dziga Vertov collective, co-lead by Jean-Pierre Gori. And Anne Wiazemsky, moved out: “Gorin moved in with JLG, there was no room for me. I loved him as a filmmaker, not a commissar.”.

The features that followed in the aftermath: Vent d’ Est and Vladimir and Rosa, had limited releases – and remained in the dark for decades. Their financing had only been raised because JLG was behind the camera, even though he was part of the collective. Godard then retreated into the political cinema of the 1970s. In 1977 he went to live in Rolle, Switzerland, where he had spent his childhood.

A near fatal accident saw him teaming up with a friend from the past Anne-Marie Miéville. After the two moved to Grenoble, Godard founded his first studio ‘Sonimege’. But he still dreamed of starting again: “When I take a shot, I ask myself, what would Lang, Renoir or Hitchcock do? And I would do exactly the opposite”. Still, Sauve qui Peut (1980) was a new beginning, JLG used the word ‘I’ for the first time in a decade. Cannes was helpful for his comeback, and he lectured “the incredible is what we don’t see”. Passion (1982) with Hanna Schygulla was another step towards rehabilitation. Her remark “the only relationship he has is when he is filming” is the nearest anyone has got to the truth.

In 1983 JLG won the Golden Lion in Venice – it also got him a pie in the face when a member of the audience was unhappy with the sexual content of the feature. In 1995, the first snap of JLG as a child was discovered. In the photo, he was actually mourning himself. ” I mourned first, but death did not come. Since then I follow myself as a human being, but I am not one”. His major epic Histoires du Cinema, cost him ten years of his life and was finally released in 1988, with a running time of 423 minutes. Based on 495 films and 148 books, plus photographs and paintings, it sums up his philosophy: “History has to be told in ruins, cinema is only real as a history of ruins”.

And finally: “Cinema is nothing. but it wants everything”. And we can be sure that JLG has given himself, or whatever is left of him, to the beast called cinema. DoP Gertrude Baillot sets a frenetic tempo in motion – and it never slackens. Leuthy has succeeded in bringing the personal and the cinematographical together in a portrait of a man who sacrificed his own life and ability to love on the alter of re-invention – without ever finding himself in the process. AS

JEAN LUC GODARD 1930-2022 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | VENICE CLASSICS 2022

Bentu | Wind (2022) Venice Film Festival | Venice Days 2022

Dir/Wri: Salvatore Mereu | Cast: Peppeddu Cuccu, Giovanni Porcu | DoP Francesco Piras | Italy  2022, 70′ Sardinian dialect.

In a sun-backed hillside in the arid plains of Sardinia Raffaele is sleeping out in the open waiting for the wind (il bentu). So as not to be late when it finally comes he has massed up his little pile of grain, which will last him for the coming year. The most important thing in his life at the moment is this wind, it’s also the title of this tough but enchanting moral fable that reflects on self-discipline for young and old alike.

For the next few days Raffaele has left his wife back in the village and must wait patiently for the wind to help him separate the grains from the chaff, so he can make bread and earn his livelihood. And his grandson Angelino, who visits him during this lonely time in the open fields, must also wait – to be old enough to ride Rafael’s treasured mare Turtledove.

Darkness falls and Raffaele eats an omelette by candlelight before spending the night in wild anticipation of the weather to change and imploring it with ancient songs and supplications. Come morning he tidies up the field in readiness for the whiff of air to blow up from the sea, and tells his little grandson off for arriving unwashed and unkempt to help him. He talks about the need to look sharp in today’s world where the boy may find himself one day driving machinery rather that sweeping the straw around like his grandfather. Although the old man takes a dim view of modern intrusions like the thresher.

In his primitive shack Raffaele hollows out a hunk of bread and fills it with creamy curd cheese from a blue bowl. And all the time Angelino asks when the horse will be ready. “When you’re grown up”, Raffaele tells him. And during their time together he initiates Anglelino into the ways of the world reprimanding the boy for leaving the freshly churned milk in the sun. Meanwhile the gruff old man goes about his daily duties: pumping water from the well, washing and clearing up while his grandson tries every trick in the book to let him ride the mare until it’s too late.

Sun-based Sardinia is very much a character here and Francesco Piras creates an evocative sense of place with his limpid hyper realist images in a feature that relies on its ambient soundscape, folkloric music and simple dialogue.

Sardinian filmmaker Salvatore Mereu was inspired by a story from poet and novelist Antonio Cossu (1927-2002 to make his feature, simple in execution and storyline yet wide-reaching in its themes, Bentu is all about the impatience of youth; the intrinsic value of staying in rhythm with the natural world and respecting time-honoured traditions in a place where time seems to stand still as the future marches on. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | VENICE DAYS

 

The Origin of Evil (2022) Venice Film Festival | Horizons Extra 2022

Dir/Wri: Sebastian Marnier | Cast: Suzanne Clement, Laure Calamy, Doria Tillier, Dominique Blanc, Jacques Weber | Drama. 125′

Sebastian Marnier’s stolen identity thriller is a bizarrre and curiously compelling film set on the isles de Hyeres, with a starry French and Canadian cast.

What starts as a mundane domestic drama that sees a modest woman called Stephane (Laure Calamy) working in a fish factory, soon develops into something much more mysterious, surreal and even violent when her ambitions find her in the company of a strange and dysfunctional family in a ravishing villa in seaside Porquerolles.

How she gets there is the crux of a narrative that hands on dramatic conceit, and to reveal her intentions too early on would destroy the entire plot. But after a telephone call one night to a man called Serge, purportedly her estranged father, and one-time mayor of Hyeres, Stephane is transported, by boat, to the sun-stroked shores of an island whose magical ambiance casts its spell over the remainder of the story.

Stephane has never met Serge’s second family: his ostentatious wife Stella (Blanc) whose profligate shopping sprees line the corridors of the expansive Belle Époque villa, her morose daughter George (Tillier), who runs his ‘business empire’ consisting of various restaurants; her plucky teenage daughter, and Agnes, a strange housekeeper channelling Mrs Danvers without her style and sang-froid. And we never really question Stephane’s background, so larger that life are the rest of the family. Their antics are so much more entertaining that Stephane’s rather mundane backstory as she makes frequent trips back to check on the fish factory (which it turns out she also owns) and visit her lesbian lover (Clement) serving time in a prison on the mainland.

The Origin of Evil sees Marnier in full control of script and direction concocting a sinuous story about jealousy and bitterness with a series of duplicitous characters all out for the main chance but not all motivated by the same goals. Due to a narcissistic wound  – her ‘father’ abandoned the family and gave her a man’s name as he really wanted a son – Stephane has never recovered from the humiliation. Stella (Dominique Blanc) and George (Doria Tillier) just want money and are determined to inherit the entire estate from Serge, by declaring him ‘senile’ in the court procedure that brings dramatic heft to the narrative.

Meanwhile meek little Stephane schemes away in the background massaging Serge’s ego and his painful legs, only to emerge the real villain of the piece. And although Marnier rather over-eggs the omelette in the overblown denouement, this is a deliciously wicked – and at times hilarious – world premiere making a memorable addition to the line-up at this year’s 79th Venice Film Festival.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | New Horizons Extra | QUEER LION COMPETITON 

 

A Compassionate Spy (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir/Wri: Steve James | US Doc, 101′

The United States is the only nation to have used the atomic bomb in warfare

The UN has declared the use of the bomb illegal but none of the atomic 9 nations has signed the treaty

The Compassionate Spy chronicles the life and career of American physicist and spy Theodore Hall (1925-99) best known for his involvement in creating the atomic bomb during World War Two, and passing the secrets of the ground-breaking invention to the Soviet Union.

Based on live interviews with his surviving spouse Joan, and archive footage of Theodore in the final months of his life, along with interviews with Joseph Albright and Marcia Kunstel (Bombshell The Secret Story of America’s Unknown Atomic Spy Conspiracy), awarding-winning documentarian Steve James pieces together a sinister and compelling account of the atomic years and the couple’s life together from their first meeting at the University of Chicago, when Joan was only 17, until Ted’s death in November 1999. And although James maintains his distance, Joan presents a resolutely affectionate view of her husband and his work. And while Ted expresses a certain degree of regret for his actions, Joan is clearly besotted by her ‘child prodigy’ husband and his achievements and maintains a hagiographic stance to this day.

So the focus here is Joan’s glowing account of her early years with Ted and their close friend Savile (Savi) Sax, the three remained inseparable until Joan, a budding poet, decided to give up her idea of playing the field until her late twenties. She would eventually marry Ted in 1947 in what seemed like a natural progression, both Socialists from Russian Jewish backgrounds but Ted grew up in New York and Joan was from Chicago, and so in love she admits – on discovering his incendiary activities – she would have married Ted even if he had been a murderer.

In 1944, Ted was recruited as an 18 year old Harvard senior to be the youngest physicist on the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos where, in order to get ahead of the Germans, he handled experiments for the implosion device (“Fat Man”) and helped determine the critical mass of uranium for “Little Boy”.

But when the war was over, Ted failed to shared his new wife and colleagues’ elation felt after the successful detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb, when Japan and Germany were already defeated. And here James interweaves shocking images of the widespread destruction of Hiroshima where 340,000 citizens died to avoid the necessity of an US invasion.

Ted was concerned that the consequences of an American monopoly of atomic weapons could lead to a wide scale nuclear catastrophe, and was especially worried about the possibility of the emergence of a fascist government in the United States. At the time the Russians were viewed through rose-coloured spectacles in America, having been allies against the Germans. And this favourable sentiment was reflected in films like Mission to Moscow (1943) that was nominated for an Oscar but went home empty-handed.

For his part, Ted admits (in the interview) to finding the Russians approachable – “they even had a sense of humour!” – so he decided to pass key information to the Soviet Union. And while on a vacation in New York City in October 1944, he visited the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) offices, instead of the Soviet Consulate (where he feared FBI surveillance), in order to locate a suitable contact to pass information about the Manhattan Project along to the Soviet Union.

After a few recommendations, he met Sergey Kurnakov, a military writer for Soviet Russia Today and Russky Golos, and handed him a report on the implosion bomb, and the scientists who worked at Los Alamos. Saville Sax delivered the same report to the Soviet Consulate a few days later under the guise of inquiring about relatives still in the Soviet Union.

Hall later talks of his regret at passing on the secrets, but Joan points out that his failure to do so would have resulted in misfortune for the whole world. The couple would go on to have three children, one getting killed in a bicycle accident, they shares their views, along with Savi Sax’s son and daughter who reflect on their father’s reaction to his involvement but admit that his activity had possibly less of an impact on the family. James also shares ample footage of the Rosenberg couple who went to the electric chair in 1953 for their spying activities, Ted considering them guilty of a minor offence.

Densely researched and revealing A Compassionate Spy is packed to the gunnels with photos and archive footage, and enlivened by occasional musical hits of the 1940s, this is fascinating film but the one to one interviews with Joan Hall are sometimes too heavy going. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | OUT OF COMPETITION.

 

 

The Maiden (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir: Graham Foy | Drama, Canada 106′

Two Canadian teenagers are enjoying the summer holidays when their fun ends in tears in this luminous feature debut from Edmonton-born filmmaker Graham Foy. What starts as a simple buddy movie soon becomes a transformative journey into an oasis of tranquility in a film that explores friendship and all kinds of human relationships in the real world, and beyond.

Kyle (Jackson Sluiter) and his friend Colton (Marcel Jimenez) are typical teenagers experimenting with danger. Skateboarding as fast as they can through a local housing estate, their summer days are spent letting off steam in Alberta’s lush countryside. Mucking around on an abandoned building site they discover a dead cat, and Colton, by far the more sensitive of the two boys, gives the animal a ‘spiritual send-off’ on a flower-covered raft in the fast-flowing river nearby. Kyle’s sudden death forces Colton to reflect on the meaning of friendship and he retreats into  himself and into nature in a typical response to extreme grief.

Once the rambunctious Kyle is out of the way, the film finds a peaceful equilibrium in this lyrical look at growing up in a close-knit, largely rural community living in the vast open landscapes of Western Canada. There’s a remoteness here that somehow resonates with the bewilderment of being a teenager, and a symmetry in the vast, silent corridors of the college campus that brings to mind another Canadian-set feature, The Shining. 

Tentatively exploring the aftermath to tragedy, the fragility of friendship and the traumatic transition from childhood to adult life, Foy’s resolutely placid feature debut provides a space to reflect on the transcendent themes of loss, and the meaning of life and death in a memorable piece of filmmaking that drifts into the surreal with its dreamlike images and visionary occasional score. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | VENICE DAYS 2022

Sergio Leone: the Italian Who Invented America (2022) | Venice Classics 2022

Dir: Francesco Zippel | Italy, Doc 106′

This new documentary on Sergio Leone opens with a dynamic introduction from longtime fan Quentin Tarantino who strikes just the right ebullient tone for an immersive look at the legendary director’s life and work from awarded filmmaker Francesco Zippel (Friedkin Uncut).

These opening scenes are cleverly edited in such a way as to reflect the smiling faces of many of Leone’s admirers – Martin Scorsese, Robert Niro, Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg – who like they are laughing along with Tarantino at the memory of Sergio Leone. And this positive jubilation seems to sums up the essence of an epic director, who first and foremost, considered himself as an entertainer in a career spanning nearly three decades from the early 1960s when he made his first feature film, The Colossus of Rhodes (1960) to his rather early death in 1989.

This is not the first biopic of the renowned Roman genre director – and it may not be the last – but Zippel certainly captures the iconic filmmaker’s talent to amuse on the big screen: “Cinema for me is above all a big show where events of the masked life are proposed”.

The son of eminent actor and director Vincenzo Leone (aka Roberto Roberti) from the early days of silent cinema, film was for Sergio Leone (1929-89) ‘his whole life’ and he used it to explore and expose his deepest thoughts and feelings from early childhood in Trastevere, Rome where he admits, in an archive interview, to seeing the world from the perspective of a little boy. Steven Spielberg, one of the film’s informative talking heads, picks up on this sentiment: “that man, inside and very close to the surface, was still a boy. A boy playing cowboys, a boy loving to entertain his friends, an entertainer and someone who wasn’t pretentious as an entertainer, but was generous as an entertainer.”

Leone’s biographer Sir Christopher Frayling also reflects on the personal nature of Leone’s films against a backcloth of archive footage from newsreels of the day: “they’re deeply personal for three reasons. Firstly they’re about a child who largely grew up in Trastevere, who remembered going to see Hollywood movies in the 1930s during the era of Mussolini when America was seen as a model of freedom and modernity. It was another world, and this child…loved those fairy tales. They’re autobiographical secondly because in 1943…the American troops landed in Salerno and came north to Rome, and it came as a shock to meet real life Americans for the first time. He couldn’t see in them anything of those characters I’d seen on the screen. This led to some disillusionment for young Leone. The third way in which they were autobiographical is his own formation as a filmmaker between 1949 and 1959 where he worked as an assistant director on 35 movies.”

Gian Luca Farinelli, director of the Cineteca di Bologna explains how Sergio was influenced, to a large extent, by his father’s keenness to make films that appealed to a wider audience; quality films that were also accessible to the mainstream. And a great deal of Sergio’s filmmaking passion seems to derive from his father’s often frustrated attempts in this regard. And although his father’s obsession initially put him off as a teenager, when Vincenzo retired and went back to his village in Lombardy, Sergio “felt a great urge to continue what he was doing”. It almost seemed to him like an obligation.

Clint Eastwood, who was working as a swimming instructor, initially said ‘no’ to the offer of a part in A Fistful of Dollars. The idea of spending his month’s holiday filming in Italy was not appealing and anyway, he had been starring as Rowdy Yates in a long-running TV series Rawhide (1959). Inspired by Kurasawa’s samurai epic Yojimbo, Leone dashed off the script in 15 days, his imagination fired up by the Japanese great’s depiction of a fairy tale novel, which transposing it to a Western. Although Eastwood didn’t speak any Italian, and Leone didn’t understand English filming went ahead in sign language, the director being transfixed by Eastwood’s ‘indolence’, describing him as: “a real cat-man, born lazy. He seemed to sleep as he walked. But when it was time, he gained a curious speed and dynamics”, et viola – Eastwood’s career suddenly took off, although for a time he never heard back from Rome although in the days following its Roman release Fistful had already made well over a million liras at the box office, confusing Eastwood who thought he’s starred in a film called The Magnificent Stranger. According to Frayling the working title was in fact Ray El Magnifico.  

Zippel obviously touches on Ennio Morricone’s invaluable contribution music-wise. And Frayling describes how Leone “re-invented the Western story for a new generation – the children of Marx and Godard – who didn’t believe in it anymore” but, according to Frank Miller, were hooked in by ambiguous, larger and life nuanced characters “who had both good and evil in them”. The film then deals with each of Leone’s various features with collaborators chipping in and adding value with amusing anecdotes, including the late Eli Wallach.

Providing a comprehensive companion piece to the recent Ennio, and sometimes overlapping, Zippel and his team pack in an extraordinary amount of detail enriching the feature with animated sequences, personal photographs and ample archive footage in an engrossing look back at the director’s life and also at an era reflected in wide-ranging features from well-known westerns, historical epics to gangster thrillers and beyond. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | VENICE CLASSICS | Best documentary on Cinema Award |

When the Waves are Gone (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir. Lav Diaz; Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Ronnie Lazaro, Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, DMs Boongaling; Philippines/France/Portugal/Denmark 2022, 187 min.

Philippine filmmaker Lav Diaz has delivered, at least by his own standards, one of the shortest features of his career. Inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ ‘The Count of Monte Christo’, this is one of many revenge stories in the Diaz canon. The international co-production allows “the master of the slow cinema” more time, and Diaz can also afford the talented DoP Larry Manda, who shot A Lullaby and Norte for him, behind the camera, allowing the auteur free rein to let his imagination fly. The result is another stunning “immersing” experience, Diaz drawing the audience into his world on another melancholy journey through recent Philippine history.

Diaz’ heroes are permanently on the run, hunted by government agencies, usually in the shape of the police. They have an ecliptic journey in front of them and this often transports them back to former traumata. But here the roles are reversed, and we meet Police inspector Hermes Papauran (Cruz) discussing a murderous anti-drug police campaign under the control of the former president Duterte, with the documentary filmmaker Raffy Lerma (Boongaling).

At first Hermes appears to be the hero of the piece, haunted by the psychotic inspector Supremo Macabantai (Lazaro) and suffering from psoriasis, largely brought on by his own guilt. But it soon emerges that Hermes had been taught the tricks of the trade by Macabantai, only for the student to turn against his master, denouncing his corrupt methods of getting rid of drug dealers when in reality killing innocent people – by making them ‘disappear.’

Supremo has been just released from prison, an official voice on the ‘phone informs him that Duterte himself helped to get his pardon. When Hermes reads a notice accusing him of being a wife-beater on his whiteboard he resigns, telling his students that he is indeed a perpetrator. Later we will hear more from Raffy who has been accused by Duterte of forging the images of the murder spree by the police.

Meanwhile, Supremo tries to hide his murderous instinct behind the pose of a man of God who wants to baptise everyone he meets, with a focus on sex workers (to whom he is drawn like a magnet). One woman pays with her life, and the sequence where Supremo is seen embalming her body is particularly chilling.

Supremo and Hermes moving around the country like the characters in a Western, but here they communicate by text. A positive identification comes in the shape of Hermes’ sister Nerissa (Buencamino)), a teacher. Her husband, Pedro, is one of the many who disappeared without trace and Nerissa blames her brother for his loss – their meetings in a spooky beach house on the edge of the water is another highlight. But Supremo has sworn to wipe out his former student’s entire family.

Diaz’ characters are always drawn to mythical places, in this case the location is St. Isidro. Here Supremo collapses after dancing for hours in the street and recounting the story of how he became Hermes’ victim, to a group of sex workers. We will return here later when the Fernando Hotel will play a central role in further revelations. Supremo and Hermes dance a deadly duet, and we are also lost in the trail of violence, with the ocean taking on the role of a would-be liberator: the beach house becoming the symbol of decay which is claimed back by the titular waves.

Cinematographer Larry Manda uses two different forms of black-and-white images: during the day it is a luminous version, but at night (where most of the action is set), the shadowy world produces a grainier, more threatening world.

Like all Diaz features, this is a work of sorrow, the audience becomes unwittingly involved in the apocalyptic struggle, lost in the languorous images and sucked into an emotional odyssey that is the Philippine filmmaker’s universe. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | OUT OF COMPETITION 2022

Ordinary Failures (2022) Venice Days 2022

Dir: Christina Grosan | Czechia, Drama, 83′

In the opening scene of this surreal three segmented sci-fi themed sophomore feature from upcoming Hungarian Romanian director Christina Grosan, Hana, a capable middle-aged publisher approaching retirement is having a tough time. Recently widowed, she is then made redundant from her job, and desperate to get rid of a strange monkey robot bought by her late husband. Grosan sets the tone for an enigmatic and disorientating film centring on three women and echoing our turbulent times.

In the games shop Hana (Tatjana Medvecka) meets Tereza (Nora Klimesova) a teenager who is later seen celebrating her birthday. The bunting put up by her parents to mark the occasion mysteriously catches fire just as guests are arriving for a party that ends in disaster after a patronising comment from one of Tereza’s friends sends her rushing back to the safety of her bedroom where her cat is just giving birth. Tereza cleverly manages to cut the cord and stimulate the kitten’s breathing, although not its suckling response.

Rushing back to the mall pet shop Tereza runs into Hana who provides the vital kitten food to keep the animal alive. Meanwhile all hell has broken loose again back home where Tereza’s parents are being evacuated due to an air raid. Enter Silva (Petra Buckova) whose washing machine has gone on the blink just as she was about to take her disruptive kid David to the dinosaur park. They make their way through streets, and later at the swimming pool it emerges that David has injured one of local kids in a fight and is generally unpopular. Later David’s antics will provide the source of much anguish when the police demand the evacuation of the mall where he has joined other kids in a play group. Hana and Tereza find themselves trapped in the mall with alarms and sirens blazing only heightening the atmosphere of generalised angst and mass hysteria. David and Tereza join forces to try and find a way out of the mayhem.

With inspired visual allure and an apt score highlighting moments of hope and bewilderment, Grosan and her writer Klara Vlasakova tell a trio of interlocking tales capturing the zeitgeist of an intelligent society traumatised and destabilised by the unusual events besieging them. Lurching from one crisis to the next, but always getting there in the end through working together, this upbeat drama carries with it a message of hope in an uncertain future. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | VENICE DAYS 2022

Eismayer (2022) Venice Film Festival | Critics’ Week 2022

Dir/Wri: David Wagner | Cast: Luka Dimic, Gerhard Liebmann | Austria, Drama 87′

Austrian writer director David Wagner comes to Venice with this first feature, a provocative character driven drama based on real life, and starring dynamic acting duo: Gerhard Liebmann and Luka Dimic in the leading roles.

At first Eismayer seems like another well-made armed forces affair focusing on a real person Sergeant Major Charles Eismayer, feared for his tough intransigence in training Austrian army recruits, in particular Major Mario Falak (Luka Dimic), who he mockingly calls “Ali Baba”. But our expectations are challenged and continually put to the test when the film develops into a nuanced and surprisingly moving story of the ‘love that can never reveal its name’. Or at least that is what we are led to believe in the opening scenes where Wagner firmly establishes the territory: a starkly spartan training base in deepest rural Austria. And despite efforts of the ‘powers that be’ to strike a more humane and conciliatory approach to the traditionally tough drilling procedures, the red-beret’ed conscripts still quail under the intransigent gaze of their abrasively draconian instructor Deputy Lieutenant Eismayer who seems to go far beyond the call of duty in laying down the law.

And Liebmann gives a compelling performance in the central role as this hard-bitten perfectionist whose heteronormative family life is a dysfunctional mess. Exerting as much control over his family – a wife Christina (a sensitive Koschitz) and sweet little son Dominik (Tatzber in his debut) – as he does over his troops, Liebmann brings surprising humanity to his character: and we feel for him despite his unappealing persona and inability to see the humanity in others, and that’s the skill of Liebmann’s performance. But then Eismayer takes a shine to a sultry young Serbian recruit who gradually thaws his frosty demeanour revealing in its place a heart of gold. Fate throws the two soldiers together in a story that is unexpected in its outcome as the thematically thorny narrative finds a satisfying conclusion, based on a little known episode in Austrian military history.

Elegantly and artfully framed by Serafin Spitzer with Raphael Caric and Thaire Galleguillos’ nifty set design, the resonances with Oliver Hermanus’ 2019 drama Moffie  are clear, but this is a more stagey outing that manages its tonal shift from austerity to an unexpectedly bracing denouement that is both thrilling and upbeat. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | WINNER IWONDERFUL AWARD | VENICE CRITICS’ WEEK 2022

 

 

Beating Sun (2022) Venice Film Festival | Critics’ Week

Dir: Philippe Petit | Cast: Swann Arlaud, Sarah Adler, Gregoire Ostermann, Djibril Cisse, Marc Robert | France Drama 85’

When landscape designers Max and Toma lose out in an urban regeneration competition to breathe new life into a derelict square in a rundown quarter of Marseilles it seems like the end of the road, financially and professional for the duo. Worse still, a child dies playing at the abandoned site.

After years of rejection with similar schemes, Max (Arlaud) is forced to make ends meet doing odd gardening jobs. But his dream lives on in the back of his mind. Grabbing success from the jaws of potential failure he re-pitches the project to one of the competition judges, a successful architect, Paul Moudenc (Ostermann), who had appreciated his radical approach – a flowing community garden in the centre of sunbaked Marseilles.  

So Moudenc hires Max to create the landscaping for his latest scheme – a large seaside villa overlooking the Mediterranean for a high-profile footballer client Djibril Cisse (playing himself). Max welcomes the much needed income stream, the competition project having seriously eaten into his financial resources. When his partner Alma (Adler) announces another child is on the way, Max is over the moon. Although freelancer Alma is not so convinced about the late and unexpected pregnancy with her own heavy work load.  

Moulenc has generously offered to overlook a much publicised professional ‘faut-pas’ Max had made a decade earlier. The high profile architect also reveals his reasons for rejecting Max’s square scheme claiming the design was too focused on planting alone, and failed to add sufficient amenity value – in the form of an economic boost to the neighbourhood – to warrant council funding.

But hot-headed Max is a flawed hero who lacks foresight and nouse. Obsessed with his failed scheme he refuses to take on board Moudenc’s comments. Rather than embrace the opportunity of making a name for himself by collaborating on a solidly-funded scheme that could create jobs for the working class neighbourhood, redress his own professional profile, and help his family finances, Max makes an ethical misjudgement and forges ahead, behind Moudenc’s back, to re-pitch his idea directly to Djibril, hoping the ‘public-spirited’ footballer will help on the grounds of ‘giving back something’ to an area of his upbringing.

French director Philippe Petit takes an original idea and creates a plausible, socially relevant and good-looking drama, an edgy occasional score hinting at dark clouds looming on the horizon. Written in collaboration with Marcia Romano, Laurette Polmanss and Mathieu Robin, The Sun Beats Down premieres during during Critics’ Week at the Venice Film Festival 2022.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Love Life (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir/Wri.: Koji Fukada; Cast: Fumino Kimura, Kento Nagayama, Atom Sunada, Hirona Yamazaki, Misuzu Kanno, Tomorowo Taguchi, Tetsuta Shimada; France/Japan 2022, 123 min.

In his latest film, competing for the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Film Festival, Japanese writer/director Koji Fukada gently explores grief and the alienating sadness felt by a couple mourning the death of their only child. And how close family can often be the real enemy hiding behind a duplicitous facade.

Taeko (Kimura) and Jiro (Nagayama) are a public spirited couple in their early thirties, looking after the city’s homeless in the social services department of the local council. The mild mannered Taeko will take the brunt of considerable male hostility throughout the drama – none of it deserved. Taeko’s son Keita (Shimada) from an earlier marriage, has joined the family unit and they all get on like a house on fire, spending their evenings playing the board game ‘Othello’ – Keita is a dab hand.

But Jiro’s traditional father Makota (Taguchi) cannot come to terms with his son marrying a woman with a child from a previous relationship, and during the celebrations for his 65th birthday his wife (Kanno) has to get him to apologise to Taeko for an unwarranted outburst. But the party soon ends in tragedy of a different kind when Keita has a fatal accident.

Soon after her son’s death, Taeko’s first husband Park (Sunada), who is deaf and communicates in sign language, come under her care as a homeless person. At Keita’s funeral, he hits out at Taeko who refuses to take umbrage even though Park left when  Keita had only just been born. Park borrows money from Taeko claiming he has to visit his dying father in Korea. This is just one of many lies he will tell during the course of the drama: the real reason he is going is to attend the wedding of his oldest son,  whom he had abandoned twenty years ago.

Fukado has the courage to cast the speech-impaired Park as the real villain of the piece – suffering severe physical challenges does not necessarily make him a good person. Taeko is also a rather ambivalent character – using Park to serve her own needs. And although Jiro seems like a good guy he has never adopted his stepson officially, without giving a reason for it. Old Makota lives in the past, his traditional values clashing with modern Japan. And his wife only defends Taeko because she wants to see her grand children growing up. Immediately after the accident, she will beat a hasty retreat to the countryside with her husband. Jiro’s ex partner confesses how heartlessly she behaved towards a lover whom she dumped. In this group of ordinary people, their true selves coming to the surface caused by the death of a child. Will they take the opportunity to redress their lives, choosing honesty instead of obfuscation to come to terms with themselves?

Filmed on long-tracking shots and in intimate close-ups DoP Hideo Yamamooto, this is a spare and subtle domestic drama in the style of Ozu and Toyada. Performance-wise Fumino Kimura is particularly convincing as woman who needs weaker characters to make her feel more confident. An sensitive film that speaks volumes about social motivation. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | GOLDEN LION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | IN COMPETITION

A Man (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Kei Ishikawa; Cast: Satochi Tsumabuki, Sakura Ando, Masataka Kubota; Japan 2022, 122′.

Japanese director/editor Kei Ishikawa offers up a languid but over-ambitious feature inspired by the 2018 novel by Keiichiro Hirano. Adapted for the screen by Kosuke Mukai, A Man seems like a straightforward thriller, but it plays out as a metaphysical look at memory, identity linked to the recent wave of xenophobia active in Japan.

Rie (Ando) lives alone with her son Yuto, running a stationary shop. No longer together with her  husband, after the death of Yuto’s younger brother, she faces at uncertain future emotionally. Then love comes along in the shape of Daisuke Taniguchi (Kubota), a rather shy amateur painter who earns a living as a lumberjack. After the birth of their daughter Hana, Daisuke is killed by a falling tree. Rie is stunned and traumatised, so is Yuto, having bonded with his stepfather.

On the first anniversary of Daisuke’s death, his brother turns up with the alarming news that the man in the cherished family photo of their ‘lost loved one’ is not his brother. Rie asks lawyer Akira Vido (Tsumabuki) for help, and what comes to light is a change of name and identity – not once but twice. Daisuke was purportedly a professional boxer, who committed suicide after his father was executed for a triple murder. Vido then becomes the focus of the narrative: his marriage to the daughter of a wealthy but xenophobic man, is on the verge of collapse – not surprisingly, since he himself is the son of Korean emigrants. Vido becomes increasingly immersed in the Daisuke mystery which throws up more questions that it answers, but the director, sticking closely to the pages, does not reveal Daisuke’s real identity.

Even the very generous running time of two hours does not allow Ishikawa to get the sprawling plot under control. There are simply too many stories to be told, and Akira’s alienation from his wife and her family – however intriguing – slows down the thrust of the main narrative, leaving the audience underwhelmed by a story that should be gripping. All this is not helped by Ryuto Kondo’s remote camerawork that seems to treat the protagonists like fish gliding slowing around in the aquarium that actually features in the final act.

Ishikawa has bitten off more than he can handle: the confusing introduction of new protagonists and narrative strands certainly keeps the audience guessing, but nothing is really resolved. A Man is flooded with great ideas and there are some magical moments but less is always more, particularly where this otherwise impressive film is concerned. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 2022

Luxembourg, Luxembourg (2022) Venice Film Festival 2022 | Horizons

Dir.: Antonio Lukich; Cast: Amil Nasirov, Ramil Nasirov, Natalia Cnitii, Lyudmila Sachenko, Karina Chechevych; Ukraine 2022, 106 min.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was still a ‘future shock’ when Luxembourg, Luxembourg was chosen for this year’s Venice Film Festival Horizon sidebar.

The film’s director and writer Antonio Lukich – best known for the award-winning My Thoughts are Silent – was forced to abandon post-production work. But his team persevered, and what would have been just another Ukrainian film premiere abroad, now offers a salutary reminded: Ukraine is alive and flourishing in spite of Russian tanks.

Naturally Kolya and Vasili hate school much preferring to spend their time taking train rides in the small town of Lubny where their father, boss of a gang of small time hoodlums, is ‘King’ – he can even stop the moving vehicles when the brothers fail to jump off in time for classes.

But reality bites, and twenty years later, Vasili (A. Nasirow), now married with one child, has joined the police force, and Kolya (R. Nasirov) is a bus driver for the local council. Vasili has never forgiven their father for abandoning the family but Kolya is still living with his mother and stepfather and grown fond of his biological father, believing that he truly loves his mother: “He followed her to Lubny, I mean, not Paris or Prague”.

When hot-tempered Kolya attacks an old man after a traffic accident, he loses a lucrative bus route and has to redeem himself driving a much less profitable one. Meanwhile, Vasili is at war with his much wealthier Masha (Cherchevych). So when Kolya messes up again, injuring an old woman in the automatic doors, Vasili’s promotion is put on hold. In a hilarious scene, the brothers’ families get together for “Forgiveness Sunday”, which turns out to be anything but.

Kolya is forced to look after the old women he injured, and even buys a goat to keep her happy. Then the Ukrainian consulate (in Luxembourg) calls to let the brothers know their dad is dying. Kolya dusts down his passport, but Vasili is not keen on the idea of going all that way. Eventually, they set off together on a mission which ends in tears in a surprising turn of events that changes off-kilter comedy into something more tragic.

Kolya is very much a victim of arrested development but he is still more likeable than his opportunistic brother in this small-time backwater brought to life by Misha Lubarsky’s striking camerawork. There’s nothing to do but hang around, and idle hands are the devil’s workshop – as the old saying goes – in this town where the nouveau riche are almost worse than the poor when it comes to bad behaviour in a society gradually spinning out of control. Sadly, war has united these hapless countryman, but certainly not for reasons they’d hoped for, or expected. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | Horizons strand 2022

Autobiography (2022) Venice Film Festival | Horizons

Dir.: Makbul Mubarak; Cast: Kevin Ardilova, Arswendy Benning Swara, Yusuf Mahardika; Indonesia/France/Poland/Singapore/Philippines /Jemen/Qatar 2022, 116 min.

Best known in the industry for his award-winning short films, Indonesian director writer Makbul Mubarak seals his reputation as a rising talent with a mature and cleverly-crafted feature, the steamy turmoil of its tropical backwater coming to life in Wojciech Staron’s nuanced dreamlike images.

Deep in the Indonesian jungle, sixteen-year old Rakip (Ardilova) is looking after the family villa after his father has gone to prison for taking a violent stand against the building of a hydraulic dam, forcing landowners to sell up for less than the market value of their property.

But Rakib’s days are far from idle, he soon finds himself working as a cook and general factotum for an elderly local dignitary General Bernama Purna (Swara), past his prime but still in control of his faculties, and standing as a candidate in the forthcoming local elections. In truth the two go back a long way, Purna’s family considering the boy as the son they never had. Rakip is under strict instructions from the general, not to tell his wife and three daughters that he is still smoking.

Purna’s election posters start to crop up all over the place, his associations with the dam-building company are undeniable, yet his rhetoric suggests otherwise, and when Purna visits Rakip’s father in prison, he voices his support for the local farmers. The relationship between the young, naive man and the power-hungry old lion seem mutually beneficial until Purna asks Rakip to bring a certain Agus (Mahardika) into the villa. Rakip and Agus are about the same age, but the dynamic between the three soon changes, and not in a good way.

The crux of the narrative is this power play between Purna and Rakip who starts off as the grateful assistant, proud to drive the general’s huge SUV around like a status symbol. But gradually something changes, Rakip discovering Purna not to be as independent as he first makes out. In a bar, the Chef of Police, installed by Purna a long time ago, makes clear to Purna where the power really lies. Shifting slowly, the relationship between old and young, past power and resistance, needs an outlet.

DoP Staron follows Rakip in long tracking shots, always showing him behind glass, windows or doors –  a prisoner in his father’s house. Even in the SUV we see him from the outside, trapped whereever he goes. The villa itself is a claustrophobic prison with its secrets from the past: a time when Rakip and his family were on equal terms with the general. Filming on the widescreen and in intimate close-ups, Staron uses eerie overhead panorama shots, showing a wild landscape of overgrown trees and undergrowth, remnants of former glory. There is a hint of the homo-erotic in the central relationship, Rakip never showing any interest in the opposite sex, and nature helping to re-dress the balance in a shift that will be as dramatic and  overwhelming as the whole of this unique feature premiering at the Horizons sidebar at this year’s Venice Film Festival AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | HORIZONS | FIPRESCI winner

The Damned Don’t Cry (2022) Venice Film Festival

Dir.: Fyzal Boulifa; Cast: Aicha Tebbae, Abdullah El Hajjouji, Antoine Reinartz; France/Belgium/Morocco 2022, 110 min.

A mother and son embark on an eventful odyssey across Morocco in this daring and strikingly beautiful sophomore feature from award-winning British-Moroccan writer/director Fyzal Boulifa (Lynn + Lucy).

Fatima-Zahra (Tebbae) is a 43-year-old widow and extremely alluring, although rather naive: dressing provocatively she tries to seduce a much younger man in a secluded spot near Tangier beach and is robbed off her jewellery. Her relationship with her 16-year-old son Selim (Hajjouji) swings between over-protectiveness and harsh criticism: the two are interdependent and neither of them has really grown up.

From squalid studio accommodation in town, the odd couple hitchhike a lift to relatives in the country. But they are not welcome in the midst of preparations for a wedding. We also learn that Fatima has a few skeletons in the cupboard: ostracised by local society after being raped in her twenties –  Selim was the offspring – she was forced into sex work to support her son.

Selim is eager to get back to Tangier and break free from his mother’s influence. Abdoul, a shady character, offers him a job on a building site, but really lines him up for sex with Sebastien (Reinartz), a wealthy Frenchman. The two hit it off to Salim’s surprise, and he quite takes to Sebastien who later apologises to him. The Frenchman later employs Selim on a regular basis, and Fatima tells her son she is working for a well-known brand in the fashion industry – in reality she is working for a minimum wage in a sweatshop.

Later she meets a bus driver who wants to take her on as his second wife, his existing spouse suffering from mental problems. But Selim sabotages the planned marriage, telling the husband-to be the truth about his mother. When Sebastien’s partner from Paris arrives, Selim reacts with extreme jealousy and channelling his anger into criminal behaviour that will inadvertently separate him from his mother for the first time.

DoP Caroline Champetier follows the odd couple with sweeping camera moves across the Moroccan landscape and the imposing urban backdrop of Tangier: her handheld shots in the narrow alleys, and the sordid domestic interiors contrast with Fatima’s imaginative embellishment of reality. Tebbae and Hajjouji are brilliant as the destructive couple, driving each other further and further into the quicksand of social deprivation. A tight script helps, and Boulifa uses all his running time to push the narrative forward. An award-winning first film is always a difficult act to follow but this talented filmmaker triumphs with an even more impressive second feature.

SCREENING DURING VENICE DAYS | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022

The Ghost of Richard Harris (2022) Venice Film Festival

Dir.: Adrian Sibley; Documentary with Jared Harris, Jamie Harris, Damian Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, Elizabeth Harris, Jim Sheridan, Stephen Rea, Russell Crowe; UK 2022, 106 min.

Richard Harris (1930-2002) is seen through the eyes of his three sons: Jamie, Jared – both actors – and Damian, a filmmaker, pictured opening a vault where the famous Irish actor’s papers are kept. Each in turn gasps in amazement to discover the contents, giving this watchable biopic a rather fulsome flavour.

Making his entree into the film world with bit parts in ‘boys own’ classics such as The Guns of Navarone, Richard Harris got his big break in Lindsay Anderson’s This Sporting Life (1963) his rambunctious rugby player Frank Machin on a collision course with everyone and everything was to be the role model for many features which followed, garnering him ‘Best Actor’ in Cannes. Yet, only one year later, he looked very much at home in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert alongside Monica Vitti.

Perhaps this is a key to the enigma of Harris: a raucous, alcohol-dependent brawler – who gave up drinking for a decade between 1981 and 1991- and a lover of poetry. He was obsessed with his poetry, despite his moody personality which often resulted in physical violence. His state of mind certainly had it roots in his two-year confinement to bed with TB, as a young man. Both the poetry and the dare-devil adventures on and off the screen are explainable: the introvert was afraid that illness would consume his life – so he might as well go for it hell for leather.

Harris was married between 1957 and 1969 to the aristocratic Elizabeth Rees-Williams, the couple had three sons. A second marriage, to American actor Ann Turkel, lasted another twelve years. “I have not the ability to sustain relationships” Harris sighed. Director Jim Sheridan, who directed Harris in The Field (1990), talks about the same problem.

In the 1981 theatre revival of ‘Camelot’, Harris and co-star Vanessa Redgrave re-invented how to perform a musical: instead of lip synchrony, both actors sang their own text, and Harris would have a worldwide career as a singer. In the end, there was Gladiator and his swansong, Dumbledore, in the first two “Harry Potter” features. His grandchild, by now a mother herself, destroys one of the Harris legends: she claimed she would never speak to him again if he played Dumbledore. In reality, Harris would not commit to three months in New Zealand shooting Lord of the Rings. Dumbledore was easier to sustain. When Harris left the Savoy for the last time (he had a suite there for decades) he was suffering from Hodgkinson’s Disease, and jokingly blamed the hotel’s food for his demise.

DoP Eoin McLoughlin tries his best to liven up proceedings in a film which occasionally seems rather stultifying. But there is more than enough material to sustain a modest running time – although a little more of the Harris spirit would gone down rather well. The old rascal would certainly have quickened up the tempo. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 2022

 

 

Nezouh (2022) Venice Film Festival | Horizons 2022

Dir: Saudade Kaadan | Cast: Hala Zein, Kinda Alloush, Hala Zein, Nizar Alani | Syria, Drama, 104′

Syrian filmmaker Saudade Kadan follows her Venice Best Debut award for The Day I Lost My Shadow with this lyrical coming of age drama set in war-torn Damascus and seen from the confines of a spacious family home where traditional values still hold sway in the 21st century.

If ever there was a female-penned love letter to hope and female empowerment it is this enchanting and painterly portrayed domestic drama about a Syrian family of three surrounded by gunfire, mortar attack – and the elements – in their shelled out and crumbling tenement flat in the centre of this sprawling, ancient city.

Fourteen-year-old Zeina (Zein) and her family are amongst the few remaining inhabitants of their besieged hometown. After building a generator by candlelight, her father Mutaz (al Masri) is ecstatic when it finally fires into action, and Zeina and her mother Hala (Alloush) jump for joy. But their happiness is short-lived when the generator rapidly grinds to a halt. A missile then rips a giant hole in their home, exposing them to the outside world and drenching in a summer storm. Zeina and her mother cover the gaping holes with delicately patterned sheets and old curtains adding a subtle pastel hue to the dusty interiors of their airy and well-proportioned home. Then a rope is mysteriously lowered into the hole in the roof, and Zeina gets her first taste of freedom, in a way that would never have been possible before the conflict, as gradually an illicit friendship develops with another teenager Amer (Alani). But her traditional father suspects the worst and Zeina will have to fight for her future in an upbeat drama that always sees the glass half full.

Kadan’s lyrical look at female emancipation gently unfurls in a world where clearly men still wear the trousers, the director making use of magic realism to transport her heroine into a world of semi-fantasy, as the determined teenager struggles to cope with the trauma of a city in conflict. As the violence outside escalates, the family is pressured to evacuate, but Mutaz insists they stay put, refusing to flee into the unknown world of danger. Faced with a life or death dilemma, Zeina and Hala, her mother, must make a difficult choice but they do so with courage and grace. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | HORIZONS SIDEBAR

 

Desperate Souls, Dark City: The Legend of Midnight Cowboy (2022) Venice Film Festival

Dir/Wri: Nancy Buirski, US Doc

New York in the late sixties is reflected through a seminal work of the era in this resolutely anti-glamour documentary from American filmmaker Nancy Buirski (The Rape of Recy Taylor).

Desperate Souls looks at the talented, often troubled souls involved in the making of John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy. And then broadens into a study of New York and America in general at a tumultuous time of political unrest, cultural ferment and social change.

Fifty years after its release, Midnight Cowboy remains one of the most iconic and groundbreaking films of the 20th century. Set in a New York wallowing in welfare poverty and a peaking population, Buirski tells the salutary tale of two drifters who join forces out of desperation in their fight to survive: Dustin Hoffman plays the crippled feral Ratso, Jon Voight a naive fortune seeker Joe Buck who styles himself after a gun-toting Gary Cooper, but here he’s shooting blanks.

With a pithy script by blacklist survivor Waldo Salt, and a resonant soundtrack of contemporary tunes, John Schlesinger, an outcast himself due to his sexuality, somehow identifies with these friendless loners and goes on to tell a story both durable and meaningful about tenderness, friendship and loyalty, and the deep human need for commitment: You feel for these two characters, and somehow you want to protect them. And that was one of the standout elements of the film which remains upbeat despite its grim and disillusioned undertones.

The result was the only X-rated film to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture, along with two other Oscars, Best Screenplay for Waldo Salt, and John Schlesinger for Best Director over George Roy Hill, Arthur Penn, Sydney Pollack and Costa-Gavras. The film also paved the way for a generation’s worth of gritty, New York-based movies with adult themes and complex characters.

Award-winning filmmaker Buirski casts similarities and captures the zeitgeist of a transcendent time through archive footage, salient photographs and close-up often poignant interviews with Jon Voigt and Ian Buruma (nephew of Schlesinger) and others. 

Being an English director John Schlesinger had a detached view of the culture, and this enabled him to make the first realist film depicting a gritty New York, with its beggars, losers and hustlers. The documentary shifts seamlessly through its themes, variously exploring homosexuality exotic to the mainstream reflecting Schlesinger’s own upbringing in England, where he was sent to boarding school, and bullied for being Jewish. His filmmaking focus was documentary and realism, but he came late to Tony Richardson’s ‘Angry Young Men’ party, and maintained his interest in characters wanting to escape their surroundings, but always with a vein of humour.

Unlike Madding Crowd, which was panned on its initial release, Midnight came from the heart in its depiction of Buck, “a dish-washer who fucks everyone”, and was a resounding success; Buirski also touches on the career of Waldo Salt describing his ironic hatred of writing and his needing to be constantly chivied into producing a script. Buirski also touches on other creative spirits such as Andy Warhol in fleshing out her immersive look at the backdrop to these tumultuous times. 

The documentary also drifts into the importance of the Vietnam war and its impact on the population young and old, describing how the anger and bitterness over President Lyndon Johnson’s handling of the endless war found an outlet into cinema, channelling the angst into the Western genre. A rich and meaty meditation on America in the late 1960s that certainly deserves several viewings. MT

SCREENING IN VENICE CLASSICS | Best Documentary on Cinema strand | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Venice Film Festival 2022 line-up announced

The full programme for the 79th Venice Film Festival (August 31-September 10) has now been announced by festival president Roberto Cicutto and artistic director Alberto Barbera.

 

Julianne Moore heads up the main competition jury composed of Kazuo Ishiguro, Audrey Diwan, Leonardo Di Costanzo, Mariano Cohn, Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Leila Hatami and

Expect to see some really dazzling new features from the world’s most established directors with some surprises in store. Noah Baumbach’s White Noise, starring Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig, will open the festival (in competition).

Competing for coveted Golden Lion there are new films from Luca Guadagnino, Alejandro G. Inarritu, Joanna Hogg, Susanna Nicchiarelli, Darren Aronofsky, Andrew Dominik, Martin McDonagh and Frederick Wiseman. Lav Diaz also makes an appearance with his second mega feature this summer: When the Waves have Gone, playing in the

Florent Gouelou’s French drama Three Nights A Week will open this year’s Critics’ Week sidebar. The Giornate degli Autori’s programme includes Abel Ferrara’s Padre Pio and Mark Cousins‘ March on Romeamongst a glittering array of newcomers, and closes with Steve Buscemi’s The Listener.

GOLDEN LION 2022

White Noise (opening film) (US) 136′
Dir. Noah Baumbach

Il Signore Delle Formiche (It) 134′
Dir. Gianni Amelio

The Whale (US) 117′
Dir. Darren Aronofsky

L’Immensita (It-Fr) 97′
Dir. Emanuele Crialese

Saint Omer (Fr) 122′
Dir. Alice Diop

Blonde (US) 165′
Dir. Andrew Dominik

TÁR (US) 158′
Dir. Todd Field

Love Life (Jap-Fr) 123′
Dir. Koji Fukada

Bardo, False Chronicle Of A Handful Of Truths (Mex)
Dir. Alejandro G. Inarritu

Athena (Fr) 97′
Dir. Romain Gavras

Bones And All (US) 130′
Dir. Luca Guadagnino

The Eternal Daughter (UK-US) 96′
Dir. Joanna Hogg

Beyond The Wall (Iran) 126′
Dir. Vahid Jalilvand

The Banshees Of Inisherin (Ire-UK-US) 109′
Dir. Martin McDonagh

Argentina, 1985 (Arg-US) 140′
Dir. Santiago Mitre

Chiara (It-Bel) 106′
Dir. Susanna Nicchiarelli

Monica (US-It) 106′
Dir. Andrea Pallaoro

No Bears (Iran) 106′
Dir. Jafar Panahi

All The Beauty And The Bloodshed (documentary) (US) 113′
Dir. Laura Poitras

A Couple (Fr-US) 63′
Dir. Frederick Wiseman

The Son (UK) 123′
Dir. Florian Zeller

Our Ties (Fr) 85′
Dir. Roschdy Zem

Other People’s Children (Fr) 104′
Dir. Rebecca Zlotowski

Out Of Competition – fiction

The Hanging Sun (closing film)
Dir. Francesco Carrozzini

When The Waves Are Gone
Dir. Lav Diaz

Living
Dir. Oliver Hermanus

Dead For A Dollar
Dir. Walter Hill

Call Of God
Dir. Kim Ki-duk

Dreamin’ Wild
Dir. Bill Pohlad

Master Gardener
Dir. Paul Schrader

Siccita
Dir. Paolo Virzi

Pearl
Dir. Ti West

Don’t Worry Darling
Dir. Olivia Wilde

Out Of Competition – non-fiction

Freedom On Fire: Ukraine’s Fight For Freedom
Dir. Evgeny Afineevsky

The Matchmaker
Dir. Benedetta Argentieri

Gli Ultimi Giorni Dell’umanita
Dir. Enrico Ghezzi, Alessandro Gagliardo

A Compassionate Spy
Dir. Steve James

Music For Black Pigeons
Dir. Jorgen Leth, Andreas Koefoed

The Kiev Trial
Dir. Sergei Loznitsa

In Viaggio
Dir. Gianfranco Rosi

Bobi Wine Ghetto President
Dir. Christopher Sharp, Moses Bwayo

Nuclear
Dir. Oliver Stone

Out Of Competition – series

The Kingdom Exodus
Dir. Lars von Trier

Copenhagen Cowboy
Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn

Horizons

Princess (opening film) 111′
Dir. Roberto De Paolis

Victim 91′
Dir. Michal Blasko

On The Fringe 105′
Dir. Juan Diego Botto

Trenque Lauquen – In 2 parts both 120′
Dir. Laura Citarella

Vera 115′
Dir. Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel

Innocence (documentary) 100′
Dir. Guy Davidi

Blanquita 94′
Dir. Fernando Guzzoni

For My Country 113′
Dir. Rachid Hami

A Man 121′
Dir. Kei Ishikawa

Bread And Salt – 100′
Dir. Damian Kocur

Luxembourg, Luxembourg 105′
Dir. Antonio Lukich

Ti Mangio Il Cuore 115′
Dir. Pippo Mezzapesa

To The North 122′
Dir. Mihai Mincan

Autobiography 116′
Dir. Makbul Mubarak

The Sitting Duck 122′
Dir. Jean-Paul Salome

World War III 117′
Dir. Houman Seyedi

The Happiest Man In The World 95′
Dir. Teona Strugar Mitevska

The Bride 81′
Dir. Sergio Trefaut

Horizons Extra

Origin Of Evil (opening film) 125′
Dir. Sebastien Marnier

Hanging Gardens 117′
Dir. Ahmed Yassin Al Daradji

Amanda 93′
Dir. Carolina Cavalli

Red Shoes 82′
Dir. Carlos Eichelmann Kaiser

Nezouh 100′
Dir. Soudade Kaadan

Notte Fantasma 83′
Dir. Fulvio Risuleo

Without Her 110′
Dir. Arian Vazirdaftari

Valeria Is Getting Married 76′
Dir. Michal Vinik

Goliath 92′
Dir. Adilkhan Yerzhanov

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | 31 AUGUST – 10 SEPTEMBER 2022

Happening (2021)

Dir.: Audrey Diwan; Cast: Anamaria Vartolomei, Luana Bajrami, Louise Orry-Diquero, Sandrine Bonnaire, Eric Verdin, Anna Mouglalis, Pio Marmaï, Kacey Mottet Klein | France 2021, 99 min.

It was bold of the Jury at Venice 2021 to award the Golden Lion to Happening, a fervent drama exposing the mental and physical cruelty aimed at women when abortion was illegal in France.

Based on Annie Ernaux’s 2001 semi-biographical novel Audrey Diwan’s sophomore feature is a powerful, uncompromising plea for women to be in charge of their reproductive rights at a time when the pro-choice movement is being pushed back; and not only in Catholic strongholds such as Poland and Republican controlled states in the USA. Carried by a brilliant cast, the harsh realism of DoP’s Laurent Tangy’s often handheld camera makes certain scenes in the final reel nearly unwatchable – but this is a past many male politicians want to recreate.

In Angoulême 1963, Anne Duchesme (Vartolomei), 23, is a dedicated student making her way successfully out of the rut lower-middle class women were condemned to. She is forced to tolerate insults from more well to do co-students who call her “a slut”. Anne is best friends with Helene (Bazrami) and Brigitte (Orry-Diquero); the three talk a lot about sex, imagining what the real thing would look like – all fun and games – but sex is taboo.

But when it finally happens at a party with Jean (Mottet Klein) a student from another college, Anne feels underwhelmed by the experience. Her world collapses when the doctor confirms her pregnancy during a routine check-up. Jean is unimpressed by the news – believing is to be her responsibility. And none of her friends, however caring, want to get involved. Abortion is a punishable offence for all involved, including the medical establishment.

At home, her parents (Sandrine Bonnaire/Eric Verdin) are proud of their daughter being the first person in the family to go to university. Anne cannot bring herself to tell them the truth, not wanting to destroy their illusions. Even her university tutor (Pio Marmaï) notices her mind is not on her studies. 

For Anne/Ernaux the choice is still clear: reproductive choice means the same nowadays as it did back then: “to have the illness that turns French women into house-wives”. Anne contemplates her own situation: “I’d like a child one day. But not instead of a life of my own”.

The feature’s rawness is underlined by the 4:3 format, conveying Anne’s isolation from her friends, and society as a whole. A minimalist score by Sacha and Evgueni Galperine, just piano and violins, also focuses on 12 weeks of hell,  Anne going from one humiliation to another. Abortion became legal in France in 1975. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon (2021)

Dir.: Ana Lily Amirpour; Cast: Jeon Jong-seo, Kate Hudson, Evan Whitten, Ed Skrein, Craig Robinson; USA 2021, 106 min.

A Korean teenager’s hypnotic powers create havoc in a suburb of New Orleans in this second feature from from Ana Lily Amirpour whose stylish debut A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) felt radical and edgy back in the comparatively tame world of 2014.

One again wrapping her story round a lone woman, Jeon Jong-seo makes for a feisty Mona Lisa, the teenager in question. A diet of junk food and soft drinks has nudged her into the autistic spectrum, but her kinetic powers soon come in handy in the confines of her high security psychiatric ward, enabling her to overpower the abusive warden and she escapes into the night. Embarking on a frenzied foray powered forward by a seething soundscape, and aided and abetted by friends Fuzz (Skrein), stripper drug dealer cum DJ Bonnie (Hudson) and son Charlie (Whitten), she is hotly pursued on her odyssey of destruction, by a police officer undeterred by his plaster cast.

Very much a bedtime story for adults this is a less appealing rif on Jonathan’s Glazer’s Under The Skin: underdog Mona Lisa morphing into the exotic heroine from far away, mastering, while not comprehending, the rules of the planet she has landed on. Mona Lisa just stays her spontaneous self, surrounded by machiavellian schemers (apart from Charlie). Her motivation is not power or money, but freedom – the desire to avoid capture and imprisonment becomes paramount in her dystopian crusade.

This is an unashamed B-picture where rules are suspended, and emotion became the primary focus: reality is submerged by the heroine’s sheer willpower and self-determination. DoP Pawel Pogorzelski’s neon-drenched aesthetic underlines the narrative’s artificial world, that hangs somewhere between Twilight Zone and a non-realised David Lynch project. Mona Lisa is just pure excitement, the supporting half of a double feature which turns out to be much stronger stuff than the main attraction. AS

NOW AT LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | VENICE PREMIERE

IL Buco (2021)

Dir.: Michelangelo Frammartino; Documentary with Paolo Cossi, Jacobo Elia, Denise Trombin, Nicola Lanza; Italy/France/Germany 2021, 93 min.

Milan born director/co-writer Michelangelo Frammartino is not in a hurry: more than a decade after Le Quattro Volte his languorous essay on nature and the limited influence of humans, is a re-staging of the 1961 speleogical expedition, the doco-fiction hybrid paints a rather sober picture of the Abisso del Bifurto at the Pollino plateau in Calabria, where the then – third largest cave of nearly 700 m was discovered and meticulously measured.

Once underground, there is only artificial light: the team’s helmet lamps illuminate the usual detritus: old newspapers with recognisable idols such as JFK and Sophia Loren their images going up in flames to provide firelight for those men and women toiling meticulously in the abyss. It being Italy, a football match takes place underground, the two players overground unable to keep the ball away from the cave entrance. Other team members snooze, with a horse poking his nose into their tent.

In the nearby village, locals gather round a TV screen as if it was a cinema: the fuzzy black-and-white picture shows the 24-story high Pirelli building in Milan, and some crackly old dancing numbers. Strangely enough one of the old villagers, a man in his eighties, steals the show. He is a bystander collecting wood borne by his donkey to the hut where he lives with other farm workers. Somehow we expect him to be there forever (like the old boy in Quattro Volte), even when the film crew is long gone – but nature intervenes. The men transport him to his home where a doctor arrives later on another donkey. We’re prepared for the grim outcome reminding us of our own mortality and the fragility of life.

Meanwhile in the cave, the speleologists tool their way down, encumbered by ropes and other instruments. Afterwards they sit in the sunshine copying their measurements on old-fashioned writing paper with a quill. It all ends in a puddle in a cul-de-sac, without fanfares and celebrations.

DoP Renato Berta lets his camera glide lovingly about the landscape and the animals, showing the descent like in a glowing string of beads. Somehow we cannot take it all seriously, the animals and farmers overground seem much more real than the heroes with their determination to discover and measure. If there is any message, it is that so-called progress is very limited – as is fame. The age-old railway which brought the climbers to their destination, and the their motley collection of tents remain in the memory, along with the old man who has ‘sneaked’ in grabbing the limelight as a major attraction. Progress is measured by human patience and observance of nature, records of all kinds are fleeting.

AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM FRIDAY | SPECIAL JURY PRIZE VENICE 2021

Miracle (2021) Venice Film Festival

Dir: Bogdan George Petri | Cast: Ioana Bugarin, Emanuel Parvu, Cezar Antal, Valentin Popescu | Drama, 118′

Bogdan George Petri follows his sweaty murder story Unindentified, with another discursive crime drama wrapped round the case of a young novice who goes missing from her convent in the Northern Romanian countryside.

19-year old Cristina (Bugarin) is fiercely committed to becoming a nun, but judging from her tears in the opening scene the trial period is not going to plan and early one morning she secretly leaves her cloistered confines heading for the local hospital.

The taxi ride with another passenger, a doctor, offers a taste of Romanian humour allowing Petri to share his pithy views on spirituality, the music of folk singer Gica Petrescu, the state of the nation in general, a theme that will crop up again and again throughout this thorny tale that soon becomes a seething crime investigation. On the way back to the convent after her tests Cristina takes another taxi, but she will never reach her destination

Apetri’s skilful direction includes a quietly devastating scene where the camera swings full circle around a vicious crime unfolding deep in the woods. The victim’s awful cries compete with a howling wind gusting through the trees, a pair of cattle ranchers riding by emphasising the remoteness of the location, and leaving us desperate to know the outcome from their sole witness perspective.

The police procedural is headed by inspector Marius Preda (Parvu) who brusquely cuts to the chase in his hunt for the perpetrator who will soon be have to be eleased from custody. Investigations at the convent prove inconclusive, the nuns are unwilling to cooperate in their desire for privacy, echoing Cristian Mungiu’s convent drama Beyond the Hills.

Ioana Bugarin is vulnerable yet determined as the novice at the heart of this tightly coiled mystery that sees the desperate detective committing a series of serious misjudgements. And as he races against time to convict the suspect a strange modern miracle occurs before his eyes. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Old Henry (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

Dir/scr: Potsy Ponciroli. US. 2021. 99 mins.

There are nods to Peckinpah in this spare but rather lacklustre western that eventually catches fire in a coruscating showdown after a series of posturing gun-slinging episodes.

Writer-director Potsy Ponciroli shoots the wild west of the early 20th century as a merciless desiccated wilderness where Stephen Dorff’s Ketchum leads a posse of villains posing as law-keepers. In a grassy ditch in deepest Oklahoma cadaverous farmer Henry (Tim Blake Nelson) finds a satchel of dollars near a listless body transporting both to his homestead determined, for some unknown reason, to nurse the stranger back to health. 

Living with his sweet-natured teenage son Wyatt (Gavin Lewis) the taciturn Henry is still mourning the loss of his wife to tuberculosis a decade earlier — but her ghost is the only female to grace the cast of this macho fuelled narrative. Hot on the trail of the injured man Ketchum claims to be a sherif from another county. Henry senses something suspicious and strengthens his resolve to protect the injured man (Scott Haze), but his own identity is soon called into question, providing the reveal which comes as an anticlimax so late in a mystery that never gets under the skin.

Made up of gritty action sequences and terse standoffs this is a western in the traditional style from video and TV director Ponciroli. Old Henry is decent but pedestrian fare reliably carried by Dorff and a ghoulishly taciturn Blake Wilson who holds out stoically until the final frame.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Sundown (2021) Venice Film Festival

Dir/Wri: Michel Franco | Cast: Tim Roth, Charlotte Gainsbourg | Thriller 83’

Neil Bennett is just starting to relax in a plush Mexican resort with his sister Alice and her two teenagers, when a phone call shatters their idyll. Their mother has been taken to hospital and soon after dies.

Hurriedly getting their stuff together they dash to the airport. But Neil has forgotten his passport, leaving his neurotic sister to pick up the pieces back home. So begins Michel Franco’s latest thriller with his signature plot twists and nasty surprises: a blueprint for lean storytelling unravelling in just over an hour, Sundown just might change your life.

Louche, snarky and yet utterly devastating Sundown is all about serendipity – how life suddenly falls into place and then out again. You can’t help rooting for Neil, a suitably laid back Tim Roth, he does what everyone wants to do, walking away from responsibility, following his heart. Charlotte Gainsbourg is a strung-out, stressful bundle of nerves as Alice, and you just want to run away from her and that’s what Neil does. Running a successful slaughterhouse business the family is loaded. Money has never been a problem, and it shows in their flip attitude in a tight little thriller with its clipped dialogue: nothing is spare.

Leaving the airport Neil heads back to a squalid hotel in downtown Acapulco and it’s here that he finds contentment in a love affair with a local Mexican brunette.  Pretending to be organising a new passport with the consulate he drinks beer and shoots the breeze, ignoring his sister’s endless phone calls. When Alice finds him, a week later, he’s already loving the dream. And all the stress of London suddenly floods back. You may well empathise with Neil when Alice forces a ‘business divorce’ on him offering a generous retirement package while he willingly gives up his share, content to be left to his own devices.

But his laid back attitude hides a more sinister but pivotal plot twist telegraphed in the opening scene, blink and you’ll miss it. Michel Franco certainly does no favours to his native Mexico portraying it as a venally corrupt and dangerous place to visit. And we’re not prepared for the showcase showdown that brings Sundown to a grisly climax

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Scenes from a Marriage (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

Dir/Wri: Hagai Levi, Amy Herzog | 5 episode mini series

Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac are the stars of this elliptical potboiler that offers plenty of talky têtes a têtes and raunchy sex. Inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s 1974 screen classic it may make the average couple wonder why parents of one, Mira and Jonathan, are filing for divorce. Communication lines are open and flowing with candid confessions and compromises, and that’s not the only thing that flows between these lustful Jewish forty somethings who lose no opportunity in sharing their bodily juices between the sheets or on a plastic wrapped sofa waiting for the removal man.

Set in New York, Scenes is a surprisingly mature and engrossing five parter from acclaimed Israeli born director Hagai Levi best known for his standout mini series Be’Tipul that also ran on HBO (from 2005-9). Hagai and his co-writer Amy Herzog promise “love, hatred, desire, monogamy, marriage and divorce” and certainly deliver it in spades providing immersive bitesize viewing, each of the eps running for a well-judged 60 minutes. Just enough time for you to question your own relationship and fall out with your partner before bedtime. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | COMING TO HBO

 

 

The Lost Daughter (2021) Netflix

Dir: Maggie Gyllenhaal | Cast: Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Dakota Fanning, Jack Farthing | UK Drama 124′

Olivia Colman reconnects with her past on a trip to the Greek Islands in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s first film as director.

Based on Elena Farrante’s novel, The Lost Daughter makes for a fraught psychological drama graced by another gripping performance from Colman as Leda Caruso, a professor of Italian literature looking for seclusion on a working holiday.

Not quite as brittle as Charlotte Rampling in The Swimming Pool but just as redoubtable and mesmerising, Colman’s warm smile melts to reveal a passionate determination as an academic and mother of two grown-up daughters, openly confessing that her maternal instincts were secondary to her desire for self realisation

The peace of her the secluded beach near her holiday home (rented from Ed Harris) is soon shattered by the arrival of a raucous bunch of New Yorkers from Queens whose apparent parental dysfunction mirrors Leda’s own, the reflection on the past gradually destabilising her tranquility as anxiety drifts into this newfound idyll.

Olivia Colman brings all the subtleties of age and experience to her richly complex role. Voluble when the occasion arises, she mostly keeps to herself but is increasingly drawn in by the antics of her American neighbours: the young mother Nina (Johnson) soon becoming the focus of her fascination. And Nina copes with a clingy toddler, memories of Leda’s own experiences flood back as the film plays out in a series of flashbacks fleshing out her past, Jessie Buckley playing her younger self.

Stifled by the heat and buzzing insects and hemmed in by her American interlopers Leda’s working holiday soon descends into anguish heightened by the sudden disappearance of Nina’s daughter, and her much loved doll. Leda joins the search party eventually finding the girl but keeping her doll to satisfy some unexplained maternal urge which fuels the final prt of the film as some visceral recollections of the past creep back: an early marriage, kids arriving too soon and disrupting her glittering career, precipitating her into romantic indiscretion and divorce.

Gyllenhaal’s assured direction and well-modulated narrative explores some dark nights of the soul but it’s Colman who brings it all together in an incendiary performance full of mercurial moments as well as measured maturity that keeps the hatches battened down in this stormy story about love, attraction and personal satisfaction. MT

ON NETFLIX FROM December 31st 2021 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | BEST SCREENPLAY 2021

   

Amira (2021) Oscar hopeful withdrawn by Jordan

Wri/Dir: Mohamed Diab | 98’

Amira is a passionate but conflicted melodrama that turns on a case of mistaken identity involving one of the thousands of babies conceived through artificial insemination between men in Palestinian prisons and their wives in the outside world.

17 year old Amira (Tara Abboud) is the result of one such miracle: her father Nawar (Mohamed Ghassan) smuggling out a frozen packet of sperm from his cell in the Megiddo Prison to her mother (Saba Mubarak). But there’s an unexpected twist to the tale when it soon becomes apparent that Nawar is shooting blanks and unable to provide his wife Warda with a much wanted second child as Amira prepares to leave home to study photography.

Amira is close to both her parents, but particularly her father in his hour of need. Keen to keep him included in her life on the outside, she has skilfully photoshopped him into family snaps proudly presenting them as gifts on her frequent visits to Megiddo Prison where he has been on hunger strike.

Now her past and future descend into emotional turmoil when it emerges that Nawar is not her biological father, raising all sorts of questions not least about her real paternity, but also Warda’s fidelity.

The film gets off to a strong start with its thorny premise and fiery conflicting characters but these elements are handled with a surprising lack of finesse compared to Diab’s usual deftness so much in evidence in his previous features Clash and Cairo 678. An ill-considered final section that descends in raucous melodrama and an overbearing sound design only make matters worse.

In scenes that are quite shocking considering the 21st century advances in female emancipation, Warda’s inlaws put her under house arrest in a locked room, confining her until she reveals the identity of Amira’s father, even before she has been proved guilty of dishonouring the family, or indeed, any crime. Diab paints the Israel faction as inhumane yet fails to see how his own countrymen are still subjugating their own women as second class citizens, and the only character objecting to Warda’s treatment is a male colleague who then falls under the spotlight as Amira’s potential father simply because of his protective stance. Despite all this Abboud gives a dignified and restrained performance in the title role as a woman whose world is blown apart bringing about the final tragic denouement. MT

Jordan’s Royal Film Commission has withdrawn Egyptian director Mohamed Diab’s drama Amira as its submission to the 2022 international feature Oscar race following a local backlash against the film.

 

 

 

Lost Illusions | Illusions Perdues (2021) Venice Film Festival

Dir. Xavier Giannoli. France. 2021. 144′.

Inspired by Honoré de Balzac’s rags to riches hero Eugene de Rastignac who works his way through the Comédie Humaine, this lavish period drama charts a personal and literary advancement in post revolutionary France in a way that resonates with the media world of today, the clear voice of Balzac providing a guiding narration.

In the flowing tradionally styled screen adaptation Xavier Giannoli calls his main character Lucien de Rubempre and casts a dashing and tousled haired Benjamin Voisin (fresh from Ozon’s Summer of ‘85) to play the ambitious young social climber charting his impetuous progress through the ranks from the backstreets of Paris to the corridors of power where he comes up against the ruthless establishment of the salons.

Lucien de Rubempré is an aspiring poet from Angoulême who soon captures the heart of cultured baroness Louise de Bargeton (Cécile de France). But his lowly social class causes a scandal, and Louise is cautioned by her beady eyed cousin, Marquise d’Espard (a beady-eyed Jeanne Balibar) forcing Lucien back onto the rocky road of Parisian grafting where he soon meets his rival Nathan (Xavier Delon) and the hard-nosed cynical journo Etienne Lousteau (Vincent Lacoste in fine form) who has found a way of financing his literary career through theatre criticism in the newly burgeoning tabloid press.

Lucien’s arriviste vanity and lust for life will eventually derail his dreams of lasting success, although for a while he is the toast of the town. Until then Lucien discovers the high life, champagne flows and the beau monde of Paris appears to be his oyster, Gérard Depardieu’s wealthy publisher soon signing the cheques. Meanwhile Louise has gone full circle in her spiritual evolution as a world weary aristocrat and beaten a hasty retreat to the country where she pines for her beau.

Meanwhile new love for Lucien arrives in the shape of homely showgirl Coralie (Salomé Dewaels) who becomes his mistress and confidante, her strengh and moral probity a much needed guiding light for the impetuous ingenu. And for a while the couple enjoy a meteoric rise as the ‘dernier cri’ of Paris through their hard work and genuine endeavour. But storm clouds soon gather on their moment of fame and Coralie’s  desire to keep Lucien in the dandy manner he’s not been accustomed to see the debts mounting up until all they have left is their love.

With Christophe Beaucarne’s fluid camerawork this is an opulent if rather overblown drama that could do with a trim here and there to make it a slightly more palatable watch instead of an indulgent two and a half hours. That said, Giannoli is worthy of praise for his skilful adaptation of what is an enjoyable and magnificent French classic. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

The Hand of God (2021)

Wri/Dir: Paolo Sorrentino Cast: Filippo Scotti, Toni Servillo, Teresa Saponangelo, Marlon Joubert, Luisa Ranieri, Renato Carpentieri, Massimiliano Gallo, Betti Pedrazzi, Biagio Manna, Ciro Capano, Enzo Decaro, Lino Musella, Sofya Gershevich, Lino Musella, Dora Romano, Alessandro Bressanello, Birte Berg, Roberto Oliveri, Alfonso Perugini | Italy Drama 129’

Oscar-winner Paolo Sorrentino returns to Naples in the 1980s with this melodramatic coming of age drama fuelled by football, family and Fellini.

The Hand of God has all the hallmarks of Sorrentino’s signature style: the violent men, corrupt officials and voluptuous women who inhabit a larger than life landscape vibrantly brought to life by Daria D’Antonio’s lush camerawork. But this is a tragedy in the Greek style, complete with folkloric undertones and a soulful often strident chorus-line scoring the mosaic of magnificent vignettes that make up a poignant feature tainted by tragedy, and possibly Sorrentino’s most personal yet.

Naples is the star of the show, the majestic Campania coastline and the mauve mountains of Capri shimmering in the Tyrrhenian sea providing an amazing backdrop to the flamboyant storyline. In the traffic strewn Spaccanoli a big-breasted woman (Ranieri) waits wearily for her bus home. A limousine pulls up and a blue-eyed man (Decaro) claiming to be San Genaro, patron saint of Napoli, offers her a welcome life home and hints at the possibility of a much-wanted child to heal her marriage to Franco (Gallo), who the driver appears to know by name. Astonished, the woman climbs on board, but her arrival home is greeted with a brutal beating from her husband, forcing her to call her happily married sister Maria (Saponangelo) and husband Saverio (Servillo) who soon arrive with their teenage son Fabietto (Scotti) from whose perspective the story continues.

At this point it becomes clear that Fabietto is Sorrentino’s younger self: a gentle, thoughtful, football-mad teenager, desperate to lose his virginity: “just get the first time out of the way” urges his conspiratorial father Severio, a warm and loving pater familias with a fine line in tailoring and a solid job.

But Fabietto’s first love is football, hence the film’s Diego Maradona linked title – referring to a divisive goal he scored in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal. Welcome news for the lustful but lowkey Fabietto arrives when the Argentine player is signed for Naples and will turn out to be his saving grace in the final denouement.

But until then the film swelters with Neopolitan summer indulgences: robust encounters, raucous al fresco lunches and volatile viragos busting out of bikinis or stripping naked to bask in the sun. There’s a cheeky scene where Fabietto eventually scores, not in the football sense but with his much older neighbour (Pedrazzi). His creativity is stimulated by the charismatic film director Antonio Capuano (Capano) – whose 1998 feature The Dust of Naples, was co-written by Sorrentino.

Sorrentino recalls all this with nostalgia and a tender affection that steers clear of sentimentality in bearing its heart on an elegantly crafted sleeve. Scotti’s Fabietto makes for an appealing, introspective alter ego capable of extreme emotion and utter devotion in fervently pursuing his future career. MT

ON NETFLIX | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | SILVER LION – GRAND JURY PRIZE 2021 | BEST YOUNG ACTOR – FILIPPO SCOTTI

The Power of the Dog (2021)

Wri/Dir: Jane Campion | Benedict Cumberpatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee | Western drama, 125’

Jane Campion’s Oscar-winning drama The Piano defines arthouse film and remains seared to the collective cineaste unconscious as a classic for all time.

The Power of the Dog, premiering at the 78th Venice film festival, has the same potent stillness, captivating characters and visual allure, a traditionally told Western it unfolds in a buttoned-down ranching community in 1925 Montana where outward appearances belie dastardly intentions and family dysfunction, inspired by the novel written in 1967 by Thomas Savage.

Benedict Cumberbatch holds sway as Phil Burbank, the swaggeringly macho, latently homosexual son of a cattle rearing family, an ability to castrate a head of cattle before breakfast is the touchstone to his sadistic prowess. His gentlemanly brother George (Plemons) is quite the reverse soon landing himself a wife in the shape of thoughtful  alcoholic widow Rose (Dunst) and her academic but weakly son Peter (a star turn from Kodi Smit-McPhee) whose wounded pride and keen interest in medicine and dissecting animals provides the key to this beguiling slow-burner.

Ostensibly this is a straightforward family drama about the dynamics of power that create a pecking order locked in stasis until one member cracks the code. At first it seems Phil is on track to destroy Rose and her son, but Peter is not to be underestimated, proving that canny inquisitiveness is far more potent than mere intelligence even in a toxic masculine environment where Phil lords it over the locals resting on his laurels as the sneering ‘intellectual’ cowboy whose crass manners and cruelty to animals and his fellow men makes him secretly unpopular.

Campion loads her film with subtle textural references, Ari Wenger’s widescreen set pieces glower and glow in the hostile terrain. The clever adaptation allows plenty of scope for three intensely unusual protagonists: macho Phil is ultimately trounced by his pride; Rose is weak but utterly sympathetic as a deeply affectionate woman starved of physical love and in thrall to her impossible situation. But Peter is far the most intriguing, his physical weakness hiding a steely resolve to succeed and protect his mother at all costs. MT

LFF 2021 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 premier

The Card Counter (2021) Venice Film Festival

Dir: Paul Schrader | Cast: Oscar Isaacs, Willem Dafoe, Tye Sheridan, Tiffany Haddish | US Thriller 120’

Paul Schrder’s latest thriller turns on a ‘one more trick before retiring’  premise. Oscar Isaacs is in his element as William Tullich, an ex convict from Guantanamo bay whose decade in prison has made him an introverted, compulsive routine-junkie now earning his living as a card counter travelling around from casino to casino ‘just to pass the time’ attracted by his skill at gambling rather than his desire for filthy lucre. 

A bitier more full-blooded take on Croupier (1998), this is essentially a revenge road movie with a difference that contemplates a stale and soulless America fuelled by rancid day-old filter coffee, and reflecting on the bitter vestiges of Abu Ghraib prison where William served as a US officer complicit in the torture of inmates.

With his poker face and detached demeanour Will is driven by a subtle desire for redemption that gradually becomes more obsessive as the narrative strands mesh together revealing the true horror of how ordinary people can become monsters in a controlling environment where they are forced to create an alter ego to survive.

On the road William meets Tye Sheridan’s broken young man Cirk, a metaphor for a millennial caught up in debt and dysfunctional family relationships, whose father was also involved at Guantanamo. Will’s desire to help “the kid” will lead to a coruscating showdown in the film’s elliptical finale where Will comes face to face with his former army superior Gordon Gaddo (Dafoe). A subplot involving Will’s gambling sidekick La Linda (Haddish) is only the weak link here and doesn’t quite convince as the love story at the film’s core: neither Haddish nor Isaacs really connecting with the deep humanity of their characters as fully rounded individuals capable of expressing deep emotion. That aside this is a visually alluring and at times gripping thriller that imagines 21st century America as a lost and shallow shadow of its past. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

 

Django and Django (2021)

Dir.: Luca Rea; Documentary about Sergio Corbucci with Quentin Tarantino, Franco Nero, Ruggero Deodato; USA/Italy 2021, 80 min.

Italian director/co-writer Luca Rea (Cacao) pays tribute to compatriot director Sergio Corbucci (1926-1990), who, with Sergio Leone, dominated the short era of the Italo-Western in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Corbucci, who made 63 feature films, is usually shunned by mainstream critics, even though he directed huge box office successes with Adriano Celantano and Toto, as well as the later Terence Hill and Bud Spencer Western comedies. Quentin Tarantino is the main source, leading us through Corbucci’s career in seven chapters.

Sergio Corbucci, like Leone, started out as a film critic, and via screen writing became an assistant director. In 1959 Leone and Corbucci worked for Mario Bonnard in The Last Days of Pompei and their valuable contribution set them both up for a great future, even though both Sergios’ insisted the glory belonged to Bonnard alone. Tarantino maintained that Corbucci’s ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ were a settlement of his scores with Fascism, since the young Sergio grew up under the Mussolini dictatorship and WWII. He even had the ‘honour’ – as a member of the Fascist Youth Choir – to be five feet away from Mussolini and Hitler he visited Rome. Corbucci’s villains rode roughshod through all his features as sadistic, misogynist and racist monsters, in love with spilling blood – particularly the one of innocents.

Romulo and Remo (Duel of the Titans) 1961 was Corbucci’s first attempt to show a prototype of the violent men which would later dominate his Westerns. His first, Minnesota Clan (1964) was shot in the same year as Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, starring Clint Eastwood. The shooting of Django (1966) didn’t go to plan: all the horses bolted, and nobody was sure which of the film lots they were shooing on. Nevertheless, the Kurosawa-inspired revenge story (nearly all Corbucci Westerns fall into this category), “was the most violent film, before Peckinpah’s Wild Bunch came along in 1969″.

Corbucci’s Mexican Revolution trilogy of The Mercenary (1968), Companeros (1970) and What Am I Doing in the Middle of a Revolution (1972) is perhaps his most popular, but the most violent by far is The great Silence (1968). The role of Gordon, the mute avenger, was meant for Franco Nero but he decided to go to Hollywood, making an angry Corbucci cast Jean-Louis Trintignant. Klaus Kinski acted the sadistic killer Tigero, who survives, whilst Gordon is killed. Shot in an eerie, snowy landscape, The great Silence also featured another re-occurring theme of the Corbucci’s Western: the cowardly citizens of the hamlets, who would rather obey the repressor than take the side of the avenger. “It feels like Corbucci is taking a swing at John Ford. The latter’s films show the town building and solidarity of the citizens, whilst Corbucci’s folks are rather meek and cowardly”. One of Corbucci’s last Western was Sid & Jed (1972), a Bonnie and Clyde story set in a Western milieu.

Tarantino offers a clever solution to an unsolved riddle in Django. When the titular hero arrives, we see him laying flowers on the grave of a certain Mercedes. Tarantino conjures up an explanation, in which Django is a soldier who has fought the Confederates, and now returns to give a keepsake to Mercedes, the wife of his black friend who was killed in the war. He then encounters the hooded KKK, who have done away with the black population, and are targeting the Mexicans. All set in Missouri, where slavery was not abolished.

Filmmaker Ruggero Deodato, once Rossellini’s assistant, who worked with Corbucci on 13 films, gives insight into the director’s work, as do many private videos sharing some hilariously funny and candid incidents during shooting. They also show a director who certainly enjoyed his work, and who was always ready for a good laugh – even at himself. AS

NOW ON NETFLIX | Premiered at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

The Peacock’s Paradise (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

Dir: Laura Bispuri | Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Dominique Sanda, Maya Sansa, Carlo Cerciello, Leonardo Lidi, Maddalena Crippa | Italy Drama 87;

Laura Bispuri’s first film Sworn Virgin took Berlinale by storm in 2015 with its edgy story about a woman opting to live as a man deep in the mountains of Albania. The Peacock’s Paradise appears to be a more straightforward domestic drama, Bispuri’s long time collaborator Alba Rohrwacher this time playing a mother (Adelina ) planning a church wedding to her fiancé Vito (Lidi). But Bispuri’s other family members are an offbeat bunch, outwards appearances proving to be deceptive.

Dominique Sanda stars is the hostess Nena celebrating her birthday with her husband Umberto, their children Vito and Caterina, cousin Isabella, their daughter-in-law Adelina, her daughter Alma, Caterina’s ex Manfredi – who still lusts after her – although he’s at the party with his new girlfriend Joana. But the star of the show is Paco, Alma’s peacock, whose delicate presence and sudden fall from grace causes everyone to reflects on their own sadness and missed opportunities, as well as each other.

With its muted colours, gentle pacing and thoughtful performances this is  a nuanced, introspective film that avoids sentimentality or melodrama in exploring close close relationships, perceptively written by Bispuri and Silvana Tamma. MT

Venice Film Festival 2021 | Orizzonti 2021

Private Desert (2021) Venice Film Festival (2021)

Dir.: Aly Muritiba; Cast: Antonio Saboia, Pedro Fasanaro, Thomas Aquino, Leo Miranda, Mauro Zanata, Laila Garin; Portugal/Brazil 2021, 118 min.

A tortured amour-fou between a violent policeman and a transgender man is at the heart of this anger-fuelled Western melodrama from Brazil’s Aly Muritiba who sensitively explores how traditional family roles are replayed in gay/transgender relationships in a strongly macho culture.

Forced to live as a straight man, Daniel (Saboia), has turned into a disgruntled forty-year old, recently been suspended from duties after causing life threatening injuries to a young recruit. His relationships with women have, unsurprisingly, been fraught. Online he has just met Sara (Fasanaro), who lives in Sobradinho, in the south of Brazil, thousands of miles away from Daniel’s hometown of Curitiba. But when Sara stops answering his calls, Daniel leaves his sister (Garin) in charge of his dementia stricken father (Zanata), and heads to Sobradinho where he produces flyers with Sara’s photo, and plasters them all over the small town. There he meets Fernando (Aquino), who knows Sara (Fasanaro) who actually goes by the name of Robson. As it soon emerges, the two are an item, but the local priest has asked Robson to undertake a “re-orientation” course with his college Oswaldo (Miranda), who himself had been “cured” from being gay. Robson’s true identity made public, thanks to Daniel’s flyers, he decides to leave for Rio, but the past is far from over.

DoP Luis Armando Arteaga conjurers up stunning widescreen images of the vast sub-continent, Daniel’s drive across the country serving as the centre piece. Pedro Fasanaro triumphs in his role as Sara/Robson, Saboia finding a certain humanity in the unlikeable character of Daniel. Aly Muritaba directs with analytical insight, avoiding sentimentality in a mature and thoughtful epic.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI

Once Upon a Time in Calcutta (2021) Venice Film Festival

Dir: Aditya Vikram Sengupta | Cast Sreelekha Mitra, Shayak Roy, Bratya Basu, Arindam Ghosh, Satrajit Sarkar, Anirban Chakrabarti | India, France, Norway – 129’ – 2021 – Bengali

Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s third feature is the only Indian film in this year’s Venice lineup. Set against the ancient city of Kolkata adapting to a rapidly changing world, this delicately observed but ultimately tragic story centres on a divorced mother who also experiencing an identity crisis after the loss of her daughter and her marriage.

When she is refused a home loan by the bank, having spend all her money of funding her daughter’s treatment, her boss, the owner of a massive Ponzi scheme, makes her a questionable offer to finance her future. But Ela feels more comfortable looking to her family for support, reconnecting with her estranged stepbrother who also lets down her down, blaming Ela for his own dark fate.

Then Ela’s childhood sweetheart resurfaces and gives her the warmth and hope for a new beginning. Just as Ela starts living the life she had dreamed for herself, she realises that she isn’t the only desperate soul clinging to a raft in a sea of scavengers.

Bengalis have strong ties to the world of cinema and communism and Sengupta chips away at the various layers of tradition to reveal a human condition that is often soulful and yet full of hope and joy. The film highlights the aspirations and struggles of cultured people gasping for breath in an ever-expanding metropolis, once home to Satyajit Ray and Rabindranath Tagore Once Upon A Time is a love letter to a city struggling in murky waters where colourful characters are constantly trying to invent new identities without being submerged in the tide of change. MT

Venice Film Festival 2021 | ORIZZONTI .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blind Man Who Didn’t Want to See Titanic (2021) Venice Film Festival (2021)

Dir.: Teemu Niki; Cast: Petri Poikolainen, Marjaana Maijala, Samuli Jaskio, Rami Rusinen; Finland 2021, 81 min.

The Finns are well known for their deadpan humour and this latest  from Teemu Niki is also full of passion and soulfulness in the style of recent dark comedies Come As You Are and Berlinale Golden Bear winner The Other Side of Hope.

It follows two film buffs coping with debilitating illnesses – but the last thing they need is pity. Crucially, Niki is pains to point out that his physically challenged characters by no means see themselves as second class citizens, although they are often considered as such by those around them. The story unfolds through the out of focus perspective of wheelchair-user and John Carpenter fan Jaakko (Poikolainen) who doesn’t let his condition stand in his way, despite the negative views of his friends. Not to be outdone, his online friend Sirpa (Maijala) – the two haven’t yet met – is affected by some kind of blood virus and forced to travel “only three hours away in a train and taxi” for chemotherapy with its ghastly side effects. Jaakko takes this opportunity for a face to face meeting, paying her a supportive visit, despite to his mobility issues, a welcome lottery win providing much needed funds for the journey. As an ice-breaker, Jaakko brings with him a brand new copy of her favourite romcom the titular Titanic, a film he personally detests.

But as luck would have it, his backpack is stolen at the train station, the identity of the thief later being revealed as a young man wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned ‘Scorpions’. Here Niki introduces another humorous twist to the narrative involving the drug dealing pair Samuli and Rami (Jaskio and Rusinen). But will Jaako survive to deliver his gift?

DoP Sari Altonen has great fun imagining Jaakko’s outlook on daily life, giving the audience a full taste of the horrors which go hand in hand with his condition. But the biggest surprise of all is that Petri Poikolainen suffers MS in real life. A performance of great endurance and utter brilliance.

Venice Film Festival 2021 | IN COMPETITION 

Leave No Traces (2021)

Dir.: Jan P. Matuszynski; Cast: Sandra Korzeniak, Mateus Gorski, Tomasz Zietek, Alexandra Konieczna, Sebastian Pawlak; Poland/Czech Republic/France, 160 min.

Jan P. Matuszynski’s passionate if rather sprawling political thriller is testament to how ordinary people as well as the police forces were complicit in Poland’s tyrannical Stalinist regime that led to the murder of 18 year old Grgzegorz Przemyk, son of the poet and Solidarnosc supporter Barbara Sadowska (Sandra Korzeniak).

In Warsaw on the 12th of May 1983, Przemyk (Gorski) was celebrating the end of term with his friend Lezary Filozof (Zietek). But the evening was to end in tragedy after the teenager was arrested for drunken behaviour and beaten up by local police in a way that outward signs were hardly visible, according to the para-medics, Michal Wisocky (Pawlak) and Jacek Szyzdek.

The authorities, Party, Military and Police, immediately started a cover-up operation which included raids on Filozosf’s home, while the witness was in hiding. The secret police found love letters from Filozof to Barbara Sadowska, and used them to subdue Filozof’s statement. His parents, afraid that the regime would damage their livelihoods by inventing ‘irregularities’, denounced their son to the Secret Police.

But Lezary did not give in to pressure. Meanwhile, the authorities made one of the paramedics, Wisocky, admit, that he trampled on Grgzegorz. Again, they used threats against his family to elicit the false confession. Wisocky later tried to commit suicide in prison. Franziske Rusek, the independent prosecutor, was then replaced with the more pliable Jozef Zyta, who was under the influence of hardliner Wieslawa Bardonowa (Konieczna), a fierce State Prosecutor.

When the trial opened in December 1983, nearly all the defendants were cleared, apart from the guiltless paramedics, who were sentenced to two years in prison, but released earlier. Even though in 1993, after the fall of Stalinism, an independent commission tried to uncover the truth, the statute of limitation ran out in 2010, and everyone involved got off scott free. Several years later Barbara Sadowska died of lung cancer.

DoP Kacper Fertacz’ hyper realist images show how squallid the living conditions were in the 1980s, even for the supposedly middle class Lezary family. Performance wise, Alexandra Konieczna (Wieslawa Bardonowa) makes for a steely General Prosecutor masquerading as a middle-aged ‘Hausfrau’, who visits her friends for an afternoon of coffee and cakes after using her considerable brain power to destroy the witness Filozof in a frightening turn as a petit-bourgeois avenger let loose. The rather self indulgent running time of over two hours dilutes the thrust of the powerful storyline- the endless meetings of the Apparatchiks could have been scaled down. AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS

Giulia (2021) Venice Film Festival

Dir.: Ciro de Caro; Cast: Rosa Palasciano; Valerio Di Benedetto, Fabrizio Ciavoni, Cristian Di Santis, Mattheo Quinzi, Annalisa Lori; Italy 2021, 109 min.

This slow-burning and sensitive drama explores the overwhelming sense of loss and confusion brought on by a pandemic, a state of affairs that will be familiar to all of us. Ciro de Caro’s loose direction oscillates between impressive scenes and fuzzy vagueness held together by Rosa Palasciano’s luminous presence as Giulia, her lack of certainty leading to an identity crisis as relationships come under pressure.

In Rome, we meet first Giulia with her boyfriend Alessandro (Quinzi), he wants to split up but she insists on having ‘another baby’. She embarrasses him in front of his family then rushes off, looking in waste bins for discarded children’s toys, a habit she indulges in for the rest of the feature. Giulia’s employment track record is not looking good: working part-time looking after an old lady she ends up stealing from her. At the same time, another job in a care home comes to an end, Giulia holding Sergio (Di Benedetto) responsible. Sergio and his two friends Ciavoni (Ciavoni) and Fausto (Di Sante) are nevertheless obsessed with Giulia, the four of them driving to the seaside where they meet up with Giulia’s friend Sandra. After a stressful afternoon ends with arguments and accusations, Giulia wanders off on her own through the countryside, where she releases a horse from its tether, a metaphor for her own desire for freedom. There are elements of Neo-Realism at play, but De Caro’s narrative mostly lacks focus drifting off into banalities, feeling more like a ‘first draft’ than a polished final feature, although some may interpret his enigmatic approach as representative of Giulia’s loss of self. DoP Manuele Mandolesi limpid visuals capture the essence of the fragmenting Giulia in this languorous portrait of a woman in distress. AS

Venice Film Festival 2021

The King of Laughter | Qui Rido Io (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

Dir: Marco Martone | Cast: Toni Servillo

Toni Servillo is the star turn in theatre director Mario Martone’s resplendent portrait of Neopolitan comic theatre legend Eduardo Scarpetta, making its bow here in Competition at the 78th Venice Film Festival.

Scarpetta (1853-1925) who first took to the stage as a four year old, was best known for his role as the light-hearted slightly air-headed Felice Siociammocca, a typical Neopolitano who, in a break from tradition, was more good-natured than the darker stereotype of Pulcinella whose origins lay in 17th century ‘commedia dell’arte’ as a stock character from puppetry. Scarpetta was also celebrated for his plays – of which he wrote more that fifty – one in particular: ‘Poverty and Nobility'(1888), was later made into a film starring starring Sophia Loren and comedy star Totò. Scarpetta’s main achievement off stage was to translate into Neapolitan the standard Parisian farce of the era: Hennequin, Meilhac, Labiche and Feydeau. He also fathered actor and playwright Eduardo De Filippo along with two other children.

Martone’s begins his story at the beginning of 1900s, when Eduardo Scarpetta has already made his name as the most successful Italian comedian of the era, his plays are all box office hits, and the stage is his exclusive kingdom. But behind the scenes his unconventional family life is proving challenging, the drama tracing his eventually descent into darker times, including the his trial with the magniloquent poet Gabriele D’Annunzio.

Servillo lends his ebullient joie de vivre to the role in this lavish production which follows the star on stage and in real life in an around Naples and Rome in the mid 18th century. Martone and his writer Ippolita Di Majo keeping us entertained for over two hours with the gracefully-paced storyline, partly in Italian, and partly in Neapolitan dialect, and classically captured by Swiss Italian DoP Renato Berta (Au Revoir Les Enfants). MT

Venice Film Festival | COMPETITION 2021

Atlantide (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

DirWri: Yuri Ancarani | Cast: Daniele Barison, Bianka Berényi, Maila Dabala, Alberto Tedesco | Italian Fantasy Drama, 100′

Unfolding serenely in a suave jazzy vibe this splashy narrative-slim hyperrealist Venetian love letter thrums to the soft summery ambient sounds of the lagoon where it pays homage to la Serenissima.

Artful framing and a contemporary soundtrack are all that’s needed to tell the story of the venal side of Venice that unfolds fantasy docudrama-style through a series of suggestive long takes tracking the main character – Daniele, a young man from Sant’Erasmo – who takes a scuzzy psychedelic road less travelled away from the typical barchino (motorboat) way of life, aiming for something more subversive and even surreal involving ever more speedy and powerful craft.

Captured in the vibrantly inventive camerawork of DoP Lorenzo Pezzano, Atlantide is the latest from video artist and filmmaker Yuri Ancarani (a junior Jonathan Glazer) and perfectly captures the lowlife in this highlife location in a pop promo way. Lowkey yet thrilling Atlantide is a colourful subtle crime story that gradually turns more sinister driven forward by Mirco Mencacci’s majestic score in the closing stages, keeping us guessing until the final frame. MT

Venice Film Festival 2021 | Orizzonti Competition

 

 

Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, Journey, A Song (2021)

Dir.: Dan Geller, Dayna Goldfine; Documentary with Leonard Cohen, Larry ‘Ratso’ Sloman, Sharon Robinson, Judy Collins, Regina Spector, Clive Davis, Amanda Palmer, Rufus Wainwright; USA 2021, 118 min.

Canadian singer, poet and novelist Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) once again comes under the spotlight in this passionate but objective new documentary from Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller (who also serves as DoP).

The focus here is Cohen’s quest for spiritual meaning, culminating in the 1984 song, Hallelujah. Inspired by “The Holy and the Broken” by author Alan Light, the directors have cleverly put together a piece of musical history, backed by prodigious researc.

Cohen was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Montreal and stayed faithful to his religion even though for a time, in the late 1990s, he was drawn to Zen Buddhism and lived for a few years at the retreat of Zen master Kyozan Joshu Sasalli Roshi on Mount Baldy. Cohen was a renowned womaniser unable to commit to family life. He bought the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s where he enjoyed a long relationship with Marianne Ihlen, for whom he wrote “So long Marianne”. They both died only a few months apart (of leukaemia). Cohen’s last love letter formed the eulogy at Ihlen’s funeral. In the 1970s Cohen lived with Suzanne Elrod, the couple had two children, but “Suzanne” was actually written for Suzanne Verdal. Cohen shared most of the 1980s with the fashion photographer Dominique Isserman with whom he also collaborated on work projects. Actress Rebecca de Mornay also shared professional achievements with Cohen.

Even before Hallelujah was made globally famous by the animation feature Shrek (2001), Cohen wrote songs for Robert Altman’s noir Western McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971). The original reaction to Hallelujah on the 1984 album ‘Various Positions’ was anything but promising: Columbia Music CEO Walter Yetnikov was less than enamoured, and the album was not released in the USA. The original version was produced by the small record label ‘Passport Records’ a year later. Cohen was not the only one to record the song, the most famous versions are by Jeff Buckley (who died shortly afterwards in a swimming accident), John Cale, KD lang and Brandi Carlisle. Rufus Wainwright was supposed to perform Shrek for the feature but the producers decided at the last minute to go with John Cale’s version “because it fitted better with the character of the titular protagonist of the feature”. But Wainwright did not lose out completely, his version was used for the sound track version.

Many ‘famous’ moments from music history are touched upon: the meeting between Dylan and Cohen in Paris, comparing the time the composers spent on their songs, with Dylan (15 minutes in the back of a taxi) the clear winner, since Cohen honed Hallelujah to perfection in over seven years using about 200 verses. Rolling Stone music critic Larry ‘Ratso’ Sloman, friend of Dylan and Cohen, is the most animated witness, trying to come to terms with Cohen’ ‘split’ personality, best described by the man himself: You either raise your fist, or sing Hallelujah. I did both”.

In spite of the long running time, for once justified, Hallelujah is chockfull of juicy titbits, keeping us enthralled for nearly two hours. The legendary star found himself making a successful comeback, touring the globe after his business manager absconded with all his money, including his pension fund. He leaves behind him an oeuvre suffused with languid longing, words and music full of sentimental low level depression.AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 16 SEPTEMBER 2022

 

Spencer (2021)

Dir: Pablo Larain | Wri Steven Knight  Cast: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins, Sean Harris | Drama 113’

An imagined Christmas at Sandringham is the latest showcase showdown in the tortured saga of Princess Diana’s fated marriage to Prince Charles.

Pablo Larraín’s Venice competition hopeful Spencer makes for extremely painful viewing as an atmospheric arthouse portrait of isolation and emotional disintegration. But the fact that it portrays two well known figures representing the British royal family makes it all the more poignant. A story of two of unhappy people struggling within the confines of tight security and rigorous protocol was never going to be joyful especially when each one is a mannered caricature of their putative selves.

Chilean auteur Pablo Larain has become somewhat of a dab hand at painting marginalised characters: from Jackie Onassis to a group of distressed priests in his 2015 feature The Club. And those who hate the monarchy will have a field day with how dreadful a royal weekend is made to look.

Diana  – who died 24 years ago – is victimised to within an inch of her life by the regal system, eventually falling victim to her psychosis in Sandringham’s splendour during a visit that would send anyone screaming for a taxi to Norwich, if they didn’t have their own Porsche parked outside. The film’s timing is even more significant in a year where Her Majesty the Queen has had enough to contend with, not least the death of her husband.

Kristen Stewart couldn’t be more suited to her role as Diana, her wan pallor and delicately chiselled features mirror those of the tragic Princess who doted on her boys and wanted a normal life despite her wealth and privilege. That said, she lacks the vivacious charisma of the princess – who I once met. It’s a performance that plays to the crowd rather than the cognoscenti. Spencer will prove divisive: Some will find it brittle, glib and shallow; others will delight in its sullen melodrama.

The film starts with Diana literally losing her way in the depths of the Norfolk countryside, the film was actually shot in Germany, on a bleak winter’s day. Pitching up at a roadside cafe to ask directions, she eventually finds herself in the safe hands of Sean Harris’ Sandringham chef Darren who guides her back to face the music over her late arrival.

Larrain draws clever but rather chilling comparisons with Diana’s situation and that of Anne Boleyn (Manson). Dream sequences picture the hapless wife of Henry VIII drifting through Sandringham’s gilded corridors. In fact, there’s a great deal of drifting and floating in this often haunting tragedy, as Diana frequently goes awol in frosty nights and foggy mornings, in a bid to avoid the strictures of this regimented family ‘holiday’.

Playing out as a series of grim episodes during the festive break, Diana gradually implodes:.And if she’s not hounded by equerries (Timothy Spall makes for a ghastly bully) and dressers (her only trusted aide is Maggie played by Sally Hawkins), then the press are on her tail with their long distance lenses. Forced into wearing a series of specially selected twee outfits (Christmas lunch, boxing day tea etc) Diana erupts in anguish, biting into a rope of pearls that clatters into her pea soup – a scene that leads to a bulimia attack. The pearls were a gift from Charles (played by Poldark’s Jack Farthing) who offered the same jewels (known as a symbol of tears) to his lover Camilla Parker-Bowles. Only Diana, Maggie and Spall’s equerry are fully fleshed out, the other characters are cyphers only there to serve the narrative.

Diana is seen making the most of joy-filled moments with her boys (played gamely by Jack Nielen and Freddie) and eventually there is a happy ending to this particular episode which culminates with a liberating car ride to Mike and the Mechanics. A dismally depressing, washed out watch, fraught with sorrow. A terrible tribute to the real people it depicts. MT

NOW ON RELEASE IN UK CINEMAS | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Captain Volkonogov Escaped (2021) Venice Film Festival 2021

Dir: Aleksey Chupov, Natasha Merkulova | Cast: Yuriy Borisov, Timofey Tribuntsev, Aleksandr Yatsenko | USSR Drama 120′

A muscular yet strangely poetic drama suffused with human emotion by Russian directing duo Aleksey Chupov and Natasha Merkalova whose feature The Man Who Surprised Everyone, did just that.

Classically styled and set against the backdrop of the 1938 political persecutions – the colour red serving as a thematic touchstone for Soviet ideals of valour, sportsmanship and nationalistic allegiance – it stars man of the moment Yuriy Borisov fresh from his triumphs in Cannes with Compartment Number 6.

He plays Fyodor a hard-boiled, weightlifting law-enforcer in a Russia pulsating with subversive wartime undercurrents where cowing-towing to the Soviet system is the only way to go. But when Fyodor sees his peers being interrogated by the authorities he decides to abscond. Once on the run (to rousing sounds of ‘The Russian Red Army’ and a propulsive electronic score) Fodor is hotly pursued by his wiry, tuberculosis ridden superior Golovnya (Tribuntsev), haunted by the past as it plays out in a series of haunting hallucinatory sequences featuring his old comrades. So he decides to return as surreptitiously as possible while surrounded by a seething climate of savage mistrust.

Immaculate lensing by ace Estonian cinematographer Mart Taniel makes this a visually captivating as well as thrilling with its storyline that tracks Fodor’s evasion from his steely band of brothers with a pervasive feeling of danger and gritty authentic characters who feel real in their struggle to survive against the odds in a climate of fear and suspicion that forces them to root for themselves while keeping their backs against wall in their putative allegiance to the state. That said, the few female characters are seen as weak and febrile, the men physically and emotionally rigorous.

Powered forward but some really shocking violence: an execution scene is one of the most starling: a state employee priding himself by dispatching his firing squad victims with just one shot; in another a little girl recounts how her father was tortured by Spanish Fascists and then Russian Communists, the latter the more affective in sending him to him to his grisly death. Unorthodox weapons come in all shapes and sizes – an old fashioned telephone proving an effective stunning device. But the harsh brutality is tempered by some potently transcendent moments that Andrey Konchalovskiy or Tarkovskiy would be proud of: an enormous red zeppelin glides by silently framed between two buildings; a wild dog scampers along joyfully in the morning mist, and an emaciated man breathes his last moments of life cradled in Volkonogov’s tender embrace. MT

Venice Film Festival | 1 – 11 September 2021 | COMPETITION

Erasing Frank (2021) Venice – Settimana della Critica

Dir.: Gabor Fabricius; Cast: Benjamin Fuchs, Kinscö Blénesi, Ildicó Bánsági, Andrea Ládanyi; Hungary 2021, 98 min.

In Stalinist Hungary during the early 1980s a troubled punk musician is sent to a psychiatric ward where he struggles against the regime’s authoritarianism alongside patients with more serious  mental health problems. Stunningly captured in black and white by Tamás Dobos, first time director Gabor Fabricius goes for an Orwellian atmosphere showing Frank’s descent into a nightmarish vision of a system hellbent on destroying any kind of creativity, seen entirely from Frank’s POV. This is a fuzzy journey into darkness where we meet a series of periphery characters whose place in Frank’s universe never becomes entirely clear: his unnamed partner and another inmate he befriends. The aesthetics certainly carry the film, but the lack of narrative structure reduces the impact on our ability to engage with Frank and his tortured world. Erasing Frank is nonetheless a visceral visual poem portraying the misuse of psychiatry in all Stalinist countries from WWII until 1989 in one of the darkest chapters in history.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

Promises (2021) Venice – Orizzonti 2021

Dir.: Thomas Kruithof; Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Reda Kateb, Naidra Ayadi, Jean-Paul Bordres, Vincent Garayer; France 2021, 98 min.

Isabelle Huppert is the guiding light of this socio-political drama that centres on a deprived Parisian housing estate where she is Clemence Collombet the ambitious mayor with her eye on the main chance.

Modelled on local authorities like St. Denis or Bobigny, Thomas Kruithof’s sophomore feature accurately portrays the sort of self-seeking politician we have grown used to of late: Clemence has a wilful, authoritarian streak and limitless ambition. From her upmarket home she hopes the struggle on the decaying housing estate Les Bernardins will define her future, and has promised to resign after two terms, her deputy Naidra (Ayadi) – whose parents have immigrated from North Africa – is her chosen successor.

Clemence is keen to further her career and only to happy take on a ministerial post in central government when it is offered. Her chief of staff Yazid  – Reda Kateb on top form – is kept busy by her many machiavellian moves. Les Bernardins is run by the shady developer Chaumette (Garayer) and Clemence wants to replace him. The real victims are the tenants of the estate, who have seen promises constantly broken while the building falls into a parlous state of disrepair.

But the real villain is Jean-Marc Forgeat, the local Mafia boss. On the opposite side is Michel Kupka (Bordres), chair of the tenants’ association, trying to keep up a deal for renovation with the mayor and Yazid, even though Kupka does not trust the politicians. Then everything changes when Clemence’s ministerial appointment fails to materialise, and all she gets is a place in the Senate. In a furious volte face she reneges on her promise not to run again – offering the disappointed Naidra the job of mayor in three year’s time. Meanwhile Yadiz is involved in a race against time to get the renovation project off the ground, and into the hands of the local MP at an Elysee meeting.

Kruithof shows two different levels of the playing field, the mayor using the tenants merely to advance her own career. Yazid is shown as the beavering ‘nuts and bolts’ man who has still a little bit of engagement left, but is dependent on people on the ground, like Kupka, who is fighting a battle on two fronts, trying to unite the tenants in the hope that Yadiz keeps his promise.

DoP Alexandre Lamarque offers up a sophisticated looking feature reflecting the changing milieu, from council house to corridors of power, but there is simply two many plot lines going on for the audience to see things clearly. Isabelle Huppert once again running the show like a seasoned professional with composite ease.  AS

Venice Film Festival 2021

Venice has upped its game programme wise in recent years and now looks to challenge Cannes with its glittering line-up. The 78th edition opens on September 1st with mainstream film as well as arthouse fare including the hotly anticipated Princess Diana drama Spencer starring Kristen Stewart and Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. Star power is boosted by Adam Driver, Matt Damon, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Olivia Colman and Jamie Leigh Curtis

This year’s jury is headed by Oscar-winner Bong Joon Ho (Parasite) presiding over Oscar winner Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), French actress Virginie Efira (Benedetta), Italian director Saverio Costanzo (Hungry Hearts), Canadian actress and producer Sarah Gadon (Enemy), Romanian documentary maker Alexander Nanau (Collective), and British actress and singer-songwriter Cynthia Erivo (Widows).

Other major movies picking Venice for their world debut include David Gordon Green’s latest horror outing Halloween Kills starring Jamie Lee Curtis; Ridley Scott’s period drama The Last Duel starring Adam Driver, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Jodie Comer; and Edgar Wright’s hotly anticipated Last Night in Soho with Anya Taylor-Joy. All three will screen out of competition.

In the running for the 2021 Golden Lion for best film are Jane Campion’s star-studded literary adaptation The Power of the Dog featuring Kirsten Dunst and Benedict Cumberbatch, Ana Lily Amirpour’s latest Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, and actor Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, starring Oscar winner Olivia Colman, will also premiere in competition at the 78th Venice Festival.

Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco is back in the main competition after his New Order won the Silver Lion Grand Jury prize in Venice last year, Sundown, an English-language features sees him working again with Tim Roth, and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Paul Schrader will be there with The Card Counter, starring Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish and Willem Dafoe.

Venice 2021 has proved of late to be somewhat of a springboard for the Academy Awards. But Italian cinema has also garnered kudos from the ‘La Mostra’ which features this year no less that five Italian titles in competition, including America Latina from brothers Damiano and Fabio d’Innocenzo, Il Buco from director Michelangelo Frammartino, Freaks Out from Gabriele Mainetti, and Mario Martone’s Qui Rido Io.

Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino will also be on the lido with his latest The Hand of God,a rites of passage football themed drama set in Naples during the 1980s where Diego Maradona joined the city’s team.

The closing film on September 11th will also be Italian — Roberto Ando’s Il Bambino Nascoto

Other buzz worthy titles include Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song from director Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine. TV wise there’s Scenes From a Marriage starring Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac reunited after A Most Violent Year (2014) an adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s celebrated classic 1973 feature.

The Horizons section this year features a lot of new directors. Most notable here is British director Harry Wootliff whose premiere True Things, has a glittering cast of Ruth Wilson and Tom Burke, and Matt Dillon starring Land of Dreams from Iranian director Shirin Neshat and Shoja Azari, starring Matt Dillon. The sidebar closes with Rhino from the contraversal Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov. As if there wasn’t enough films the Horizons now includes an ‘Extra Section’ that explore new avenues in world cinema, ie ‘experimental’ fare.

Last year Venice successfully managed to be the first major international festival to hold an in-person edition since the pandemic broke in the February. The 2021 festival acknowledges that coronavirus is still rampant in Europe with the variants taking hold.

The full lineup of the 2021 Venice Film Festival is below.

VENEZIA 78 – COMPETITION

Madres Paralelas, dir: Pedro Almodóvar
Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, dir: Ana Lily Amirpour
Un Autre Monde, dir: Stéphane Brizé
The Power of the Dog, dir: Jane Campion
America Latina, dirs: Damiano D’Innocenzo, Fabio D’Innocenzo
L’Evénement, dir: Audrey Diwan
Competencia Oficial, dirs: Gaston Duprat, Mariano Cohn
Il Buco, dir: Michelangelo Frammartino
Sundown, dir: Michel Franco
Illusions Perdues, dir: Xavier Giannoli
The Lost Daughter, dir: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Spencer, dir: Pablo Larraín
Freaks Out, dir: Gabriele Mainetti
Qui Rido Io, dir: Mario Martone
On the Job: The Missing 8, dir: Erik Matti
Leave No Traces, dir: Jan P Matuszynski
Captain Volkonogov Escaped, dirs: Natasha Merkulova, Aleksey Chupov
The Card Counter, dir: Paul Schrader
The Hand Of God, dir: Paolo Sorrentino
La Caja, dir: Lorenzo Vigas
Reflection, dir: Valentyn Vasyanovych

OUT OF COMPETITION – FICTION

Il Bambino Nascosto, dir: Roberto Ando
Les Choses Humaines, dir: Yvan Attal
Ariaferma, dir: Leonardo Di Costanzo
Halloween Kills, dir: David Gordon Green
La Scuola Cattolica, dir: Stefano Mordini
Old Henry, dir: Potsy Ponciroli
The Last Duel, dir: Ridley Scott
Dune, dir: Denis Villeneuve
Last Night In Soho, dir: Edgar Wright

OUT OF COMPETITION – NON-FICTION

Life of Crime 1984-2020, dir: Jon Alpert
Tranchées, dir: Loup Bureau
Viaggio Nel Crepuscolo, dir: Augusto Contento
Republic of Silence, dir: Diana El Jeiroudi
Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song, dirs: Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine
Deandré#Deandré Storio Di Un Impiegato, dir: Roberta Lena
Django & Django, dir: Luca Rea
Ezio Bosso. Le Cose Che Restano, dir: Giorgio Verdelli

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Le 7 Giornate Di Bergamo, dir: Simona Ventura
La Biennale Di Venezia: Il Cinema Al Tempo Del Covid, dir: Andrea Segre

OUT OF COMPETITION – SERIES

Scenes From a Marriage (Episodes 1-5), dir: Hagai Levi

HORIZONS EXTRA

Land of Dreams, dirs: Shirin Neshat, Shoja Azari
Costa Brava, dir: Mounia Akl
Mama I’m Home, dir: Vladimir Bitokov
Ma Nuit, dir: Antoinette Boulat
La Ragazza Ha Volato, dir: Wilma Labate
7 Prisoners, dir: Alexandre Moratto
The Blind Man Who Did Not Want to See Titanic, dir: Teemu Nikki
La Macchina Delle Immagini Di Alfredo C, dir: Roland Sejk

ORIZZONTI

Les Promesses, dir: Thomas Kruithof
Atlantide, dir: Yuri Ancarani
Miracle, dir: Bogdan George Apetri
Pilgrims, dir: Laurynas Bareisa
Il Paradiso Del Pavone, dir: Laura Bispuri
The Falls, dir: Chung Mong-Hong
El Hoyo En La Cerca, dir: Joaquin Del Paso
Amira, dir: Mohamed Diab
A Plein Temps, dir: Eric Gravel
107 Mothers, dir: Peter Kerekes
Vera Dreams of the Sea, dir: Kaltrina Krasniqi
White Building, dir: Kavich Neang
Anatomy of Time, dir: Jakrawal Nilthamrong
El Otro Tom, dirs: Rodrigo Pla, Laura Santullo
El Gran Movimento, dir: Kiro Russo
Once Upon a Time in Calcutta, dir: Aditya Vikram Sengupta
Rhino, dir: Oleg Sentsov
True Things, dir: Harry Wootliff
Inu-Oh, dir: Yuasa Masaaki

VENICE LA BIENNALE FILM FESTIVAL  | 1 – 11 SEPTEMBER 2021

Verdict (2020)

Dir: Raymond Ribay Gutierrez | Drama, 126′

 

 

One Night in Miami (2020) ***

Dir: Regina King | Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr. | US Drama, 110′

Four major forces of the black community come together in Regina King’s discursive and smouldering imagined drama that occasionally sparks into life.

It’s February 25th, 1964 and Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke find themselves together in a motel room for a night of lively debate in the wake of the civil rights movement, Clay having just emerged from the Miami Beach Convention Centre as the new Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World.

King sets just the right tone working from a script by Kemp Powers that immediately transports us back to the era with a dynamic opening sequence that leads into some compelling exchanges with these charismatic characters convincingly captured, Ben-Adir is particularly impressive as Malcolm X.  But the film rapidly runs out of steam as the discourse drags on into a rather claustrophobic chamber piece, occasionally glinting with the odd contretemps – a case in point is Malcolm X’s criticism of Sam Cooke’s musical style. King rescues the final stretch ending on an upbeat note to give this worthwhile outing a positive outcome. One Night will be remembered for its commanding and nuanced performances that will remain a cinematic tribute to the cultural icons of the day. MT

VOD RELEASE ON MAJOR PLATFORMS

Pieces of a Woman (2020) VOD

Dir: Kornel Mundruczo | Drama, 127’

Nothing prepares us for sudden death. But the most confusing part of bereavement is how is it affects those around us, and particularly those nearest to us. And this unexpected behaviour is the crux of Kornel Mundruczo’s latest film. It looks at how the loss of a child affects a professional Bostonian woman called Martha (Vanessa Kirby/The Crown) and her stevedore partner, a recovering alcoholic who hails from Seattle (Shia Leboeuf).

The Hungarian director’s first outing in English is as deeply flawed as the title suggests, a tonal mishmash: moving in parts but totally incoherent in others. The euphoric early arthouse scenes – impressively shot in one 24 minute take – show the couple during the birth, and these intensely personal moments are graphic in detail. Almost too much so. But the baby dies shortly after she is born leaving the couple in disarray and arguments and recriminations follow. And as Boston descends into a freezing winter, amid wide panoramic shots of the Charles River, so Martha retreats into herself cutting Sean adrift in an icy silence.

Based on his own personal experiences this is clearly a cathartic film for the director writing with his real life partner Kata Weber. But the film soon drifts into a more glossy family drama where the grief-stricken Martha is persuaded by her controlling mother (Ellen Burstyn in formidable form) to seek compensation from the midwife. As Martha’s relationships deteriorate all round her so the storyline unravels with no real sense of direction. There is a fraught mother-daughter strand; an imploding relationship breakdown where class and racial conflicts enter the fray – Martha is a tough Jewish uptown girl, Sean is soft-hearted but given to brutal outbursts. Their attractions are also part of their downfall when things don’t go according to plan.

Sarah Snook, Martha’s distant cousin, is hired to fight their case as the lawyer taken on to prosecute midwife Eva. And Martha’s mother, a steely Holocaust survivor, offers invaluable advice to daughters everwhere: “you have to take a stand and tell your truth, otherwise you can never move on”. You might not like her but you’d certainly want her on your side: “and when you do move on, burn your bridges”, is another chestnut.

The actors all do their best to carry the film forward and Ellen Burstyn is the most impressive, Leboeuf stymied by an underwritten role. But the script is so focussed on Martha’s simmering resentment that the final reveal – in a coruscating court scene – bears no relation to what has gone before, leaving us unprepared and perplexed.

The unsuccessful shift from arthouse to Hollywood melodrama could be due to various big names jumping on board the project with their money and therefore demanding a schmaltzy Hollywood happy ending, Martin Scorsese has put his money behind the project as exec producer but Mundruczo’s departure from his arthouse style is a bewildering film, certainly watchable but vaguely unsatisfying. MT

NOW ON VOD RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL  2020

Dear Comrades! (2020) **** VOD

Dir: Andrei Konchalovsky | Drama, Russia 120′

Veteran Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky uncovers a little known episode of the Nikita Krushchev era – the Novercherkassk Massacre  of June 1962 – in this elegant and restrained black and white feature filmed on academy ratio.

A follow-up to his last Venice offering – Sin – an imagined drama about Michelangelo – this is a more down to earth film but its refined gracefulness pictures the seriousness of the incident with a lightness of touch and even a dash of sardonic humour.

Dear Comrades! plays out during three days and is viewed through the eyes of a working woman played often vehemently by the director’s wife and regular collaborator Julia Vysotskaya. Lyuda is divorced and living with her daughter and father in the Southern city where she is a committed Communist Party official who yearns for the days of Stalin, despite its abuses which would lead to millions of Russians losing their lives. We instantly connect with her from the opening scene where she is in a rush to leave her married lover’s bed, keen to get in the supermarket queue before the shelves are emptied – due to the political regime rather than Covid19 shortages.

A strike is later announced at a local factory where Lyuda’s wilful teenage daughter Sveta (Julia Burova) is a worker and desperate to join her co-workers as they mass for the protest. Lyuda is watching the crowd swell from the balcony of her spacious offices but when the workers surge forward and break into the building she and her colleagues are advised to leave through the basement. Soon thousands are joining in the protest and the following days sees a KGB sniper shoots indiscriminately into the crowd and many civilians are killed and injured as they scatter for cover. .

The balanced script uncovers some fascinating contradictions about the Soviet era: Konchalovsky and his co-writer Elena Kiseleva are keen to point out that  the army are odds with the KGB and the forces end up taking the rap. The authorities crack down immediately ordering the main roads to be resurfaced with fresh tar macadam to hide the indelible bloodshed which has seeped into the cracks and dried in the searing sun. There is a rapid cover-up: locals are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements and sworn to secrecy upon pain of death. Meanwhile, Sveta has disappeared and Lyuda urges a KGB captain Viktor (Andrei Gusev) to help track her down.

In many ways Lyuda is a conflicted character not only for her political ideals but also for her personal ones: “Are you ashamed to share a bed with another woman’s husband?” complains her daughter when Lyuda complains about her daughter’s tarty habit of not wearing a bra.  Lyuda supports a crack-down on the protesters but when Sveta upholds her own constitutional right to protest, Lyuda tells her she should be disciplined. And the following vignette involving her father (Sergei Erlish) is a telling one as he dresses up in his military uniform and dusts down a religious icon of the Virgin Mary while reminiscing over past state abuses.

After a dignified irritation in the early scenes Lyuda start to let her emotions out of the bag in the final act, her anxiety bubbling to the surface but also her nihilistic acceptance of life under a regime which she has both aided and abetted, and is now suffering under. The final reveal topples over into a romantic sentimentalism bordering on melodrama that sits awkwardly with her stiff upper-lipped persona of the early part of the film, but this human drama is richly rewarding snapshot of life in 1960s Russia that doesn’t appear to have moved under Putin nearly sixty years later, according to Andre Konchalovsky. MT

NOW ON CURZON VOD from 15 January | Venice Film Festival 2020  | SPECIAL JURY PRIZE 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martin Eden (2019)

Dir Pietro Marcello | Italy, Drama 129′

Based on the 1909 novel by Jack London, Pietro Marcello crafts a sweepingly timeless romantic epic that follows the fortunes of a sailor (Luca Marinelli) in his captivating quest to become a writer.

Martin Eden is a hero in the classic Southern Italian style: his passionate raw charisma hides a vulnerable but trusting heart.
Marcello’s film is set in a nameless Italian port city where it blends a variety of temporal cues while remaining timeless, a restless momentum driving the narrative forward, and keeping the audience absorbed for nearly three hours.

As Eden, Luca Marinelli has an energetic physicality that pulsates with his desire to overcome the odds of his skimpy education. We first meet him as a jobbing sailer, his imagination fired into action by a chance encounter with the sophisticated Elena (a fragile Jessica Cressy) and he becomes infatuated, for a while. But Martin’s intense preoccupation with bettering himself work-wise – and socially too –  soon becomes an obsession, alienating those who have helped him, As the saying goes: ‘you can take a boy out of Southern Italy but you can’t take Southern Italy out of a boy” and his humble start in life tugs at his conscience.

Marcello’s decision to shoot on Super 16mm gives the film an atmospheric retro quality that compliments the timeless romance of this aspirational story. The use of archival footage both illuminates and intensifies this haunting flight of human passion. The desire to seek a better life against all odds is both timely and universal. MT

New Wave Films is finally set to release Pietro Marcello’s ‘MARTIN EDEN‘ in UK cinemas on 9th July.

 

Leap of Faith (2019) ****

Dir: Alexandre O Philippe | Doc, 105

Leap of Faith, a lyrical and spiritual cinematic essay on The Exorcist, explores the uncharted depths of William Friedkin’s mind’s eye, the nuances of his filmmaking process, and the mysteries of faith and fate that have shaped his life and filmography. The film unpacks Friedkin’s filmmaking process focusing here exclusively on The Exorcist, a mystery of faith inspired – according to Friedkin – by Dreyer’s 1955 drama Ordet

Already well known for his documentaries 78/52 and Memory: The Origins of Alien, Philippe jumped at this opportunity of a cosy fireside chat with the iconic director who describes himself of instinctive “one-take kind of guy” who has always relied on his gut reaction and spontaneity to make a film. Spontaneity interests him more than perfection. And this was particularly the case when it came to creating The Exorcist which he calls a ‘chamber piece’ rather than a horror movie.

Friedkin grew up with his parents in a one room apartment in Chicago where he was taken by his mother to see Clifford Odet’s None But the Lonely Heart (1944). A lowly postboy, he wanted to discover more about cinema. But the film that propelled him into a career in film was Welles’ Citizen Kane.

By the early 1970s he had already become a successful director when he happened to  read William Peter Blatty’s paperback The Exorcist. Friedkin describes wanting to make the book into a movie against all odds – it seems the whole film popped into his mind fully formed from the novel but Blatty’s script was a fractured narrative with flashbacks. The singleminded Friedkin describes how he had what Fritz Lang once called “sleepwalkers security” about the script. He knew he wanted to tell a straight ahead realist story, just like the book.

The introduction is the underpinning to the whole piece and takes place in ancient Niniver, Iraq. At some point in the town’s early history the citizens had all been beheaded along with the statues and this tragic event sets the tone for the story, the director following his instincts throughout the shoot. Another crucial factor in deciding Regan’s behaviour was an incident during his Chicago, childhood when a local girl was decapitated, her body cut up and thrown into the garden. An ancient medal found in the sands becomes the McGuffin, a significant device providing the motivation for what happens next.

Music had an overriding influence for Friedkin in the The Exorcist. But he wanted to avoid a score that drove the plot forward, and chose instead to soundscape that slowly builds into a powerful force. An overriding sense of dread that stays throughout, starting with a the lowkey opening in Iraq and ending in a quiet crescendo. Father Merrin’s premonition had to be an instinctual moment that the audience has to sense. The supernatural in our midst. An ordinary girl slowly becomes a demon. This “Expectancy set” describes how the audience comes to the cinema wanting to be scared from the outset.  Bernard Herrmann was top of the list score-wise but was quite rude about the film. “If you know St Giles Cripplegate’s organ that would be a great inspiration” said Herrmann, who by now was living in London. But what the film needed was music that “felt like a cold hand on the back of your neck” – he found it with a score made up by composer Lalo Schiffer. But that didn’t work either and drowned the subtleness of the early scenes. The score was left untouched, and they haven’t spoken since. Friedkin wanted more of a Brahms lullaby. Then Mike Oldfield then came along.

Friedkin’s use of subliminal cuts and sounds makes the movie into an experimental sound museum. Old colleague Ken Nordine was called on to create Regan’s demon voice – it needed to be a male/female voice of the kind that Mercedes McCambridge had used in the Western (Johnny Guitar/1954). She used a concoction of heavily booze, eggs and cigarettes to produce an un-God-like sound which brought about the required timbre.

Casting was another complex matter that took some time to get right. Max Von Sidow had a problem getting the intensity to play Father Merrin because he didn’t believe in God, although he had played a convincing Jesus in George Steven’s The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).  In the end he played Merrin as an ordinary man because his acting skill came from understatement rather than histrionic emotion. Blatty, who has studied for the priesthood and then dropped out, was desperate to play Father Karras but then Jason Miller stepped forward and he just embodied the priest, although he was a non-pro. Stacey Keach had been signed to the role but was immediately dropped, his contract settled in full. The Reverend William O’Malley was another non-pro perfect for the role as Father Dyer because he understood the territory. Friedkin often shot a gun in the air to achieve the right facial expression from his actors – John Ford and George Stevens also regularly used these techniques. Although he claims this kind of ploy was never needed with a great actor. Lee J Cobb, who played Lt Kinderman, was one.

Friedkin talks a great about ‘rosebud moments’ and ‘grace-notes’ during this engaging documentary which draws on his wide taste in culture and art. Regan’s makeup was inspired by the Belgian surrealist Ensor’s paintings of masks. Magritte is also an influence, the artist’s Empire of Light giving the film its iconic image.Moments of truth such as in Cartier Bressons’ photos and Caravaggio’s tortured figures were also an inspiration. Friedkin’s way of lighting the sides of his character’s faces was taken from Vermeer and Rembrandt. Particularly Vermeer’s View of Delft in 17th century. He describes the scene with the white-robed nuns walking by as one the grace notes in this otherwise grim film. Grace notes are the lovely things you remember forever, and are more significent than the larger events.

Just like Kubrick’s Obelisk in 2001 A Space Odyssey, so the silver medal appears to various characters in the film including Father Karras and Father Merrin, along with a constant subliminal theme of ascension throughout the film. Karras is a figure with an inner torment of his own: taunted by guilt about his mother and his fears for the loss of his own faith, he is the tragic hero of the piece. The Father gives up his life for the life of the young girl. He jumps out of the window taking the demon with him, having invited it into his own body, even though suicide is against the Catholic Church (an idea that departs from the book), and remains an ambiguity in the film. Blatty insists that the devil comes out of his body again before Karras leaps out of the window. He then confesses to Father Dyer at the end but Friedkin is still unhappy about this dilemma, considering it the only flaw in the film.

It seems neither Blatty not the director are convinced about the ending. “Life is so ambiguous and that’s why my films are” he claims. This informative documentary ends with Friedkin reminiscing on life and his visit to the Zen garden in Kyoto where he found peace and a series of rocks surrounded by raked gravel. “The rocks represent continents that will never come together. We are in this World alone, completely separate from each other. Driven to tears he sites this as one his grace notes. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 August – 7 September 2019

Nomadland (2020)

Dir/Wri.: Chloé  Zhao; Cast: Frances McDormand, David Straithearn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie, Melanie Smith, Derek Endres, Bob Wells; USA 2020, 108 min.

A woman loses everything and embarks on a epic journey across America’s midwest  re-discovering her heart and soul.

Nomadland is the follow-up to Chloé Zhao’s breakout indie The Rider and captures the same spirit of emotional release and redemption in the big country as the 2017 award winner. This time with a fatter budget and star-power, the Chinese director adapts Jessica Bruder’s 2017 autobiographical study “Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century”. The nomads in question are victims of the 2008 financial crisis – now in their 60s and 70s – live in camper vans and trailer parks, not unlike the Hobos of the Great Depression. 

Shot in Nebraska, South Dakota, Nevada, Arizona and California, the film is carried by Frances McDormand who is the quietly resilient Fern, a vigorous defender of her freedom: “I am not homeless, I am houseless”. Since her husband died and her employee folding – shutting down the entire town of Empire, Nevada (including the postcode)  -. she has joined the growing army of casual workers taken to moving around the vast expanses of the mid West in a camper vans, rather than returning to the (now broken) places of their youth. Something has changed for good: and instead of yearning for security they celebrate real American independence – with all its drawbacks –  a private plumbed in lavatory, or the lack of it, is one. And talking of toilets, Fern now cleans them in restaurants as one of her casual jobs, Another is being an “Amazon Ant” in a huge warehouse, possibly not much different from the factory floor back in Empire.

Fern – McDormand in indomitable form – gets a proper introduction to life as a traveller by a pioneer of the movement: the anti-capitalist orator Bob Wells, who plays himself. Long-term cancer survivor Charlene Swankie, is another. Charlene  is philosophical about her terminal cancer: as long as she avoids hospital, she can cope. A string of small encounters make Fern’s story memorable, young Derek Endres remembers her generous gift of cigarettes when they meet by accident again; a Shakespeare Sonnet is a point of reference for longing and loss they have all endured. “See you down the road” becomes the travellers “mot du jour”.

There are also long term relationships. Dave (Straithearn, one of the few professional actors), has a crush on Fern. After he decides to go back and live like a proper grandfather to his family, he invites Fern to visit him and offers her the shelter of a comfortable home. She is tempted – at least for a while. But when she leaves the house at night for the security of her van, we all know what will happen.

And then there is her sister Dolly (Smith), who represents the life she has left behind. Fern visits on the pretext of borrowing money, but declines the invitation to move in despite her sister twisting the emotional screws: “Your leaving has left a big hole”. But Fern has found a new direction from the ashes of her past.

Back on the road and bathing naked in a lagoon, Fern is at one with nature come rain or storm. The desert is like a magnet, replacing the longing for an orderly way of life: the strictures of yesterday have been replaced by serenity as she draws strength from solitude, and herself. In the end, her father’s phrase:”What’s remembered, lives” sums up an atmosphere close to the Woody Guthrie songs of the 1930s, when solidarity was born out of a new rules of survival. And this is the positive message of this life-affirming film about true spiritual status quo: when we become truly at one with ourselves.

DoP Joshua James Richards images, particularly of the desert, are quietly mind-blowing, yet his scenes of the daily grind and other “inconveniences”  do not stint in grubby detail. Frances McDormand’s performance is an understatement bordering on the miraculous. She represents stoicism, unflinching and without compromise, finding poetry in the everyday, she carries the past without denying the loss, striding forward to another exciting meeting with a new friend down the road. AS

Best Film, Best Leading Actress  BAFTA 2021 | GOLDEN LION WINNER | VENICE 2020 | Oscars for Chloe Zhao and Frances McDormand.

                                      

New Order (2020)

Dir/scr. Michel Franco | Mexico/France | 86 mins.

Michel Franco delivers a blistering arthouse thriller that pictures a potential cataclysmic recompense for Mexico’s class divide.

After Lucia, Chronic and April’s Daughters were all astringent social dramas this short sharp shock of a feature is an extreme expression to his country’s corrupt social and political divide and delivers an uncompromising gut punch that has a distinct shades of Costa Gavras’ 1972 outing State of Siege.  

The aesthetic is brash and the pace fast-moving – bewildering almost – as payback delivers payback, all done in less than 90 minutes. Three factions are involved: the wealthy, the Military and the working classes and no one emerges a hero, or even particularly likeable or distinguishable, they are all just ciphers for the sectors they represent.

The action takes place in Mexico City but the anger is universal reflecting a world increasingly polarised between the have and the have-nots’. And the have-nots are certainly not having it anymore here in Mexico City which is seized by a violent uprising that boils over in the opening scenes. Patients are ousted from their beds and in a local hospital, and doused in green paint. Nearby a wedding is taking place behind the security-guarded walls of an upmarket compound: Marianne (Naián González Norvind) is getting married, but some of the guests arrive splattered in green paint.

The feverish pace quickens in the dizzying hand-held camerawork. A feeling of doom pervades. At the wedding the talk is of drugs and property deals, while the indigenous Mexican staff whirl around with champagne and canapés. Marianne is given envelopes rather than packaged gifts – money talks louder than toasters and crystal here in Mexico.  But when a former member of staff turns up asking his ex employer to finance urgent hospital treatment, Marianne is the only one to oblige, with a hug and a helping hand.

A scuffle breaks out and we are catapulted into a muddled, military-style coup. The staff grab jewellery and watches, while guests are bundled into black vans and dragged away screaming, under the cosh. Anyone travelling there will know that  guerrilla kidnappings are very much par for the course in modern day Latin America – but this is a big time operation, and it’s vicious, and well-orchestrated with no happy ending.

The Mexican flag flies high over the final scene that carries the chilling words ‘Only The Dead Have Seen The End Of War’ (purportedly a quote from the Spanish philosopher Jorge Ruiz de Santayana 1963-1952 not Plato – although this is debatable). Franco’s film takes no prisoners – quite literally – and there are no memorable performances, the characters are only there to serve the narrative. The takeaway is the powerful message New Order delivers. An unflinching and prescient work. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 10 SEPTEMBER 2021

 

One Night in Miami (2020) ***

Dir: Regina King | Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr. | US Drama, 110′

Four major forces of the black community come together in Regina King’s discursive and smouldering imagined drama that occasionally sparks into life.

It’s February 25th, 1964 and Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke find themselves together in a motel room for a night of lively debate in the wake of the civil rights movement, Clay having just emerged from the Miami Beach Convention Centre as the new Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World.

King sets just the right tone working from a script by Kemp Powers that  immediately transports us back to the era with a coruscating opening sequence that leads into some compelling exchanges with these charismatic characters convincingly captured, especially by Ben-Adir’s masterful turn as Malcolm X.  But the film rapidly runs out of steam as the discourse drags on into a rather claustrophobic chamber piece, occasionally glinting with the odd contretemps – a case in point is Malcolm X’s criticism of Sam Cooke’s musical style. King rescues the final stretch ending on an upbeat note to give this worthwhile outing a positive outcome. But what out stands out is four commanding and nuanced performances that will remain a cinematic tribute to the the cultural icons of the day. MT

IN CINEMAS 11 OCTOBER 2020

Genus Plan | Lahi, Hayop (2020)

Dir.: Lav Diaz; Cast: Bart Guingona, DMs Boongaling, Nading Josef, Hazel Orencio, Joel Saracho, Noel Sto. Domingo, Lolita Carbon, Popo Diaz; Philippines 2020, 150 min.

Philippine filmmaker Lav Diaz (*1958) is known for his valuable contribution to the “Slow Cinema” Movement with features often lasting between 225 minutes (his 2016 Venice winner The Woman Who Left) and roughly eleven hours (Evolution of a Filipino Family (2004). His most popular film Norte – or the End of History (2013), a re-working of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, coming in with a middling 250 minutes.

So it is quite remarkable that Genus Pan lasts a mere 150 minutes – truly a short film project for Diaz, who for the first time found international producers for his Locarno 2020 project When the Waves are Gone, a Dumas re-setting of the Count of Monte Christo, interrupted by the Covid19 pandemic. 

Genus Pan is set on the island of Hugaw, known as ‘dirt island’ because of its history. During the Japanese occupation (one of many colonial powers who have invaded the Philippines) Japanese soldiers kidnapped and raped indigenous women, using them as sex slaves. Today the Vargas family rules the island with help of a para-military army, led by the Captain (Popo Diaz, who acts as PD).

The story follows a trio of miners, the young Andres (Boongaling) and the older Baldo (Josef) and ex-circus worker Paulo (Guingona), who have decided to seek work on the pier of the nearby city. Their journey across the jungle is an eventful one fraught with memories of their time at the Circus, Andres being angry with Baldo for taking a “placement fee” from the younger man, as did the exploitative bosses and soldiers back at the mine. Paulo, a devout Christian believer, smooths things over by paying Baldo the fee so he can give the money to Andres who needs it for his sister’s medical treatment. Under the influence of alcohol, the old men remember how they murdered the ‘Clown’, before killing each other. Meanwhile Andres blacks out.

Without revealing the entire plot suffice to say this is a another colourful human story involving murder and mayhem in a tight-knit community of divided loyalties and fierce family allegiances, the colonial past colliding with future hopes and dreams.

Once again the themes of Diaz’ work resurface retracing his homeland’s fractured history, the present still caught up with the repressive regime of President Marcos and today’s President Duterte. Strong mysticism also plays its part particularly in rural areas, adding a vibrant spirituality shaped by the Catholic faith and the Easter processions with traditional  rituals of self-flagellation and dedication to the Virgin Mary. 

But Diaz’ overriding strength is his potent visual aesthetic that helps us to live in the film and be completely enveloped by the experience. There are no dramatic arcs: Diaz’ films mimic life itself: there are no chapters or “artificial new beginnings”, everything flows on as a unit. A scene often begins with an empty frame showing the opulence of the jungle where Diaz’ characters will live out their experiences. Leaves flutter in the wind, clouds wander, and water ripples by. “I am trying to unify space and time” he says. The audience joins the protagonists in a daily experience that mirrors their own Cinema is “an engagement with life” for Diaz, just as it was for Tarkovsky, who is quoted: “Time becomes tangible when you sense something significant, truthful, going on beyond the events on the screen; when you realise, quite consciously, that what you see in the frame is not limited by its visual depiction, but is a pointer to something stretching out beyond the frame and to infinity, a point to life”.

Diaz’ cinema follows the flow of dreams and ideas. It takes us back to our childhood reflecting loss, joy, remorse and the harshness of everyday life. We can find a new home for our memories in his flowing images. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 1 SEPTEMBER | Venice Film Festival 2020 | ORIZZONTI AWARD for BEST DIRECTOR
     

             

 

Selva Tragica (2019) **** Venice Horizons 2020

Dir: Yulene Olaizola | Cast: Indira Andrewin, Gilberto Barraza, Mariano Tun Xool, Lázaro Gabino Rodríguez, Eligio Meléndez / Mexico, France, Colombia 96’

Mexico’s Yulene Olaizola delves into her homeland’s mystical culture in this eerily suggestive fantasy drama set deep in the Mayan jungle on the border between Mexico and Belize in 192o, a lawless territory where myths abound.

Suffused with cool lime greens of the lush rain forests this is a mediative feature that vibrates with the ancient lores of its remote and hostile territory, ambient sounds of wildlife occasionally breaking through the barrier of silence. Into this peacefully balanced ecosystem comes an unwelcome intrusion in the shape of a group of Mexican gum workers who cross paths with an enigmatic young Belizean woman dressed in white wandering around in the wilderness seemingly on her own. The jungle assumes a dominant role of antihero taking its revenge on the men its  poisonous plants, swarms of mosquitos, fierce animals fighting back as they desperately try to master its unknown depths and exotic creatures with their weapons and wilful presence.

Meanwhile Agnes is carried off by the men who take her with them as a lowkey hostage causing deep tensions in the group and arousing their fantasies and desires. Filled with new vigour, they must face their destiny, without realising that they have taken captive the legendary spirit of Xtabay, a powerful feminine spirit who beguiles them life a succubus leading them to their fate.

Selva Tragica serves as an intriguing metaphor for our ongoing destruction of the planet. Olaisola meanwhile offers up another fascinating and impressively crafted foray into Latin American culture that is currently enriching the independent arthouse film scene today. MT

Venice Film Festival 2020 | HORIZONS 2020

 

Dear Comrades! (2020) **** Venice Film Festival 2020

Dir: Andrei Konchalovsky | Drama, Russia 120′

Veteran Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky uncovers a little known episode of the Nikita Krushchev era – the Novercherkassk Massacre  of June 1962 – in this elegant and restrained black and white feature filmed on academy ratio.

A follow-up to his last Venice offering – Sin – an imagined drama about Michelangelo – this is a more down to earth film but its refined gracefulness pictures the seriousness of the incident with a lightness of touch and even a dash of sardonic humour.

Dear Comrades! plays out during three days and is viewed through the eyes of a working woman played often vehemently by the director’s wife and regular collaborator Julia Vysotskaya. Lyuda is divorced and living with her daughter and father in the Southern city where she is a committed Communist Party official who yearns for the days of Stalin, despite its abuses which would lead to millions of Russians losing their lives. We instantly connect with her from the opening scene where she is in a rush to leave her married lover’s bed, keen to get in the supermarket queue before the shelves are emptied – due to the political regime rather than Covid19 shortages.

A strike is later announced at a local factory where Lyuda’s wilful teenage daughter Sveta (Julia Burova) is a worker and desperate to join her co-workers as they mass for the protest. Lyuda is watching the crowd swell from the balcony of her spacious offices but when the workers surge forward and break into the building she and her colleagues are advised to leave through the basement. Soon thousands are joining in the protest and the following days sees a KGB sniper shoots indiscriminately into the crowd and many civilians are killed and injured as they scatter for cover. .

The balanced script uncovers some fascinating contradictions about the Soviet era: Konchalovsky and his co-writer Elena Kiseleva are keen to point out that  the army are odds with the KGB and the forces end up taking the rap. The authorities crack down immediately ordering the main roads to be resurfaced with fresh tar macadam to hide the indelible bloodshed which has seeped into the cracks and dried in the searing sun. There is a rapid cover-up: locals are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements and sworn to secrecy upon pain of death. Meanwhile, Sveta has disappeared and Lyuda urges a KGB captain Viktor (Andrei Gusev) to help track her down.

In many ways Lyuda is a conflicted character not only for her political ideals but also for her personal ones: “Are you ashamed to share a bed with another woman’s husband?” complains her daughter when Lyuda complains about her daughter’s tarty habit of not wearing a bra.  Lyuda supports a crack-down on the protesters but when Sveta upholds her own constitutional right to protest, Lyuda tells her she should be disciplined. And the following vignette involving her father (Sergei Erlish) is a telling one as he dresses up in his military uniform and dusts down a religious icon of the Virgin Mary while reminiscing over past state abuses.

After a dignified irritation in the early scenes Lyuda start to let her emotions out of the bag in the final act, her anxiety bubbling to the surface but also her nihilistic acceptance of life under a regime which she has both aided and abetted, and is now suffering under. The final reveal topples over into a romantic sentimentalism bordering on melodrama that sits awkwardly with her stiff upper-lipped persona of the early part of the film, but this human drama is richly rewarding snapshot of life in 1960s Russia that doesn’t appear to have moved under Putin nearly sixty years later, according to Andre Konchalovsky. MT

Venice Film Festival 2020  | SPECIAL JURY PRIZE 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notturno (2020) Mubi

Dir: Gianfranco Rosi | Italy, Doc 90′

Notturno is cinematic but too enigmatic in its broad brush impressionist study of everyday life in the war-torn Middle East.

Italy’s leading documentarian Gianfranco Rosi has spent three years filming life behind the battle lines in his latest film in competition at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

Endowed with his signature poetic gaze but lacking a formal narrative that made Fire at Sea so compelling, Notturno is essentially a collection of filmic episodes that drift from one to the next exploring the corrosive effects of the ongoing conflict on ordinary people. Wartime is clearly the theme behind these vignettes but without any point of contact we are left imagining, guessing and wondering rather than gaining worthwhile insight into the hapless lives, makes Notturno a largely dissociative and unsatisfying experience although some may enjoy its more freewheeling approach. And his camerawork is stunning.

The war serves as a latent but corrosive and destabilising presence for the local Libyans, Iraqis, Kurdistanis and Syrians who try desperately to keep their world together when all around them combat rages on. No finger is pointed at the perpetrators although ISIS is mentioned several times when a veiled and tearful mother takes a call from her frightened daughter.

The film opens to the rhythmic marching of soldiers in a training base, in the distance the thud of bombs and ammunition is heard as distant flames flare up in the night sky – whether they are explosions, or oil refineries is uncertain. A troupe of camouflaged female fighters let their hair down and relax drinking tea after their day is done. Five children settle down for the night on the floor of their main room where their mother will then wake the eldest at the crack of dawn to go hunting with an older man who pays him to spot flying prey. Another hunter drifts peacefully around his boat amid rushes and ducks oblivious to the danger, he carries a gun but the only gunshot is heard in the far distance. Each of these studies is revisited in finer detail.

The most disturbing segment explores the naive drawings made by children in nursery school. These feature black-masked men, torture and beheadings rather than innocent depictions of their parents, pets or playtime. A psychologist listens to their thoughts and recollections about being roused by ISIS to be tortured and witness the death of adult prisoners. The images are often sublime in contrast to the sorrowful subject matter.MT

TO ACCOMPANY NOTTURNO MUBI IS SCREENING A COMPLETE RETRO OF GIANFRANCO ROSI

The Splendour Of Truth: The Cinema Of Gianfranco Rosi, starting in February. Boatman (1993), Below Sea Level (2008), El Sicario, Room 164 (2010), Sacro Gra (2013), and Fire At Sea (2016) are an unconventional account of life on the margins, starting where the news headlines end.

Sacro GRA – 22 February
Fire At Sea – 23 February
Tanti Futuri Possibili – 22 February
Boatman – 5 March
Notturno – 5 March
Below Sea Level – 10 March
El Sicario, Room 164 – 17 March

To the Moon (2020) CPH:DOX 2021

Dir.: Tadhg O’Sullivan; Documentary, ROI 2020, 71 min.

This first solo outing for writer/director and editor Tadgh O’Sullivan is a hymn to the moon compiled of countless clips and texts from over 130 films featuring the lunar planet. Like most compendium films To the Moon stimulates the desire to revisit the originals – mostly Nordic and German films –  not just as quotes – but in their entirety.

This moon admiration marathon is divided in sections with the first three entitled: ‘Because the Moon feels loved‘; ‘Because its always alone in the Sky‘ and ‘Loom of the Moon‘. The goddess of the Moon is apparently called Luna, yet ironically the word has now come to be connected with the mentally challenged here on Earth (lunatics).

The next chapter, ‘The Werewolf’, explores intruders into the home after the hours of darkness, and particularly those of a canine variety. ‘Ebb Tide has come to me’ is a melancholic segment dealing with ageing and featuring as its themes water and death in the moon shine: “Winter of age which overwhelms everyone”.

‘Part of a Dream’ looks at children’s relationship with the moon and we watch, among others, a clip of Edgar Reitz’ Heimat, where the young narrator asks himself “Is it the same Moon over Russia as over Schabbach?”

A little boy asks a father if he is part of the moonlight dream in ‘The Moon is Ours‘ and we enjoy a clip from Fritz Lang’s horror outing The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960). Meanwhile a very unromantic Italian man drives his knife into a tree, destroying a heart carved into the trunk, his female companion looking hopefully up to the gleaming planet. Finally, ‘Earth Fragment‘ brings us back to the cruelty of nature, an owl is attacking a rabbit in the moonlight.

Three years in the making To The Moon is a labour of love, O’Sullivan has certainly done his homework, but one wonders how much is really to his credit. Impressively edited and entertaining To the Moon is an enjoyable foray into the film archives testing the audience’s knowledge of film history AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | VENICE NIGHTS 2020

UK films featured in To The Moon:

– Dangerous Moonlight, (Brian Desmond Hurst, 1941)

– The Smashing Bird I Used to Know (Robert Hartford-Davis, 1969)

– The Tell-Tale Heart (JB Williams, 1953)

– Ulysses (Joseph Strick, 1967)

– Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962)

– Der Mude Tod (Fritz Lang, 1921)

– Magic Myxies (F. Percy Smith, Mary Field, 1931)

– Floral Co-operative Societies (Mary Field, 1927)

– Cottage on Dartmoor (Anthony Asquith, 1929)

– Buxton Well Dressing (George Kemp, 1904)

– Children’s voxpop: Y Dydd (1969)

– The White Shadow (Graham Cutts, 1924)

– Lobsters (John Mathias, 1936)

– A Throw of Dice (Franz Osten, 1929)

 

 

 

 

Laila in Haifa (2020)

Dir: Amos Gitai | Drama, Israel, 90′

Gitai certainly brings out the exotic edginess of this Israeli port city bordering on the Lebanon in his feisty social satire that sees Palestinians, Israelis and Lebanese enjoying a local night spot.

Those familiar with the territory – political, cultural and social – will certainly appreciate a drama set in this complex part of the world Some of the intrigue will be missed by the mainstream unable to identify who’s who. And although we’re constantly led to believe by the British press that Arabs and Israelis are constantly at each others throats, Gitai shows us otherwise – in a multicultural set-up where opposites attract amid a heady brew of sexual chemistry that fuels the various interconnecting vignettes in a rather stagey drama with its awkward performances – often feeling as if the cast is just reading from the script. Yet there’s something mesmerising about the seedy characters. You might not trust them to post a letter, but they’re intriguing to watch

The setting is Haifa’s Fattoush Bar & Gallery adjacent to a busy railway line that occasionally drowns out the conversation between business people. And while negotiations are going on in the art gallery part of the venue, gay couples are carousing in another corner of the venue.

Laila (Maria Zreik, Villa Touma) is the owner of the gallery. She is married to canny Palestinian Kamal (Makram J. Khoury) who doesn’t give her credibility as a businesswoman or agree with the political nature of the photos in her current exhibition picturing the Palestinian Resistance, although he does appear laissez faire about her relationship with Gil the artist who shot them (actor and singer Tsahi Halevi) – the two are seen embracing before Kamal arrives on the scene.

There’s an odd scene where Kamal is accosted by a rather fiery young Arab woman (Behira Ablassi) who tries to bribe him for money by hiding in the back of his ‘top of the range’ Mercedes. He handles the situation with nonchalance cleverly giving her short shrift.

Gil entertains a sob story from his half-sister (Israeli actress and dancer Naama Preis) complaining about her sexless marriage. She turns her attentions to a good-looking young Arab guy who plies her with drinks before the two disappear into his car for a quickie.

In another part of the bar a stocky young black Arab is on a blind date with a bewigged Jewish widow (Hana Laslo). Candidly admitting he was expecting somebody younger, she confidently retorts: “I was expecting someone more Jewish”. A bizarre episode features Arab chef Hisham whose wife Khawla (Khawla Ibraheem) unwisely makes a play for his friend Gil.

Gitai’s snapshot of the Middle East feels very much like a filmed play – entertaining at times but also rather forced and artificial in its depiction of this multicultural social brew. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 5 NOVEMBER 2021

 

 

 

200 Meters (2020) *** Venice Days 2020

Dir.: Ameen Nayfeh; Vast: Ali Suliman, Anna Unterberger, Lana Zreik, Gassan Abbas, Motaz Malhees; Palestine 2020, 95 min.

In his first feature Palestinian writer/director Ameen Nayfeh tries his best to stand on the fence while exploring human rights infringements caused by the border between his homeland and Israel.

200 Meters refers to the distance between a family living on the contentious wall dividing Palestine and Israel. Mustafa (Suliman) is stayIng with his mother on the Palestinian West Bank, while his wife Salwa (Zreik) and the couple’s three children Noora, Majd and Maryam are just two hundred meters away on the Israeli side of the barrier but the family can see each other during the daytime, Mustafa crosses over to work in Israel.

His son Majd is a Liverpool fan, and particularly fond of their Egyptian striker Mohamed Salah. His mother is keen to enrol him with an Israeli football team, Maccabi, but Mustafa favours a Palestinian side. Salwa is much more pragmatic than her husband who is driven by ideology.

One day, Mustafa fails the finger print test at the border facilities, his work permit has expired and he is sent back. A day later Majd is injured in a car accident and Mustafa if forced to use a team of people smugglers to get him over the border to visit his son in hospital. The smugglers take his 350 Shekel fee, but Mustafa is forced to wait until more passengers arrive.

Along comes Anne (Unterberger), a German filmmaker who is crossing over to video a family wedding with her companion Kifah (Malees). Also in the car is Sami, a young man is search of work, and Mustafa suggests his own uncle and boss Aba Nidal (Abbas), as a possible employer. But the crossing is a botched affair and both drivers and passengers are left stranded: One of the smugglers attacks Anne, believing that she a Mossad agent, and knocks her out before fleeing. Sami almost manages to climbs over the border wall before a rival gang causes him to fall and break two ribs. Mustafa’s only chance is Anne, and her German passport. But can he trust her, or should he side with Kifah, who suspects Anne of being in league with the Israelis.

200 Meters is shot imaginatively in documentary style by DoP Elin Kirschfink. And although the ensemble acting is impressive, Anne’s near permanent presence takes away too much from the central conflict given that her character is never really satisfactorily explored leaving a gaping hole in our understanding of her role. Nayfeh’s flaws are those of a new filmmaker and he will have learned a great deal from his first outing, handleD masterfully on a shoe string budget. AS

VENICE DAYS | 8 SEPTEMBER 2020 |

      

Careless Crime | Jenayat-e Bi Deghat (2020) **** Venice Horizons 2020

Dir.: Shahram Mokri; Cast: Babak Karami, Razieh Mansouri, Abolfazl Kahani, Mohammad Sareban, Adel Yaraghi, Mahmoud Behraznia, Behzad Dorani; Iran, 139 min.

Iran’s Shahram Mokri won a Special Prize in the Venice Horizon Section in 2013 for Fish & Cat. His latest is another welcome surprise, Rivette-like in structure its repetitions coming together like a love letter to Cinema, connecting the past to the present, Mokri shows how history repeats itself. the McGuffins are all over the pace and the director works hard on his labyrinthine narrative, the past meeting the present in mirrors, the only reality being the film within the film.

In late August of 1979, six months before the Iranian Revolution, four men entered the Cinema Rex in Abadan (south-west Iran) and set fire to it with petrol. 478 People died whilst watching The Deer, directed by Masud Kimiai and starring the popular actor Behrouz Vosoughi, with the feature having a clear anti-Shah message. The arsonists had locked and removed the door handles to the only locked exits which opened inwardly so many people were crushed to death. Furthermore, the projection booth had been doused with petrol, and burst into flames. None of the cinema employees was present during the blaze. The fire engine arrived late, its water tank was empty. Only eight people managed to escape, among them one of the arsonists, Hossein Takbalizadh, who was later hanged. To make matters even more opaque, an interview in the Iranian News Update in August 2020 claimed the real arsonists now sit as MPs in the Iranian Parliament.

We meet Takbali (Kahani) who is desperately trying to get hold of his anti-anxiety medication, finally tracking down a man who might be able to provide the drugs. Ironically he works at the National Cinema Museum. Excerpts of The Crime of Carelessness, a 1912 silent movie by Harold M. Shaw, are interwoven into the narrative. Shaw had a big phobia about fire and his film centres on an arsonist.

Meanwhile Takbali meets his contact, a man in a costume, walking on stilts. He gives him the medicine, asking him to deliver a book to a friend. This leads Takbali to another cinema in the capital where The Deer is being shown, mainly to an audience of film students. Here Takbali meets Fallah (Dorani), Yadollah (Behraznia) and Faraj (Sareban), the modern day arsonists who he helps to douse the cinema in turpentine. But that doesn’t do the job, so Takbali buys gasoline to have another go later on.

DoP Alireza Barazandeh makes use of long tracking shots for his crowd scenes in the city, reserving a handheld camera for the countryside. If you’re looking for something different Careless Crime is highly recommended. AS

Venice Film Festival 2020 | WINNER BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | SHAHRAM MOKRI

 

Never Gonna Snow Again (2020)

Dir: Malgozata Szumowska Michal Englert | Drama Poland 120’

Poland has come a long way since its communist days according to this surreal and stirring social satire. Never Gonna Snow Again sees the nouveau riche residents of a soulless gated community outside Warsaw, unable to heal their own lives despite their comfortable existence.

Meanwhile from a poorer part of town lives a Ukrainean migrant masseur called Xenia. Each day he trudges each from his stalag style apartment through a Grimm’s fairytale forest and into this neurotic new town to spread his balm over troubled waters. Alec Utgoff is hypnotic and quietly muscular in the leading role but he remains a dark horse drawing us in to a story that is both intriguing and unsatisfying.

This Venice competition title is the latest from Polish director Małgorzata Szumowska and her regualr collaborator cinematographer Michał Englert. Their previous films have explored outre and challenged individuals and this is the most mysterious and eerie to-date (Body, Mug and The Other Lamb).

A hotchpotch of amusing domestic vignettes play out and  is more exasperating than the last held together by the alluring central character of Xenia whose background is gradually revealed but who potential is never properly explored. By intention he is the only appealing character, and we are impelled to watch this movie because of him, and only because of him. The idea of a guru who saves the disenchanted is one of the most powerful themes in history and is ever relevant particularly now in our time of turmoil. But it often feels like the filmmakers are trying too hard and rather than focussing on their strong storyline they throw in endless crude titbits that are distracting and also downright irritating unless you share this particular brand of humour that often mocks those in tragic circumstances.

Elements of Gothic horror, porn and melodrama seep into a story whose characters are all suffering significant loss. We feel for the woman whose husband undermines her, for the bereaved widow who has lost the love of her life, and for the husband who will shortly die of a cancer he desperately tried to defeat: we also start to understand how Xenia coped hen he was bereaved and this enriches his significant healing skills and calm charisma. The others feel no such insight into their lives but meeting Xenia gives them a sense of empowerment and hope.

There are some exciting moments in the Polish modern fairytale with its pounding soundscape full of danger and exotic promise yet somehow – like the treatment or potion that promises to deliver –  Never Gonna Snow Again is the same. Busy being loud and clever it drowns out the truth behind its story and thus never lives up to its enticing potential. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 15 OCTOBER 2021

Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (2020)

Dir.: Lili Horvat; Natasa Stork, Victor Bodo, Bennett Vilmanyl, Peter Toth, Andor Lukats, Julia Ladanyl, Linda Moshier; Hungary 2020, 95 min.

Natasa Stork plays a woman who gives up her shiny life in America to return home to Hungary in Lili Horvat’s enigmatic counter-migration movie. 

 

Natasa Stork is fortyyear old neuro-surgeon Marty Vizy who leaves a glittering career in New Jersey to start a new life when she falls for a colleague at a conference. Vizy had put all her energy and talent into her profession in a 24/7 week of total commitment. The new man in her life, Dr Janos Drexler (Bodo), promises to meet her a month later at the Pest end of Liberty Bridge in Budapest. But when she gets there he is nowhere to be seen and later insists he has never even met her. 

What could have been daft or pretentious is made intriguing by this stunning lead performance that lifts the feature out of the mundane and into a sinuous psychological game of cat and mouse.    

Marta is a very sober woman – in spite of her coup de foudre – and determined to get to the bottom of Drexler’s change of heart she continues as arranged back in Budapest (at the same hospital as Drexler) her new colleagues, especially the elderly Dr. Fried (Lukats), suspecting some kind of personality disorder, rather than the more simple explanation that she’s been ditched. Even her psychiatrist (Toth) doubts her version of events.

Her only close contact in Budapest is her friend Helen (Moshier) who helps her to rent a flat. But soon Drexler and Marta start trolling each other openly in the city in an intricately choreographed waiting game, Marta growing increasingly jealous of a young blonde woman who seems to be close to Drexler.

In her immaculately crafted sophomore feature Horvat brings all the ends together in the final ten minutes, with Marta changing from hunted to huntress. DoP Robert Maly puts an idyllic spin on Budapest, not quite an ad for the city but along those lines. But Stork steals the show, hard-edged and soulful in equal measure. The running time is just right, anything longer would have toppled the poetic structure of this modern fairy-tale. AS

Curzon announces the release date for Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time – On Curzon Home Cinema – 19th March | premiered at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | VENICE DAYS

Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams (2020)

Dir: Luca Guadagnino | Doc, Italy 120’

Luca Guadagnino‘s warm tribute to the life and work of celebrity shoemaker Salvatore Ferragamo positively glows with pride showing how his fellow countryman rose from humble beginnings to international fame through sheer hard work and perseverance.

In his lifetime Ferragamo designed iconic shoe styles that are still in production today: such as the famous rainbow sandals created for Judy Garland and the red jewelled stilettos worn by Marilyn Monroe.  The craftsman rose to fame as a favourite with the stars of silent screen such as Pola Negri, Lilian Gish and Mary Pickford who became friends and confidents, and he was eventually providing footwear for epic productions by Cecil B. EMille.

Guadagnino takes us through the complex step by step design and assembly process that continues today in Ferragamo’s famous Florence workshop, stressing how comfort was the watchword even when vertiginous heels were the order of the day. And every design was carefully patented. Ferragamo was a shrewd business man as well as a talented cobbler.

Guadagnino dedicates lavish attention to Ferragamo’s family ethic and his rise to fame  in the early years of the 20th century when as a 13 year old he set his heart on becoming a cobbler, even though it was considered ‘lowclass’, and sailed for America  from his small village of Bonito, Naples, just before the First World War.  Relatively soon he found success in the early years of Hollywood along with other pioneers who were finding their feet in this new playground.

The film is enlivened with fascinating archive footage of the era and interviews with Martin Scorsese, Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin and Ferragamo’s extensive family, including his wife who gives insight into their first meeting  (the couple married soon after and had six children).

Clearly Guadagnino is interested in the glamour of it all and the importance of family, tripping rather lightly over the commercial side of the business which saw some ups and downs particularly during the Depression when Ferragamo was forced to file for bankruptcy. And after his death at only 60, there is no explanation as to how his wife and eldest daughter Fiamma took over the business to ensure its continued success today. In two hours there was ample time to touch on this but clearly Guadagnino has erred on starry-eyed indulgence with his subject matter. And there is a so much to enjoy in this bumper Italian success story you somehow let him get away with it. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2020

 

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The New Gospel (2020) Venice Days 2020

Dir.: Milo Rau; Cast: Yvan Sagnet, Maia Morgenstern, Enrique Irazoqui, Marcello Fonte, Samuel Jacobs, Papa Latyr Faye; Switzerland/Germany 2020, 107 min.

Swiss writer/director Milo Rau gives Jesus and his apostles a contemporary makeover as migrant workers from Africa in his ambitious attempt to breath new life into Christianity’s central premise.

Filmed in Matera, Basilicata, in exactly the same location as Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel according to Matthew (1964), and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ (2004), Rau has also assembled actors from the original dramas. Back in the early 1960s, Pasolini picked an  economics student with an astonishing spiritual radiance to play Jesus. This time veteran actor Enrique Irazoqui plays Judas Iscariot. Meanwhile, Maia Morgenstern reprises her role as Mary from the Gibson feature.

Rau lets cast and crew watch parts of the Pasolini film. Once again, a relative newcomer plays the role of Jesus (Cameroonian activist Yvan Sagnet) who really has to suffer in this no holds barred contemporary version. He is styled as the leader of the “Revolt of Dignity”, a migrant organisation that fights against the exploitation of African workers by the Mafia. The Police intervenes after a demonstration, and the workers have to leave their dilapidated camp. In keeping with the spirit of Pasolini’s Neo-realist take, tourists and citizens of Matera are included in the shooting. They play the spectators, their modern outfits clashing with the historical costumes. The crucifixion has been filmed in the Murgia National Park, in exactly at the same spot where Pasolini and Gibson filmed: the original holes for the three crosses could be used again. 

The mayor of Matera, Raffaelo De Ruggieri, was offered the Pontius Pilate role, but he declined, choosing instead to play Simon of Cyrene, leaving Pilate’s part to Italian professional actor Marcello Fonte. Particularly convincing are Papa Latyr Faye as Peter, and Samuel Jacobs as Judas.

DoP Thomas Eirich-Schneider makes everything look real and the strong cast of professionals and newcomers make it all feel very convincing. But Rau’s project to “put Jesus back on his feet” is not an overall success. An attempt to give Jesus’s story a “black lives matter ” spin – is an avantgarde idea, but a bridge too far, confusing the delicate issues at stake by conflating two very different themes. Having the crowd of Jews shouting at Pilate “crucify the Black man”, somehow takes the action out of context, and leaves the audience with some question marks. AS

VENICE DAYS | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI 2020

My Tender Matador (2020) *** Venice Days 2020

Dir.: Rodrigo Sepulveda; Cast: Alfredo Castro, Leonardo Ortizgris, Paulina Urrutia, Julieta Zylberberg; Chile/Mexico/Argentina 2020, 93 min.

Venice winner Alfredo Castro (From Afar) is the main attraction of this full on melodrama with political overtones from Rodrigo Sepulveda (Aurora).

Based on Pedro Lemebel’s 2001 novel of the same name, this gay love story plays out in the Chile of 1986, when resistance fighters blew up Augusto Pinochet’s security offices in an attempt to assassinate him.

Carlos (Ortizgris) is part of an underground cell, planning to eliminate Pinochet. The action kicks off during a raucous evening in a local club where Castro’s ageing transvestite drag queen La Loca del Fuente is in full swing. The performance is interrupted by Military Police who kill one member of the troupe and arrest others. Carlos saves La Loca’s life, pretending they are a heterosexual couple, while the soldiers look for more victims.

La Loca lives in a derelict house in one of the poorest quarters of Santiago where he earns a modest living as a needle-smith. Smitten by the handsome revolutionary, he allows Carlos to store some boxes with “books” in his house, and also accords them total privacy when Carlos’ group has meetings, although La Loca wises up on discovering a cache of guns in the boxes, and objects to being asked to embroider a table cloth with the Chilean flag for one of his clients, Donna Clarita (Urrutia), who is entertaining Pinochet for dinner. Carlos threatens La Loca with a visit from the Political Police if he refuses the commission.

The pair become close, La Loca accompanying Carlos on a ‘scouting’ trip for the planned assassination, but La Loca comes home one evening, to find that the guns are gone. Carlos backs off after the failed attempt on Pinochet’s life, leaving La Loca lonely and heartbroken. But after Julieta has driven him to a meeting with Carlos at the beach, La Loca must make a very personal decision

In this beguiling feature Sepulveda lifts the lid on the gay scene of Pinochet’s Chile when transvestites and other sexual ‘deviants’ were much frowned upon by communists and their class enemies – especially in Castro’s Cuba. As La Loca points out to Carlos: “there are no gay communists”. Both neither Carlos or La Loca are winners. Carlos has to flee the country after the failed attempt on Pinochet’s life, not knowing the event would eventually be the end of the end of the dictatorship. La Loca knows very well that in the macho terrain of South America, sexual orientation is not a matter of choice.

DoP Sergio Armstrong plays with a bold palette of prime colours; the subdued lighting chez La Loca echoing the psychological state of its inhabitant: shutting out the day and just living for Carlos’ nightly visits. A classical melodrama, very much in the vein of the great Mexican director Emilio Fernandez. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | VENICE DAYS

 

The Wasteland (2020) ***** Venice Film Festival 2020

Dir: Ahmad Bahrami | Ali Bagheri (Lotfolah), Farrokh Nemati (Boss), Mahdieh Nassaj (Sarvar), Touraj Alvand (Shahoo), Majid Farhang (Ebrahim) |  Drama, Iran 103’

Ahmad Bahrami’s second feature is a work of stark elegance in contrast to its soulful setting in a remote mudbrick factory on the verge of shutdown in a dusty corner of Iran. A metaphor for modern Iran The Wasteland echoes Mohsen Makhmalbaf and Abbas Kiarostami in its chiaroscuro grace and artful framing and nothing is spare in a storyline that gradually smoulders to a coruscating conclusion.

Workers of varying cultures and creeds toil tirelessly in the searing heat their simmering resentments felt but barely seen until the shutdown of the factory is imminent, the boss no longer able to finance a traditional concern in a world that has changed forever. The building trade is using concrete and other sustainable products and the traditional art of compressing and baking earth into rectangular blocks has no place in the 21st century.

Forty year old Lotfolah has dedicated his life to the factory as foreman and supervisor – man and boy – now he has nowhere to go with his only companion, a trusty horse. The workers look to their boss for the future but he cannot sustain them. He must settle up their wages and send them on their way to the city. Up to now they have been united in their differences focussing on a common goal. But petty resentments and quarrels now start to break out and the smouldering environment fires up their bitterness. Ebrahim, an Azerbaijani Turk, is in love with an Iranian girl called Gohar. But her father Mashebad has other plans for his daughter back in their village. Kurdish Shanu insists on wearing a sleeveless teeshirt much to the anger of the Muslim men. But he has more pressing problems to sort out, with a father on death row. An intense undercurrent of emotion burns between Sarvar and Lotfolah who has set his heart on a future for the two on them. But Sarvar remains an enigma, proud and silent. Scenes of her in quiet contemplation against the backdrop of factory arches are amongst the most inspired in this arthouse treasure that uses academy ratio to set the action firmly in a distant era unconnected to the modern world yet reliant on it for survival.

Ahmad Bahrami uses a clever narrative device that centres on the factory owner’s announcement that the factory is to close.  This speech is played out five times throughout the first half of the film, and each time it accumulates, another part added to the existing message, the camera taking the POV of each workers, their story is then amplified into its own vignettes. The worker then returns to his family and after a discussion they eat and go to sleep.

But Lotfolah is alone in his life and we feel for him. Ali Bagheri gives a monumental and thoughtful performance that conveys a weight of emotion simmering under his mournful demeanour. As his co-workers slowly pack up and go he remains a figure of quiet desperation going about his business as diligently as in the past. And in the final act a feeling of gloom and despondency builds towards a doomladen finale. This sober end of worlds thriller came to the Venice Horizons competition modestly without noise or representation standing its ground as a minor masterpiece. MT

Venice Film Festival 2020 | HORIZONS

Residue (2020) *** Venice Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Merawi Gerima; Cast: Obinna Nwachkwa, Dennis Lindsey, Taline Stewart, Jamal Graham, Melody Tally, Ramon Thompson; USA 2020, 90 min.

This debut feature chimes with today’s Black Lives Matter theme
through the Merawi Gerima’s personal homecoming memoirs seen through the eyes of through of his main character Jay (Nwachkwa, also a debutant).

Jay is back From studying film in Los Angeles. But his old stamping ground of Washington DC: once called Eckington, now NoMa (North Massachusetts Avenue), doesn’t feel the same anymore. Gentrification has since set in. But although Gerima is keen to point out that his film is not about gentrification, it is hard to interpret otherwise.

Jay’s parents (Ramon Thompson/Melody Tally) are hassled by property developers, and his childhood friends are seemingly hostile. The parallel sequences of his happy boyhood are truly nostalgic, and ring sometimes much truer than the contemporary alienation narrative.

Jay’s parents have always been a touchstone for the troubled youth of the area, and these issues continue to abound along with unsolved drug problems and new confrontations with the White interlopers. Of Jay’s childhood friends, Mike is dead; Dion (Graham), his former older idol (Jacari Dye plays a young Jay) is in prison; and Demitrius is nowhere to be found. Delonte (Lindsay) is one of many indifferent to Demetrius: “He moved to Maryland, I think”, he tells Jay. But Delonte had his own family issues to deal with, including the death of his mother at the hands of his father, Jay is a traitor: “Don’t forget, you left us! You can’t save me now. You lived the big life in LA, whilst we held down the city. Don’t ask ‘where is Demitrius, as if you really care. You only care only about yourself and the motherf…g movie you are shooting. Anyhow, we are paved over by the Whites, like we never existed”.

Jay’s relationship with his girl friend Blue (Stewart) is also troubled. She feels rightly neglected and, after a party, a jealous Jay storms off when he sees Blue consorting with his mates. The most impressive scene is Jay’s prison visit for Dion, whose letters he had never answered. Instead of the depressing penitentiary background, Gerima stages their meeting in the woods of their childhood. This is much more intense than the staged titular scene, where a White woman’s dog craps on the Black home owner’s lawn. While the dog’s owner is cleaning up, the house owner complains “about leaving residue on my lawn”.

With the riddle of Demetrius unsolved we are left with Jay’s partly irrational anger about changes: he has lost his childhood friends and environment and struggles to replace them. The filmmaker and his main protagonists seem to have hit a wall.

Impressive camerawork by DoP Mark Jeevaratnam cannot make up for a narrative that leaves too much unresolved. A more structured approach would have helped greatly. Nevertheless, Residue is strong on intensity and benefits from convincing performances from both the younger and older Jay. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL  | Venice Days 2020

 

Pieces of a Woman (2020) *** Venice Film Festival 2020

Dir: Kornel Mundruczo | Drama, 127’

Nothing prepares us for sudden death. Pieces of a Woman sees a couple suffer the loss of their newborn child. But the most surprising upshot of bereavement is how is it affects those around us, and particularly those nearest to us. And this unexpected behaviour is pivotal to the narrative and how it plays out for a professional Bostonian woman called Martha (Vanessa Kirby/The Crown) and her stevedore partner, a recovering alcoholic who hails from Seattle (Shia Leboeuf).

Hungarian film director Kornel Mundruczo’s first outing in English is as deeply flawed as the title suggests: moving in parts but also totally incoherent in others. The euphoric early arthouse scenes – impressively shot in one 24 minute take – show the couple during the birth and these intensely personal moments are graphic in detail. Almost too much so. But the baby dies shortly after she is born leaving the couple in disarray, arguments and recriminations follow. And as Boston descends into a freezing winter, amid wide panoramic shots of the Charles River, so Martha retreats into herself cutting Sean adrift in an icy silence.

 

Based on his own personal experiences this is clearly a cathartic film for the director writing with his real life partner Kata Weber. But the film soon drifts tonally into a more glossy family drama where the grief-stricken Martha is persuaded by her controlling mother (Ellen Burstyn in formidable form) to seek compensation from the midwife. As Martha’s relationships deteriorate all round so the storyline unravels with no real sense of direction. There is a fraught mother-daughter strand; an imploding relationship breakdown where class and racial conflicts enter the fray – Martha is a tough Jewish uptown girl, Sean is soft-hearted but given to brutal outbursts. Their attractions are also part of their downfall when things don’t go according to plan.

Sarah Snook, Martha’s distant cousin, is hired to fight their case as the lawyer taken on to prosecute midwife Eva. And Martha’s mother, a steely Holocaust survivor, offers invaluable advice to daughters everwhere: “you have to take a stand and tell your truth, otherwise you can never move on”. You might not like her but you’d certainly want her on your side: “and when you do move on, burn your bridges”, is another chestnut.

The actors all do their best to carry the film forward and Ellen Burstyn is the most impressive, Leboeuf stymied by an underwritten role. But the script is so focussed on Martha’s simmering resentment that the final reveal – in a coruscating court scene – bears no relation to what has gone before, leaving us unprepared and perplexed.

The unsuccessful shift from arthouse to Hollywood melodrama could be due to various big names jumping on board the project with their money and therefore demanding a schmaltzy Hollywood happy ending, Although with Martin Scorsese being one of the exec producers this does seem surprising for this missed opportunity at Pieces of a Woman staying true to its arthouse origins.. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | BEST ACTRESS WINNER Vanessa Kirby

The Disciple (2020) Netflix

Dir: Chaitanya Tamhane  | Musical drama, India 127’

Chaitanya Tamhane dedicates the same intensity and sense of detail to The Disciple as his first feature Court (2014). This impressive second feature must surely be the definitive film about Indian Hindustani classical music, and that is something for Tamhane to be proud of. A film about devotion to the task at hand and focused perseverance is refreshing in these modern times of quick fix celebrity and overnight success.

The main character Sharad Nerulkar is a rather doleful young man determined to perfect his knowledge and skills in this most complex and subtle of traditional musical styles. And although the actor does his best to get us on board with his emotionally pent up loner, he remains a detached and avoidant soul, given to binge-eating and bouts of self-righteousness.

The task he undertakes is a difficult one, Tamhane reminding us that artistic expression relies on a relaxed mind and body to flourish and flow. His musical guru Sha Guruji (Arun Dravid) impresses this upon his rather tense student who is so desperate to pay his bills and look after his future in this classical field that he slightly misses the point for most the drama.

The musical excerpts performed by skilled practitioners are quietly mesmerising, often reaching fever pitch. But the most enjoyable scenes revolve around simple everyday life in Mumbai when Tamhane takes the camera roving to unexpected and delightful places. The musty heat of the night is almost palpable during Sharad’s slo-mo motorbike rides on the city’s highways. It’s the only time he seems really at peace. MT

Now on NETFLIX | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | AWARD FOR BEST SCREENPLAY
Chaitanya Tamhane

 

Lovers (2020) ** Venice 2020

Dir: Nicole Garcia | Drama, France 102’

Venice Film Festival is hot to trot with a selection of eclectic new European arthouse titles but this pale rider is one of the least convincing.

All dressed up with nowhere to go Lovers looks slick and sassy enough but plays out with a passionless pipe and slippers banality despite a starry cast and Nicole Garcia’s talent to amuse as a seasoned filmmaker.

The story unfolds in three chapters in Paris, Mauritius and Geneva. Catering student Lisa (Stacy Martin) is in lust with her chef boyfriend Simon (Pierre Niney), who has a sideline in drug-pedalling to wealthy Parisians: “I’m only doing it for us” he opines, as they roll naked in their fashionably taupe sheets although the sex is pretty much lifeless.

When one of Simon’s clients dies of an overdose, the two make an escape plan, but Simon disappears leaving Lisa to marry Benoit Magimel’s stout and successful bon viveur Leo, who has a chain of luxury hotels and a penchant for vintage wine. A pregnancy is not on the menu but the couple plan to adopt “a little black one” in Mauritius. But as luck would have it Simon is still the captain of Lisa’s heart although she enjoys Leo’s money and masterfulness.

Lush locations abound in Christophe Beaucarne’s elegant visuals. The interiors are straight out of House and Garden, and you notice every detail because the love story is so tepid in comparison. Lisa pines for Simon and they can’t stop following one another, but Leo is no cowering cuckhold and eventually puts his designer clad foot down. What ensues is instantly forgettable because fail to care for these lacklustre individuals and their trivial love triangle. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2020

 

Conference (2020) **** Venice Film Festival 2020

Dir.: Ivan I. Tverdovskiy; Cast: Natalya Pavlenkova, Olga Lupshina, Kseniya Zueva, Alexandar Semchev; Russia/Estonia/UK/Italy 2020, 135 min.

On October 23rd 2002 850 spectators were held hostage in the Dubrovka theatre of Moscow during the performance of the musical “North-East”. 170 people lost their lived when troops stormed the auditorium.  The perpetrators were aggrieved Chechnyans.

Russian writer/director Ivan I. Tverdovskiy (Zoology) reconstructs the events and explores the personal recriminations of the survivors in this impressive, but doom laden feature.

Centred around Natasha (Pavlenkova), a survivor turned nun, who returns to Moscow for the seventeenth anniversary meeting of victims’ families. We learn that she is estranged from her family: her daughter Galya (Zueva), who looks after paralysed husband Oleg (Semchev), cannot understand why her mother returns every year to open old wounds:  Natasha’s thirteen-year-old son Yegor was killed in the massacre. Supported in her efforts of reconciliation and remembrance by Sveta (Lupshina) – who lost husband and daughter that night – Natasha tries to convince Galya to come to the memorial in the theatre. But her daughter leaves her with Oleg, storming angrily out of the flat, even though she would later appear at the theatre.

The ‘reconstructing’ is painful to watch: everyone has to chose an inflatable mannequin to sit next to them: white for the victims, black for the attackers and blue for the survivors who could not come on the day. They talk about the surprise attack, and how it was initially thought that the attackers, who shot at the ceiling on stage, were part of the show. Only when the first victim was shot, did the gravity of the situation set in. Aslan, the terrorists‘ spokesman, asked the audience to phone their friends and families. Later the mobiles were collected and stored outside the auditorium where a young attacker played video games and talked to the friends and relatives. Many of the hostage-takers seemed to be very young: one of the Shahidwomen even prayed with the hostages. The survivors also re-enact the arrival of the buffet-trolley, the hostage takers shared snacks and water with their victims. But they also shouted at the audience, that “you got to the theatre here, whilst we have to live with war”. After a few hours, the caretaker of the theatre wants the memorial audience to leave, but Natasha talks him out of it. The witnesses talk about resistance on the night: one man hitting a Shahid woman, and another hostage-taker shooting at him but missing, killing a young woman sitting near the aisle, who is hit in the stomach. The caretaker appears again, this time he is adamant about the closure, and switches the light in the auditorium off.

By now, Galya has joined, and she listens to her mother’s accounts of the escape on the fateful night. The hostages had to queue to go to the toilet. When Natasha’s turn came, she was with a woman who opened the window and jumped out, telling the hysterical Natasha to jump too, and stop shouting. After Natasha jumped, she knew she had made a mistake, but her legs were injured and she could not go back.

After police has ended the memorial well after midnight, the theatre manager takes back the charges, and Natasha makes a final attempt to reconcile with her daughter, only to find Oleg being loaded into an ambulance, with Galya asking for her help.

DoP Fedor Glazachev changes from panorama shots of the auditorium to intensive close-ups, showing the incredulity of the situation. Pavlenkova is brilliant, so is the ensemble acting. But Tverdovskiy goes right to the bone in this no holds barred account, and while one agrees which his approach intellectually, the end of this tour-de-force of grief, denial and guilt cannot come too soon.  AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | Horizons 2030

 

AS

Apples (2020) Curzon online

Dir: Christos Nikou | Drama Greece, 90

When it comes to films about pandemics nothing could be more serene than this lucid and gently crafted weird wave debut drama from Greek director Christos Nikou.

Not to say that Apples isn’s subversive in a charming way.  The idea came to Nikou long before the coronavirus crisis and yet it perfectly captures the disarming effects of its character’s quiet meltdown. Aris (Aris Servetalis) becomes a victim of amnesia that slowly spreads through his local community and beyond.

There’s nothing of the mass hysteria experienced through the globe just recently. Here the treatment is not a vaccine but involves a series of exercises to re-build his memory. And at first Aris submits willingly the tasks under the care of his amiable medical consultant. Every single event must be dutifully recorded on a camera  – visits to the cinema or shops, even amorous encounters. Everyone submits to the same regime but Aris slowly starts to object to this authoritarian situation.

There are subtle echoes of Yorgos Lanthimos here: Nikou actually trained under the director so it comes as no surprise. But the wry and slightly soporific tone makes this pleasurable to watch allowing languid time out for our own thoughts and feelings. MT

Exclusively on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday 7 May | Apples will also be available to cinemas nationwide as they reopen from lockdown closures | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | HORIZONS 2020 review

Final Account (2020)

Dir: Luke Holland Doc, UK 90’

British filmmaker Luke Holland goes the other side of the fence in this definitive documentary that plunders the memories of German Second World War veterans involved in Hitler’s Nazi regime.

Final Account is a candid film that pulls no punches in its trenchant expose of German and Austrian wartime veterans – both men and women. And although the director maintain his distance – his grandparents lost their lives in the camps; what emerges is startling and often depressing.

Blue-eyed witnesses now in their 80s and 90s reminisce over their joy and excitement at being part of the Hitler Youth Movement that allowed them to indulge in a variety of sports such as swimming and athletics that had previously been denied them during the early 1930s in Germany.

But others even ended up engaging in sports of a more gruesome nature when they decided to join in Hitler’s ethnic genocide and become direct participants in the horrors of the prison camps. What emerges is not always palatable to watch and several interviewees continue to deny the gravity of their actions in the name of their country, whether through selective amnesia or embarrassment.

Twelve years in the making and enriched by footage and photographs from the personal albums of those involved Final Account is a vital and worthwhile addition to the Holocaust canon. But the casual denial and abdication of responsibility of those who took part in the Wehrmacht, or SS, will be a bitter pill for most viewers to swallow.

Most Germans claim to have been carried along on a wave of nationalistic pride, or were ‘just obeying orders’. Others state allegiance to the Hitler’s view that German Jews were becoming too successful and clicquey. One ex SS office is honest enough to admit that he didn’t particularly care when hundreds of synagogues were burnt down on Kristallnacht in 1938. Another man, pictured in his farm, explains he didn’t hesitate to telephone the police when his Jewish neighbours tried to hide in his barn to avoid capture, bringing to mind the ‘banality of evil’. Another man remembers a childhood song about “Knives sharp enough for Jewish bellies”. He now admits to be shocked at the memory. A group of women in a care home cast their mind back to the smell of burning and black smoke billowing from a nearby furnace, while they gleefully enjoy coffee and biscuits.

These are tragic recollections superbly edited by Stefan Ronowicz in a film that never descends into sentimentality or melodrama – just a stark and sober revelation of human indifference. MT

NOW ON RELEASE

Kitoboy (The Whaler Boy) **** Venice Days 2020

Dir: Philipp Yuryev | Drama, 94′ Russia, Poland, Belgium

In a remote whaling village on the edge of the world a teenager dreams of a girl he met on the internet and sets off to find her across the vast wasteland of the Bering Strait that divides Russia from America. Kitoboy brings to mind Sarah Gavron’s 2012 feature Village at the End of the World, more ruminative and soulful in tone, but not without irony in the final reveal.

Loneliness, sexual awakening and whale hunting are given a poetic makeover in this thoughtful rites of passage drama seen through ‘whaler boy’ Leshka’s eyes. Desperate for a girlfriend and living alone with his dying father, he leads a very uneventful life out at the far edge of a male-dominated community where the longing for female companionship accentuates feelings of alienation, and wonder about the opposite sex.

The internet’s recent arrival in the village puts the young man in contact with attractive girls thousands of miles away who dance entrancingly on the screen of a constantly buffering erotic webcam chat site. Leshka can’t take his eyes off the girls as they leer and gyrate lasciviously before his tender glances. Yet he talks to them respectfully in an intimate and caring way, almost falling in love at first sight. Rather than treating these semi-porn sites as lighthearted entertainment, Leshka’s desire to find love fires a feral determination to discover the physical girl behind the camera, a journey that leads him into the real world in a bleak, boys’ own adventure where reality bites.

In his first feature film as director, award-winning Russian cinematographer Philipp Yuryev crafts a delicately unusual and visually resplendent low budget action drama about an experience that is relatable for thousands of men (and women) all over the world. The drama then turns into something unexpected and alluring with an eclectic and atmospheric soundscape that resonates and often dissonates with the film’s quirky storyline. At the same time Kitoboy connects with the narrative of surviving communities on the verge of extinction in the Russian Far North, whose cultures and customs are evocatively brought into focus in this stark but richly satisfying feature. MT

VENICE DAYS  2020

 

Venice Film Festival 2020

The first physical film festival since Coronavirus VENICE returns to its origins with a bracingly auteurist competition line-up that shines the spotlight on Arthouse masters and brazen new talent From Europe, Asia and South America.

Championing female filmmakers and fraught with exciting news films from veterans Lav Diaz, Fred Wiseman, Andrey Konchalovsky, Orson Welles and Amos Gitai the 77th Venice Film will take place on the Lido from September 2-12.

Among the regular auteurs selected are Chloe Zhao (Nomadland),  Nicole Garcia (Lovers),  Michel Franco (Nuevo Orden), Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Wife Of A Spy), Malgorzata Szumowska (Never Gonna Snow Again, co-dircted by Michal Englert) and Gianfranco Rosi with his latest documentary Notturno

Buzz-worthy British films include Roger Michell’s The Duke, with Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren; and Luke Holland documentary Final Account, both playing out of competition. The Critics’ Week selection also includes The Book of Vision starring Britain’s Charles Dance and Uberto Pasolini’s Nowhere Special starring James Norton and produced by a UK/Romania/Italian team.

The festival opens with Daniele Luchetti’s Lacci, the first Italian film to open the celebrations fr quite some time. Festival director Alberto Barbera describes it as: “an anatomy of a married couple’s problematic coexistence, as they struggle with infidelity, emotional blackmail, suffering and guilt, with an added mystery that is not revealed until the end. Supported by an outstanding cast, the film is also a sign of the promising phase in Italian cinema today, continuing the positive trend seen in recent years, which the quality of the films invited to Venice this year will surely confirm.”

Competition

Nomadland (US) (above) | Dir. Chloe Zhao

Frances McDormand (Three Billboards) embarks on a road journey across America in the latest from The Rider director Chloe Zhao

Quo Vadis, Aida? | Dir. Jasmila Zbanic

And Tomorrow The Entire World (Ger-Fr) | Dir. Julia Von Heinz

The Disciple (India) | Dir. Chaitanya Tamhane

Never Gonna Snow Again (Pol-Ger) | Dir. Malgorzata Szumowska, Michal Englert

Notturno (It-Fr-Ger) | Dir. Gianfranco Rosi

Gianfranco Rosi poignant love letter to Lampedusa (Fire at Sea) won him an armful of awards including the Golden Bear at Berlinale 2016. He is back in Venice, where he won the Golden Lion in 2013, this time turning his documentary camera on Syria.

Padrenostro (It) | Dir. Claudio Noce

Miss Marx (It-Bel) | Dir. Susanna Nicchiarelli

Italy’s Susanna Nicchiarelli won the Orizzonti Award in 2017 for her dazzling drama Nico 1988

Now in the main competition with an all star British cast she explore the life of Eleanor Marx daughter of the infamous Carl.

Pieces Of A Woman (Can-Hun) | Dir. Kornel Mandruczo

In his first English language film the Hungarian director who made his name with White Dog explores the emotional journey of a woman who has lost her child.

Sun Children (Iran) | Dir. Majid Majidi

The Tehran based director has already won plaudits for best script, production design and film for his latest drama that tackles the subject of child labour.

Wife Of A Spy (Jap) | Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa

A Japanese wife is saddled with the sins of her husband in this painterly portrait set in 1940s Japan from Kiyoshi Kurasawa (Creepy).

Dear Comrades (Rus) | Dir. Andrey Konchalovsky

The Russian director known for Postman’s White Nights (2014) and Paradise (2016) returns to Venice with his latest, a political drama based on real events in Novocherkassk 1962 when Soviet troops seeking to cover up mass labour strikes opened fire on workers and one in particular Lyudmila (Yuliya Vysotskaya).

Laila In Haifa (Isr-Fr) | Dir. Amos Gitai

Lovers (Fr) | Dir. Nicole Garcia

Pierre Niney, Stacy Martin and Benoit Magimel star in this Noirish Parisian drama that sees a woman fall for her ex while on holiday with her husband.

Nuevo Orden (Mex-Fr) | Dir. Michel Franco

Franco loves exploring the psychology behind human relationships as he does here again in this latest that sees a high-society wedding gatecrashed by unwelcome guests.

The World To Come (US) | Dir. Mona Fastvold

Physical and emotional privation gives rise to a surprising love story in Norwegian filmmaker Mona Fastvold’s drama set in an US East Coast frontier town during the 1850s.

Le Sorelle Macaluso (It) | Dir. Emma Dante

In Between Dying (Az-US) | Dir. Hilal Baydarov

Out Of Competition – Drama

Lacci (It) – Opening Film | Dir. Daniele Luchetti

Mosquito State (Pol) | Dir. Filip Jan Rymsza

Night In Paradise (S Kor) | Dir. Park Hoon-Jung

The Duke (UK) | Dir. Roger Michell

Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren lead a cast of Fionn Whitehead, Matthew Goode, Anna Maxwell Martin for this British drama based on the theft of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London in 1961.

Assandira (It) | Dir. Salvatore Mereu

Love After Love (China) | Dir. Ann Hui

Mandibules (Fr-Bel) | Dir. Quentin Dupieux

Lasciami Andare (It) – Closing Film | Dir. Stafano Mordini

The Human Voice (approximately 30’) is a loose adaptation of the original stage play by Jean Cocteau, directed by Pedro Almodóvar and featuring Tilda Swinton as ‘the voice’. It tells the story of a jilted woman (Swinton), hoping her lover will get in touch. This is Pedro Almodóvar’s first time shooting in English. Alberto Iglesias composed the score.

One Night in Miami by Regina King

Set on the night of February 25, 1964, the story follows a young Cassius Clay (before he became Muhammad Ali) on the night her defeated Sonny Liston to win the title of World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. Clay – unable to stay on at the venue because of Jim Crow-era segregation laws – instead spends the night at the Hampton House Motel in one of Miami’s historically black neighbourhoods, celebrating with three of his closest friends: activist Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke and football star Jim Brown. The next morning, the four men emerge determined to define a new world for themselves and their people. In One Night in Miami, Kemp Powers explores what happened during these pivotal hours through the dynamic relationship between the four men and the way their friendship, paired with their shared struggles, fueled their path to becoming the civil rights icons they are today.

Out Of Competition – Documentaries

Sportin’ Life (It) | Dir. Abel Ferrara

Crazy, Not Insane (US) | Dir. Alex Gibney

Greta (Swe) | Dir. Nathan Grossman

Salvatore – Shoemaker of Dreams (It) | Dir. Luca Guadagnino

Final Account (UK) | Dir. Luke Holland

Looking at the other side of the coin, Holland cobbles together interviews from those Nazis who perpetrated the Holocaust.

La Verita Su La Dolce Vita (It) | Dir. Giuseppe Pedersoli

Molecole (It) | Dir. Andrea Segre

Paolo Conte, Via Con Me (It) | Dir. Giorgio Verdelli

Narciso Em Ferias (Bra) | Dirs. Renato Terra, Ricardo Calil

Hopper/Welles (USA) | Dir. Orson Welles

Yes, another documentary about Orson Welles – can there ever be too many? This unscripted one captures a conversation between the maverick multi-talented Welles and the ingenu filmmaker Hopper that took place in 1971 over dinner, shooting the breeze over politics, personal issues and, or course, filmmaking. Made available courtesy of The Other Side of the Wind (Venice 2018) producer Filip Jan Rymsza.

City Hall (USA) | Dir. Frederick Wiseman

Out Of Competition – Special Screenings

Princesse Europe (Fra) | Dir. Camille Lotteau

30 Monedas – episode 1 (Spa) – series | Dir. Alex De La Iglesia

Orizzonti

Apples (Greece-Pol-Slovenia) – Opening Film | Dir. Christos Nikou

La Troisième Guerre (Fra) | Dir. Giovanni Aloi

Milestone (India) | Dir. Ivan Ayr

The Wasteland (Iran) | Dir. Ahmad Bahrami

The Man Who Sold His Skin | Dir. Kaouther Ben Hania

I Predatori (It) | Dir. Pietro Castellitto

Mainstream (USA) | Dir. Gia Coppola

Genus Pan (Phil) | Dir. Lav Diaz

Zanka Contact (Fr-Mor-Bel) | Dir. Ismael El Iraki

Guerra E Pace (It-Switz) | Dirs. Martina Parenti, Massimo D’Anolfi

La Buit Des Rois (Ivory Coast-Fr-Can) | Dir. Philippe Lacote

The Furnace (Aus) | Dir. Roderick Mackay

Careless Crime (Iran) | Dir. Shahram Mokri

Gaza Mon Amour | Dirs. Tarzan Nasser, Arab Nasser

Selva Tragica (Mex-Fr-Ger) | Dir. Yulene Olaizola

Nowhere Special (It-Rom-UK) | Dir. Uberto Pasolini

Listen (UK-Port) | Dir. Ana Rocha De Sousa

The Best Is Yet To Come (China) | Dir. Wang Jing

Yellow Cat (Kazakhstan-Fr) | Dir. Adilkhan Yerzhanov

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 SEPTEMBER

Venice Film Festival 2020 | Main jury complete

Preparations for the real time  77th Venice Film festival are gaining momentum with the announcement of an impressive jury headed by this year’s president Cate Blanchett – currently appearing in the BBC’s breakout series Mrs America.

Australia’s Blanchett is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning actress, producer, humanitarian, and dedicated member of the arts community. In 2018, she was one of the most engaging and affective Jury Presidents at Cannes Film Festival. A winter of three well deserved BAFTAs, two Academy Awards, three Golden Globe Awards, as well as numerous award nominations. Blanchett is equally accomplished on the stage, having led the Sydney Theatre Company as co-Artistic Director and CEO for six years with her partner, Andrew Upton.

Veronika Franz (Austria), arthouse auteuse and screenwriter, Franz started her career in journalism for the Viennese daily Tageszeitung Kurier. Since 1997 and has more recently worked with director Ulrich Seidle as an artistic collaborator, and co-screenwriter on Dog Days (Hundstage, 2001), Import Export (2007) and the PARADISE trilogy (2012/13). The documentary Kern (2102) was both her debut film as a director, and the first film she made with director Severin Fiala. It was followed by her first fiction feature film, Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh Ich seh, 2014), which she co-directed with Fiala and presented in Venice in the Orizzonti section. The film won numerous awards and was selected to represent Austria at the Academy Awards. The two directors then made their first film in English, The Lodge, starring Riley Keough and Jaeden Martell, presented at the Sundance Film Festival 2019.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Joanna Hogg (Great Britain), is a director and screenwriter, unique for her depictions of middle and upper class life in London’s creative milieu. Her first feature-length film, Unrelated (2008), starring Tom Hiddleston, won the Fipresci Prize at The London Film Festival. Her second film, Archipelago (2010) won a Special Commendation at The London Film Festival and had a successful theatrical release. In 2013 she made Exhibition, starring the Slits guitarist Viv Albertine, and British artist Liam Gillick. Her most recent semi-autobiographical film The Souvenir, executive produced by Martin Scorsese, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2019 where it won the World Cinema Dramatic Grand Jury Award.

Nicola Lagioia (Italy), a writer, is the director of the Salone Internazionale del Libro in Turin since 2016 and also a radio broadcaster  on Rai Radio3. He writes for publications such as «Repubblica», «Il Venerdi», «Internazionale», «La Stampa». His books have been translated in 15 countries.

Christian Petzold (Germany), leading protagonists of the German ‘New Wave’ and one of the most significant film directors working in Germany today he won the German Film Critics’ award for Best Film three times for Die innere Sicherheit (The State I Am In, 2000), presented in Venice, Gespenster (Ghosts, 2005) and Yella (2007), presented in Berlin. In 2008, he was in Venice in Competition with Jerichow, for which he won the Deutscher Filmpreis in 2009 as Best Director. He won the Silver Bear in 2012 for Barbara (above) in Berlin, where in 2018 he won great critical acclaim for Transit. In 2020, again in Berlin, he won the FIPRESCI award for Undine.

Cristi Puiu (Romania), director and screenwriter, made his debut as a director in 2001 with the low-cost road movie Stuff and Dough (Marfa şi bani), presented in the Quinzaines section at Cannes and considered to be the film that ushered in New Romanian Cinema. In 2005 his second feature film, the black comedy titled The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, won critical acclaim and the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival. He had equal success with Sieranevada, presented in Competition at Cannes. In 2020 Manor House (Malmkrog) won the award for Best Director in the Encounters section of the Berlin Film Festival.

Ludivine Sagnier (France), is an actress whose screen debut was in Alain Resnais’ 1989 drama in I Want to Go Home! In 1990 she appeared in the epic film Cyrano de Bergerac. In 2003 she played Tinkerbelle in P. J. Hogan’s film Peter Pan. One French director François Ozon regulars she also starred in: Water Drops on Burning Rocks, 8 Women and Swimming Pool, alongside Charlotte Rampling and has become one of the most renowned and esteemed French actresses. Her most recent films include The Truth (La Vérité) by Hirokazu Koreeda, the opening film of the Venice International Film Festival 2019, and the second series The New Pope by Paolo Sorrentino.

MATT DILLON has now replaced Cristi Puiu

The Jury of Venice 77 will award the following official prizes to the feature films in Competition: Golden Lion for Best Film, Silver Lion – Grand Jury Prize, Silver Lion for Best Director, Coppa Volpi for Best Actor, Coppa Volpi for Best Actress, Award for Best Screenplay, Special Jury Prize “Marcello Mastroianni” Award for Best New Young Actor or Actress.

Giornate degli Autori | Venice Days 2020

Venice Days is back from 2 – 12 September this year. Live on the Lido at the famous Villa Degli Autori 
DAYS OF COURAGE is the sentiment expressing this year’s celebration. Ten new films from all over the world will compete for the main prize of the 17th edition running from 2 -12 until September. The closing film will be Saint-Narcisse presented by Canadian maverick Bruce LaBruce. The focus of this year’s Cinema of Inclusivity is Italy’s own Liliana Cavani who was nominated for the Golden Lion back in 1968 with her film Galileo. Here is a selection of this year’s competing films.
MAMA – set in rural China during the final decade of 20th century this first feature from Li Dongmei is a mature and sober drama.
200 METRES – the wall between Palestine and Israel is the focus of Ameen Nayfeh’s drama that stars leading Arab star. Ali Suliman.
 
KITOBOY – So many remarkable stories are coming out of Ukraine and this debut from Philipp Yuryev is the latest, set in a whaling community.
SPACCAPIETRE – in the Southern Italian region of Puglia a family tragedy with human repercussions gradually plays out in the De Serio brothers’ drama.
 
HONEY CIGAR  Algeria is the setting for this sensuous debut drama from Kamir Aïnouz, the sister of the well-known Brazilian filmmaker Karim Aïnouz).
RESIDUE Merawi Geriman’s moving first film echoes the recent racial tensions Stateside.
 
MY TENDER MATADOR – following his extraordinary performance in Theo Court’s White on White (Venice 2019) Alfredo Castro lends his talents to Rodrigo Sepúlveda’s queer love story set during the time of Pinochet in Santiago de Chile.
VENICE DAYS | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI 2-12 SEPTEMBER 2020

Only the Animals (2019) Netflix

Dir.: Dominik Moll; Cast: Damien Bonnard, Bastien Boillon, Laura Calamy, Denis Menochet, Nadia Tereszkiewicz, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Roger ‘Bibesse’ N’drin, France/Germany 2019, 116′.

German born director Dominik Moll has been sadly neglected of late. Best known for his psychological thrillers Harry He’s Here to Help and Lemming and the hilarious News from Planet Mars (which never got a UK release) he came to Venice last year with one of the best features in the Venice Days line-up . Adapted from Colin Niel’s 2014 novel of the same name, this is an intense non-linear study of human behaviour, showing greed and possessiveness as the motivator that drives us all forward in the belief we are in love.

Most of the action takes part in a remote snowbound part of the French Massif Central, but the drama opens in the port city of Abidjan in Ivory Coast. There Armand (N’drin) sets in motion a sort of Ariadne trail, with one woman paying with her life for the sins of others. Armand is a small time grafter who finds photos of Marion (Tereszkiewicz) on the net, setting her up as bait for the French farmer Denis (Menochet), who is married to insurance saleswoman Alice (Calamy).

She has fallen for one of her clients, Joseph, an unstable farmhand in Denis’ employer who has been disturbed by hallucinations since the death of his mother: “I only talk to the animals”, he tells Alice. Meanwhile back in Abidjan, Armand has succeeded in making Denis fall for Marion, extracting the first tranche of the money transfers from the farmer. Armand, who nicknames Marion ‘Armandine’ – even though he has never met her – then invents a precarious story making Denis fall into the trap of wanting to rescue Armandine – whatever the cost. But the real Marion in in a relationship with Evelyne (Tedeschi), who shares a holiday home with her husband Guillaume just down the road from Alice and Denis.

This is a complex plot, intricately put together by Moll and his co-writer Gilles Marchand (who worked with him on Harry). Suffice to say it keeps up absolutely glued to the screen, enthralled by a seductively simmering plot line, Patrick Ghiringhell’s camerawork providing plenty of visual thrills including panoramic images of the magnificent mountain region and the lively African port city. A spine-tingling score of strings primps the moments of tension.

The saying “money makes the world go round”  has never been so true, and in this particular drama it is spot on: internet and money transfers connect every part of the globe. And every character wants a part of the action. Apart from Joseph, who leaves no clues to his disappearance from the scene in this enigmatic mystery thriller. AS

NOW ON NETFLIX
https://youtu.be/5HYJ6CjOzi8

Ema (2019) ** Curzon World

Cast: Mariana Di Girolamo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Paola Giannini, Santiago Cabrera, Cristian Suarez, Catalina Saavedra

Director: Pablo Larrain | Drama Chile 102’

Music is the only star of Pablo Larrain’s story of parental irresponsibility that unfolds amidst the cool vibes of seaside Valparaiso. This South American idyll is also home to the pumping sounds of the reggaetón dance world that is only authentic element of this glib story. 

Back in the present after his lush 1960s drama Jackie, Larrain casts newcomer Mariana Di Girolamo and a reliable Gael Garcia Bernal as a couple who clash due to their immaturity and lack of life experience when juggling their artistic collaboration with a desire to have a child.

Taking on such an emotive theme exposes Larrain’s ineptitude in handling the delicate subject matter, and questions whether he has personally been affected by the issues involved – clearly not, otherwise he would have have given it more thoughtful treatment.  And although he brings his edgy cinematic talents to the party, the experiment fails. Ema is a drama that is neither engaging nor convincingly performed, even Gael Garcia Bernal cannot inject any depth to his character, apart from his incendiary outburst at Ema and her dancing troupe.

After a dynamic opening sequence featuring a massive fire at a traffic lights junctions, the film scatterguns into a series of stilted episodes as Larrain attempts to establish the storyline using the rhythm of his pulsating score as the driving factor. It’s a clever idea that fails in a drama that never gains a satisfying momentum.

Ema (Di Girolamo) is a bleached blond dancer in her early twenties who has recently adopted a 7 year old orphan from Columbia, named Polo (Cristian Suarez), because her choreographer husband Gaston (Bernal) has been declared infertile. Coming from a troubled start in life Polo soon becomes too much of a handful for his naive parents and sets their home on fire, leaving Ema’s sister with facial injuries.

So back Polo goes into the system, Ema and Gaston bemoaning their loss as if the boy was a psychopathic pet rabbit, with Ema blithely declaring she’ll ‘pick another one’, laying the blame squarely at Gaston’s feet. Gaston is the less irritating of the two but even his star-power fails to makes this rewarding or meaningful, remaining cold and distant throughout. And the visually arresting dance sequences and pumping vibes just feel incongruous, somehow reducing this to a trivial soap opera, rather than offering tonal relief from the couple’s fraught situation. A simpering social worker (Catalina Saavedra) who had pulled strings to get the couple a child, just adds to the woeful mistreatment. Is this an inditement on Chilean youth, a lowkey expose on the perils of adoption, or a novel way of raising awareness of reggaeton, either way, it does feel mildly offensive. Larrain’s co-writer Guillermo Calderon did some brilliant work on The Club and Neruda so hopefully this is just a bum note for this duo. MT

NOW ON DIGITAL RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL Review 2019 

Moffie (2019) Digital release

Wri/Dir. Oliver Hermanus. South Africa/UK. 2019. 103 mins.

The last time South African director Oliver Hermanus was in Venice was for his Golden Lion hopeful Endless River. He returned last summer with MOFFIE, a magnetically intense drama that explores the sexual awakening of a young white male soldier conscripted into the army during early 1980s apartheid.

Based on the fictionalised memoir by André-Carl van der Merwe, this sumptuously cinematic film stands in contrast to the depiction of brutal army training in a ruthlessly homophobic Afrikaner platoon tasked with keeping the borders safe from neighbouring Angola, and the moffies – or gay cadets – at bay, homosexuality is considered a crime again God and the Christian nation.

Kai Luke Brummer is the driving force of the drama, convincingly showing how Nick develops from a shy ingenue to a confident and fully- fledged soldier. It traces his emotional arc making use of flashback to explore his incipient leanings towards gayness as a young boy in the local ‘whites only’ swimming club. Hermanus makes use of an evocative classical score lending a poignant undertone to this drama of stark contrasts. The film opens as 18-year-old Nicholas van der Swart is saying goodbye to his family before reporting his journey over inhospitable terrain to the army boot camp. His divorced father hands him a girlie magazine, as a private joke while his mother gives him a last cuddle in the chintzy home she shares with her new Afrikaner husband.

He soon makes a friend of the sympathetic recruit Sachs (Matthew Vey) who shares his views about the draconian training methods – bearing a glancing resemble to those in Full Metal Jacket – intended to prepare the men for a Communist enemy across he border but Nick is also drawn to a dark adonis in the shape of Stassen (Ryan de Villiers), who nuzzles up to him one stormy night during a training exercise when the two recruits are forced to share a sleeping bag. Nick is also forced to contend with the vicious and sweary Sergeant Brand (Hilton Pelser) who makes no bones about disciplining using violence on every occasion.

Hermanus leaves Nick’s sexuality fluid throughout although it is clear he has homosexual feelings for Stassen but needs to keep these under wraps for his own survival. Apartheid is illustrated on several scenes where the recruits verbally abuse a lone black man on a station platform but their own humanity is keenly brought to the surface demonstrating the ambivalent climate of their own masculinity and vulnerability. Music from Detroit artist Sugar Man provides a touchstone to the times – the USmusician was ‘discovered’ in Johannesburg and became the emblem of the young white South African music scene.

Dominated by a cast of talented non-pros obviously recruited for their striking physicality, Moffie makes for absorbing viewing. Jamie D. Ramsey’s lush camerawork captures the spectacular beauty of the Cape where Nick’s final encounter with Stassen in the ice cold waters of the Atlantic reminding us of the ambiguous nature of life and attraction. MT

SCREENING ON CURZON HOME CINEMA

A Perfect Candidate (2019) ***

Dir.: Haifaa Al-Mansour; Cast: Mila al Zahrani, Nora al Awadh-Sara, Dae Al Hilali, Khalid Abdulraheem; Germany/SaudiArabia 2019, 101 min.

Haifaa Al-Mansour’s latest drama returns to small town Saudi Arabia where a stong-willed woman fights for political power. With its strong elements of a fable, and full of  ironic humour A Perfect Candidate feels very much like a grown up version of the Saudi director’s stunning debut Wadjda.

Maryam is played by a brilliant Mila Al Zahrani in her debut. A leading hospital doctor in a Saudi town, we see her driving through mud and dust to reach the clinic. There she is challenged almost immediately by an old man, who has suffered injuries in a car crash. He is adamant not to be treated by her and Maryam leaves him to the male nurses – who diagnose his spine injury incorrectly – the result being that Maryam has to perform surgery on the still unwilling patient. At home, Maryam lives with her two sisters Selma (Hilali) and Sara (Awad). Their mother, a famous singer, has recently died, and father Abdulaziz (Abdulraheem), an oud player, is on tour with his band. Maryam had planned to fly to Dubai to attend a conference and further her career, but at the airport she is banned from boarding as her father’s travel permit has run out – no Saudi woman can travel without male consent.

Abdelaziz and his fellow musicians come under attack from fundamentalists against music being performed publicly, Maryam tries in vain to reach him, but finds herself presented with the opportunity to be a candidate for the local council where she deals with a condescending, ignorant clerk. With the help of sister Selma, a photographer, Maryam starts her campaign with the onerous but vital task of  rebuilding the mud road leading to the hospital, which has caused massive disruption. Miraculously, the sitting councillor starts the road work immediately.

It is the little details that makes this a winner – the scene where Maryam manages to connect a cable during an otherwise rather disastrous video shoot for her campaign; she puts the men to shame as a woman being able to solve a technical problem that eluded the male professionals. Sure, the outcome may not have added votes, but the message hits home. By the end, Maryam gains a staunch supporter in the old man whose life she saved with her surgery.

Let down by its rather second-rate visuals – DoP Patrick Orth’s images are rather basic, but Volker Bertelmann’s score makes up for it. The ensemble acting and Al-Mansour’s sensitive direction makes this another success for the Saudi filmmaker  AS

AVAILABLE ON CURZON HOME CINEMA
  

The Distinguished Citizen (2016) ****

Dirs: Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn | 118min | Comedy Drama | Argentina

When an Argentinian Nobel prize winner returns to the village of his birth he discovers a lawless Wild West, or has he just become “over-civilised”.

This pithy premise underpins the latest from Argentinian directors Gaston Duprat and Mariano Cohn. It stars Oscar Martinez (of Paulina and Wild Tales fame) as the world-weary and emotionally avoidant author Daniel Mantovani, who returns to a remote village about six hours drive from Buenos Aires, to accept a medal. Having left there many years ago, he never felt the impetus to go back having made a successful writing career in Europe where he lives in palatial splendour in the lush hills of Barcelona’s Tibidabo.

Written by Gaston’s brother Andres Duprat, THE DISTINGUISHED CITIZEN is a tightly-scripted, insightful and often hilarious satire with echoes of Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll’s 2004 comedy Whisky with similar themes of parochial pettiness and cultural awareness. The tone is always light but touches upon some dark home truths. The elegant framing and architectural sensibilities makes this a visual pleasure, Maria Eugenia Sueiro’s interiors reflecting a faded seventies aesthetic.

The film opens as Daniel is delivering a trenchant rebuke at the acceptance ceremony mocking the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm. Fast forward five years and he is on the plane to BA where a taste of his future tribulations arrives when his airport taxi driver breaks down in a field, hours from Salas, forcing him to spend the night in the middle of nowhere round a campfire lit with one of the pages from his recent novel. The following morning that same book comes in handy as lavatory paper – and we all realise where things are going.

The narrative unspools in five parts – for no specific reason – as Daniel goes back in time to a homespun and unsophisticated community stuck in the past. This motley crew respond entirely inappropriately treating him like a local soap star rather than an intellectual introvert. He bumps into his old girlfriend Irene (Andrea Frigerio) who is now married to his butch friend Antonio (Dady Brieva), a mean dancer and an even meaner game hunter – a talent that plays out in Daniel’s hasty departure in the final scenes. The film centres on the small-town mentality that really rears its ugly head as the story develops, the inhabitants gradually turning the writer from hailed hero to vilified outsider in their collective mean-spiritedness.

This is an enjoyable and intelligent piece of cinema, dark and deadpan situational comedy arises out of bizarre encounters and bitter ironies (much in the same vein as those of the recent Toni Erdmann). The film leaves us with some memorable maxims to reflect on. “making things simple is an artistic kindness” is a choice takeaway from the role and often poignant indie gem . MT

Argentinian Film Season: El ciudadano ilustre (The Distinguished Citizen) (2016)

WINNER COPA VOLPE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 | BEST ACTOR | OSCAR MARTINEZ

 

The Winslow Boy (1948) *****

Dir: Anthony Asquith | Cast: Cedric Hardwicke, Robert Donat, Margaret Leighton

Anthony Asquith and playwright Terence Rattigan worked together on three literary adaptations, but this legal-themed drama about defending justice is possibly the best. It was also a great stage success for Rattigan, reflecting the traditional values of middle-class society in a glorious portrait of Edwardian England. David Mamet’s 1999 version isn’t a patch on this black and white masterpiece with its drole comedy undertones. Based on the true-life Archer-Shee case of 1910, it sees a strong-willed father (Cedric Hardwicke) determined to risk his reputation and fortune in defending his son’s honour when the young navy cadet (an earnest Neil North) is accused by the establishment of stealing a £5 postal order (a bill of payment, rather like a cheque). Meanwhile the Winslow family relationships come under strain as the legal case plods on endlessly – nothing has changed there.

Cedric Hardwicke and Robert Donat are superb as Ronnie Winslow’s father Arthur Winslow and his defending barrister Sir Robert Morton respectively (Morton is based on a renowned Irish lawyer Sir Edward Carson). Margaret Leighton is also superb as Winslow’s suffragette sister, Catherine, looking graceful in William Chapell’s elegant designs (she was a willowy, 5.10’). Mona Washburne plays against type as an amusingly plucky female journalist who comes to cover the case for the Evening News (Morton later has a dig at the press: “What you say, will have little bearing on what they write”). There are rousing musical interludes capturing the zeitgeist of the era, and one echoes the public’s support, courtesy of Herbert Clifford’s musical compositions. Mother Grace (Marie Lohr) berates her husband for devoting his life to his son’s innocence at the expense of the rest of the family: Catherine’s upcoming nuptials are put in jeopardy by her future father in law. This is all captured in Freddie Young’s lustrous monochrome camerawork. The Winslow Boy competed for the Grand International Award at Venice Film Festival that year but came home empty-handed. The winner was Lawrence Olivier’s Hamlet, with Jean Simmons winning Best Actress, so at least the British didn’t lose out that year. MT

FULLY RESTORED AND RELEASED FOR THE FIRST TIME ON BLURAY | DVD | DIGITAL | 3 FEBRUARY 2020

Aquarela (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Viktor Kossakovsky | Doc | UK | 89’

A picture tells a thousands words when it comes to climate change. And this new eco doc on the subject literally drenches us in water in its mission to drive the point home. Aquarela is  the aquatic version of Jeff Orlowski’s remarkable Chasing Ice (2012).  delivering its vital message with any dire warnings or preachy dialogue. 

Russian filmmaker Viktor Kossakovsky has shot hours of footage aiming, in a structureless but gloriously visual way, to portray the global tragedy of climate change. His vehement eco doc demonstrates how the havoc caused by the melting ice-cap in the Arctic Circle  cascades down to provoke events in Siberia’s Lake Baikal; Angel Falls in Venezuela and tornado strewn California, as nature and humanity clash in a monstrous eco-war. Put simply: while man is slowly destroying nature, the planet is hellbent on destroying us.

Cinematographer Ben Bernhard works with the latest high-tech stabilisation equipment and waterproof cameras at a rate of 96 frames per second, and these HD images record the gushing, cascading floods of glaciers, magnificent ice mountains, crashing icebergs, crumbling glaciers, tumbling waterfalls and fierce waves that mercilessly bring to mind Nicholas Monsarrat’s novel The Cruel Sea. 

Accompanied by a pounding electronic score that lends a certain chaotic gravitas, there are moments that will remain seared to the memory. The film would work more effectively with a clearer narrative arc and tighter editing despite its slim running time And although some of the sequences are over-played –  this is an engaging and informative film. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

The Nightingale (2018) ****

Dir. Jennifer Kent. Australia. 2018. 136′

Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent is best known for her chiller The Babadook. Here she turns her camera to focus on Australia’s colonial history with the premise: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”.

Nightingale is a sprawling and furious foray into the wilds Tasmania fuelled by a passion of a woman driven to defend her honour to the utmost. Aisling Franciosi brings vehemence and a surreal luminance as the central character Clare. And while Nightingale is certainly impassioned, lushly mounted and ambitious, it often gets waylaid by plotwists on the narrative front: from the outset the outcome is more or less predictable, although its odyssey into the heart of Australia’s colonial darkness certainly has us gasping for breath.

Anyone would be enraged if not extremely distraught to be subjected to gang rape and the killing of their baby and partner. And this is exactly what happens to Clare, forcing her to embark on a perilous and highly-charged quest for revenge taking as her guide a single-minded young aboriginal man. Their journey into the dark heart of Tasmania will be a perilous and eventful experience – and an extremely gruelling one for the audience. But what is undoubtedly a great premise for an epic saga, gets far too excited and over-heated plot-wise for its own good under Kent’s direction. And that’s a shame. Ultimately though, The Nightingale is a respectable auteurist enterprise.

Back in 1825, Tasmania was known as Van Diemen’s Land and that is where the young Irish woman fetches up after a career of what is now euphemistically known as stealing ‘to survive’. As a servant to the British occupying forces she is married to another ex-convict Aidan (Michael Sheasby), and has a tiny baby. But the man who has saved her – commanding officer Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Claflin) – also fancies his chances with her and after she perform the titular Irish folk song to entertain the troops one night, he calls her to his quarters where he brutally rapes her. But it doesn’t end there, and by the end of the evening her entire family is dead, and Clare is determined to get her own back on the feckless man and his vicious collaborators Sergeant Ruse (Damon Herriman) and Ensign Jago (Harry Greenwood), following them to a their new posting in the town of Launceston, where Hawkins hopes to get a promotion.

Aboriginal Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) is not keen on the idea of accompanying a young white woman, but the oddly-matched couple eventually set off through the dense forest, their spirited exchanges fuelling what is otherwise a predicable journey. Their accompanying animals will invariably come off worst, along with their English overlords, who are invariably depicted as the same one-dimentional arch villains we will soon meet in Black 47 (2018). 

Nightingale triumphs as a robust cocktail of female oppression interwoven with anti-colonial overtones and laced with a folkloric twist (not to mention the Gaelic and the Palawi kani banter). Clare’s rendition of the ballad ‘Nightingale’ and other melodies is tunefully mellow in stark contrast to the ultra-brutal violence that eventually becomes as tedious as the repetitive plot reversals, and have the same affect as commercial breaks in subtracting dramatic heft from what could have been a succinct and infinitely more immersive historical drama, despite the rather trite denouement.

Along with terrific performances from the lead duo, Radek Ladczuk’s camerawork does Nightingale proud – all those vigorously verdant forests and burgeoning bushes giving way to the vibrant lushness of the Tasmanian widescreen landscapes. The Nightingale is a worthwhile exploration of a lesser known, but horrific episode in Antipodean colonial history. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 29 NOVEMBER 2019

Marriage Story (2019) ****

Dir.: Noah Baumbach, Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver, Azly Robertson, Laura Dern, Ray Liotta;ion, the running time USA 2019, 135 min.
Writer/director Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) has produced his version of Scenes from a Marriage, mostly funny, but in the end veering of into something altogether more sinister. The stellar cast keeps us engaged for over two hours in what seems like an overindulgence on Baumbach’s part, especially as the film will end up on Netflix – making it even less likely to sustain an audience.
Nicole (Johansson) and Charlie (Driver) have been married for a decade and have a son, Henry (Robertson), who is at pre-school age. Charlie is the director of an avantgarde, off-Broadway theater group, Nicole his star. For a long time she wanted to direct herself, but is always thwarted by the narcissistic and overbearing Charlie, who likes to control her life like the classic patriarch men often are. The son is spoilt and even gets presents for going to the bathroom.
When Nicole finds out Charlie has slept with a colleague, the dam bursts and she goes for a divorce, taking Henry to her family home in LA. Before Nicole met Charlie, she had success as a mainstream actor, and she takes up her professional life in the same circles. At first, Charlie does not take his wife seriously, hoping that “she will come to her senses”. It soon dawns on him he will lose her, and also his son. Soon they are both getting legal advice. Nicole engages the fiery Nora Fanshaw (Dern), who makes Charlie go back to his first choice lawyer (Liotta), who is equally as expensive and as dirty as his female counterpart.
Despite the heavy subject matter, Baumbach brings a lightness of touch in the form of witty one-liners and slapstick. One scene takes place in Charlie’s LA flat, where he tries to prove to the state evaluator that he and Henry are happy. But there are darker moments, and the tone grows more hysterical – and soon sparks fly.
DoP Robbie Ryan turns out the usual cliched images of New York and LA. Hollywood’s town is a colourful circus, unlike sober, intellectual NY. Baumbach is skilled in this kind of territory – it’s clearly a subject he knows well, and lays bear the subtle nuances that lead to the end of love. Although he brings nothing particularly new to the party. This has a richer texture than his previous films, as he reworks and embellishes an already rich tapestry of replays in this sub-genre with its universal appeal. The Randy Newman score is unobtrusive, but effective. Performance wise this is a winner. Marriage Story is a tale we all know too well. AS
NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL  REVIEW 2019

What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire (2018)

Writer/Dir: Roberto Minervini | US Doc | 92′

Black lives matter. And the point is brought home again in Roberto Minervini’s new film that has raw urgency to its desperate title and glows under Diego Romero’s stunning black and white photography. For years, Minervini has made it his business to portrait the poor and disenfranchised in searingly honest documentaries such as Low Tide, The Other Side and now this meditation of the state of race in the Southern US during 2017.

What You Gonna Do When the World’s On Fire?, explores the poverty-stricken black communities of New Orleans through three groups of people preparing for the annual Mardi Gras. Their songs and dances serve as the film’s only soundtrack sending out a proud message to the outside world that they will overcome racism in a nation that doesn’t care.

We first meet brothers, Ronaldo (14) and Titus (9) wandering along the empty road, at a loose end. Titus has clearly been spooked by a haunted house street attraction that echos the real and ever present danger of shotgun crime, a daily occurrence in the neighbourhood. Ronaldo likes to pull rank on his kid brother by teaching him to box. He also tells him that soon he’ll be shooting ‘just like his older brother’. Ronaldo is keen to see his father who is in prison, but due for release. The two may not have long together before his father returns once again. Meanwhile, their mother oversees their school homework and warns them to be back home before nightfall. The kids are still too young to have violence in their lives, but it won’t be long before it happens.

Judy is a philanthropic member of the community, a proud bar-owner in her early fifties who seems to have her act together, despite her difficult childhood. But making ends meet is another daily chore and her elderly mother Dorothy faces eviction due to the gentrification of the area, making housing much in demand. Judy is close to her cousin Michael and tries to help him as much as she can, she even tries to help some local crack addicts to kick their habit, but after talking to them she starts to empathise with their stories of abuse.

Meanwhile, Krystal Muhammad, who chairs the New Black Panther Party for Self Defence, is trying to make an active difference with her food parcels delivered to the local homeless. Along with her colleagues she demonstrates in support of police shootings of black men in the area that culminated in one of them being beheaded and burnt. Softly but surely they march in the street chanting: “Black Power” – and although this seems slightly cliched, their conviction is quietly affecting. Minervini presents a resonant and contextualised picture of a black community in turmoil – bloodied but unbowed, bound by their music, strong beliefs and traditions to fight another day. MT.

From 10 May, streaming portal DAFilms will present a curated selection of Roberto Minervini’s films: Gonna Dig a Hole to Put the Devil in. The tribute features Low Tide, Stop the Pounding Heart, and The Other Side. In all three titles, Minervini captured the stories of often overlooked people living on the fringes of society. Serving as supplementary material to this special film programme will be an exclusive DAFilms live stream discussion between the director himself and Artistic Director of the renowned Locarno Film Festival, Giona Nazzaro.

The discussion can be watched on DAFilms Live or on Facebook from Wednesday, 19 May from 7pm CET.

Non-Fiction | Doubles Vies (2018) ***

Dir.: Olivier Assayas; Cast: Guillaume Canet, Juliette Binoche, Vincent Macaigne, Norah Hamzawi, Christa Theret, Pascal Gregory, France 2018, 107 min.

One of France’s most inventive and diverse directors returns to the theme of alienation  with a classically styled drama set in contemporary Paris. Non-Fiction analyses the detached charm of the intellectual bourgeoisie, seem through the lives of two middle-age couples who are losing their place in the sun thanks to the digital age. Knowledge and experience is replaced more and more by market strategies; and personal relationships turn out to be as fraught as the digitalisation of culture.

Alain (Canet), editor-in-chief of a successful publishing house is meeting one of his writers, Leonard (Macaigne) over a rejection lunch. Alain will not be publishing his new book. The reasons are purely commercial, but the situation is made more difficult by their family friendship. In the end, Alain has to spell it out, and Leonard, looking very much like his younger, unkempt student self, in contrast to the well-groomed Alain, takes it badly. At home he complains to his over-worked wife Valerie (Hamzawi), PA to a leading politician engaged in an election battle. When the couples meet later on, nothing is said about the rejection, instead everyone is ganging up against against Valerie – who is in fact the only likeable protagonist – for her engagement in politics. They all believe in the future of e-books and the power of algorithms. But their world will soon crumble: Alain is summoned to Marc-Antoine (Gregory) the owner of the publishing company, who nonchalantly admits to selling up, putting Alain out of a job. Alain’s young lover and colleague, the even more ambitious Laure (Theret) is leaving him to take up a post in London. Luckily Alain is unaware that his wife Selena (Binoche), a TV actress, has long been involved with Leonard – who has a penchant for writing for including his private life in his book – and not always well-disguised, at that.

On the surface, this is a verbal war, rich in dialogue where Adorno and Lampedusa are quoted, but beneath the intellectual surface lies growing insecurity. Alain over-estimates his power, he is totally unaware that he is a play-ball of forces he cannot control. Selena, trying to put some gloss on her mediocre career, will soon live under the threat of Leonard’s next book, whilst Leonard himself is still playing around like a teenager, not wanting to adjust to reality – even though he confesses his affair eventually, he really does not deserve his faithful but self-focused wife. 

Non-Fiction can sometimes feel overly verbose, Assayas keeps up our interest by involving the audience in his protagonists’ subterfuge. Apart from Valerie, everybody is an out and out opportunist, trying to hide behind ideas which have completely lost their meaning for them: they have become slaves of ratings and sales figures. The only humour is self-inflicted and involuntarily. The betrayals are in the end self-betrayals, but these people are too far gone to distinguish between feelings and façade: they only believe in perception. The polished aesthetics are workmanlike with a grainy indie feel that seems to suit this bookish study of greed and lust. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 18 OCTOBER 2019

 

Corpus Christi (2019) ****

Dir.: Jan Komasa; Cast: Bartosz Bielenia, Aleksandra Konieczna, Eliza Rycenbel, Tomasz Zietek, Barbara Kurzaj, Zdzislas Wurdejn, Lukasz Simlat, Poland 2019, 115 min

Director Jan Komasa (Warsaw ’44) adapts Mateusz Palewicz’s extraordinary story about a 20-year-old juvenile criminal impersonating a priest in Poland. In small town Jasliska, just south of Krakow, the past is catching up with the townspeople forcing them out of the past and into the present. Piotr Sobocinski brings the whole thing to life with his vibrant camerawork reflecting the prejudices of provincial life in this intricate and outstanding feature drama.

Twenty year old Daniel (Bielenia) lives in a juvenile correction institution where he experiences something of a spiritual awakening under the influence of one of the more charismatic priests Tomasz (Simlat) whose sermons have a such a dramatic effect of the young man he feels a calling towards the priesthood. Sadly his criminal past bars him from taking the cloth. Unperturbed, Daniel sets out  his destination, where he is to join a sawmill, owned by Walkiewicz, a friend of Tomasz. One glimpse of the place from the outside is enough for Daniel to change his mind. In church he meets Eliza (Ryembed), the daughter of Lidia (Komieczna), who helps the resident priest Golap (Wurdejn). Daniel tells Eliza that he is a priest, producing the full regalia stolen from Tomasz, and they agree to take him on.

Whilst Daniel learns about taking confession from the internet on his mobile, he is drawn into a recent tragedy: six young people died in a head-on collision with a car, driven by an alcoholic called Slawek. It was forbidden to bury Slawek in the cemetery, and his wife Barbara (Kurzaj) and the victim’s relatives have made sure the priests stick to their word. Although Eliza’s brother was one of the victims, she has doubts about Slawek’s guilt. Daniel too feels Slawek was hard done by and proposes to bury Slawek in the local cemetery. But Walkiewicz wants to keep his workers happy, and again opposes the plan. And he is not the only one. Daniel meets resistance from Pinczer (Zietek), whose brother he killed in a fight.

Komasa changes the perception of Palewicz’s novel subtly: whilst Daniel believes in his role, and tries to be humble, the majority of his parish show anything but Christian spirit and only a few following Slawek’s coffin to the grave. Corpus Christi is a mature, wise and refreshing portrait of religious bigotry, emotionally enthralling the audience for the whole two hours. AS

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE AUDIENCE | 18 OCTOBER 2019

 

La Llorona (2019) Best Picture Golden Globes Nomination

Dir: Jayro Bustamente | Cast: Gustavo Matheu, Georges Renand, Marina Peralta, Sor Jayro Bustamente, Lisandro Sanchez

This atmospheric award-winning drama blends elements of fantasy, thriller and horror to explore the final months of a retired general with a shady past.

Jayro Bustamente’s second film in this year’s London Film Festival in another tribute to Guatemala’s Mayan culture and certainly packs a powerful punch sharing the same moody vehemence as Tremors but this is a more slick and cinematic affair that makes use of DoP Nicolas Wong’s stunning visual language to portray Guatemala’s shocking regime of terror.

Elderly general Enrique Monteverde – possibly modelled on Guatemala’s dictator Jose Elfrain Rios Montt (1926-2018) – is being tried for the genocide he unleashed on the country three decades earlier. Armed and alert, he scares his domestic staff by prowling around at night in the family’s secluded villa, convinced that a mythical howling woman aka La Llorona – the spirit of a woman who has returned to avenge the dead – is somewhere in the property. It seems that his housekeeper could be reeking revenge on him for the killings of her ancestors. His wife puts the mysterious wailings down to his mental frailty believing he is suffering from stress-induced dementia,

Rios Montt took part in Guatemala’s infamous coup d’etat on March 23, 1982 but was overthrown by his defence minister Oscar Mejia Victories, and was eventually indicted for crimes against humanity and the indigenous population that included the killings of 1771 Maya Ixil Indians.

Once again Bustamente highlights Guatemala’s colonial past and a society that is still very much based on a rigid class structure in thrall to the Catholic Church. Meanwhile the indigenous Mayan population relies on its Gods, Animal Spirits and rituals making this a fascinating and haunting drama. MT

NOMINATED FOR BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE PICTURE | Golden Globes 2021|  JAYRO BUSTAMENTE WON THE FEODORA AWARD AT VENICE FOR BEST FILM and the GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI Best Film AWARD 2019

 

Joker (2019) **** Golden Lion Winner Venice 2019

Dir: Todd Phillips | Cast: Joaquin Pheonix, Robert De Niro
Joaquin Phoenix coruscates with desperate anger as a tortured mentally ill loner in Todd Phillips’ tale of the age old arch-nemesis. Imagine Taxi Driver ten years on without the heart and soul of Scorsese or Bernard Herrmann’s iconic 70s score; add some hyper violence and a dose of livid desperation and you have Joker, another rich character study not for the feint-hearted.

Robert De Niro also stars as a glib gameshow host Murray Franklin but this is Phoenix’s film and he is a firecracker as the disgruntled and delusional Arthur Fleck tending his ailing mother whilst trying to juggle various jobs, gradually losing his sanity. He is also cursed with a corrosive condition forcing him to cackle with laughter – uncontrollably and mostly inappropriately – whenever he is stressed or put upon. One such incident occurs in the opening scene where he is chased down and beaten up by kids who steal his sale placard.

Shocking in its sheer intensity, Joker is a film for everyone who has ever been scorned or short-changed, so that’s just about everyone. Joaquin Phoenix looks as if he nearly died preparing for the role, his emaciated body and strung out demeanour testament to the sheer dedication of an actor at the top of his game – thoughts of quitting should now be way behind him.

Phillips and Scott Silver’s script is not based on any of the DC Comics oeuvre, but its resonance will delight an eager fan base. In Gotham City, inspired by New York of the same era, Fleck is also fond of his role as a clown, and he is good at it. Strutting his stuff in the local children’s hospital but also imagining himself performing as a stand-up comedian – one of his jokes is “let’s hope my death makes more cents than my life”.

After the street punch up Fleck is lent a gun by a workmate, but foolishly incorporates it in his act at the hospital, a mistake that leads to his sacking and final down-spiralling. One night in the tube he becomes trigger happy when taunted by some City workers and is soon running for his life, the sheer payback exhilaration infecting the audience with complicit delight as he becomes everyone’s misguided ‘have a go hero’.

Without revealing the rest of the plot, let’s just say Arthur makes one bad choice after another. And when certain facts come to light about his family and background, he morphs into a fully fledged psychopath not caring what happens next – to him, or anybody else’s for that matter.

Phoenix brings a scathing humanity to a tragic soul in crisis. Even a romance with a neighbour Sophie (Zazie Beetz) seems to be a figment of his shattered psyche as he descends into a hellish underworld of his own making. Although technically brilliant you have to question the sheer level of the gratuitous violence. That said, this cuastic moral tale will leave everyone with a vague sense of satisfaction and sadness as Joaquin struts his stuff to Gary Glitter’s 1972 hit Rock and Roll, part 2. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM FRIDAY 4 OCTOBER 2019

The Prince | El Principe (2019) ***

Dir: Sebastián Muñoz | Cast: Juan Carlos Maldonado, Alfredo Castro, Gaston Pauls, Sebastian Ayala, Lucas Balmaceda, Cesare Serra, José Antonio Raffo |Drama,  96′, 2019)

Based on a novel by Mario Cruz, this Chilean prison drama won the Queer Lion at Venice in competition with the far superior Moffie by Oliver Hermanus.

The Prince is Chilean set designer Sebastián Muñoz’s feature debut, and as you would expect it all looks rather stylish, if that’s possible for a jail-based film. It’s 1970, just before President Allende brought his particular brand of Marxism to a liberal democracy backed by the CIA. At the time this must have seemed quite a controversial story with its scantily-clad gay men cavorting behind bars, but now it all feels rather quaint.

The story revolves around a 20 year-old called (Jaime Juan Carlos Maldonado) serving time for stabbing his best friend (Cesare Serra), possibly in flagrante delicto, in the opening scene. In flashback, we see Jaime unable to express his sexual feelings in the Chilean town of San Bernardo, but these episodes don’t successfully inform what he has now become and play out rather like stand-alone vignettes. Sharing a cell with four other guys he soon becomes close to Stallion (Castro) a sort of prison gang leader who will open him up sexually and teach him the ways of world, jail-wise. The prison is a violent place but there’s also lots of full on sex, and Jaime soon starts to enjoy himself in this permissive set-up that would be undreamed of in the outside world, back in the day, but one that provides endless playmates for Jaime’s amusement, until it all ends in tears. Quite why Munoz has decided on this rather dated minor work- given today’s permissiveness – will be beyond most people. But it will go down well with the LGBTQ crowd despite its rather threadbare narrative.

The best thing about The Prince is Alfredo Castro (Blanco en Blanco) who puts a world weary complexity into his role as the oldest male prisoner in Jaime’s four bunk cell. He has a younger lover (Sebastian Ayala) but throws him over in preference to Jaime, hence his nickname “the prince”.

Munoz wrote the screenplay with Luis Barrales but it fails to convey Mario Cruz’ tribute to his central character as a victim of his times. Jaime is certainly an antihero but not a victim here as he seems to drift along in this sweaty paradise more or less ambivalent to his position in the pecking order. Weirdly, it appears that all the other prisoners in this clink are gay, which feels rather utopian, if you’re looking at it from Jaime’s perspective. MT

SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 18-28 SEPTEMBER 2019 | HORIZONTES LATINOS Strand

 

 

 

 

 

Venice Film Festival 2019 | Round-up

Celebrating its 76th Anniversary VENICE FILM FESTIVAL was another exciting occasion with the competition line-up featuring the latest from established directors with newcomers also presenting their work.

One of the standouts of this year’s mostra was a pre-festival showing of Gustav Machaty’s 1933 masterpiece ECSTASY which won him Best Director in the year following production,

The fun got going with The Truth by Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Then amongst the Golden Lion hopefuls was maverick Roman Polanski who finally brings his biopic about another controversial figure Louis Dreyfus to the competition which ran from 28 August until 7 September on the Lido.

Adapted from Robert Harris novel J’Acuse stars Louis Garrel, Mathieu Amalric and Emmanuelle Seigner (aka Mme Polanski). Other high profile features were Todd Phillips’ The Joker – which won the Golden Lion and starsJoaquin Phoenix. And once again the lack of women directors in competition was flagged up, although there were plenty of female stars to be seen in the elegant hotspot on the Venetian coast. 

In the 21-strong competition line-up there was one trail-blazing female director in the shape of Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour (Wadjda) who attended to present her fourth feature The Perfect Candidate. Set in Riyadh it tells the story of a woman doctor who navigates her way through the male-dominated scenery to run for the council elections. 

Other auteurs include Czech Vaclav Marhoul with a wartime drama three hours long and ten years in the making: The Painted Bird (CZE/UKR/SLO) follows the plight of a Jewish boy on the run through Nazi Germany. The film stars Stellan Skarsgard. Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain was last in Venice with The Club, his latest sees a couple dealing with the aftermath of adoption, and Mexico stars Gael Garcia Bernal heads the cast. From Colombia Embrace of the Serpent director Ciro Guerra ups his game considerably with a starry cast of Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson and Greta Scacchi in a period drama dealing with themes of loyalty and trust in a distant outpost of the Spanish Empire. Waiting for the Barbarians is based on a novel by South African writer J M Coetzee.

In the Italian corner, there is more about the Mafia from Sicilian director Franco Moresco, who won the Orizzonti Jury prize at Venice with Belluscone. Una Storia Siciliana back in 2014. La mafia non e piu quella di una Volta is a documentary exploring the history and origins of the organisation. From China comes Ye Lou’s historical drama Saturday Fiction and Hong Kong based director Yonfan breaks his 6 year silence with No. 7 Cherry Lane that centres on a English literature tutor caught up in a love triangle with a woman pupil and her mother. And Sweden’s Roy Andersson was in attendance with About Endlessness.

Steven Soderbergh also featured in competition with Panama papers themed The Laundromat that stars Meryl Streep and David Schwimmer as journalists uncovering political tax avoidance sculduggery in the US. Noah Baumbach makes his first appearance at Venice with another domestic satire, this timed entitled Marriage Story: an insightful drama tempered with his usual brand of dark humour and a impressive cast of Laura Dern, Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver and Ray Liotta. Both these US outings are now on Netflix.

Veteran French filmmaker Robert Guedeguian presents a Marseilles-set family drama, and Olivier Assayas continues to surprises us with his versatility, this time with Wasp Network a story of intrigue involving Cuban political prisoners. Canadian director Atom Egoyan has selected an interested cast of David Thewlis, Luke Wilson and Rossif Sutherland (son of Donald) to flesh out a morally thorny story surrounding pupils in a high school. A slightly underwhelming feature that divided the critics.

Venice 76 ‘out of competition’ selection included documentaries and features –  from Alex Gibney, Costa Gavras, who tackles the Greek financial crisis in Adults in the Room; and Andrea Segre with ecological documentary Il Pianeta in Mare. Pink Floyd’s Roger Walters directs and appeared in a concert film going back over the last few years of his musical career. There was also a chance to see some remastered classics in the shape of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut; screened alongside a new doc about one of the greatest directors of all time Never Just a Dream: Stanley Kubrick and Eyes Wide Shut by Matt Wells. Gaspar Noé  Paolo Sorrentino and Sergei Loznitsa also featured in the out of competition competition section.

Meanwhile in the Horizons sidebar, German filmmaker Katrin Gebbe makes her feature debut with Pelican Blood starring Nina Hoss. And Alfredo Castro (from Golden Lion winner 2015 From Afar) is back to star in a psychological drama White on White from Chilean director Theo Court. MT

MAIN COMPETITION

No. 7 Cherry Lane (HONG KONG) – Dir. Yonfan

The Laundromat (USA) – Dir. Steven Soderbergh

J’Accuse (FRA/ITA) – Dir. Roman Polanski

Joker (USA) – Dir. Todd Phillips

Babyteeth (AUS) – Dir. Shannon Murphy

Marriage Story (USA) – Dir. Noah Baumbach

Il Sindaco Del Rione Sanità (ITA) – Dir. Mario Martone

The Painted Bird (CZE/UKR/SLO) – Dir. Václav Marhoul

La Mafia Non È Più Quella Di Una Volta (ITA) – Dir. Franco Maresco

Martin Eden (ITA/FRA) – Dir. Pietro Marcello

Saturday Fiction (CHI) – Dir. Lou Ye

Ema (CHILE) – Dir. Pablo Larraín

Waiting For The Barbarians (ITA) – Dir. Ciro Guerra

Gloria Mundi (FRA/ITA) – Dir. Robert Guéndiguian

Ad Astra (USA) – Dir. James Gray

Guest Of Honour (CAN) – Dir. Atom Egoyan

Wasp Network (FRA/BEL) – Dir. Olivier Assayas

About Endlessness (SWE/GER/NOR) – Dir. Roy Andersson

The Perfect Candidate (SAU/GER) – Dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour

A Herdade (POR/FRA) – Dir. Tiago Guedes

The Truth (JAP/FRA) – OPENING FILM – Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda

Out Of Competition (fiction)

The King (UK/HUN) – Dir. David Michod

Seberg (USA) – Dir. Benedict Andrews

Vivere (ITA) – Dir. Francesca Archibugi

The Burnt Orange Heresy (USA/ITA) – CLOSING FILM – Dir. Giuseppe Capotondi

Mosul (USA) – Dir. Matthew Michael Carnahan

Adults In The Room (FRA/GRE) – Dir. Costa-Gavras

Tutto Il Mio Folle Amore (ITA) – Dir. Gabriele Salvatores

Out of Competition (non-fiction)

Il Pianeta In Mare (ITA) – Dir. Andrea Segre

Citizen K (UK/USA) – Dir. Alex Gibney

Woman (FRA) – Dir. Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Anastasia Mikova

Roger Waters Us + Them (UK) – Dir. Sean Evans, Roger Waters

I Diari Di Angela – Noi Due Cineasti. Secondo Capitolo. (ITA) – Dir. Yervant Gianikian, Angela Ricci Lucchi

Citizen Rosi (ITA) – Dir. Didi Gnocchi, Carolina Rosi

The Kingmaker (USA) – Dir. Lauren Greenfield

State Funeral (NET/LIT) – Dir. Sergei Loznitsa

Collective (ROM/LUX) – Dir. Alexander Nanau

45 Seconds Of Laughter (USA) – Dir. Tim Robbins

Out of competition (special screenings)

No-One Left Behind (MEX) – Dir. Guillermo Arriaga

Zerozerozero – Episodes 1 & 2 (ITA) – Dir. Stefano Sollima

Electric Swan (FRA/GRE/ARG) – Dir. Konstantina Kotzamani

Irréversible – Inversion Intégrale (FRA) – Dir. Gaspar Noé

The New Pope – Episodes 2 & 7 (ITA/FRA/SPA) – Dir. Paolo Sorrentino

Never Just A Dream: Stanley Kubrick And Eyes Wide Shut (UK) – Dir. Matt Wells

Eyes Wide Shut (USA/UK) – Dir. Stanley Kubrick

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 28 AUGUST – 7 SEPTEMBER 2019

White on White (2019)

Dir/Wri. Théo Court.   Spain/Chile/France/Germany. Drama. 1oo’.

South America’s Tierra del Fuego is the setting for this weirdly compelling drama telling an equally unsettling story against the background of colonialist brutality in late 19th century Chile.

Anchored by a magnetic performance from one of Chile’s leading acting talents Alfredo Castro (Rojo) this is an enigmatic film with suitably ambiguous characters. Castro plays Pedro, a photographer hired by a wealthy landowner to record his impending nuptials. But what starts as a seemingly straightforward gig soon develops into something sinister and otherworld as he finds himself drawn into a nightmarish scenario from which escape seems increasingly unlikely.

In his follow-up to Ocaso Théo Court takes us to the brink with a slow-burning mystery that chases its tale to the point of bewilderment, José Alayón’s striking widescreen cinematography capture the bleak snow-swept landscapes forming a chilling backdrop to this disquieting story  in the remotest corner of the Earth.

After painstakingly setting up his camera to photograph the timid pre-teen bride Sara (Ether Vega) in a series of alluring poses that hint at salaciousness. Pedro is then forced to languish in an isolated cabin awaiting further instructions from Mr Porter, an increasingly evasive employe, who never actually appears. The contrast between this vast wilderness and the claustrophobic interiors and oppressive characters is the crux of this fascinating film which keeps us in suspense until a shocking finale.

Co-scripting with Samuel M. Delgado, Court vaguely hints at arthouse paedophilia in his characterisation of Pedro, a man who has possibly overstepped the mark in his growing obsession for an innocent bride. You could also say he was just an artist keen to do his best in fulfilling his creative brief, but there’s something unsavoury about it all.

White on White makes an uncomfortable watch during these slightly scabrous portrait scenes. Things become even more questionable when Pedro persuades Sara’s governess Aurora (Lola Rubio) to bring the girl for another photo session at dawn. And what follows is worse. From being a respectable outsider, Pedro gradually becomes trapped in this dystopian community of ranchers who have been tasked by the absentee landowner to build an encampment and enslave the Indigenous Selkham people. Pedro eventually finds himself engaged in a more sinister commission, that of immortalising their massacres for posterity at this ‘important time in history’, as Porter describes it.

Although the Selkham people are naturally horrified, Mr Porter believes his civilising influence is somehow an act of heroism. And the final scene contrasts the absurdity of Pedro’s obsession with the compositing his shot with the vile nature of his subject matter. White on White shares a common vein with Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, and there are also echoes of Juaja here in the surreal and scary backwater that refuses to yield its exotic power to the misguided marauders in its midst. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 30 JUNE 2021 | ORIZZONTI PRIZE Winner BEST DIRECTOR | FIPRESCI PRIZE 2019

 

Ecstasy | Estasi (1932) Made in Prague Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Gustav Machaty; Cast: Hedy Kiesler-Lamarr, Aribert Moog, Zvonimir Rogoz, Leopold Kramer; Czechoslovakia 1932, 90 min.

Czech director/co-writer Gustav Machaty (1901-1963) paints a portrait of passionate love and jealousy, set in and around Prague in the early 1930s and based on the novel by Robert Horky.

A mixture of sound and silent film, Ecstasy would be remembered for its nude scenes rather than its cinematographic value or its bold feminist stance. Hedy Kiesler was the star turn – she would soar to the Hollywood firmament as Hedy Lamarr.

The drama opens as newly-wed couple Ewa (Kiesler) and the much older Emile (Rogoz) arrive home.  Emile fumbles with his keys, desperate for a night-cup. Pricking his finger while trying to help Ewa take off her necklace, his mood worsens and he reaches for the newspaper, ignoring his beautiful bride. Ewa leaves him and returns to the estate of her father (Kramer) where she skinny-dips in the lake, her horse running off with her clothes. Meanwhile Adam (Moog), a young engineer, working on the railway-line, catches the horse and returns her clothes in an encounter that leads to a torrid night of sex and the first female orgasm on screen: Ewa’s eyes are closed, her lips parted, whilst another shot shows her limp wrist, symbolically dropping the necklace with its pearls rattling to the floor. 

Emile realises the error of his ways and tries to make amends – but Ewa rejects him  – he then comes across Adam and gives him a lift in his car unaware to the tryst. But when he sees the necklace in Adam’s hands, Emile is distraught and commits suicide the same evening in a hotel where the couple are dancing. Ewa is shocked and abandons Adam. The finale pictures her happily cuddling a new-born baby.

Ewa’s search for passion is seen as a rightful pursuit, a stance against her selfish  husband. But Adam is neither her saviour nor her downfall. Ewa’s reputation survives intact, Adam comes across as a naïve country boy, fulfilled by his work on the land more than his affair with a woman, and merely the catalyst for Ewa’s emancipation. Ewa is not punished like Madame Bovary. She is a self-determining woman who has chosen pleasure above pain.

Produced for the German market, Ecstasy is certainly still very central European in tone, Vienna, Austria, and the old Habsburg Empire are still alive. The lack of dialogue is surprising: Ewa’s scenes with Emile and Adam are silent. At a time when men had the last word, Ewa proves that actions speak louder than words. But when she does speak – in the scene with her father – Ewa is in charge, telling him to lie to her ex-husband when the he phones. Her father asks: “Why do I have to lie?”, Ewa answering “So I have my peace”. 

The film premiered in Prague in January 1933, with Kiesler storming out of the theatre, feeling betrayed by the director and producer, who had promised that the nude scenes would be shot from far away, so that nobody would recognise her. In Germany, the feature was cut from the original length of 95 minutes to a mere 82. In the USA, Ecstasy was forbidden until 1940, when it was show in an even more edited version than in Germany. France was the only place where the original version is still shown even today.

Later, Kiesler’s husband, the arms dealer Fritz Mandle, would try to buy up all the copies of the film but without the negative, his efforts would be in vain – as were his attempts to hold on to his wife.

Shot by DoP Jan Stallich in intimate close-ups, the wider screen scenes at the railway, are edited by Antonin Zelenka in the way of the Russian montage features. Ecstasy would be Machaty’s last film in his homeland. He went to work in Germany and Italy, before returning to Hollywood, where he had learned his trade from Griffith and Von Sternberg in the 1920s. His film noir Jealousy (1945) is one of the gems of the genre. Machaty moved to Germany in 1951, teaching at the Munich Film School and directing his last feature Suchkind 312 in 1955. AS

Ecstasy with live overture by Anna Vöröšová / Sun 7 Nov, 3 pm

     

   

An Officer and a Spy (J’Accuse) **** Venice Film Festival 2019 | Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize

Dir: Roman Polanski | Wri: Robert Harris | 122’

This sober story of xenophobia and corruption sees a long-standing military man stripped of his honour in a rain- soaked square in Paris during the winter of 1894

The soldier is Alfred Dreyfus and Roman Polanski tells the story with procedural restraint and immaculate detail in this portrait of Parisian society at the time of Bonnard and Monet, the painterly historical epic brought to life in Pawel Edelman’s sumptuous camerawork.

Robert Harris wrote the screenplay based on his own 2013 book An Officer And A Spy (J’Accuse). Louis Garrel is shorn of his tousled good looks to play a wan and not overly sympathetic Dreyfus, although we do feel for him and the injustice he suffered. Jean Dujardin is rather charismatic as the maverick French officer Picquart whose gradual realisation that Dreyfus is not guilty of treason puts him up against his crusty superiors (played by a classy French cast) eventually winning the victim a reprise. The rest is history, so Polanski’s challenge was to bring drama without sensation to a tale close to his own heart. And he succeeds with a richly-textured straightforward approach, Alexandre Desplat’s atmospheric score adding an undercurrent of darkness to the gathering storm.

Galloping through the story with military precision, we see Dreyfus sent down for life to Devil’s Island after his 1894 trial. The openly anti-semitic Picquart is then promoted to head the nation’s counter-intelligence despite his lack of experience, but then follows his duty as a man of honour, in exposing another cover-up refusing to let his private feelings cloud his professional judgement. And this is where he comes up against a reluctance to turn over the guilty verdict on behalf of his superiors. AN OFFICER is an intelligent drama that unfolds slowly but surely through a series of unhurried and thoughtful vignettes each adding interest to main plot and elevating the film into a graceful period epic. There is an additional subplot with Emmanuelle Seigner playing Picquet’s married lover, and although this adds a romantic thrill to the affair it feels rather de trop but clearly offers Mme Polanski worthwhile screen time. Polanski’s keeps a distance from his subject matter, never allowing his own ant-semitic experience and fight to gain justice cloud his judgement. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 AUGUST – 7 SEPTEMBER 2019

The Domaine (2019) *** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir: Tiago Guedes. Portugal. 2019. 166mins

A slow-moving simmering saga that sees a discontented family’s fortunes ebb and flow in a vast estancia on banks of the Tagus where its macho patriarch holds sway challenged by forces from within and without.

Portuguese director Tiago Guedes maintains a masterful control of his three hour narrative. Full of unappealing characters who drink and chain-smoke their way through 45 years of Portuguese history. After opening scene set in 1946 the film gets underway in the wake of the death of statesman and prime minster Salazar who presided over the Estado Novo regime and famously fell off his deck chair in the summer of 1970 after suffering a stroke. This all ushers in Portugal’s ‘Carnation Revolution’ in April 1974, which led to an era of democracy, the film ending in September 1991.

The Domaine lacks the intensity or heft of a Nuri Bilge Ceylan drama so fails to hold our attention for nearly three hours but it is an accomplished work and benefits from the glowering magnetism  of its central character played by Albano Jeronimo who as Joao Fernandes presides over his ‘kingdom’ with a reptilian contempt for everyone around him, except his elegant black stallions and his little son Miquel.

Sandra Faleiro is equally snide as his wife Leonor, whose father is a high-ranking general, and knows she must compete with the other females in her household for her husband’s attentions which generate a hostile climate of competitive breeding amongst the women. Rosa (Ana Vilela da Costa) is one of them and is married to  Joao’s right hand man Joaquim (Miguel Borges) who runs the state.

Another key employee is the Communist tractor driver Leonel. The final act sees Joao greying as power slips between his fingers 1990s section, as 20-something Miguel, played by Joao Pedro Mamede, has become a drug-taking loser in a dismal world that festers in the restless shadows of its former pride. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2019

Gloria Mundi (2019) *** Venice Film Festival | Best Actress winner

Dir. Robert Guédiguian. France/Italy. 2019. 107mins

Veteran director Robert Guédiguian knows his audience, his cast and muse: he makes politically aware films about ordinary working class people facing crisis in his native Marseille. The Last Mitterand and The Army of Crime are exceptions but his domestic dramas are consistently appealing to a certain type of viewer. In Gloria Mundi he jazzes things up a bit with some cinematic flourishes and a script that goes down and dirty but it is largely predictable in a solid, decently crafted sort of way.

Gloria Mundi belongs to Gérard Meylan’s Daniel, a likeable and grounded dark horse who has done time in Rennes for killing a man in self-defence. We meet him in the mellow autumn of his life, content with his own company and happy to have found a certain modus vivendi as he wiles away his post-prison days writing Haiku poetry and contemplating a soulmate who – conveniently – lives only in his dreams. He was once married to Ariane Ascaride’s salt of the earth night cleaner Sylvie who went on to enjoy a more enduring relationship with bus driver Richard, an equally mellow Jean-Pierre Darroussin, who took on her daughter Mathilda (Anais Demoustier). The couple then had Aurore (Lola Naymark) who runs a shop with Bruno (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet). Mathilda is seen giving birth to the titular Gloria as the film opens.

The appealing thing about this Midi-set drama is the way these ordinary people have come to accept their lives without rancor or resort to bitterness or despair. There is something of the Emile Zola’s about these characters: Life is tough for them but they put their backs in to earning their living, never shirking or relying on criminality to bring home the bacon. Guédiguian, like Zola, is interested in temperament here rather than character, and he tells his story straightforwardly without any gimmicks or flashbacks. Marseille is very much a character too, its stunning skyline and maritime feel suffusing the drama with a certain charm that diehard fans will find comforting, although others might consider it all a bit pedestrian. The plot is nonetheless satisfying and well thought out, reaching a surprising conclusion and avoiding the ubiquitous and nebulous enigma that it so commonplace nowadays in place of a solid – if minor – narrative.

The family fortunes take a turn for the worse after little Gloria is born. Mathilda and her husband Nicolas (Robinson Stévenin) have invested in a shiny black limousine so he can work as an Uber driver, while she goes back to helping in a clothes shop. But Nicolas has his arm broken by thieves who steal the car, and Richard is suspended from his job after the police catch him on the ‘phone while driving a bus.

Daniel then shows his true colours stepping out of the shadows to support his estranged daughter Mathilda and reconnect with Sylvie who has refused to strike with her co-worker at the cleaners’ union, and is looking after Gloria while holding down her punishing nocturnal schedule. Meanwhile, Aurore and Bruno are about to open their second shop and are enjoying a raunchy sex life fantasising about a three-some with Mathilda, who Bruno is already sleeping with, unbeknownst to Aurore and Nicolas, who is slowly losing the plot, sitting at home with a broken arm.

Guédiguian often feels like the French version of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. And here again he crafts a tale of domestic dynamics showing how economic setback can rapidly put a strain on family life. He did this first with his best known work Snows of Kilimanjaro and more recently with The House by the Sea. This is a less subtle affair that triumphs because of its engaging story of Marseillaise life and its quality performance all set to an unobtrusive Ravel score. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 2019 | Best Actress Ariane Ascaride

Lingua Franca (2019) *** Venice Film Festival

Dir.: Isabel Sandoval; Cast: Isabel Sandoval, Lynn Cohen, Eamon Farren; USA/Philippines 2019, 94′ 

Philippines born US-based Isabel Sandoval is the director, writer, actor, editor and co-producer of this semi-autobiographical labour of love. Her portrait of Olivia, a New York trans woman living in permanent fear of deportation by the ICE, tackles a worthwhile subject with boring results.

Olivia (Sandoval) is a post-op trans Filipina working as a live-in home help for Jewish matriarch Olga (Cohen) in Brighton Beach, New York. Olga is scrambling on the foothills of Alzheimers, but when her big family clan meets, she dominates the proceedings just like in the olden days. With no Green Card Olivia is haunted by her fear of deportation, and has pinned all her hopes on marriage to her boyfriend who she pays in instalments. But her man has found a better offer, and the money has been spent in vain. Then along comes 29-year old Alex (Farren), Olga’s grandson, fresh out of rehab, but still an alcoholic drifter. He works, on and off in his uncle’s grim slaughterhouse, but is not ready to adjust to adult life. He moves in with Olivia and Olga, even though his caring efforts are not particularlyj successful. In spite of their very different psychological make-up, Olivia and Alex fall in love. Alex, an out-and-out macho, is at first unaware of Olivia’s sexual identity, and when the truth finally emerges he reacts with verbal and emotional violence. Sandoval leaves an ambiguous ending, somehow between hope and realism. Lingua Franca feels rather flaccid both plot wise and in its bland aesthetics, which are more suited to a documentary feature. Alex and Olivia make unconvincing bed-fellows: more experienced actors may have been able to ride over their stilted dialogue and lack of chemistry but this is another flaw in the film. Lingua Franca is an admirable undertaking, but sadly a wasted opportunity. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI 2019

    

Atlantis (2019) **** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Valentyn Vasyanovych; Cast: Andriy Rymaruk, Liudmyla Bileka. Sergiy Katya; USA/Ukraine 2019, 104 min.

This third feature by Ukranian director/writer DoP Valentyn Vasyanovych (Kredens) is a bleak dystopian fable set in contemporary Eastern Ukraine, where anti-hero Sergiy battles not only his PTSD, but also a poisoned environment – literally and figuratively.

Atlantis is a difficult film to watch, and remains seared to the memory as it plays out mostly without dialogue, the roaming camera telling us all we need to know. Vasyanovych avoids sentimentality, his courageous protagonists having to face up to a hellish existence which is not of their own making.

This apocalyptic thriller opens with five male holograms dancing around menacingly. Cut to a reality, and a war-ravaged landscape where the rivers have been poisoned by the Russians. Sergiy (Rymaruk) and his friend Ivan (Katya) work in a smelting furnace which is soon to close. Ivan is so depressed with the futility of his existence he jumps into the burning steel lava. Sergiy, feeling guilty about his friend’s death later burns himself with a hot iron in his decrepit studio room. Atlantis shows how the deep bonds of love and homeland can help us to endure the most appalling situations, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

After the factory is shut, Sergiy takes as job as a driver for a mobile water tank, providing fresh supplies for soldiers and state employees. He is warned it will take several decades to clear the unexploded mines but things look up when he meets para-medic Katya (Bileka) who is helping to identify the many corpses still littering the countryside. Her car has broken down, and Sergiy tows her vehicle to the nearest town where we witness an exhumation performed by two pathologists. The whole scene is one of the most difficult of the entire feature, the medics going painstakingly about their business painstakingly detailing the decaying bodies. Surprisingly (or not), Sergiy is not particularly hungry afterwards, buy while Katya tucks into her food, he offers to help her on his weeks off. This work is not for the faint-hearted and she has to help him to get over the shock of the gruesome finds. Another stroke of luck comes when he saves the life of a woman who tuns out to be an ecologist for a worldwide organisation, and offers him a job abroad, “to start a new life”. But however gruelling, he prefers working with Katya, and when their vehicle breaks down, the camera zooms in from the outside through the torrents of rain, showing two deeply affected people who slowly fall for each other, their feelings an antidote to the horror of war. Vasyanovich leaves us to draw our own conclusions about this deeply affecting but enigmatic feature: “This is like a reservation for people like us, it would be hard to live anywhere else.” AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 28 – 7 August 2019

     

The King (2019) **** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir. David Michôd. US/Australia. 2019. 133mins

David Michôd’s The King re-imagines history to give a rather intriguing version of the story of Henry IV’s least favourite son Prince Hal, a Prince Harry style character who mends his ways to become serious about the business of running the kingdom and bringing glory to England at the Battle of Agincourt.

Although there is no mention of Shakespeare here, all the traditions are respected, the costumes are magnificent and the battle scenes spectacular. Even though we know what happened on that fateful day, Michôd and his co-writer Joel Edgerton – who also stars as Sir John Falstaff – embellish the story to deliver a solemnly gripping firecracker of a film that will make you “Cry God! For Harry, England and St George” and Brexit too, if you’re so inclined.

Timothée Chalamet is sombre and rather thoughtful with a cut glass English accent in the style of a David Lean wartime hero. All peaky and pale as Hal, his transformation into a King, on the death of his father (Ben Mendelsohn), sees him exuding newfound charisma and integrity in a gentle way – Chalamet gives a performance of vulnerable allure lighting up every scene. The screen time shared with his trusted friend and ally Falstaff makes this one of the most engaging versions, Edgerton bringing a warm and witty confidence to his Sir John.

The trump card is played by Robert Pattinson as a sneering and flirty Dauphin with a tousled mop of hair and a perky French accent that would make Macron proud.

The elegant script allows plenty of time for philosophising as each powerful lord gives his liege the benefit of well-formed opinion as to the merits of spoiling for battle with France after the King is given a cricket ball as a coronation present by the Dauphin. Evidence of an assassination plot come to light courtesy of a courtier William (Sean Harris) – a decision he will live to regret: this sylph-like newly-crowned Monarch has a fist of iron and a steely resolve behind his boyish exterior, and this comes through in impetuous bursts as the story unfolds.

The battle scenes unleash their bloody mayhem with a hail of longbow arrows and a clash of steel armour and military might as blood soaks the muddy Autumn fields of Pas de Calais in 1415. The strategy is a good one explained calmly by Falstaff in his moment of glory.  This should be experienced on the large screen but sadly The King is bound for Netflix.

The female roles go to Lily-Rose Depp as the bony-faced French princess who makes her caustic intentions clear as Henry’s bride. Tara Fitzgerald has a cameo as the cantankerous  barmaid and thorn in the bibulous Falstaff’s side.

On the eve of battle he proclaims in a timely speech that still holds true today : “I die here or I die of the bottle in Eastcheap — I think this makes for a better story.” And given the parlous state of England’s care homes dying with glory seems a more sensible idea. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 August – 7 September 2019

No. 7 Cherry Lane (2019) **** Venice Film Festival 2019 | Best Screenplay Award

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

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

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

The story unfolds within the confines of an upmarket residential block in 1967, when the streets of Hong Kong were fraught with leftist protests erupting in violence between anti-colonial demonstrators and police. Meanwhile Ziming (Alex Lam) is experiencing an eruption of a different kind, involving his own sexual awakening. As a student reading modern literature at the university, he takes on a part-time job teaching English to a family recently exiled from Taiwan. Meiling (Zhao Wei) is the daughter of Mrs. Yu (Sylvia Chang), a single mother and exporter of luxury goods to Taiwan, whose own youth has been fraught with revolutionary unrest. Ziming’s arrival stimulates literary debate about Brontë, Proust and Cao Xueqin while in the background the family’s collection of cats are capable of all kinds of mischievous behaviour. Ziming is beguiled both by Mewling and Mrs. Yu, as he embarks on an education no university curriculum could possibly provide.

Blending art and history, politics and eroticism. No.7 Cherry Lane showcases a new animation process, turning original 3-D illustrations into 2-D images on rice paper. Yonfan has created a delicate aesthetic that feels modern yet steeped in tradition, offering a unique paean to Hong Kong’s past that is tongue in cheek, informative and erotic. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | COMPETITION

 

The Laundromat (2019) ** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir: Stephen Soderbergh | Meryl Street, Gary Oldman, Sharon Stone, Antonio Banderas | US Drama 96’

Steven Soderbergh has decided on a comic-didactic treatment to tell the story of the ‘Panama Papers’ insurance scandal of 2016. But Laundromat feels more like a tedious economics lecture than an piece of enjoyable cinema. It all opens with an introduction from the dinner-jacketed partners of the firm Mossack Fonseca played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas with odd accents. Meryl Streep plays the archetypical middle-aged American tourist whose husband is drowned after a cruise boat accident. It soon emerges their holiday insurance is null and void due a multiple re-selling scam to avoid tax. Naturally Meryl is not going to let the insurers get away without laying down the law so embarks on a plucky quest for justice which leads her nowhere fast. Episodic and patchy, The Laundromat relies on breaking news intercuts and inter-titles with Streep pontificating about how the public has been let down by democracy and the powers that be. We all leave feeling harangued rather than entertained. MT 

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 August – 7 September 2019

Andrei Tarkovsky: A Cinema Prayer (2019) **** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir: Andrey A Tarkovskiy | Russia Doc 97’

In his debut feature Andrey Tarkovskiy immediately trashes the theory that his father, the Soviet filmmaker Andrei (1932-1986) was some kind of intellectual mystic. Instead this well-organised biopic Andrei Tarkovsky: A Cinema Prayer paints a portrait of a mildly religious and loving family man who often felt misunderstood, especially by the critics (“as usual they didnt’t understand anything”)  but who was at pains to pass on his own father’s ideas on Russian 19th century culture throughout the years of revolution (Arseniy Tarkovsky (1907-1989). Andrei emerges as a joyful, kind and deeply spiritual man whose ‘screen poetry’ was his creative attempt at praying. Although he never considered himself as a good filmmaker he is now regarded as a luminary, who would go on to influence cinema in the latter part of the 20th century and continues to do so today,

Instead of the usual talking heads A CINEMA PRAYER offers a more cinematic approach: family photos and recordings distilled from hours of his father’s personal footage, and excerpts from his diaries relating to his wife and  Larisa Tarkovskaya along with his friends and the people he worked with.

Divided into chapters, the straightforward chronological narrative deals with each of his films; sharing thoughts and memorise; debunking popularly held theories and debating ideas under the headings: Childhood and youth; Work in cinema; Leaving Russia: (his time dealing with Western culture and working in Italy and subsequent conflict with Soviet authorities; and finally: The artist as a prophet, where he muses about his own faith and the meaning of life. The film does not attempts to analyse or even separate his films from each other claiming they were inter-related, and autobiographical at heart. And the director provides exact location shots for Mirror (a screen memoir of his close relationship with his mother, with poems by his father ); Stalker and Nostalghia.

Fascinating and moving, the film includes location shots of the family homes and places from where his films where made in Russia, France Italy and Sweden (where The Sacrifce was shot). MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 AUGUST – 7 SEPTEMBER 2019

 

Pelican Blood (2019) ** Venice Film Festival

Dir/Wri: Katrin Grebbe | Drama | 126’

Nina Hoss works wonders with a devilish script in German writer director Katrin Gebbe’s morose and over-long sophomore feature that follows her Cannes outing Nothing Bad Can Happen.

Pester power is the name of the game here and many parents will understand how difficult it is when an existing child desperately wants a sibling?  that with the ultimate damnation of adopting a child who then turns out to be a demon and you have the basic premise of Pelican Blood which opens this year’s Venice Orizzonti sidebar

Riding over glitches in the narrative and bringing a convincing vulnerability to her challenging role is what Nina Hoss does best. And she triumphs here as a fraught single mother doing her utmost not to give up on the vile 9 year old girl she has adopted from Bulgaria, German law not allowing single mothers to go down this route. Hoss just about saves the film as the stoically committed mother Wiebke living with Raya and her cheished child Nicolina (Adelia-Constance Giovanni Ocleppo) in a rural paradise where she works as a horse trainer, enjoying the occasional romantic interludes with her raunchy colleague Benedikt (Murathan Muslu), also a single-parent. But this idyll is short-lived. 

Raya’s tantrums soon prove impossible to handle but Wiebke is loathe to give up on the girl who would have to go back to an orphanage and face more trauma for a second time. Gebbe ramps up the unsettling feeling of tension with an ominous soundscape that makes this enigmatic drama chilling to watch. And although Grebbe avoids swerving into lurid horror by keeping the thrilling elements of the drama chilling rather than ludicrous, it is too far-fetched to appeal to strictly arthouse audiences. And the final denouement brings to mind The Omen amongst other features of this popular sub-genre.  MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 28 – 7 SEPTEMBER 2019

The Truth (2019) *** Venice Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Kore-eda Hirokazu; Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawk, Clementine Grenier, Manon Clavel; France 2019, 106 min.

Japanese director/writer/editor Kore-eda Hirokazu follows his Cannes winner Shoplifters with a feature which could hardly be more French despite his Japanese background: The Truth is not only set in a circle of actors (demi-gods in France), it is also all about the profession itself, with a little bit of gossip and lies as spice. And it features a cast to die for.

Deneuve assumes her usual role as Matriarch. She has just written her auto-biography, and scriptwriter daughter Lumir (Binoche) and family: husband Hank (Hawk) and daughter Charlotte (Grenier) have arrived from New York to celebrate. Actually they have really come to rehash the past: family secrets, grudges and other repressed emotions. Fabienne has always put her career first, leaving Lumir with fellow actress Sarah before she drowned under the influence of alcohol. “She wanted to steal my daughter” is Fabienne’s comment. Lumir’s biological father is always short of cash Fabienne’s current husband has taken on the role of martyr, so has the butler, who goes off in a sulk because he has not been mentioned in Fabienne’s opus. Lumir and Hank have an uneasy relationship, with him having been in rehab more than once. “Lets say he is a better lover than actor” tells Lumir, which may not mean much, since Hank himself believes that he is an second rate TV thespian. And there is the young starlet Manon (Clavel) who acts with Fabienne in her current feature, who reminds all of the famous Sarah.Needless to say, that Fabienne wins out – all he little white lies are swept under the carpet.

THE TRUTH is fun to watch, not surprising considering the cast. Kore-eda has developed a good feel for the rather superficial milieu, but he lets everyone get away with a slap on the wrist. Eric Gautier’s images are lush, particularly Fabienne’s villa is real property porn  – in spite of the prison build directly behind it. The film-in-film  sequences remind us of Truffaut’s Day for Night – which could be said for the whole endeavour. Hardly groundbreaking, but done with tender love for the cinema and its protagonists. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 28 August – 7 September 2019

Psykosia (2019) Undiscovered festival gems

Dir.: Marie Grahto Sorensen | Cast: Lisa Carlehed, Victoria Carmen Sonne, Trine Dyrholm, Bebiane Ivalo Kreutzmann; Denmark/Finland 2019, 87 min.

Danish director/co-writer Marie Grahto had great success with her medium-length films, particularly Teenland. Her first feature film Psykosia, is an enigmatic story set in a psychiatric ward, where the limits of patient/doctor relationships are tested to the full.

When middle-aged Viktoria (Carlehed) enters a psychiatric institution ran by Dr. Anna Klein (Dyrholm) to help with a particular case, we can’t help finding the environment and the relationship between the two odd. The whole place has a distinct mid-twentieth century twist making it feel like a place lost in time.

Viktoria is a researcher specialising in suicide, but she has no clinical experience so it’s surprising that Dr. Klein employs her at all. The only patient Viktoria will look after is a teenage girl, Jenny Lilith (Viktoria Carmen Sonne of Holiday fame), who has a history of suicide attempts, and so far has allowed none of the therapists to come close to her.

Jenny is close to another patient, Zarah (Kreutzmann), the two of them have been hospitalised together on numerous occasions, and they even end up sharing a bath, the water turning red after Jenny slashed her arm. Jenny tells Viktoria “death is purity, in death you are free”. Their therapeutic sessions have also helped the women to bond, but one gets the impression this is due to transference, Viktoria trying to get to Jenny via self-disclosure, mentioning her own strict upbringing.

In a chapel, next to an enormous abandoned church, Viktoria tells Jenny “that psychoanalysis is a form of art, like this chapel. After Viktoria tries to hang herself on several occasions, claiming her thoughts of suicide “can be a comfort, keeping you alive”.

When Zarah commits suicide, Dr. Klein asks Viktoria to tell Jenny the truth, but the former is unwilling, not wanting to risk the therapeutic progress she has made with her patient. Dr. Klein, looking out of the window like a threatening Super-Ego, seems to will Viktoria to make the announcement, just before the denouncement of the mysterious conundrum.

There are many coded clues to what is going on here: Jenny’s full name is Lilith, a wanton woman in Jewish mythology; Anna Klein is an amalgamation of Anna Freud and Melanie Klein, founder and rivals of theories in child development. And certainly the closeness and identification between Viktoria and Jenny is a play on transference, used by analysts to get close to patients – but leaving them often helpless when patients use counter-transference to draw the analyst in.

Subtle and nuanced performances from a strong female cast, DoP Catherine Pattinama Coleman (part of an all-women crew) using her long takes in the institutional corridors to mesmerising effect, recalling the atmosphere in Kubrick’s The Shining. Music by Schubert (Der Leiermann) and the Francoise Hardy song Il est trop loin’ help to create an atmosphere of utter bewilderment, where the borders between reality and spirituality, patients and analysts are not the only things breaking down. Sheer genius. Shame the film is still waiting for a UK release. AS

PREMIERED Venice Film Festival 2019

Venice Film Festival Classics 2019

The 76th Venice Classics strand is always special – a selection of the best restorations carried out over the past year by film archives, cultural institutions and production companies around the world.

This year’s selection includes Federico Fellini’s Lo sceicco bianco (The White Sheik) which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 1952, presented today with a view towards the 100th anniversary of the director’s birth in 2020; a “double bill” for Bernardo Bertolucci with La commare secca (The Grim Reaper), the director’s debut film at the 1962 Venice Film Festival, and Strategia del ragno (The Spider’s Stratagem), presented at the 1970 Venice Film Festival; the surprising film debut of Giuliano Montaldo, Tiro al piccione (Pigeon Shoot), which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 1961; a great film produced by RAI (Radio Televisione Italiana) deserving rediscovery, Maria Zef  (1981) by Vittorio Cottafavi; the masterpiece by Manoel de Oliveira, Francisca (1981); Out of the Blue (1980) by Dennis Hopper; New York, New York (1977) by Martin Scorsese, in a new 35mm copy, courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) on the occasion of United Artists centennial anniversary. The new copy, printed especially for the Venice Film Festival, is presented by the famous producer Irvin Winkler, who will also hold a masterclass after the end of the screening.

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN

by JACK ARNOLD (USA, 1957, 81’, B/W) | restored by: Universal Pictures

LA COMMARE SECCA (THE GRIM REAPER)

by BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI (Italy, 1962, 92’, B/W) | restored by: CSC-Cineteca Nazionale in collaboration with RTI-Mediaset

STRATEGIA DEL RAGNO (THE SPIDER’S STRATAGEM)

by BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI (Italy, 1970, 110’, Colour) | restored by: Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Massimo Sordella in collaboration with Compass Film

ENSAYO DE UN CRIMEN (THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF ARCHIBALDO DE LA CRUZ)

by LUIS BUÑUEL (Mexico, 1955, 92’, B/W) | restored by: Cineteca Nacional México in collaboration with Sindicato de Trajadores de la Producción Cinematográfica

LE PASSAGE DU RHIN (THE CROSSING OF THE RHINE)

by ANDRÉ CAYATTE (France, Germany, Italy, 1960, 125’, B/W) | restored by: Gaumont 

MARIA ZEF

by VITTORIO COTTAFAVI (Italy, 1981, 122’, Colour) | restored by: Rai Teche in collaboration with Cineteca del Friuli, Fuori Orario (Rai3) and Museo Nazionale del Cinema di Torino

 CRASH

by DAVID CRONENBERG (Canada, 1996, 100’, Colour) | restored by: Recorded Picture Company and Turbine Media Group (with the supervision of David Cronenberg and DOP Peter Suschitzky)

FRANCISCA

by MANOEL DE OLIVEIRA (Portugal, 1981, 167’, Colour) | restored by: Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema

KHANEH SIAH AST (THE HOUSE IS BLACK)

by FOROUGH FARROKHZAD (Iran, 1962, 21’, B/W) | restored by: Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Ecran Noir productions, in collaboration with Ebrahim Golestan. With the support of Genoma Films and Mahrokh Eshaghian

LO SCEICCO BIANCO (THE WHITE SHEIK)

by FEDERICO FELLINI (Italy, 1952, 86’, B/W) | restored by: Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna in the context of “Fellini 100” project, in collaboration with RTI-Mediaset and Infinity

SODRÁSBAN (CURRENT) | by ISTVÁN GAÁL (Hungary, 1963, 85’, B/W)

restored by: Hungarian National Film Fund – Film Archive

TAPPE-HAYE MARLIK (THE HILLS OF MARLIK)

by EBRAHIM GOLESTAN (Iran, 1964, 15’, Colour) | restored by: Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna and Ecran Noir productions, in collaboration with Ebrahim Golestan and the National Film Archive of Iran. With the support of Mahrokh Eshaghian and Genoma Films

LA MUERTE DE UN BURÒCRATA (DEATH OF A BUREAUCRAT)

by TOMÁS GUTIÉRREZ ALEA (Cuba, 1966, 85’, B/W) | restored by: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Archive) and Cinemateca de Cuba

OUT OF THE BLUE

by DENNIS HOPPER (Canada, USA, 1980, 94’, Colour) | restored by: Discovery Productions (John Alan Simon and Elizabeth Karr)

 EXTASE (ECSTASY)

by GUSTAV MACHATÝ (Czechoslovakia, 1932, 87’, B/W) | restored by: Národní filmový archiv (National Film Archive in Prague), thanks to the support of Milada Kučerová and Eduard Kučera and the collaboration of the Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary

MAURI

by MERATA MITA (New Zealand, 1988, 100’, Colour) | restored by: New Zealand Film Commission

TIRO AL PICCIONE (PIGEON SHOOT) main image

by GIULIANO MONTALDO (Italy, 1961, 115’, B/W) | restored by: CSC-Cineteca Nazionale in collaboration with Surf Film

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

by MARTIN SCORSESE (USA, 1977, 163’, Colour)

New 35mm print courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM), on the occasion of United Artists centennial anniversary

KALINA KRASNAYA (THE RED SNOWBALL TREE)

by VASILIY SHUKSHIN (URSS, 1973, 107’, Colour) | restored by: Mosfilm Cinema Concern (Karen Shakhnazarov producer of the restoration)

WAY OF A GAUCHO

by JACQUES TOURNEUR (USA, 1952, 91’, Colour) | restored by: Twentieth Century Fox and The Film Foundation 

Costanza Quatriglio (Palermo, 1973) is a director, screenwriter and the Artistic Director of the Sicilian branch of the Centro Speri

Our Time (Nuestro Tiempo) ****

Dir.: Carlos Reygadas, Cast: Carlos Reygadas, Natalia Lopez, Phil Burgers; Mexico/ France/ Germany/ Denmark/Sweden 2018, 173 min.

Carlos Reygadas is one of the few auteurs who have kept their independence and their unique style, Our Time is the story of a ménage-à-trois set high up in the Mexican mountains, where a Bunūel-like, surreal narrative develops in this fresh and original feature. which Reygadas also stars.

Reygadas stars as Juan living with his wife Ester (Lopez) and their three children on a huge farm, where they breed bulls to fight in the arena. Ester seems very much in charge of the enterprise, whilst Juan is more interested in writing poetry and libretti for operas. Enter horse breeder Phil (Burgers), who falls for Ester and upsets the equilibrium of family and work life. Juan is upset when he finds out about Ester’s liaison: he is not at all the man he pretends to be and Juan reacts with jealousy and temper tantrums, before a visit to a dying friend changes him: he starts to communicate with both Ester and Phil, but also wants to be near them when they make love. He begins to see the affair as a stage play where he takes part but also directs; and while he’s in control the situation is bearable, mitigating the emotional effect of the fallout . The parallels to the actual shooting of the feature eventually become obvious.

Reygadas contrasts the various strands of the narrative: Juan and Esther go to Mexico City to participate in cultural events, where he is feted. The rather long preamble shows the couple’s two younger children hanging out with friends near a lake on their farm. Meanwhile the oldest son gets a taste of first love, not wanting to return to boarding school at the end of the summer. All this is obviously dwarfed by the marriage crisis. Reygadas’ lets his zany sense of sense of humour lose in the way he allows the five-year old daughter to read out a running commentary on the state of her parent’s marriage. 

DoP Diego Garcia’s rain-soaked foggy landscape contrast poetically with the urban chaos and glittering nightime panoramas. Reygadas’ inventive narrative snakes its way to a surprising denouement, leaving the interpretation open and showing that he is still in very much in love with filmmaking in a playful way. AS

IN CINEMAS FROM 12 JULY 3019

Never Look Away (2018) **

Dir.: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck; Cast: Tom Schilling, Sebastian Koch, Paula Beer, Saskia Rosendahl, Oliver Masucci; Italy/Germany 2018, 188 min.

After The Life of Others Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck makes another ambitious but deeply unfilmic foray that tackles three decades of his country’s history from Nazi Germany of the late 1930s right through to the GDR, and finally the FRG. The focus is an anti-hero and his sympathetic counterpart. 

In Dresden 1937 the young Elisabeth May takes her young nephew Kurt Barnert to see an exibition of ‘Entartete Kunst’, showing paintings by Picasso, Kandinsky and others forbidden in the Third Reich. The guide tells Kurt that he could do better than said works of art. But Elisabeth, a free spirit, tells the boy “never to look away” from beauty. Soon she is playing the piano naked. Her desperate family send her to Prof. Seeband (Koch), who is in charge of the local Euthanasia programme, thence to a special hospital where she is gassed with other citizens who are not “worth being kept alive”. 

Seeband is later captured by the Russians but helps to deliver the baby of a high-ranking officer who offers him a career in the GDR. The story then flips forward to see Kurt (Schilling), now in his twenties, falling in love with Ellie Barnert (who very much resembles Elisabeth), the two men begin an uneasy relationship. And when Ellie gets pregnant, her father carries out an abortion, making sure his daughter can no longer produce and have the Barnert family poison his own bloodline: Kurt’s father had committed suicide. 

Ellie and Kurt, both fed up with social realism at university, flee to West Berlin, and later settle in Dusseldorf where Kurt studies with a Beus-look-alike, professor von Verten (Masucci). Here Kurt finds his artistic calling, and also the true identity of his father-in-law, who had also settled very sucessfully in the FRG.

Von Donnersmarck is spot on in picturing life in Nazi Germany and the GDR, but his vision of the FRG, where the majority of ex-Nazis made a career, as far too easygoing. After all, cultural institutions such as the Art Academy in Dusseldorf, were unique places of artistic refuge. Where the film really falls down though is in the bland description of life. Considering Kurt is a painter, the cinematography is unimpressive and stale, calling to mind the “Alfred Weidemann” films of the late 50s and set in the FRG, where UFA veterans where still shooting in the style of the 1930s. Furthermore the acting is patchy, Beer the standout in a sea of rather hammy male performances. Despite a narrative spanning nearly thirty years nothing seems to change, the action is caught in a permanent time-warp where even Kurt’s final liberation feels unconvincing and artificial. Never Look Away is an uninventive saga that drags laboriously feeling even longer than its 3+ hours, AS

ON RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | PREMIERED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Dragged Across Concrete (2018) ***

Dir: S Craig Zahler | Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn | Thriller | US, 16o;

S Craig Zahler’s latest thriller lacks the slick, pared-down momentum of his previous outing Brawl in Cell Block 99. Overlong and often ponderous it nevertheless carries some weight in the social message it pushes forward. But two hours and 40 minutes is pushing it too far.

Mel Gibson (Lurasetti) and Vince Vaughn (Ridgeman) are cops who decide to play some criminals at their own game by disturbing a suspect’s love nest during a drug raid, giving him a bloody nose. Their boss (Don Johnson) gets to hear about it from a neighbour’s video footage, and decides to suspend them. Both have major family commitments so they turn the tables on the law to raise some much needed spondulix. Ridgeman’s plan is to make a quick buck by staking out a local safe house, and stashing aside some filthy lucre. Lurasetti is not keen on the plan, but goes along for the ride.

Suffice to say, it all goes pear-shaped and there follows a rather drawn out denouement involving another strand to the storyline. The action sequences are entertaining, particularly the one involving the slow dissemination of their vehicle. And it’s quite clear, once again, where Zahler’s sympathies lie. MT

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 19 APRIL 2019

The Sisters Brothers (2018) ****

Dir: Jacques Audiard | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, John C Reilly, Riz Ahmed, Jake Gyllenhaal | Western | 120’

The Sisters Brothers is a whip-cracking Gold Rush buddy movie that mines a rich vein of gold-plated themes from greed and fatherly dysfunction to the impact of industrialisation on the Mid-West delivered courtesy of Thomas Bidegain’s witty co-adaptation of Patrick Dewitt’s novel.

Jacques Audiard won the Palme d’Or in 2015 with Dheepan. The Sisters Brothers couldn’t be more different. Essentially a feelgood Western for the thinking man, this textured character-piece trots along briskly in 1850s Oregon where the brothers make their entrance in an impressive opening scene lit only by gunshots in the pitch black dusky night. Joaquin Phoenix and John C Reilly exude a fiery chemistry as the siblings ensuring there’s never a dull moment drama-wise. They play hired assassins pursuing two gold diggers – Gyllenhaal and Ahmed with a new prospecting trick up their sleeves – on behalf of their tricky boss The Commodore.

 The wide-open spaces of ‘Oregon’ are surprisingly lush thanks to the Romanian/Spanish settings and the campfires glow with some good-looking night-time scenes and sparky shootouts.

Joaquin Phoenix and Riz Ahmed add a twist of psychological angst to John C Reilly’s swaggering all American style and the European sensibilities of the directing team make this an invigorating addition to the genre, while those who appreciate the classic style of John Ford and Sergio Leone will go home with a few entertaining nuggets. MT 

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE from 5 April 2019  VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | Winner Best Director 2018

Your Face (2018) ***

Dir: Tsai Ming-liang | Doc, Taiwan 77′

Tsai Ming-liang’s work is very much an acquired taste. You will either love his   minimalist mode or find his slow-burning method intolerable. With Your Face (Ni de lian) he once again offers an acute observational experience, this time reflecting on the faces of twelve ordinary people whose candid reality is expressed in intimate close-up.

The characters he choses have all lived their lives, more or less. The camera contemplates their expressions often in freeze-frame and often in silence or calm discussion. And the ravages of time and their experiences – whether positive or negative – have marked their faces with characteristic lines and wrinkles. What stories do they tell or hide behind those sad eyes or emotive glances, taken from a single angle. The conceptual artist marks out another chapter in his cinematic journey seen through the dwellers of a flat in Stray Dogs or the Buddhist monk in Marseilles from in his Journey to the West.

Painstakingly he strips away extraneous detail to draw us in to these personal tales of woe or reflections of a life well-lived. Questions persist, doubts prevail, thoughts are laid bare. This is not for the faint-hearted but an immersive, often challenging proposition. But compelling, none the less, as we look into the windows or their souls in Zen-like tranquility.

Particularly engaging is the women who confesses to enjoy making money. What transpires is a tale of a twice married, business women who has a definite appeal. But it feels like she’s hiding something. Another woman expresses her regret at not spending more time with her parents, due to her work. A man owns up to his obsession with ‘pachinko’.

The final face belongs to Tsai’s young muse and collaborate Lee Kang-sheng, who appears in all his films. He shares his memoirs of student days and fatherhood. The final scene involves a long-held shot of an empty ballroom, but a human presence has either been there are may still appear. Somehow the camera reflects things that we don’t notice ourselves. It presents another view of our reality of ourselves. We have a best side, and a worse side: each project a different facet of our personalities. And this reflection shows that people are multi-faceted and richly diverse. As the camera observes them, even their stillness reveals hidden depths and throws up questions that challenge those who really observe.

Ryuichi Sakamoto’s occasional original score adds a certain integrity and dimension that very much compliments this richly meditative experience. MT

NOW SCREENING DURING TAIWAN FILM FESTIVAL UK 3-14 APRIL 2019 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

At Eternity’s Gate (2018) Netflix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hannah (2017)

Dir: Andrea Pallaoro | Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Andre Wilms, Jean-Michel Balthazar, Luca Avallone | Drama | Italy | 95′

Charlotte Rampling gives an extraordinary performance in this intimate portrait of a woman coming to terms with her loss of identity after her husband (Andre Wilms) is sent to imprison for a crime that has caused the breakdown of her family.

Andrea Pallaoro’s sophomore feature keeps us wondering what has happened to cause such emotional devastation all round. Hannah battles to face an uncertain future late in life and at a time where she feels unable to bounce back with the positivity of youth, and has lost her former place in society. Soul-searching her way forward from a past that is ambiguous and unresolved. The status quo has been devastated, and we are intrigued to discover the image portrayed in the photographs she is seen destroying.

Her marriage is clearly over, and her son will no longer speak to her due to circumstances beyond her control after events she had noting to do with, and she has also lost her connection with grandson Charlie (Savinin), who is told not to speak to her in a devastating scene where she brings him a homemade cake for his birthday party. Unable to cope she  dissolves in floods of tears. Later her swimming club membership is revoked without explanation. And she is left humiliated. She clearly knows the reason why.

Rampling carries the film through each slow-burning scene. Wandering aimlessly through streets in Brussels and along a beach in Knocke she is a picture of broken a life. And we feel for her. Shattered by  anguish and pitiful in her loneliness, Rampling makes the film both compelling and quietly devastating. In an effort to keep going and survive what has gone before, Hannah joins a self-help group practising the Alexander Technique, and keeps house for a woman whose own son appears to be blind. Despite this work, Hannah seems to be highly intelligent and full of graceful manners suggesting she has somehow come down in the world, from a well-to-do household. Her son is well-spoken and her own behaviour suggests good breeding.

Clearly Pallaoro had something in mind along the lines of Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman. Hannah’s emotional fragmentation leads to her to a (symbolic) meeting with a beached whale on the beach at Knokke Heist – showing a helplessness on Pallaoro’s part, which cannot be overcome by Chayse Irvin’s stylishly cold and forbidding visuals. They show a wintry landscape, forlornly mirroring Hannah’s state of mind. MT

Andrea Pallaoro was born in Trento, Italy. He received his BA from Hampshire College before going on to study film directing at the California Institute of the Arts. His credits as director include the short Wunderkrammer (08) and the feature Medeas(13). Hannah (17) is his latest film.

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE VENUES | premiered at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017

Foxtrot (2017) ****

Dir: Samuel Maoz |Drama | Israel, Germany, France, Switzerland / 113’ | cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Sarah Adler, Yonatan Shiray

A grieving father experiences the absurd circumstances around the death of his son, in this latest critical reflection on military culture from Israeli filmmaker Samuel Maoz (Lebanon). Foxtrot is a story of bereavement and denial of guilt, played against the background of a middle-class Jewish family in Tel-Aviv.
Michael Feldman (Ashkenazi) and his wife Dafne (Adler) live in a spacious, expensively decorated apartment in the midst of the capital. When they learn of the death of their soldier son Jonathan (Shiray), Dafne faints, whilst her husband is cold and aggressive, even kicking the family dog, who wants to console him. When it later transpires that Jonathan is alive after all, Michael still behaves like a psychotic, showing no relief that his son is coming home. He insults his wife, daughter, brother and army officers, and insists on seeing his son again. With the help of a general, Jonathan is whisked away from a road block where he and three others soldiers has just shot four innocent Palestinians in their car; the young soldiers mistaking an empty beer can for a grenade.
The general who orders Jonathan’s release is also in charge of the “cleaning-up” operation: the Palestinian car is literally buried by a bulldozer: Jonathan’s final sketch, which ends up on the wall of his parent’s apartment, shows the operation. Later his mother will interpret the drawing as herself (the car) being swept away by her bulldozing husband. Which, in a way is true, since Michael is hiding a terrible secret from his family: when he was an officer in the army, he was guilty of causing the death of many of his men, causing him to remain emotionally detached from his family, and letting his frustration out on Max, the dog, who suffers from internal bleeding from his master’s frequent kickimg. But Michael is not able or willing to come clean – only a late and tragic twist will allow him him to confess his guilty secret to his wife.
The Feldman’s are representative of many Israeli families in a country at war for nearly 70 years. “This is war, and shit happens in war” says the general to the soldiers after the incident. Moaz captures the absurdity of this permanent conflict in amusing scenes at the roadblock, mixing phantasy with reality, and contrasting the hell of war, with the Feldman’s  sombre family dwelling: both existing in a parallel universe that has seemingly nothing in common. But it is the denial of emotional connection to those at home that forces Israeli soldiers to keep on killing and being killed. This schizophrenic situation has gone on for so long that it is seen as the new normal. Foxtrot is a passionate appeal to a whole country, to put an end to the situation. Samuel Maoz’s debut feature, Lebanon (which won the Golden Lion at the 2009 Venice Film Festival), was set during the 1982 Lebanon War, and shot almost entirely inside of a tank. Foxtrot, his second feature, steps away from that fevered claustrophobia to tell another maddening story of war and conflict, but this one on a much broader canvas. AS

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE

Mektoub my Love: Canto Uno (2017) ***

Dir; Abdellatif Kechiche (France, Italy, 180’, o.v. French s/t English/Italian) starring Shaïn Boumedine, Ophélie Bau, Salim Kechiouche, Lou Luttiau, Alexia Chardard, Hafsia Herzi

Scripted by regular collaborator Ghalya Lacroix, Abdellatif Kecihiche’s follow-up to Blue is the Warmest Colour is a big-screen version of François Begaudeau’s novel. It doesn’t warrant its three hour running time, and few filmmakers would have got away with such a sparse narrative: but somehow Kechiche succeeds, always re-inventing the plot, keeping the audience on board with hypnotic images – helped by the moody mellow camerawork of DoP Marco Graziaplena.

Kechiche returns to  Sête, where he filmed The Secret of the Grain, for this sensuous celebration of sex and food. Amin (Boumedine), a young scriptwriter from Paris, arrives in the Languedoc fishing town to join his large family who run a restaurant. He visits his friend Ophélie (Bau), whose husband is serving the French navy which does not prevent her from indulging in a passionate affair with Toni (Kechiouche), one of Amin’s family. Amin himself is very reserved, preferring the company of girls like Charlotte (Charchard), who are committed to a relationship. Amine’s mother, played by the director’s sister, always reminds him to go out to the beach. Amin follows her advice, falls in love with Jasmine (Luttiau), but is too shy to make headways, whilst Toni takes what he gets – which is lot, to the chagrin of Ophélie. Whilst his friends – Tony again in the forefront – are celebrating lust and alcohol in a nightclub, Amin photographs the birth of two lambs.

The critics at Venice have all remarked how Kechiche (again) sees women from a man’s perspective, which is fine; but they forget that in many scenes women prefer their own gender when dancing and flirting, and are geting on perfectly well without men. Mektoub, meaning destiny – or thereabouts, is certainly not on the same level as Blue, but it celebrates youth, summer, food and sex; and has in Amin, a very convincing counterpart to Toni’s always-ready stud. Mektoub is like a self-indulgent extended holiday: it could be edited down to a long luxurious weekend break, without losing out on the positive benefits. A perfect Valentine film – or maybe not. AS

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS from 16 FEBRUARY 2019

The Man Who Surprised Everyone (2018) **** IFFR Rotterdam 2019

Dir: Natasha Merkulova, Aleksey Chupov | Cast: Evgeniy Tsiganov, Natalya Kudryashowa, Yuriy Kuznetsov, Vasiliy Popov, Pavel Maykov, Aleksey Filimonov, Elena Voronchikhina, Maksim Vitorgan | Drama | Russia Estonia France | 105’

Russian directing duo Natasha Merkulova and Aleksey Chupov tackle a thorny subject with deftness in this classically styled and  surprisingly moving arthouse drama that had its premiere in the Orizzonti sidebar at Venice Film Festival 2018

LGBT issues are still viewed with hostility back home in Russia but the leads are completely convincing in their subtlely nuanced and solemn portrayal of a modern couple coping with extremely challenging conditions in a remote rural outpost.

Egor is a respectable family man who we first meet navigating his boat along the Siberian Taiga where he works as a forest ranger looking out for poachers. He and his wife Natalia are expecting their second child when Egor discovers he has terminal cancer but keeps his wife in the dark about his imminent death. But this is not the only secret the thoughtful middle-aged man harbours, and the filmmakers gradually draw us in establishing the couple’s joint and several feelings of joy for her, and mounting grief and unease for him: Egor must bear alone the double burden of his cancer trauma and his nascent sexual yearnings that will certainly require his wife’s forbearance. When he tells Natasha she persuades Egor to seek further help in looking for a cure. But no traditional medicine or shamanic magic can save him. Finally, left with no other option, he makes a desperate attempt to escape the reality of his death by channelling his feelings into self-identifying as a woman with initial alarm to his close community, followed by anger, disbelief and acceptance by Natasha, and we feel for both of them. His family and the local society now have to accept his new self.

Moody rain-soaked settings and subdued interiors add to the feeling of angst and quiet desperation as the couple struggle on trapped by poverty and Natasha’s ageing and ailing father in a scenario that will be feel familiar to many.

This is a grim and provocatively complex tale that needs clever handling and one that could have gone severely awry with disastrous consequences without the skill of a competent directing team. But instead clever scripting, skilful handling of the complex issues at stake and sensitive performances make for an absorbing feature and one with considerable dramatic heft as we wait for the startling denouement that requires a certain leap of faith but one that feels plausible and satisfying in the circumstances.MT

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019

La Villa (2017) | The House by the Sea

Dir: Robert Guediguian | Cast: Ariane Ascaride, Jean Pierre Darroussin, Anais Demoustier Robinson Stevenin, Yann Tregouet | Drama | France | 107′

Robert Guediguian offers a paean to Provence in the 1970s when three siblings: famous actress Angèle (Ascaride), Armand (Meylan) and Joseph (Daroussin) all hark back to a jeunesse dorée at their father’s seaside villa, he has since suffered a debilitating stroke.

Armand is possibly the most stable of the trio. He has been running the local restaurant for the past two decades. Joseph pines for the good old days of the PCF, which makes him morose and depressed. The film plays out very much in line with a Checkov play where the past must be resolved before life can go on. Joseph too must face the music; his dance with a much younger fiancée Bérangère (Demoustier) must come to an end. Angèle is still mourning the drowning of her only child, and has fallen for a younger fisherman Benjamin (Stevenin), a fan of her stage appearances since he was a teenager. Neighbour Yvan is the only one in a ‘good place’ emotionally – the young doctor is in town to visit his elderly parents. Late catalysts to the party are Yvan’s parents and the appearance of three child refugees.

Director and co-writer Guediguian marks his 19th collaboration with his wife Ariane Ascaride, staying on familiar ground: he gently sketches out the older characters’ longing for the past, and the contemporary fast lane that young ones like Bérangère and Yvan cling to: for them decisions about the future are easy because they have one. Benjamin is somewhere in the middle – he is a romantic dreamer, who yearns for a life shaped on the past. Property speculators circle the coast line like vultures, Joseph cannot even put his memoirs in order. The three siblings are keen to keep the place and the restaurant open, they have to admit that nearly all their old neighbours has cashed in on the property boom. The refugee children at least provide Angèle with a sort of closure.

The ensemble acting is reliable, and DoP Pierre Milon (The Class) is kept busy, panning and tracking the hilly countryside, nature being the only stable element among the coming and going of humans who, with few exceptions, don’t appreciate the beauty of the stunning landscape. AS

Robert Guédiguian was born in Marseille. Many of his early films, including À la via, à la mort (95) and La Ville est tranquille(00), screened in the Director’s Spotlight programme at the 2002 Festival, and he returned to TIFF with his subsequent features Mon père est ingénieur (04), Le Voyage en Arménie(06), and Neiges du Kilimandjaro (11). Other credits include Le promeneur du champ de Mars (05), L’armée du crime (09), and Une histoire de fou (15). La Villa (17) is his latest film. AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 11 January | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017 première.

Camorra (2018) ***

Dir; Francesco Patierno | Doc | Italy 70’

Francesco Patierno offers a pragmatic but mournful insight into the criminal identity of his birthplace Naples in this historical and socio-anthropological portrait of the capital of Campania in Southern Italy.

The phrase “see Naples and die” takes on a different meaning here from the one coined during the city’s Golden Age when it was the Bourbon capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Patierno seeks to show how the city’s criminal underbelly dealt with pernicious result of unemployment and poverty through powerful self-regulation that confined crime to the working classes.

Camorra is the result of months of research among the treasures of Rai Teche and the Riccardo Carbone archive. What emerges is a surprising trove of unseen news footage and period films from the 1960s to the 1990s, enlivened by a visceral score from local musician Meg.

The Camorra ‘phenomenon’ was born from a culture of subordination. Many post-war orphaned children found in it a structure to protect them from complete poverty and homelessness. They became street workers who learnt to sell cigarettes arriving as contraband from Morocco and further afield, smuggled in by the criminal underworld. Things changed with the advent of warlord Rafaele Cutolo, who unified the activity into a single large military and economic organization providing its members with an identity of social and territorial redemption. 

The culmination of Cutolo’s power coincides with one of the darkest events in the history of the Republic, when the Christian Democrat Ciro Cirillo was kidnapped by the Red Brigades and returned after a massive family ransom was paid. Cutolo negotiated with the terrorists for the release of the politician and the State remained in his debt.

Patierno adopts a different approach to the usual one involving the violence and blood-letting for which the organisation is known. His narrative searches for a meaning and an explanation for the Camorra’s existence, tracing its history and exploring the background of its protagonists, to offer a short but engaging watch. By understanding the roots of the organisation and its methods, positive change can hopefully be brought about.MT

NOW SHOWING AT BERTHADOCHOUSE and selected arthouse venues | VENICE FESTIVAL 2018

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

The Favourite (2018) *****

Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos. UK/Ireland/USA. 2018. 119 mins.

The Favourite is going to be a firm favourite with mainstream audiences and cineastes alike. This latest arthouse drama is the Greek auteur’s first to be written by Deborah Davis and Aussie Tony McNamara who bring their ‘English’ sensibilities to this quixotic Baroque satire that distills the essence of Kubrick, Greenaway and Molière in an irreverent and ravishingly witty metaphor for female treachery.

Set around 1710 during the final moments of Queen Anne’s reign it presents an artful female-centric view of courtly life seen from the unique perspective of three remarkable women, while on the battlefields England is at war with the French. Besides its period setting, The Favourite coins a world with exactly the same credentials as our own Brexit and Trump era.

Sparklingly witty and endlessly amusing this is a film that could play on forever yet still feels fresh and invigorating even after two hours. There is a charming subtlety and lightness of touch that is saucy and arch but never gross or uncouth with its references to Restoration Comedies of the era: Marivaux, Pope and Swift – while feeling completely contemporary and dernier cri.

Twenty years in the making with Lanthimos attached to the project since 2009, The Favourite is based on an original screenplay by Davis developed by Australian writer McNamara and is guilded by luminous performances from Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone amd Olivia Colman (as the Queen). Stone is a distant cousin of Weisz’s Lady Marlborough and comes to the court rather down on her luck and looking for protection. Slowly she weedles her way into the crippled and ailing Queen’s affections in a triumphant trajectory of treachery.

Colman plays Queen Anne (who reigned until 1714) with vulnerability and charisma as a whiny, insecure monarch. The Duke Of Marlborough has just won a crucial battle gainst the French during the War of Spanish Succession. The Whigs are gaining ground against the landowning Tories under Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult is superb).

The whole affair centres around the battle for power between these three women who are pivotal in the success of life at court and subsequently the country. The sumptuous interiors are shot in candlelight adding intrique and a Gothic frisson to Robbie Ryan’s stunning camerawork, his fish-eye lenses evoking a sense of menace and claustrophobia. Sandy Powell creates some seriously sexy costumes and the glory is topped off with an occasionally discordance original score from Purcell, Handel Vivaldi and British composer Anna Meredith, MT.

NOW ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | BEST ACTRESS: Olive Colman | Grand Prix Venice 2018

Roma (2018) ***

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

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

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

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

https://youtu.be/vhWut6jTA8o

Suspiria (2018) ***

Dir.: Luca Guadagnino, Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Cloe Grace Moretz, Lutz Ebersdorf; USA/Italy 2018, 152 min.

Luca Guadagnino follows his much praised Call Me By Your Name with a rather confused and overloaded vision of Dario Argento’s horror classic, using the original script by Argento and Daria Nicoldi, re-written by David Kajganich (A Bigger Splash). 

Unfortunately the Kajganich has added new material, setting the narrative in Berlin at the height of the Baader Meinhof crisis. A running time of 152 minutes also tests the audience severely.

In the dank Autumn of 1977, Susie Bannian (Johnson) arrives from Ohio at the famous Dance School TANZ, near the Wall in West Berlin. There is an unsettling atmosphere at the academy, the two leading teachers Blanc (a luminously sinuous Swinton) and Markos are fighting for supremacy, the conflict a battle of life and death. Susie soon becomes the lead dancer, relegating Patricia (Moretz) and Sara (Goth) to the lower echelons of the troupe.

When dancers start to disappear, the sinister infighting turns more and more bloody. Enter Dr. Joseph Klemperer (Swinton in a miraculous double act spoof), a relict from WWII, who is still searching for his Jewish wife sent to the Concentration Camp Teresienstadt, where she was killed. The psychiatrist feels deep guilt over her death. As the nastiness at the Academy unfurls, a Witches’ Coven is uncovered and Klemperer’s role becomes more and more murky – in tune with this muddled affair. 

DoP Sayonbhu Mukdeeprom creates magnificently macabre images, but in the long run this is not enough to save Suspiria from emerging an awkward mixture of two films, both competing for our attention. The acting is also mixed, with Swinton being head and shoulders above the rest (quite literally) in achieving visionary eminence. In the end the German history lesson loses out to the horror strand, but the brake comes too late. A needless remake where less would have been so much more. AS

NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 16 NOVEMBER | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Jacques Tourneur, the Medium (2015) ****

originalJACQUES TOURNEUR, THE MEDIUM – FILMING THE INVISIBLE (JACQUES TOURNEUR, LE MEDIUM – FILMER L’INVISBLE)

Dir.: Alain Mazars |  Documentary | France 2015, 60 min.

Jacques Tourneur (1904-1977) only directed four feature films in France between 1931 and 1934, before he went with his director father Maurice, to Hollywood, where he started making short films between 1936 and 1939. What followed was an extraordinary career of classic B-pictures, fantasy dramas and  film noirs in different genres..

As the title of this well-crafted documentary hints, Jacques Tourneur specialised in filming invisible terror through his subtle scores and dramatic lighting techniques. This must have come easily to him as his parents would lock little Jacques into a cupboard whenever he was naughty, ordering the nanny to make scratching noises on the door from outside, pretending to be a child-devouring monster.

Three of Jacques Tourneur’s best known films, Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie and The Leopard Man were produced in 1942/3 by Val Lewton, who would also go on to work on The Body Snatcher (1945). Cat People is a great example of a study in silent terror: the architect Kent Smith has married the Serbian graphic designer Irena (Simone Simon), who believes that she will turn into a panther when aroused. Kent encourages Irena to see Dr. Judd, a psychoanalyst who is sure he can unlock her trauma. Kent’s co-worker Alice Moore, is in love with Kent, and soon stalked by a growly big cat – which the audience never sees. But Alice finds her bathing costume torn up, and Dr. Judd discovers too late that an analyst can be utterly helpless too. The terror (as in The Leopard Man), where a leopard is the unseen hunter of men and women, is subtle and manifests itself exclusively by sound.

But Tourneur’s best known work was Out of the Past (1947), the classical ‘femme fatale’ noir in which private eye Jeff (Robert Mitchum) succumbs to the deadly charms of Kathie (Jane Greer), the girlfriend of mobster Whit (Kirk Douglas). Even though Jeff has broken with his past, living as a petrol station attendant in a small town, where he tells his new girl friend Ann Miller (Virginia Huston) about his life story of passion and betrayal – he recants as soon as he encounters Kathie again, he is drawn to this deadly female, and the ending, very much like John Dall’s Barton Tarr in Joseph. C. Lewis’ Gun Crazy, leaves him only one way out. Again, there is just enough action to drive the film forward, but the decisive moments are more or less silent: one look at Jeff’s face is enough to let us know that his amour fou is stronger than his rationale. Likewise, Kathie’s most powerful weapon to subdue Jeff is not her gun – she kills Whit in cold blood – but her soulful big eyes, which change her expression seconds after the killing into the ‘helpless beautiful girl’, who Jeff has to save, against his better judgement. All the torment of these powerful emotions can be read in the eyes and facial expressions of this self-destructing couple.

Mazars’s documentary, with insightful interviews and extensive clips from Jacques Tourneur’s films, paints a picture of a filmmaker who weaved dreams which turned into nightmares. And even at the end of his career, as his episode ‘Night Call’ (1964) for the legendary “Twilight Zone” TV Series shows, he was always ready to experiment and invent. AS

REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2015

Some Like it Hot (1959) *****


Dir: Billy Wilder | Writer: I A L Diamond | Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon | US Comedy Drama | 123’

Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, this classic of all classic comedies features an all-star cast of Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. The men play a couple of struggling musicians in the wrong place at the wrong time when they witness the Valentines Day Massacre. Finding themselves on the run from the mob, they accept a new gig out of town as part of an all-girl jazz troupe, where they will meet Marilyn Monroe. Dragged up and made-up they’re soon raring to go – but can they keep their act together?

Billy Wilder’s multi-awarded feature picked up the Oscar in 1960, for Orry Kelly’s costume design.

The film played at BFI London Film Festival 2018 and will open at the BFI Southbank and at selected venues across the UK courtesy of Park Circus.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead (2018) Netflix

Dir: Morgan Neville | US Doc | 98′ | With Peter Bogdanovich, Steve Ecclesine, Oja Kodar, Frank Marshall, Joseph McBride, Beatrice Welles, Orson Welles.

Morgan Neville (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?) is back with a new doc that serves as a useful companion piece to Welles’ rather haphazard metaphor for the madness of the industry that tormented him: The Other Side of the Wind (2018).

Working with footage from the film itself, which started life in 1970, and complementing it with informative interviews and other Wellesian treasures, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead has a spirited and haphazard style that aims to capture the creative butterfly that was the larger than life, Orson Welles (1918-1985).

Those who wonder whether the world needs another Orson Welles documentary will do well to bear in mind that this Netflix affair will reach an audience that may not even have heard of the man and his genius, so the doc will hopefully find a completely new following along with its committed fanbase, amongst its viewership.

The title apparently refers to the pronouncement that Welles once made in reference to those film financiers and ‘powers that be’ who deserted him when he needed their help. And it’s reassuring to know that the film has finally been completed by those who have ultimately leant their support.

Neville has certainly set himself a tricky task but he pulls it off with the usual aplomb. His previous documentaries have been very well received: 20 Feet From Stardom (2013); Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal (2015) and Won’t You Be My Neighbour (2018). And he’s also brought his own creativity to this outing with its inventive camera angles and black & white to ease cohesion with the archive footage. The film’s interviewees were all close friends of Welles: associates Peter Bogdanovich and Henry Jaglom. This documentary’s executive producer Frank Marshall also worked on the Wind shoot and produced the reconstructed film. And there is historian Joseph McBride, who appeared in Wind. Neville’s doc also serves as a tribute to the late Gary Graver, who shot Wind and served as his personal DoP for over a decade, putting his own career and family on the back-burner, in the same way that Leon Vitali dedicated his life to Stanley Kubrick.

The story of the experimental project that was Welles’ main focus for the final 15 years of his life unfolds before us in the velvety black and white sequences. Welles once said that Wind was inspired by his belief in “divine accidents” – and this is one thing that seems to unite the genius with his fellow filmmakers: Every director from Martin Scorsese to William Friedkin reports on these serendipitous moments, and Welles was no different. Wind was repeatedly re-worked and rewritten in a narrative that followed the last day in the life of a veteran film director called Jake Hannaford  (purportedly Welles himself, although he denied it) who was played by John Huston.

Ironically, Peter Bogdanovich started off hero-worshiping Welles, until his own success as a director saw him supporting Welles’ and even offering him accommodation in his own house, with Welles almost outstaying his welcome. But his romantic companion, co-writer and collaborator Oja Kodar, who worked with her paramour on another unfinished project The Deep (1970), remains an enigmatic presence here.

Sadly, Welles’ initial effort to raise finance for Wind remains the most poignant aspect of his endeavour, and the footage of his speech to the AFI in this veiled attempt to garner support, makes for disheartening viewing. The final scenes of the documentary see Welles speculating on the nature of Wind: “maybe it’s just people talking about a movie.”

Neville certainly gives us a great deal of background about Wind in his documentary, but there is very little on the subject of how the film eventually made it to our screens in 2018. And it’s because of this slight flaw in Neville’s film, you might even be excused of thinking that Wind remained a flight of fantasy, rather than a complete feature. Orson Welles and his legacy lives on. MT

ON NETFLIX  | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 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

A Star is Born (2018) Netflix

Dir.: Bradley Cooper; Cast: Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliot, Rafi Gavron; USA 2018, 135 min.

In his debut as a director and co-writer, Bradley Cooper offers a soppy Hollywood melodrama just the right side of tasteful – but only just. The forth remake of the narrative, based on a 1932 story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson, is slightly superior to the Streisand/Kristofferson version of 1976, but very much in the shadow of Cukor’s 1954 outing starring Judy Garland and James Mason.

As expected with such a high profile cast, everything has to be much larger than life – or to put it simply, American. Clichés cannot be big enough, Ally’s rise can’t be too meteoritic, or the fall of Jack(son) Maine more utterly self-destructive. These are the rules of the game in Hollywood, and even for a mere 36 Million Dollars (not that much by today’s standard), you have to show where the money went.

As a director, Cooper has the decency to put Lady Gaga first, and apart from Jack’s last scene (rather ham-fisted), and some truly awful bathroom scenes which are cringeworthy in the extreme, he allows himself rather a moderate redneck performance, leaving Diva Gaga much space to go over the top. Yes, Jack beat up the man whose wife he seduced even when nearly totally blotto. But we’ve seen Cooper in much worse performances, like American Sniper. He tries to keep the tempo up, and some of the chases really create mayhem.

The support cast is actually, not surprisingly, more realistic than the lead pair: Sam Elliot as Jack’s brother Bobby, his long suffering manager, and Ally’s minder and executive Rez (Gavron) feel very contemporary. Bobby is resigned, his Honest-to-God, I’ve-seen-it-all attitude helps Ally to overcome the sadness of her loss, and Rez is very much his efficient younger counterpart: the ice-cold CEO who saves the day with algorithms and applied psychology.

The main criticism is the running time: 135 minutes is simply too generous in re-telling the not so particularly original story of a B-Picture with the budget of something much, much more. In the end, these production values make A Star is Born just above average. AS

NOW ON NETFLIX

    

11 Films to See at the BFI London Film Festival 2018

 

The lineup for the 2018 BFI London Film Festival has been announced, and the public box office is open. The 12-day festival will show over 225 feature-length films from all over the globe – so here are some of the best we’ve seen from this year’s international festival circuit.

WILD LIFE (2018)

A teenage boy experiences the breakdown of his parents’ marriage in Paul Dano’s crisp coming of age family drama, set in 1960s Montana, and based on Richard Ford’s novel. Although once or twice veering into melodrama, actor turned filmmaker Dano maintains impressive control over his sleek and very lucid first film which is anchored by three masterful performances, and sees a young family disintegrate after the husband loses his job. WILDLIFE has a great deal in common with Retribution Road (2008), with its similar counterpoint of aspirational hope for a couple starting out on their life in a new town – in this case Great Falls, Montana. But here the perspective is very different – in Wildlife, the entire experience is seen from the unique perspective of a pubescent boy, Joe, played thoughtfully by young Australian actor Ed Oxenbould (The Visit).

WOMAN AT WAR (2018) – SACD Winner, Cannes Film Festival 2018

Benedict Erlingsson’s follow-up to Of Horses and Men is a lively, often funny eco-warrior drama that follows a single woman taking on the state of Iceland with surprising results. Lead actress Haldora Geirhardsdottir has an athletic schedule, running and hiding in the countryside, with helicopters and drones circling overhead. With a magnificent twist at the end, Woman at War doesn’t pull its punches: There are shades of Aki Kaurismaki, the dead pan humour taking away some of the tension of the countryside hunt for Halla. And Erlingsson makes a refreshing break from tradition in the super hero genre by casting a middle-aged woman, who is also super-fit, in the central role.

THE FAVOURITE (2018) Best Actress, Olivia Colman, Venice 2018.

The Favourite is going to be a firm favourite with mainstream audiences and cineastes alike. This latest arthouse drama is his first to be written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara who bring their English sensibilities to this quixotic Baroque satire that distills the essence of Kubrick, Greenaway and Molière in an irreverent and ravishingly witty metaphor for women’s treachery. Set around 1710 during the final moments of Queen Annes’s reign it presents an artful female centric view of courtly life seen from the unique perspective of three remarkable women while on the battlefields England is at war with the French. Despite its period setting The Favourite coins a world with exactly the same credentials as that of Brexit and Trump.

SUNSET – FIPRESCI Prize Venice 2018 

Laszlo Nemes follows his Oscar-winning triumph Son Of Saul with another fraught and achingly romantic fragment of the past again captured through his voyeuristic camera that traces the febrile events leading up to the shooting of Emperor Franz Ferdinand that changed the world forever Set in Budapest between 1913 and the outbreak of the First World War, Sunset reveals a labyrinth of enigma, intrigue, hostility, greed and lust as the central character played by Juli Jakab (Son of Saul) guides us through scenes of ravishing elegance and cataclysmic violence. What seems utter chaos gradually becomes more clear as the spiderweb is infiltrated. Nemes pays homage to the late Gabor Body whose Narcissus and Psyche, are the obvious touchstones to Sunset. On an historical level, Mathias Erdely’s images conjure up the fin-de-siècle fragility in the same way as Gabor’s masterpieces. 

BORDER – Winner, Un Certain Regard, Cannes 2018 

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

DOGMAN Best Actor, Marcello Forte, Cannes 2018 | Palm Dog Winner 2018 

Matteo Garrone’s terrific revenge thriller returns to the filmmaker’s own stamping ground of Caserta with a richly thematic and compulsive exploration of male rivalry and belonging in a downtrodden, criminal-infested, football-playing community scratching a living in a seaside backwater. Life has always been tough in this neck of the woods, infested by gangland influences: it is a terrain that Garrone knows and describes well in his 2008 feature Gomorrah. A brutal brotherhood controls this bleak coastal wilderness where everyone relies on each other to survive. Dogman a gritty and violent film and often unbearably so, but there are moments of heart-rending tenderness – between his Marcello and his doggy dependants – where tears will certainly well up. Fonte won Best Award at Cannes for his skilful portrayal that switches subtly from sad loner to daring desperado.

MADELINE’S MADELINE  

Josephine Decker’s inventive, impressionistic dramas – Butter on the Latch (2013) /Though Wast Mild and Lovely (2014) are an acquired taste but one that marks her out as a distinctive female voice on the American indie circuit. And here she is at Sundance again with a multi-layered mother and daughter tale that is probably her best feature so far. With a stunning central performance from newcomer Helena Howard and a dash of cinematic chutzpah that sends this soaring, Madeline’s Madeline is a thing of beauty – intoxicating to watch, compellingly chaotic with a potently emotional storyline.

MUSEUM – Best Script Berlinale 2018

Alonso Ruizpalacios’ follow-up to his punchy debut Guëros, sees two wayward young Mexicans from Satellite City robbing the local archeological museum of its Mayan  treasures – simply out of boredom. MUSEUM is an offbeat but strangely captivating drama that gradually gets more entertaining, although it never quite feels completely satisfying, despite some stunningly inventive sequences and three convincing performances from Gael Garcia Bernal, Simon Russell Beale and Alfredo Castro (The Club). It’s largely down to local Mexican incompetence that these two amateurish dudes (Bernal/Ortizgris) get away with their heist in the first place. But what starts as a so-so domestic drama with the same aesthetic as No!, slowly starts to sizzle with suspense as the director deftly manages the film’s tonal shifts to surprise and even delight us – this is a film that deserves a watch for its sheer wakiness and inventive chutzpah. 

IN FABRIC 

Impeccable red talons slide a flick knife across a box to reveal its contours, a beautiful silky dress that can kill. Peter Strickland’s latest, highly-anticipated oddball feature again stars Sidse Babett Knudsen (The Duke of Burgundy) in a haunting ghost story that follows the fate of this bedevilled garment as it passes from owner to owner, with tragic consequences against the backdrop of the winter sales in a busy department store. This is a gem of a giallo with Strickland’s signature soundscape dominating, just as it did in Berberian Sound Studio. 

THE WILD PEAR TREE – Palme d’Or, Cannes 2018 

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s long-awaited follow-up to Winter Sleep melds his classic themes of family, fate and self-realisation into a leisurely and immersive 3-hour narrative that won him the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes. This is a sumptuous, visual treat to savour but you’ll never actually see a pear tree. 

THEY’LL LOVE ME WHEN I’M DEAD (2018)

There should be a sub-genre dedicated to films about the multi-talented force that was Orson Welles. Here Morgan Neville (Best of Enemies) has his turn with a focus on the final fifteen years of the director Welles as he pins his Hollywood comeback on a film called The Other Side of the Wind, a film within a film sees an ageing director trying to complete his final oeuvre. Welles’ film starring John Huston and Peter Bogdanovich was a hotchpotch of brilliance and tedium, in equal parts. Neville’s doc offers new insight into the creative legend with clarity and charismatic flourishes that would make Welles turn in his grave…with approval. MT

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS

AQUARELA: Victor Kossakovsky, Eicca Toppinen; BEEN SO LONG: Tinge Krishnan, Michaela Coel, George Mackay, Nadine Marsh-Edwards, Amanda Jenks; FAHRENHEIT 11/9: Michael Moore; THE HATE U GIVE: George Tillman Jr, Amandla Stenberg, Angie Thomas; MAKE ME UP: Rachel Maclean; OUT OF BLUE: Carol Morley, Patricia Clarkson; PETERLOO: Mike Leigh; RAFIKI: Wanuri Kahiu; THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD: Peter Jackson 

OFFICIAL COMPETITION

BIRDS OF PASSAGE: Ciro Guerra, David Gallego; DESTROYER: Karyn Kusama; HAPPY AS LAZZARO: Alice Rohrwacher; HAPPY NEW YEAR, COLIN BURSTEAD.: Ben Wheatley; IN FABRIC: Peter Strickland; JOY: Sudabeh Mortezai; THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN: David Lowery; SHADOW: Zhao Xiaoding; SUNSET: László Nemes; TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG: Dominga Sotomayor

FIRST FEATURE COMPETITION

THE CHAMBERMAID: Lila Avilés; THE DAY I LOST MY SHADOW: Soudade Kaadan; HOLIDAY: Isabella Eklöf; JOURNEY TO A MOTHER’S ROOM: Celia Rico Clavellino; ONLY YOU: Harry Wootliff; RAY & LIZ: Richard Billingham; SONI: Ivan Ayr; WILDLIFE: Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION

DREAM AWAY: Marouan Omara, Johanna Domke; EVELYN: Orlando von Einsiedel; JOHN MCENROE – IN THE REALM OF PERFECTION: Julien Faraut; THE PLAN THAT CAME FROM THE BOTTOM UP: Steve Sprung; PUTIN’S WITNESSES: Vitaly Mansky; THE RAFT: Marcus Lindeen; THEATRE OF WAR: Lola Arias, David Jackson, Sukrim Rai; WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THE WORLD’S ON FIRE?: Roberto Minervini; YOUNG AND ALIVE: Matthieu Bareyre.

THE BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL | 10-21 October 2018

 

 

 

 

Escobar (2017) ***

Dir/Writer: Fernando Leon de Aranoa | Cast: Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Peter Sarsgaard | Spanish | Drama | 123′

Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem step into the limelight as the convincing kickass couple at the heart of this florid foray into the life of Colombian cocaine king Pablo Escobar, from Madridleno director Fernando Leon de Aranoa (Mondays in the Sun).

Playing out like a clunky crime caper from the 1980s Escobar is true to its era in depicting the career of the rags to mega riches drug baron who eventually burnt himself out on a hot tin roof – or so we’re led to believe in the final melodramatic moments.

Bardem’s Colombian accent is spot on and he rocks another mat-like wig (from his already extensive repertoire) and a prosthetic pot-belly that takes on a life of its own. Cruz is all glamorous in YSL couture, almost drowning under the weight of her glossy mop and gurgling on a fruity English accent. The film opens in 1993 as she’s evading Colombia on a plane: “I’ve had to leave a house to escape a man, but never a country” – or words to that effect.

As journalist Judith Restrepo, she is the voiceover filling us in on the Escobar investigations handled by American DEA agent Shepherd (a laconic Peter Sarsgaard): subsequent events show that for years she’s been playing a somewhat flirty cat-and-mouse game with Shepherd, who’s been probing her for information on her louche lover. The story then tracks back to 1981 where she meets the seedily illustrious married Escobar on his tropical estate and headquarters of the notorious Medellin Cartel. Desperate to be taken seriously as a politician -but gradually failing miserably in the endeavour – he is now lying low. Initially confident in her career, she enjoys a whirlwind courtship, but rapidly sees her reputation failing as her lover loses interest and becomes increasingly menacing: his gifts turn from diamonds to a diamante revolver – for her own protection – against him and his rivals.

Bardem creates another scary psychopath: loving to his family but threatening to his enemies, and his richly-roasted accent is brilliant in contrast to Cruz’s screechy meltdowns. Chainsaws abound and there is abundant animal cruelty in what is ultimately a mildly entertaining and well-paced chronicle of the cocaine king’s career. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 16 SEPTEMBER 2018

A Tramway in Jerusalem (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018

 Israel is a complex nation of multiculturalism – and none better to convey this than author/ filmmaker Amos Gitai in his fraught and frustrating drama A Tramway in Jerusalem.

His characters seem trapped on a freewheeling journey to nowhere, going round and round on what seems like an endless trip on London’s Circle Line – the fact is they’re all in the same boat: gentiles, Hasidic Jews, Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Israeli Arabs, Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Jews. Gitai’s embraces the chaotic nature of these Semitic people – they argue, cajole, console, sing and debate – but they are rarely silent.

The film opens with a smiling woman singing an operatic song, a man plays the oud. Mathieu Almaric slouches back on a seat with his son, visiting the city for the first time he is delighted to be there finally. A group of Hassidic men chant a religious chorus. This series of sketches trundles along offering a taster for those who have never been to the country but have heard a lot about it – and it’s very different on the inside. One Palestinian woman has a Dutch passport through marriage, another has lived abroad but they share common ground. Anyone without an Israeli passport usually gets a hard time, and Gitai shows this happening to the Palestinian woman. There is even a Catholic Priest (Pippo Delbono) who rambles on incoherently. And black humour features too – the Jews have survived by sending themselves up. In the funniest sketch, a mother is lamenting her son’s lack of a wife, he listens – rapt, while all around their fellow passengers banter and debate the issue off screen. This is Israel in microcosm. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast (2018) **** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Bruce Weber | US Doc | 91′

Suave screen idol Robert Mitchum comes across as a crooning hearth-throb in Bruce Weber’s starry cinematic sashay that contains previously unseen interview footage shot during the 1990s.

Bruce Weber is best known for his black-and-white fashion shots (for Abercrombie & Fitch) but here turns his camera on the prolific career of a Hollywood antihero who made over 133 screen appearances during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s – most notably in Cape Fear, Night of the Hunter and Out of the Past. 

Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast follows the usual format of archive footage (taken in 1997) and interviews with people connected to Mitchum, particularly in his later years when his nonchalant presence could change the atmosphere in a room. Shot in Weber’s stylish monochrome camera the film opens with  Johnny Depp recalling how Mitchum would always reply “Worse” when asked how he was – on the telephone. This was a response he’d picked up from Groucho Marx. Liam Neeson and Benicio Del Toro also share their memories of a much-celebrated but quietly complicated man who embodied American masculinity.

Named after the song by Mitchum’s The Wonderful Country co-star Julie London, the film explores how the macho star could also be tender and gentle despite his tough guy image, and reveals his musical talent with footage from the recording of a jazz album (that has never been released) that sees him enjoying an amusing time with Marianne Faithful as the duo record together at Capitol Records.

Mitchum certainly knew how to flirt, using some well-rehearsed one-liners and jokes. But Weber shows how he mellowed significantly in later years without losing any of his sardonic undercurrent of complexity. In a darker moment, his daughter recalls his talk of suicide, but this is an avenue that Weber never explores, along with his time behind bars for possession of marijuana. On the relationship front, we hear how he was devoted to his wife Dorothy – the two met in their teens and stayed together – despite dalliances, amongst them with Shirley MacLaine who never appears to give her side of the story.

Nice Girls is largely freewheeling and episodic rather than chronologically biographical in format: hardly anything is mentioned about Mitchum’s upbringing or the early years of his career in Hollywood. His late co-star Polly Bergen talks about her feelings during the unsettling brutal rape scene in Cape Fear when he smoothed raw egg on her décolleté, culminating in her falling in love with him. Afterwards she claimed he was the epitome of tenderness, apologising profusely after the manhandling episode where he appeared to be ‘in a trance’. Perhaps this is even a latent bid on the director’s part to explain the bad behaviour that led to the #metoo backlash, given that Weber was also fingered during the affair.

Clearly Robert Mitchum’s choice of roles makes him one of the more edgy and interesting stars in the Hollywood firmament but he clearly had many strings to his bow, and one was undoubtedly a talent for carrying a tune, evidenced in his renditions of Ned Washington’s ‘Wild is the Wind’ and Mitchell Parish’s ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’ which enrich this pleasurable film along with its woozy jazz score. Irving Berlin’s ‘Dancing Cheek to Cheek’ and Gershwin’s ‘Isn’t it a Pity’ complete the audio picture of this intriguing talent to amuse. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL CLASSICS 2018

 

Capri-Revolution (2018) ** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Mario Martone; Cast: Marianna Fontana, Reinout Scholten van Aschat, Antonio Folletto, Maximilian Dirr; Italy/France 2018, 121 min.

Mario Martione does his homeland a disservice with a turgid and distinctly un-revolutionary Golden Lion hopeful. Set on the island of Capri in the run up to the First World War this is a didactic drama which even manages to make a nudist colony look bland and boring. But worse is the misogyny with which he treats his main-protagonist.

In 1914 twenty year-old Lucia (Fontana) enjoys a bucolic island existence looking after the family’s herds of goats, but when her father dies, her grumpy older brother decides to marry her off to a rich widower, thinking first and foremost about the financial benefits for the family. Soon both brothers are off to war, and Lucia joins a nudist colony, despite warnings from the locals that they are  “devils”. There she falls under the spell of painter and commune leader Seybu (van Aschat), a composite of the German painter Karl Diefenbach who led a commune on Capri between 1900 and 1913 and his compatriot, the artist Joseph Beuys, who had not even been born in 1914.

Seybu teaches Lucia to read and soon she is multi-lingual. But the local doctor Carlo (Folletto) hopes to win Lucia’s affections, the two men fiercely stating their points in the duel between science and art. This becomes very boring with sentences like ”There is only matter and spirit, there is no duality”. Furthermore, Herbert (Dirr), a psychotherapist, tries to interfere with the all the women in order to make them more compliant towards the male egos. Lucia soon has enough and wants “to go back to dancing in the woods”.

DoP Michele D’Attanasio tries his best to conjure up a sapphic image of beauty and nature, but this is a drama much too verbose to allow our imagination to wander – dialogue getting in the way.  Martone insists that everything is debated in a principled discussion, creating the climate of a business seminar. There is no lust – in spite of the naked bodies – and art is just another subject to be discussed to the death. Fontana tries her very best, but the males around her dominate. This is a sprawlingly endless mosh-mash, Martone even managing to botch the ending. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

 

      

Shadow 2018) **** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Zhang Yimou | Action Drama | China | 110’

Two-time winner of the Golden Lion at Venice for The Story Of Qiu Ju, and Not One Less, Chinese supremo Zhang Yimou relinquishes his charisteristic colour spectrum for a magnificent monochrome palette in his latest martial arts extravaganza that melds solemn Singing in the Rain set pieces with eye-popping wuxia credentials in a glorious return to form akin to Hero and House of Flying Daggers.

Grey has never looked so stunning in Yimou’s action scenes inspired by China’s tradition of ink-wash painting and creatively choreographed with the director’s signature style and inventiveness. In place of shields, lethal steel umbrellas cut and thrust in an epic tale set during China’s Three Kingdoms era during the Third century where the land of Pei is ruled by an unhinged maverick king (Zheng Kai). The king’s military commander (Deng Chao) has shown his skill on the battlefield, but running the kingdom is another matter needing political nous and diplomacy to survive. So he has trained a “shadow” (also played by Deng), who can fool the king, as well as Pei’s enemies, when required. Fighting to gain control of the walled city of Jing, the king and the commander join forces to plan a secret strategy. While the real king, a dissipated old warrior, has retreated to his lair to lick his world weary wounds, his wife Madam (Sun Li) has fallen for the younger and stronger double. 

During the extraordinary battle scenes the only contrast from the stunning steel grey, charcoal and white aesthetic is that of human flesh and blood evoking a palpable feeling of pain and suffering and bringing to mind the epics of Akira Kurosawa. This occasionally drawn out but intoxicating game of intrigue and duplicity slowly builds to a coruscating climax as Yimou manages the spectacular combat set pieces with extraordinary ingenuity both on the widescreen and in intimate close-up, the umbrellas bristling with blades as they cascade like gushing rivers of steel raining down on the floating Trojan horse centrepiece.

Aside from the visual mastery of it all Yimou offers dramatic character studies: Deng as a double-crossing demon, the gracefully feisty women Sun Li and Guan Xiaotong giving impressive performances. But it’s Cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding and production designer Ma Kwong Kwai who really set the whole production alight. Another worthwhile and thoroughly enjoyable edition to Yimou’s wuxia wonderland. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

A Letter to a Friend in Gaza (2018) **** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Amos Gitai; Cast: Makram Khoury, Clara Khoury, Hilla Vidor, Amos Gitai, Amira Hass; Israel 2018, 34 min.

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others (do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you conduct you cars, think of others (do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others (those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others (do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others (those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others (those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself (Say: “If only I were a candle in the dark”).
Mahmoud Darwish, Think of others

Israeli director/co-writer Amos Gitai (Rabin, the last Day) uses poetry to confront Israel’s on-going decimation of their Palestinian neighbours. Inspired by Albert Camus’ “Letters to a German Friend” (1943-1944), Gitai and co-writer Makram Khouri both express their hope for a future when “Israeli children will ask their parents what they have done”; with Gitai stating “I love my country too much, that I will not become a nationalist”.

The images on the huge walls separating the two nations make the Berlin Wall look decisively less threatening in contrast: DoP Oded Kirma’s camera nearly touches the monstrosity. Other scenes show Palestinian youths with slingshots fighting a professional Israeli army with machine guns; and the last image of the documentary is an antique painting of David attacking the well armoured giant Goliath with his catapult.

But it is words that take centre stage: Mahmoud Darwish’s ‘Think of others’ seems in parts like a direct reference to the destruction of water tanks in Palestine by the Israeli Defence Forces. But the poem ends lyrically.

The centrepiece is Amira Hass’ monologue about a hopeful future. Courageously, Gitai then sets the cat amongst the pigeons of today’s Israeli society: the parents’ response to their kids is that “they obeyed orders”. This was their excuse,  but it was also the excuse of the Holocaust’s perpetrators. Gitai once and for all sets a line in the sand, breaking a taboo: there is no longer any justification for the continuous war against the Palestinians, and there hasn’t been since the foundation of the State of Israel.

Allying himself with Camus on the question of the just war against the Nazis, Gitai comes very close to a “guilty verdict” for the State he fought for – and nearly died – as a soldier. He might have become the proverbial ‘candle in the dark’, but the likeliehood that the children of today’s Settler generation will leave their parents’ homes is very remote -metaphorically and practically. AS

SCREENING DURING VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

     

The Summer House (2018) Les Estivants | *** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi. France/Italy. 2018. 127mins |

Actor-director Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s reworks familiar territory in her latest comedy drama where she plays a vulnerable woman obsessed with a feckless younger man. This time she adds farce to the histrionics sending herself up as the delightfully dizzy delusional central character. You have to admire her cheekiness in this well-observed but flimsy piece of fun.

At the beginning Anna (Tedeschi) is tottering over a Parisian bridge with her sulky lover Luca (Riccardo Scamarcio), on the way to a cafe. Joining them is a serious be-suited man and a divorce proceedings  immediately spring to mind: they are actually attending a film financing meeting where filmmaker Anna freely admits to rehashing her plot when questioned by the team. Considering arch re-hasher Frederick Wiseman is on the panel this comes as a feminist jibe and we actually warm to her, and if you’re a fan of her formula (A Castle in Italy etc) then The Summer House is for you.

The Summer House has the advantage of some seriously sumptuous settings: this time we visit the Cote d’Azur and a gorgeous belle époque Villa surrounded by lavender-scented gardens where her real mother Marisa Borini (resembling her other daughter Carla Bruni) plays her onscreen ma, and the daughter she adopted with Louis Garrel, Oumy Bruni Garrel, is Anna’s daughter – exuding all the saucy sense of entitlement you would expect. Co-scripted by Tedeschi, Agnès de Sacy and Noémie Lvovsky, this upstairs/downstairs affair features the problems of the staff along with those of the guests – although the characterisations are shallow and rather trite – and often descends into implausible farce failing dismally as an attempt to engage us in an exploration of the human condition in all its splendour and desperation.

Bruni Tedeschi’s younger partner Luca does not join them, after hinting at a new romance, so the start of the holiday is blighted by emotional telephone outbursts and the usual melodramatic meltdowns. Anna’s alcoholic sister Elena (Valeria Golino) tries her best in an awful role where she whines and whimpers between drunken episodes as the wife of the villa’s much owner, ageing businessman Jean (Pierre Arditi). Meanwhile, Lvovsky also stars as Anna’s divorced writing partner Nathalie who appears to be recovering from some failed romance in a role that never materialises into anything meaningful.

Ever brimming with hope that her romance with Luca can be reanimated, there is much humour to be had in the way Anna swings from kittenish charisma to snarling witchery, her frustration seething under a well-disguised gamine fluffiness. Tedeschi’s attempt to introduce a sexual molestation strand to the narrative falls on deaf ears – whether this is another jibe on the #metoo theme is left to our individual interpretation. Gorgeous to look at, if mostly exasperating, The Summer House is more of the same fresh air from a familiar face. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

The River (Ozen) *** Venice Film Festival 2018 | Orizzonti

Dir/scr: Emir Baigazin. Kaz-Pol-Nor. 2018. 108mins

This spare and rhythmic final film in Kazakh auteur Emir Baigazin’s Asian trilogy serves as a simple but mesmerising metaphor for the dangers of the digial world exploring themes of repression, release and discovery in a remote corner of Kazakhstan.

Following on from Harmony Lessons (Uroki Garmonii,2013) and The Wounded Angel (Ranenyy Angel, 2016), The River (Ozen) captivates with its austere and gracefully composed sequences in a parable that seethes with expectation throughout its spare dramatic arc establishing its appeal to arthouse audiences from the opening scenes when we first meet the brothers in their dusty, windswept village where earthy sepia and bleached khaki prevails in Baigazin’s stark aesthetic.  

Five brothers cower under the obdurate cosh of their draconian father (Kuandyk Kystykbayev) who imposes a spartan regime of hard work and strict discipline. Like many austere fathers his intentions are protectionist rather than cruel, and the reason for this will soon become clear when a newcomer arrives in the village to disrupt the peaceful existence.

The oldest son Aslan (Zhalgas Klanov) is expected to act as second in command to his father and teach his brothers how to read and write. Unlike his father he offers some light relief to his siblings allowing them to swim in the fast-flowing river nearby, the benefits of nature are clear and the dangers self-apparent, Meanwhile in the outside world beyond their home the benefits of progress are more ambiguous,

This questionable garden of Eden is soon destabilised when Kanat (Eric Tazabekov) breezes into the village one day. Dressed in flashy yellow socks and a silver anorak, this bright young stranger also rocks a pair of headphones and carries a bleeping tablet. The boys are amazed by his swanky attire and intrigued by his computer with its News channel and games. 

The River is fraught will religious motifs from the Bible amongst them a wooden cross in the shaped scarecrow, and this all presages doom for the boys’ rural sanctuary. This is a the film whose spare credentials and minimalism belie its rich thematic content that make it an incisive and satisfying look at progress and loss of innocence. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | Best DIRECTOR | ORIZZONTI 2018

Emma Peeters (2018) Venice Film Festival 2018 | Giornate degli Autori


Dir.: Nicole Palo; Cast: Monia Chokri, Fabrice Adde, Stephanie Crayencour, Andrea Ferrol, Anne Sylvain, Jean Henri Compere, Abdre Ferreol; Belgium 2018, 90 min.

Nicole Palo’s second feature is a charming but fluffy comedy about a Belgian would-be actress plagued by her embarrassing parents and fashion faux pas. Shot idyllically, mostly in Belleville Monia Chokri’s portrayal of the titular heroine is an impressive performance. 

Emma (Chokri) is in her mid-thirties and has made the decision to throw in the towel on her acting career in Paris and radically also to end her life. After visiting a funeral parlour – wearing her usual faux-sheep coat and looking very sheepish indeed – she attracts the attention of the owner Alex (Adde), whose struggle with reality is just as troubled. A good-bye visit to her annoyingly banal parents (Sylvain/Compere) in Belgium is followed by several unsuccessful attempts to get rid of her cat Jim, who clings on (clearly loving her jacket). And her friends are no great help either: Stephanie (Crayencour) is a blond, vacuous version of Emma (but a success with men of all sexual orientations) and is only interested in her friend when she wants to borrow her tiny flat to sleep with married men. Her ‘best friends’ Bob and Serge, gay hairdressers, think that a new haircut may lift her spirits. After Mum and Dad turn up for an uninvited visit, we begin to understand Emma’s pain. And when Alex finally gives Emma the promised suicide pill, we know that a happy-end awaits all concerned: Stephanie is pregnant by Bob and/or Serge, and Emma will be the god-mother.

There are shades of the late Solveig Ansbach here (Queen of Montreuil), but without her love of detail and anarchic complications. Palo just goes for the most obvious laughs, using Belleville as a background and creating a succharine atmosphere. On top there are half-baked characters like Bernadette (Ferreol), a lonely old woman who not well-disposed towards Emma. At best this quirky comedy drama could be described as endearing. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI 4 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

Sunset | Napszallta (2018) ***** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Laszlo Nemes, Cast: Juli Jacob, Vlad Ivanov, Hungary/France 2018; 142 min

Laszlo Nemes follows his Oscar-winning triumph Son Of Saul with another fraught and achingly romantic fragment of the past again captured through his voyeuristic lens tracing the febrile events leading up to the shooting of Emperor Franz Ferdinand that changed the world forever

Set in Budapest between 1913 and the outbreak of the First World War, Sunset reveals a labyrinth of enigma, intrigue, hostility, greed and lust as by Juli Jakab(Son of Saul) guides us through scenes of ravishing elegance and cataclysmic violence. What seems utter chaos gradually becomes more clear as the spiderweb is infiltrated.

Cultured beauty Irisz Leiter (Jacob) arrives in Budapest from Trieste, where she retreated after her parents’ death in a mysterious fire at their famous hat atelier. Irisz hopes to secure a position there but the enigmatic manager Oszcar Brill (Ivanov), asks her to leave immediately. Somehow she inveigles her way into the company, desperately looking out for her long lost brother Kalman, who is in hiding, having murdered Count Redey. It soon emerges he has joined the Hungarian Nationalists in their bid to overthrow the House of Habsburg, whose ruling base in Vienna in on the verge of toppling with the murder in Sarajevo of the Austrian Crown at the hand of a Serbian nationalist. Irisz’ search for her brother is continually thwarted by Brill, who is literally selling his female employees as courtesans to the Court in Vienna. Her desperate quest culminates in the trenches and the demise of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Nemes pays homage to the late Gabor Body whose Narcissus and Psyche, echo in Sunset. On an historical level Mathias Erdely’s images conjure up the fin-de-siecle fragility in the same way as Gabor’s masterpiece. In contrast, Nemes sets his epic in Budapest (and not in the countryside) conveying the crumbling decadence in the urban settings. There is surreal horror in the street scenes – characters spring out of the shadows like animals – or even vampires. After dark utter chaos rules. As daylight dawns the Habsburg police try to enforce order. Irisz emerges as ‘Alice’, but her wonderland is uncertain and menacing. Courage and a strong sense of her innate dignity will see her through but her place in the world will be destroyed forever in a narrative that very much chimes with today’s sense of cultural identity. Sunset is an everlasting testament to the past, the present and our uncertain future. A masterpiece that will need more than one viewing. As/MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | FIPRESCI WINNER 2018

Joy (2018) Venice Film Festival | VENICE DAYS 2018

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

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

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

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

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

JOY explores a real and continuous nightmare that is happening all the time, in nearly every European city. Shot starkly by DoP Clemens Hufnagl, mostly at night, the few interior scenes reveal the misery and fear that haunts women daily. A depressing but worthwhile film. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 29 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 | VENICE DAYS AWARD WINNER 2018

 

 

La Quietud (2018) *** Venice Film Festival

Director.: Pablo Trapero; Cast: Martina Gusman, Bejo, Edgar Ramirez, Joaquin Furriel, Graciela Borges; Argentina 2018, 117 min.

Pablo Trapero (The Clan) takes another look  at Argentina’s traumatic past, pairing the political and the personal in this stylishly frivolous Tele-Novela drama, which has more secrets up its cheeky sleeve than the audience initially bargained for. Centred around two incestral sisters, Trapero  invokes the Bunuel films of his Mexican period, sticking to a strict inforcement of Freudian interpretations.

After her father’s stroke, Eugenia (Bejo) returns from Paris to Buenos Aires. She is meeting up with her sister Mia (Gusman) and mother Esmeralda (Borges), who live in the very inaptly called country villa The Quietude. The sisters are close and look uncannily the same, sharing more than just the taste for the same man. Eugenia’s husband Vincent (Ramirez), soon turns up  and is greeted by a more than friendly Mia, who fetches him from the airport. Eugenia reveals she is pregnant after a long time of trying. Her tyrannical mother is over-joyed, her lover Esteban (Furriel) claims that it is his baby, and wants a paternity test. Meanwhile the father’s health detirioates, and Esmeralda finally pulls the plug in the middle of the night. After his funeral, Mia gets drunk, and whilst her sister is driving her home, she causes an accident. 

But soon an unseemly past comes knocking: the family is accused to have profited from imprisoned victims of the 1980s Military dictatorship – they signed their property over to the lawyers hoping for clemency in return. Esmeraldo claims that it was her husband who went into prison to get the signatures, but Mia, her father’s favourite, sets out to resarch her claim. Trapero ends on an implausible but romantically happy-end  for the sisters.

The wildly oscillating plot does not hide the sincerity of the conflict: obvious, dishonesty has spoiled family life for a long time, and the patriarch’s death forces a solution which might have otherwise not happened. Like with Bunuel, the family is always a place to hide guilty secrets, and children are burdend with the sins of their parents. 

Furthermore, some siblings like to stretch out their idyllic childhood into adulthood because they are disappointed by life, and want to escape into the past. The narrative and ensemble acting is convincing, images are strictly limited by a TV-style format – a shame, because the close-ups dominate and take away some of the enjoyment of the Buenos Aires cityscapes and the local pampas. But overall The Quietude is a rollercoaster ride of light-hearted lust and petty infighting. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018

Suspiria (2018) ** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Luca Guadagnino, Cast: Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton, Mia Goth, Cloe Grace Moretz, Lutz Ebersdorf; USA/Italy 2018, 152 min.

Luca Guadagnino follows his much praised Call Me By Your Name with a rather confused and overloaded vision of Dario Argento’s horror classic, using the original script by Argento and Daria Nicoldi, re-written by David Kajganich (A Bigger Splash). 

Unfortunately the Kajganich has added new material, setting the narrative in Berlin at the height of the Baader Meinhof crisis. A running time of 152 minutes also tests the audience severely.

In the dank Autumn of 1977, Susie Bannian (Johnson) arrives from Ohio at the famous Dance School TANZ, near the Wall in West Berlin. There is an unsettling atmosphere at the academy, the two leading teachers Blanc (a luminously sinuous Swinton) and Markos are fighting for supremacy, the conflict a battle of life and death. Susie soon becomes the lead dancer, relegating Patricia (Moretz) and Sara (Goth) to the lower echelons of the troupe.

When dancers start to disappear, the sinister infighting turns more and more bloody. Enter Dr. Joseph Klemperer (Ebersdorf), a relict from WWII, who is still searching for his Jewish wife sent to the Concentration Camp Teresienstadt, where she was killed. The psychiatrist feels deep guilt over her death. As the nastiness at the Academy unfurls, a Witches’ Coven is uncovered and Klemperer’s role becomes more and more murky – in tune with this muddled affair. 

DoP Sayonbhu Mukdeeprom creates magnificently macabre images, but in the long run this is not enough to save Susperia from emerging an awkward mixture of two films, both competing for our attention. The acting is also mixed, with Swinton being head and shoulders above the rest (quite literally) in achieving visionary eminence. In the end the German history lesson loses out to the horror strand, but the brake comes too late. A needless remake where less would have been so much more. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 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

Why are we Creative? (2018) ** Giornate degli Autori Venice 2018

WHY ARE WE CREATIVE: THE CENTIPEDE’S DILEMMA

Dir.: Hermann Vaske; Documentary; Germany 2018, 84 min.

German born writer/director Hermann Vaske (Arteholic) asks more than fifty of the World’s most successful artists why they have chosen to express their creativity in their professional lives. Obviously, their answers are going to be superficial, since there is hardly time for a reflective answer in a film of just over an house. But there’s also no structure here, Vaske lists the answers he gets in a haphazard and roughly chronological order. It’s a trite film akin to flicking through a glossy copy of Hello! Hola or Point de Vue magazine.

Thirty years in the making, his project is the brainchild of the liberation he felt having just emigrated to London. And one his first candidates was David Bowie, who is also one of the few who turns up twice to talk about their creative impulses. Architect Franz Gehry uses drawings to explain his motives, the same goes for Damien Hirst, David Lynch and Ai Weiwei among others. Travelling to Davos for the economic summit, Vaske interviews Bill Gates and Yasser Arafat, who claims his artistic bent rises out of a desire “to carry on for the sake of the future”. In Tokyo, the director gets drunk with the photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, who tells us “I get an erection when shooting my photographs”.

Architects top the list of professions, authors are as rare as musicians, who are easily beaten by actors. But sadly women make up a tiny minority of his doc: Yoko Ono, Jeanne Moreau, Bjork, Isabella Rossellini, Zara Hadid, Vivienne Westwood, Angelina Jolie and Diane Kruger. Vaske likes his interviewees to be positive and in a good mood – if they are difficult, their answers are cut short.

Towards the end, director Michael Haneke gives the most original answer: “One should not ask a centipede why he walks, because he might stumble”. Haneke goes on, telling the famous story of the composer Gustav Mahler, who stopped seeing the father of analyses, Sigmund Freud, because the latter told the composer, that analyses might reduce his creativity.

The structure (or the lack of it) invites us to be creative in our own ways, as our attention wanders off, reflecting about what to have for supper, or where we parked the car. But what is more disturbing is the huge number of participants, who are not with us any more – so many of them victims of suicide. Surely they  deserve a less flippant approach – underlined by the amusing cartoons of Valerie Pirson and Floppy Lazare – and a more serious treatment, using the parameters of a proper documentary. AS

SCREENING AS PART OF VENICE DIRECTORS’ WEEK 2018

Adam & Evelyn (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018 | Critics’ Week

Dir.: Andreas Goldstein; Cast: Florian Teichtmeister, Anne Karis, Christin Alexandrow, Lena Lauzemis, Milian Zerzawy; FRG 2018, 100 min.

Based on the novel by Ingo Schulze, ADAM & EVELYN sees a couple’s crumbling relationship set against the final days of the German Democratic Republic in this thoughtful collaboration from Andreas Goldstein and Jakobine Motz.

In his tailor’s shop in the small town of Torgau, Evelyn surprises Adam one day ‘in flagrante’ with a much older client and, not taking his excuses for an answer, she sets out with girlfriend Simone (Alexandrow) for a summer break in Budapest. But this is no happy holiday. They arrive to discover that the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany has been forced to close its doors due to a massive influx of German citizens who are camping inside, waiting to be allowed into the FRG.

For two-thirds of the film we will witness – over the radio – the gradual downfall of the GDR regime, until they throw in the towel and open the Berlin wall and their borders in November. But Adam is totally unfazed, as if it’s nothing to do with him – an accusation Evelyn had made at the beginning. He picks up a hitchhiker, Katja (Lauzemis) and smuggles her nonchalantly over the boarder into Hungary. Near Lake Balaton, the two meet up with Simone and Michael (Zerzawy) – a West German biologist, until Evelyn lures Michael into her bed. Simone leaves but then Evelyn grows close to Adam again, sleeping with both men – a rivalry which Adam seems not to notice. The three of them end up in Austria where Evelyn discovers she’s pregnant – but unsure of the father. Adam falls under suspicion as being a spy and this is so incongruous that Evelyn starts laughing. But the point is made: when it comes to paranoia, both German states have more in common than the FRG might like to admit. Finally, Adam and Evelyn get a new flat in Hamburg where Evelyn is full of utopian dreams for her child, whereas Adam misses the restrictive, but safe GDR.

Book and film make a valid point: the uprising which brought down the regime was more or less restricted to East-Berlin, Leipzig and Dresden – in the countryside there was a sort of inertia which really did not lend itself to revolt. Evelyn is right when she remarks that “Adam did not really have to work: all the girls came to him, and he made them pretty clothes”. But there was no competition, because the state products were absolute awful.

The images in Torgau and the surrounding countryside reflect a country which time seems to have left behind: the cars are 30 years old, the houses are falling apart and sexual infidelity is the only game in town. As one commentator said, after the fall of the Wall “the GDR men had to give their women a decent sex life to make up for the material poverty of all concerned.” Adam will be a stranger forever in the re-unified country – looking backwards to an idyll, which didn’t really exist. AS      

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 28 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 | CRITICS’ WEEK

The Mountain (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Rick Alverson | Cast: Tye Sheridan, Jeff Goldblum, Hannah Gross, Denis Lavant, Udo Kier | US Drama | 

Rick Alverson enforces his reputation as an arcane arthouse auteur in this drifting and broodingly melancholy film that follows the career of a suave peripatetic professor of lobotomies, seen through the eyes of a repressed young man in 1950s America.

Nothing is really different from today in this Edward Hopper-like world of alienation and conservatism where self expression, particularly from women, is curbed and stifled by a sharp poke in the eyes from Jeff Goldblum’s dapper despotic Dr Fiennes.

There is something unsettlingly surreal about The Mountain and the way it plays out with a glowering intent that solemnly visits the pristine emptiness of its spartan interiors and mournful rural backwaters.  It could be called visionary but it also feels overbearing in its arty pretentiousness. 

Alverson has selected a perfect cast for the doom-laden affair. Tye Sheridan, is a troubled young man whose mother has disappeared into an institution and whose figure-skating father (a mesmerising Udo Kier) dies during the early scenes in their airless home. Trained up as a medical photographer by the rangy doctor with his eye for the ladies and a whiff of eminence grise ruffling through his silver locks, the pair then cut a swathe through select California psychiatric institutions, helping ‘deranged’ patients to be more compliant by detaching their prefrontal cortex.

But as new psychotropic drugs become the treatment of preference, psychiatrists begin refusing Fiennes’ services and he slowly unravels taking Wally and his female friend with him. There is q classic cameo from Denis Lavant thrown in for good measure to complete the wacky weirdness of it all. An acquired taste and a hypnotic film to watch that could be a road best not travelled for others. MT 

VENICE FIOM FESTIVAL 2018

 

Friedkin Uncut (2018) **** Venice Film Festival 2018 | Venice Classics

Dir: Francesco Zippel | US-ITALY | 107 MINS | DOCUMENTARY | with William Friedkin, Francis Ford Coppola, Quentin Tarantino, Willem Dafoe, Wes Anderson, Matthew McConaughey, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Shannon, Juno Temple

Wlliam Friedkin swaggers into the room and grabs a mug of dark coffee: “What interests me is how Hitler took a load of intelligent people down, whereas Jesus lifted them up”: He concludes “it’s a struggle for every human being to overcome their dark side”. 

William Friedkin must be one of the most quotable living directors. Perfectly formed truisms just flood out of him. Looking like an amiable astute tortoise with his smooth features and perfectly coiffed hair, he can be vociferous. When filming The French Connection he apparently shouted at his cinematographer: “What you’ve shown me so far sucks”. The two went on to make an all time classic that flopped at the box office. As Michael Shannon puts it: “Billy forces you to the dark place- he’s aware when something is phoney – he wants 200% because he’s giving 200%. Unlike Kubrick, he’s not looking for perfection, he’s looking for spontaneity.

Born in 1935 of Ukrainian Jewish parents who immigrated to the US, Friedkin did not realise the family was poor because everyone around them in their Chicago tenement was in the same boat. His father was a semi-professional soft ball player, his mother a warm and giving woman who he adored Young Friedkin started in the mail room of a TV station and worked his way up – in common with many other directors of the 1960s, but seeing Citizen Kane was the turning point that inspired him with the power of film and then he went on to Hollywood and was completely devolved of that notion. The rest is history.

Built around Friedkin’s pragmatic and pithy commentary Francesco Zippel’s doc well-structured documentary focuses on each of his films, intercut with commentary from the relevant talking heads and collaborators who discuss the way they worked with him. Friedkin is articulately frank and open about his motivations, which are interesting in themselves. A tinkly occasional score accompanies some extraordinary revelations: his film The people vs Paul Crump actually saved the man’s life. On the whole his films have a cinema vérité quality to them that is rooted in his documentary style, especially The French Connection that transports you ‘there in that era’ but the film still feels incredibly fresh and – in the view of Edgar Wright – more so than thrillers that are being made today. Infact FC is almost 95% based on truth, along with Bug and Killer Joe.  Friedkin likes facts and percentages rather than ephemera. 

Yet while he’s filming he gets lost in the moment: Gina Gershon calls him a method director as he literally becomes part of the atmosphere during a shoot, making a suggestion and seeing what the actor does with it.

Wes Anderson likes his horror fare because the narrative pulls you in keeping you close to the characters are engaging because in Friedkin movies they’re built in reality. Casting his films to perfection avoids too many takes. Infact he’s very much a one take guy, a cording to Juno Temple who applauds the complexity of his female characters, who are sometimes even more complicated that his male characters. And he casts his films to perfection Max von Sydow was perfect in the Exorcist Ellen Burstyn  knew the territory as a lapsed Catholic herself. “He taught me how to be real in the fiction” she says.

We are treated to archive footage of an interview with Fritz Lang where the German emigre complains that his films made in Germany are worthless but al least he got to meet Goebels. Lang only appreciated the films he made in Hollywood. As a director you need ambition, luck and the Grace of God, and particularly the latter. But in the end “success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan”

In his lavishly hilltop home we are shown his drawings by Sergei Eisenstein before he discusses his film Cruising which was made inside the gay bars of New York but wasn’t a hit with the gay community on account of exposing their haunts in their raw reality. “I loved it as an exotic background for a murder mystery. But i don’t approach cinema from a political standpoint. Infact I don’t trust politics or politicians”.

He wanted to cast unknown actors in To Live and Die in LA (1985) and so low key stage actor Willem Defoe became electric casting opposite with William Petersen. In accordance with his documentary research credentials the film also involved some real counterfeiters, whom Friedkin got to know.

Friedkin never attended film school and doesn’t consider himself an artist but admires Antonioni and a Fellini and claims Kathryn Bigelow to be the best woman filmmaker working today. 

“Acting and filmmaking are professions. Its a job. Out of this work there can come art – but its rare. when you start to believe in yourself as a artist – instead of telling a story with the utmost professionalism – that’s the end of a career. Antonioni and Fellini’s films are full of mood and texture”. Friedkin’s only regret is not having been able to transcend reality in his films. Who knows if he will one day. Time is still on his side. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | CLASSICS | 31 SEPTEMBER 2018

 

 

Tumbbad (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018 | Critics’ Week

Dirs: Rahi Anil Barve, Adesh Prasad, Anand Ghandi | Horror Fantasy | 104′

This 19th Century set fantasy thriller is the first Indian feature (out of competition) to open Critics’ Week at Venice Film Festival, the arthouse sidebar that this year features nine films by first time directors from across the world.

TUMBBAD is a mythical story that has its roots back in Hindu folklore where the ‘Puranas’ (told primarily in Sanskrit, but also in regional languages) were often linked to deities such as Vishnu, Shiva and Devi.  Six years in the making and directed by Rahi Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad the stunning Pune-set parable story revolves around three generations of a Brahmin family exploring the roots of human greed. 

Blue-eyed mega star Sohum Shah is impressive as the stubbornly conniving bastard son of the village lord in the dank backwater of Tumbbad where he lives with his long-suffering wife and family. Obsessed with a mythical ancestral treasure, he suspects the secret of its whereabouts lies with his great-grandmother, a cursed witch who has been comotose for centuries in a damp underground sewer. Confronting her in this foul sunken pit puts him face to face with the guardian of the treasure, an evil fallen god. What starts with his lust for a few gold coins, quickly spirals into a reckless, perpetual yearning, spanning decades. Vinayak’s greed escalates until he unearths the biggest secret of all, something more valuable than the treasure itself.

This fast-paced parable contrasts elegant 1920s settings with ghastly, spine-chilling scenes that unravel in the remote monsoon-drenched location imbuing in its characters a sense of quiet desperation and tortured misery as they fight for survival spurred on by their quest. Jesper Kyd’s ominous orchestral score adds depth to this magical horror mystery. Kyd composed the music for Assassin’s Creed and Darksiders series.

TUMBBAD is one of a new generation of arthouse titles coming out of India. With its spookily crafted set pieces, convincing performances and imaginatively scripted folklore-based narrative it easily competes with the best titles currently on the fantasy drama stage. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | CRITICS WEEK 2018

L’EnKas (2018) *** Venice Film Festival 2018 | Orizzonti

Dir: Sarah Marx | Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire | Sandor Funtek | Drama | 85′

L’EnKas is a lucidly imagined slice of contemporary social realism described by its director Sarah Marx as “socially aware”. Her intention was to make a film about “ordinary people who weren’t born bad but who have had to follow illegal paths”. In other words, these are not natural born criminals but those who commit crime when the going gets tough. And although she takes no moral stand with her well-paced observational feature debut, its premise departs from a cock-eyed moral standpoint although its subject matter is as old as the hills. And her main character Ulysse (an impressively convincing Funtek) certainly gets off on the wrong footing, when he arrives home fresh out of prison for a minor offence. His main concern is to make as much money as possible but he is confronted by a stack of unpaid bills and a mother (Sandrine Bonnaire as you’ve never seen her before) who suffers from depression and needs treatment. So he comes up with a plan with his best friend, David. Selling a mixture of water and Ketamine, obtained from a contact who works in a Veterinary surgery, the two travel from rave to rave selling the drug mixture from their food truck.

And it’s a short-sighted idea that naturally sees the pair in trouble as their dreams crash and burn and their world comes toppling down. Meanwhile troubled mother Gabrielle is having private psychiatric care. Fresh and full of naturalistic performances L’EnKas is a strong debut that gets inside the simplistic minds of naive people, who fall, get hurt, get back up again, contradict themselves and have their own reasons for doing so. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 29 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 | ORIZZONTI

Stripped (2018) **** Venice Film Festival | Orizzonti

Dir: Yaron Shani | Israel | Docudrama | 118′ | EROM

Yaron Shani rose to international acclaim with his feature debut Ajami. He brings to this year’s Venice film festival the first part of The Love Trilogy entitled STRIPPED (EROM). It’s an intriguing and highly intelligent cinema vérité piece that seeks to blur the lines between fiction and documentary through its refreshingly low key approach to an extremely intimate and at times startling film where the lives of seemingly  unconnected eventually intertwine in its unexpected and quite shocking denouement. Performances are pitch perfect and naturalistic from its cast of mainly newcomers.

34 year-old Alice is an award-winning writer and filmmaker who lives with her menagerie of dogs in a Tel Aviv apartment. She is woken up one morning from a deep sleep by her boyfriend, under rather bewildering circumstances: the dogs have been shut in the bathroom where someone has scrawled a message on the mirror. Going about her day she increasingly starts to feel weird: panic attacks follow and a sense of desperate displacement and unease.  On the news, reports of a rapist are circulating. Her mother decides to come and stay so the two can look after each other for a while but none of this takes place in a melodramatic ways as Shani coaxes completely natural performances from his cast of mostly newcomers,

In the same apartment block a talented young classical guitarist (Ziv, 17) lives with his parents. His high hopes for a professional career in a local orchestra are dashed when the audition results confirm that he hasn’t got in. Soul-searching ensues with his helpful family. He heads off for his army service where the demands of adulthood will rob him of his tenderness and innocence. One of his friends is in hospital suffering from cancer. His university friends gather round his bedside as an impromptu round of jazz singing kicks off. Later they will take part in a highly charged visit from a ‘strippo-gramme’ service – some will lose their virginity in scenes of explicit nudity – it’s all light-hearted fun but it gives the boys a taste of reality. The narrative then comes full circle in the final scenes when the main protagonists lives intertwine in a shocking finale subverting our expectations.

STRIPPED feels bracingly original and refreshingly different. In order to achieve this quasi documentary feel, the cast took part in an extreme method acting experiment where they have each inhabited the lives of their fictional characters for the unusual long shooting period of over a year. The skeleton script was then fleshed out by the actors’ own personal experiences and the result is refreshingly bold in its naturalism, and despite still being fiction – clearly their input makes proceedings highly personal. It’s as if the directer invented a new form – semi-fiction or documentary fiction. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | ORIZZONTI | 28 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER

 

Venice Film Festival 2018 | La Biennale

Alberto Barbera has announced a stunning line-up of highly anticipated new features and documentaries in celebration of this year’s 71st edition of Venice Film Festival which takes place on the Lido from 28 August until 8 September 2018. 30% of this year’s films are made by women which sounds more positive. Obviously the festival can only programme films offered for screening.

The festival kicks off on the 28th with a remastered 1920 version of THE GOLEM – HOW HE CAME TO BE (ab0ve) complete with musical accompaniment. This year’s festival opening film is Damien Chazelle’s biopic of Neil Armstrong FIRST MAN. There are 21 features and documentaries in the main competition which boasts the latest films from Olivier Assayas (a publishing drama DOUBLE LIVES stars Juliette Binoche), Jacques Audiard (THE SISTERS BROTHERS), Joel and Ethan Coen’s 6-part Western THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS, Brady Corbet’smusical drama VOX LUX; Alfonso Cuaron with ROMA; Luca Guadagnino’s SUSPIRIA sees Tilda Swinton playing 3 parts; Mike Leigh (PETERLOO), Yorgos Lanthimos with an 18th drama entitled THE FAVOURITE; Carlos Reygadas joins from his usual Cannes slot; and Julian Schnabel will present AT ETERNITY’S GATE a drama attempting to get inside the head of Vincent Van Gogh. Not to mention Laszlo Nemes’ Budapest WW1 drama NAPSZÁLLTA, a much awaited second feature and follow up to his Oscar winning Son of Saul.

The out of competition selection is equally exciting and thematically rich. There is Bradley Cooper’s directing debut A STAR IS BORN (left), Charles Manson-themed CHARLIE SAYS from Mary Herron; Amos Gitai’s A TRAMWAY IN JERUSALEM, and Zhang Yimou’s YING (SHADOW). And those whose enjoyed S Craig Zahler’s dynamite Brawl in Cell Block 99 will be pleased to hear that his DRAGGED ACROSS CONCRETE adds Mel Gibson to the previous cast of Jennifer Carpenter and Vince Vaughn. There will be an historic epic set in the time of the French Revolution: UN PEUPLE ET SON ROI features Gaspart Ulliel and Denis Lavant (who also stars in Rick Alverson’s Golden Lion hopeful THE MOUNTAIN) , and Amir Naderi’s MAGIC LANTERN which has the wonderful English talents of Jacqueline Bisset. And talking of England, Mike Leigh’s much gloated over historical epic PETERLOO finally makes it to the competition line-up

Documentary-wise there’s plenty to enjoy: Amos Gitai’s brief but timely A LETTER TO A FRIEND IN GAZA; Francesco Patierno’s CAMORRA which explores the infamous Italian organisation; Frederick Wiseman this time plunders Monrovia, Indiana for his source material; multi-award winning Russian documentarian Viktor Kossalkovsky will present his latest water-themed work AQUARELA; Ukrainian Sergei Loznitsa’s film for this year’s festival is PROCESS (he’s the Ukrainian answer to Michael Winterbottom in terms of his prodigious output) this time focusing on the myriad lies surrounding Stalinism.

Out of Competition there are also blasts from the past including a hitherto unseen drama directed and co-written by Orson Welles and his pal Oja Kodar, starring Peter Bogdanovich and John Huston; and Bosnian director Emir Kusturica is back after his rocky time On The Milky Road with EL PEPE, UNA VIDA SUPREMA. 

And Malaysian auteur Tsai Ming-liang also makes a welcome return to Venice with his drama YOUR FACE. A multi-award winning talent on the Lido, his 2013 Stray Dogs won the Special Grand Jury Prize and Vive l’Amour roared away with the Golden Lion in 1994 (jointly with Milcho Manchevski’s Pred dozhdot).

Venice has a been a pioneer of 3D and VR since the screening of GRAVITY which opened the festival in 2013 amid much mal-functioning of 3D glasses at the press screening, and this year’s VR features include an excerpt from David Whelan’s 1943: BERLIN BLITZ which will be released ithis Autumn. This VR showcase experience is an accurate retelling of the events which happened inside a Lancaster bomber during one of the most well documented missions of World War II using original cockpit audio recorded 75 years ago. The endeavour is expected to be released on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Oculus Go, Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR and Windows Mixed Reality platforms. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 28 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2018 

 

 

 

Racer and the Jailbird (2017)

Dir: Michael R Roskam | Cast: Matthias Schoenaerts, Adele Exarcholpoulos | Belgium | Crime Drama | 130′

Best known for his glowering Flemish thriller Bullhead, Michael Roskam is back again for the forth time with Belgian heavyweight Matthias Shoenhaerts who plays smalltime gangster Gigi in this classy high octane ‘amour noir’ thriller set on the race track.

The opening scenes introduce us to Gigi Vanoirbeek early days of danger where his father used to a fierce Alsatian to discipline him. Things have moved upmarket for Gino, who now operates in the luxury car market where he falls for young racing driver Bibi Delhany (Adèle Exarchopoulos). Their sexual chemistry is incendiary and love is spurred on by their risk-taking personalities, despite their wildly different backgrounds.

This is a stylishly fluid piece of kit and wonderful to watch as Roskam and his stars hold our attention and the action-packed hour that sparks on all cylinders fired up by the fizzing fervour of the pair’s glamorous lifestyle. But then Roskam makes an abrupt left turn, just as he did in Bullhead, and the adrenaline runs out as plot lines blur and the vehicle gradually trundles off the tracks.  This is no fault of Schoenhaerts whose mesmerising physical presence is matched by Exarchopoulos cutsy charm both in and out of bed they are a perfect couple but the script can’t sustain 130 minutes of their lust as the romance peters out with his sociopathic lies about ‘business travel’ to cover his back, and her life-challenging down-spiral after smelling a rat. Clearly Gigi has a built-in factory default that limits his reliable shelf life but Bibi can’t let go until she starts to lose her own mind and friends come to the rescue.

As a story of doomed love this feels terrifically convincing but Roskam doesn’t know how to call it a day and add fuel to his fire. That said, this is definitely one to watch with its firebrand finale courtesy of ace DoP Nicolas Karakatsanis. MT

Michaël R. Roskam was born in Flanders. He studied at the St. Lucas Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels and the Maurits Binger Film Institute in Amsterdam. His directorial credits include Bullhead (11), which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and The Drop (14), which played the Festival. Racer and the Jailbird (17) is his latest film.

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017 |

 

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda (2017) ****

Dir: Stephen Nomura Schible (US, Japan, 100’, Japanese/English s/t English/Italian)

Five years in the making, Stephen Nomura’s discreet yet impressively resonant portrait Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda brings us face to face with the Oscar-winning Japanese composer of synth-pop and electronica at a time where he was being treated for cancer and was writing Async his first album in eight years.

The documentary follows Sakamoto as he survives this near death experience and we first meet him in his homeland tinkling the ivories of a Yamaha baby grand piano that has also lived through trauma in the shape of the 2011 tsunami. Showing his deep humanity and social engagement as an artist, Sakamoto rocks a protective jacket as he boldly explores the restricted contamination zone of the Fukishima nuclear disaster demonstrating his allegiance to those who have suffered by joining a protest at the Japanese prime minister’s Tokyo residence. In further honour of these tragedies he later performs with elegant finesse the theme tune from Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence dedicating this soigné arrangement to the victims. To say Sakamoto is a poster boy for such calamities as the 9/11 attacks, Iraq war and climate change would be trite and kack-handed but these concerns have certainly inspired his work for a quarter of a century and his calm demeanour and contemplative nature do seem apposite qualities in a creative genius who, at 65, has certainly lived through troubled times. With his mop of silver hair and striking gracefulness he is an appealing performer who is at pains to dress stylishly and eat healthily, attributes that compliment his work, and his candidness in talking about his creative process marks him out as a man of integrity and great intelligence.

Nomura Schible keeps his film sleek and yet reasonably loose in structure without resorting to talking heads or periphera – this is a snapshot of a point in time. There are also excerpts from Sakamoto’s Oscar-winning work on film scores for Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor and The Sheltering Sky; together with Alejandro G. Inarritu’s The Revenant, and archive footage of the master conducting the relevant film pieces. These dovetail into scenes in his domestic milieu where he is pictured composing on the computer and playing his piano, a Steinway (naturellement). MT

NOW OUT ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 29 JUNE 2018 | VENICE REVIEW 2017

 

This is Congo (2017) ***

Dir: Daniel McCabe | Doc | 91′ | Congo

Magnificent landscapes give way to mass murder and mayhem in This Is Congo, Daniel McCabe’s cinematic documentary that follows several of his compatriots surviving twenty years of conflict in this war-torn nation. Congo’s leaders have chosen war in place of an intelligent way of harnessing the country’s abundant mineral wealth, and ensuring peace and prosperity for its people.

Most of us have never been to this lush mid-African country three times the size of Texas. Fertile soil encourages agriculture and provides a rich cocoa-dusting for the country’s ample mineral reserves of tourmaline, manganese, copper, bauxite and gold.

McCabe knows from experience that filming will be dangerous here and certainly gives a flavour of the perils in the opening scene where booming mortar fire sends tremors through our seats while onscreen the fleeing Congolese protect their kids and livestock  on the run.

Bordered by Rwanda and Uganda, The Democratic Republic of Congo sounds like a country of the free and enabled. It is quite the opposite: a place divided by macho rebel forces, such as the M23, who compete with rival militia groups while the government-led forces continually strive to keep control and calm the masses under the auspices of Colonel Mamadou Ndala who eventually loses his battle – in the surprising final scenes – not to the enemy but to his jealous officers threatened by his energy and charisma.

Voiced by the melodic tones of Isaach de Bankole), the real heroes of the Congo are not the generals and fighters but the enterprising civilians: voluptuous business woman Mama Romance who trades precious gems in the main port of Goma and tailor Hakiza Nyantaba who traipses from village to village with his trusty Singer sewing machine. With great sensitivity and dispassion, McCabe shows us a nation surviving against the odds, its people forced into a peripatetic mode of existence, cheerful and philosophical despite their trial and tribulations. MT

THIS IS CONGO | IN CINEMAS | ON DEMAND FROM 25 MAY 2018 | DOGWOOF

 

 

Zama (2017) Bfi Player

Dir: Lucrecia Martel | Argentina, Brazil / 115’ | cast: Daniel Giménez Cacho, Lola Dueñas, Matheus Nachtergaele, Juan Minujín

Argentinian auteuse Lucrecia Martel (The Headless Woman) makes a welcome return with a subtle and sumptuously beguiling fantasy peepshow where one man’s mind unravels in mysterious 18th century South America.

Tired of waiting for the King to transfer him to his wife in Buenos Aires, a Creole officer of the Spanish Crown embarks on a perilous bid to return to his family while around him his fellow officers scheme and disemble. Based on an adaptation of Antonio Di Benedetto’s 1956 Latin American classic, this cinematic soupçon offers creative insight into Spanish colonial history through its central character Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) who slowly loses his grip on reality and descends into paranoia in a remote and savage outpost somewhere in Paraguay.

Sensually deprived and desperate for home, Zama falls prey to the South American sirens including Lola Duenas’s lacivious noblewoman, and a local Indian with whom he fathers a crippled child. Martel seduces with her gorgeously costumed cavalcade as we strain to make out the enigmatic storyline through a closeted and voyeuristic lens amid exotic birdsong and strange beasts including a volatile pet llama. Beyond the invidious perils of the settlement lies a land of savagery populated by dangerous masked tribes and a wild Portuguese warrior named Vicuna, whom Zuma is tasked with capturing in a perilous final attempt at a glorious transfer back to civilisation in Spain.

Drawing comparisons with other recent films from South America such as Jauja (Lisandro Alonso) and Embrace of the Serpent (Ciro Guerra). ZAMA is an extraordinary historical adaptation. Gleaming like Pandora’s Box and striking like a cobra, Martel offers a dizzyling distallation of the dying days of Don Diego de Zama. MT

ON BFI PLAYER

Lean on Pete (2017)***

Dir: Andrew Haigh | Great Britain / 121’ | Cast: Charlie Plummer, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny

Andrew Haigh (Weekend, 45 Years) directs Steve Buscemi and Chloë Sevigny in a rather uneven rites of passage Pacific western about a boy who bonds with an old racehorse, and based on the novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin.

This is a film to be seen for its captivating performances rather than its meandering narrative that abandons the central soulmates (fifteen year old Charlie and his horse Lean on Pete) midday through to explore how the teen resorts to petty crime in order to survive as an orphan. We first meet him living alone with his sweary Dad Ray (Fimmel) in Portland,Oregon; Ray loves his sensitive son, but is too selfish to care for him since his mother left town due to Ray’s philandering. So when a vengeful husband kills Ray, Charlie is left alone and desperate to find his aunt Margy, who fell out with Ray, for obvious reasons. Teaming up with the disreputable horse trainer Del (Buscemi in fine fettle), the two are soon joined by jockey Bonnie (Sevigny), leaving Charlie in the cold again, when Bonnie takes over Del’s attention. So Charlie sets off on a mission to save the ageing racehorse, Lean on Pete, who is bound for Mexico – an euphemistic term for the slaughter house. Their soulful journey across the luminous desert landscape is painful for both, and ends in tragedy, leaving Charlie on an elusive quest for aunt Margy in Laramie, Wyoming.

LEAN ON PETE is a lightly-plotted family film, apart from the animal tragedy. Magnus Nordenhof Jonck’s stunning images make up for an unsatisfying storyline that starts full of promise then Peters out, limping aimlessly for two full hours. Haigh tries to see the good in everyone, often stepping over the line to out-and-out sentimentality, but his central character does not deliver. Professionally produced and well-acted, particularly by Plummer, who won the De Laurentis Prize in Venice for Best Newcomer Actor, LEAN ON PETE is not only lean of plot; but all the social realist rough edges are polished too: Charlie keeps a stiff upper lip and takes it on the chin, but somehow his soul takes a short cut into rocky terrain rather than finding redemption in pastures new. Some critics called it “a modern Huckleberry Finn” – but that would be insulting to Mark Twain.

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE from 27 APRIL 2018

The Leisure Seeker (2017) ***


Dir: PAOLO VIRZÌ | Drama Italy / 112’ |cast: Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland

Paolo Virzi’s drama is based on the novel by Michael Zadoorian and stars Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland in a timely tale about an elderly couple looking for one last hurrah on a bittersweet final road trip that gives full throttle to Dylan Thomas’ redolent words: “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Those on their last legs will heartily appreciate the sentiment  embodied and expressed here with feeling by Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren, who share a palpable onscreen chemistry as the amiable pair embarking on their odyssey with the full knowledge that this is likely to be their last together, and is fraught with ups and downs, and memories both good and bad.

The English-language debut of Italian director Paolo Virzì (Like Crazy), The Leisure Seeker sees Ella (Mirren) dying of cancer and John (Sutherland) stumbling on the foothills of Alzheimer’s disease. Neither is remotely interested in quietly fading away in a nursing home or hospice, at least not until they are forced to. So they hit the road in their vintage car on a trip from Boston to Florida with John behind the wheel. This is a tribute to a life lived to the fullest by people who have are cognisant of their plight; it is never maudling or downbeat but admits the inevitable with grace and good humour. The film also offers up an eventful travelogue of this part of America, brimming with insight into how the world has changed as they pass through the cities that have shaped and punctuated their time together. Keats put it rather well when he said: “Live life to the lees” – it’s a quote that acknowledges a life lived pleasurably and with gusto, and this is the feeling that permeates this entertaining tribute, offering a little taster of what’s come for all of us, and a timely reminder to make the most of it while we can. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE |

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | IN COMPETITION

 

Custody (2017) ****

Dir|Writer: Xavier Legrand | Denis Menochet, Lea Drucker, Thomas Gioria, Mathilde Auneveu | 93’

A broken marriage leads to a bitter custody battle in this intense family drama than won the coveted Best Director award at Venice for Xavier Legrand.

There have been some superb movies made about custody battles. This riveting drama from French actor-director Xavier Legrand is certainly among the best, braced by the filmmaker’s unerring authority and sense of what to do next, scene after scene, as the family at its centre splinters into chaos.

As Custody opens, Miriam and Antoine Besson have just divorced. Their young son, Julien, sits in family court reading out a letter denouncing his father. His sister, Josephine, having recently reached the age of majority, is not part of the dispute. Antoine is described as a violent monster, yet in court appears to be a model of calm reserve. Despite Miriam’s appeals for sole custody — also Julien’s preference — the judge gives the parents shared custody. And Antoine is not a two-dimensional beast. He tries to re-establish a relationship with a son who feels paralyzed by the competing emotional demands of his father and his mother, who will stop at nothing to remove both Julien and herself from her ex-husband’s life.

Custody is harrowing and complex, a domestic nightmare that unfolds to reveal an inventory of abuses both overt and subtle. Denis Ménochet and Léa Drucker are finely attuned to these demands as Antoine and Miriam, while Thomas Gioria inhabits the haunted Julien with heartwrenching naturalism. Legrand dissects the Bessons’ family dynamic coolly, with impressive restraint and intuition, yet still evokes profound sympathy for his protagonists. The result is mesmerizing.

Xavier Legrand is a French actor, writer, and director who received his training at the National Conservatory of Paris. His short film Just Before Losing Everything (13) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short. Custody (17) is his debut feature film.

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 APRIL 2018

 

The Third Murder (2017)

Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda | Thriller | Japan | 120′
Festival favourite Hirokazu Kore-eda (Still Walking, Nobody Knows) offers an engrossing murder mystery about a defence lawyer who believes that his client — a self-confessed killer — is the fall guy for a conspiracy. A lengthy crime procedural provides the backbone to this luminously filmed but alienating arthouse affair that asks the question: who is judging the judges?

The central character is the suave and convincing lawyer Shigemori (Fukuyama Masaharu/Like Father, Like Son) who is called to investigate the case of a man who has spent three decades in prison for a double murder and has subsequently confessed to killing his factory-owning boss and burning his body. We witness the murder in the opening scene, so clearly Misumi (Yakusho Koji) must be guilty; strangely, it is Shigemori’s father who handed him a life sentence, instead of the death penalty, but times have changed.

The problem is that Misumi keeps changing his story, making things difficult for
Shigemori, the son of a retired judge, who is forced to keep writing and re-writing his script in order to get the most plausible defence for the murderer. To make matters worse, his own personal life is fraught with problems: estranged from his daughter, who is caught for shop-lifting, he is also separated from his wife. As he gets to know Misumi over their constant meetings, it soon emerges that their behaviour is very similar, they appear to be one in the same person, on different sides of the law.

This is a subtle but thematically rich crime thriller, brilliant in concept but less so in execution, despite Takimoto Makiya’s stunning camerawork, and Ludovico Einaudi’s moody score. The fault, at least for non-Japanese speakimg audiences, is its dialogue-led narrative which keeps us glued to the subtitles while scanning up and down the screen in case we miss vital clues, making it heavy-going, despite its universal themes rippling out to provide endless food for thought. MT

Hirokazu Kore-eda was born in Tokyo, where he studied literature at Waseda University. He is a master dramatist whose features include Maborosi (95), After Life (98), Distance (01), Nobody Knows (04), Hana (06), Still Walking (08), Air Doll (09), I Wish (11), Like Father, Like Son (13), Our Little Sister (15), and After the Storm (16), all of which have played the Festival. The Third Murder (17) is his latest film.

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017

Battle of the Sexes (2017) | **** | Bfi Flare Film Festival

Dir: Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton | Writer: Simon Beaufoy | Cast: Steve Carell, Emma Stone | Sport Biopic
Emma Stone and Steve Carell star as sparkling adversaries in this colourful period recreation of the legendary 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King that made public her fight for equality in women’s tennis.

Battle of the Sexes engagingly captures the zeitgeist of the era focusing on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs which was a turning point in the politics of their game, flagging up a protest over the pay gap between men and women on the professional circuit. Scripted by Academy Award winner Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton (Little Miss Sunshine), Battle of the Sexes is a fitting tribute to that iconic moment.

Stone is impressive in the role of King who had decided to fund her own tour with Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) as her manager. Carell plays the suitably back-footed Riggs whose finances were depleted since his previous championship. His troubled emotional life also haunts his game and he misguidedly proffers a publicity stunt in the shape of a challenge involving a $100,000 winner-take-all match.

Beaufoy’s script cleverly contrasts the game’s blatant sexuality during a ‘pioneering era of sexual revolution’ with King’s extraordinary talent as a player – along with likes of other female champions of the time such as Yvonne Goolagong and Virginia Wade. MT

BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL 21 MARCH – 1 APRIL 2018 

 

My Generation (2017) ***

Dir: David Batty | Writers: Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais | Cast: Michael Caine, Joan Collins, Lulu, Paul McCartney, Twiggy, Roger Daltrey, Marianne Faithfull, Sandie Shaw, Mary Quant, Barbara Hulanicki | UK | Doc | 85′ |

As narrator and co-producer, Michael Caine turns the camera on himself for a filmic flip through the Swinging Sixties, showing how he and his talented contempories transformed Britain.

Assembled over two years, MY GENERATION is directed by David Batty, with scripters Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement ensuring an enjoyable ride through enjoyable archive footage showcasing Caine’s contempories: photographer trio: Terry Donovan, Duffy and David Bailey; fashion models such as Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and Joanna Lumley and musicians: Roger Daltrey, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger.

Caine, now 84, contemplates the factors that caused the loosening up in the postwar set-up citing The Pill and the advent of Grammar schools as primary factors for change, while Marianne Faithfull suggests it was all down to an improved diet. Whatever the case, they were all determined to have a good time and break down barriers, bringing in a more colourful era and putting London on the map as a beacon of youth culture, as everyone flocked to the capital. Caine, who rose from solid working class stock as Maurice Micklewhite, uses the film to attack posh middle class acting talent, ridiculing the likes of cult classics Brief Encounter (1946) and taking a swipe at  Norman Wisdom who he claims was not generous to work with despite his humble origins. Paul McCartney comes up with the chestnut, “suddenly people realised the working class wasn’t as thick as it looked and it had talent.” Chippy Britain at its best.

Caine goes on to suggest that the advent of drugs brought an end to the Swinging Sixties although stresses he only smoked marijuana once as it made him laugh for five hours so he couldn’t remember his lines. To his credit Caine avoids mawkish sentimentality: “I don’t feel nostalgia. I never look back. I feel extraordinarily lucky, not about my talent or anything, but about the timing,” MY GENERATION is an entertaining romp showing how these legendary characters made the Sixties happen and made their vast fortunes into the bargain.MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 14 MARCH 2017

Sweet Country (2017) ****

Dir: Warwick Thornton | Sam Neill, Bryan Brown | Drama | Australia | 101′

SWEET COUNTRY is a good-looking, strong and silent type of Aussie Western providing a scenic and enjoyable ride towards a rather predictable finale. Warwick Thornton cut his teeth as a cinematographer and it certainly shows in this follow up to his 2013 outing, The Darkside.

SWEET COUNTRY crackles with racial tension in a stark outback landscape full of macho white males and their well-meaning Aboriginal workers who inhabit three remote outposts near Alice Springs in the South. Sam Neill plays Fred Smith, a respectful Christian rancher who enjoys an easygoing relationship with his Aboriginal worker Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) and his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber). On a neighbouring ranch, we meet the churlish Mick Kennedy (Thomas M Wright) who despises his workforce amongst whom is his half Aboriginal son Philomac (twins Tremayne and Trevon Doolan take turns to play the role). But worst of all is the hateful Harry March (Ewen Leslie), who one day asks to borrow Smith’s workers for a cattle branding job.

Harry abuses both husband and wife and eventually tempers flare and Sam shoots him dead in self-defence. Suddenly we are transported to an unknown frontier town complete with saloon and makeshift cinema, where Bryan Brown’s grizzled police chief Fletcher is investigating the murder with his horseback soldiers. There appear to be three distinct types here in 19th Australia: the white population;  Sam and Lizzie who look civilised dressed in period garb, and diverse packs of native Aboriginals who frequently enter the picture killing one of Fletcher’s men, a guy called Minty, with a boomerang. A court procedural follows but Sam and Lizzie remain tight-lipped over the affair. What emerges is both clever and slightly predictable but culminates in the thrilling final denouement of this ravishing Australian thriller. MT

 Warwick Thornton was born in Alice Springs, Australia. He studied cinematography at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. He is the director of the short films Green Bush(05) and Nana (07), as well as the feature Samson and Delilah(09), which won the Camera d’Or at Cannes. Sweet Country (17) is his latest film.

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 9 MARCH 2018

The Shape of Water (2017) * * *

Dir: Guillermo del Toro | USA / 119’ | cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer

Last year’s Golden Lion for Best Film went to Guillermo del Toro for this utterly empty second-hand spectacle THE SHAPE OF WATER in a year where the jury and the programme largely lacked imagination (apart from Susanna Nicchiarelli’s NICO, 1988, who won the Orizzonti Award for her stunning biopic of the final years of the renowned model and musician Christa Pfaffen, played by a feisty Trine Dyrholm).

Del Toro’s very thin narrative of a mute woman falling in love with an amphibious creature, used by the CIA at the height of the Cold War, around 1962, is a total rip-off: it uses the main protagonists of Rachel Ingall’s 1986 novel MRS. CALIBAN, the creature itself is a replica of the titular CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (Jack Arnold, 1954), and the story is a compilation of countless cold war spy movies of the Eisenhower era, when the Red menace was infiltrating the USA. Clearly no money was spared on design and images, but del Toro’s feature might not have won without the help of Annette Bening, Hollywood actress and – first female – jury president.

In a US government laboratory, two workers (Sally Hawkins and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer) uncover an horrendous secret experiment that the lonely and single Elisa (Hawkins) finds strangely alluring. It involves an amphibious creature (played by Doug Jones) who is infiltrated into the installation and comes under threat by the agent in charge (Michael Shannon), who intends to do away with the beast once it serves its purpose. But Elisa falls strangely in love with the sea creature and puts her own life in danger in her bid to ensure its survival, aided and abetted by her colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer); her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), and kindly scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg in his second strong role of 2017).

Serving as a subtle social critique, there’s a great deal to enjoy in this fluid fantasy film enriched by Alexandre Desplat’s majestic score, but it is by no means the jewel in del Toro’s crown that includes  gems such as Cronos (1993), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Hellboy (04) and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), for which he received an Oscar nomination for screenwriting. AS

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 16 FEBRUARY 2018 | VENICE 2017 REVIEW

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2017)

Dir: MARTIN MCDONAGH | United Kingdom / 110’ | cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage

In Martin McDonagh’s latest pithy social satire a frustrated and grieving mother antagonises her local police force calling to attention the lack of progress in the search for her daughter’s killer.
Confrontation is the name of the game in this unforgiving black comedy set in the Southern United States. Conflict is rife, incendiary arguments erupt, nearly everyone resorts to violence, be it for political or personal reasons. Grudging forgiveness sometimes follows, but not necessarily as a matter of course. Frances McDormand paints the heroine Mildred as an unlovable tyrant, in the smalltime, small-mindedtown of Ebbing. A divorcee, she has lost her teenage daughter, who was raped and left to  die almost on her doorstep. After a month, the terminally ill sheriff (Harrelson) has not come up with any suspects and the trail has gone cold, so Mildred pushes her own agenda forward, renting three billboards with a strong message accusing the sheriff of incompetence. This is not a particularly sensitive move but it’s an effective one, sending the townsfolk into quiet meltdown against the mother of three. Meanwhile, the much-liked Willoughby is dying of cancer. But Mildred’s vendetta knows no bounds and she finally takes her complaint further, leaving DC Dixon (a strong comedy turn by Rockwell) with terrible injuries. Strangely enough, Dixon seems to learn his lesson and channels his energy into re-opening the case. Dixon and Mildred begin a friendship, but not on the lines the late sheriff would be approve of.
McDormand is brazenly brilliant as the hard-bitten Mildred who conveniently forgets that she argued with her daughter on that fateful last evening, jokingly wishing that she would be raped for not following her advice. Race, gender, anger and forgiveness are the are all in the mix in this toxic town where casual violence is par for the course.  The narrative is anger-driven rather than goal-oriented, and the fun is very much in the process rather than the solution: this is no whodunnit. THREE BILLBOARDS is very dark, shot through with brutal stabs of humour: DoP Ben Davis catches the mood with his stark, widescreen images. This is Trump country, and the Confederate Flag rules. God help America. AS

Martin McDonagh was born in London to Irish parents. He is a renowned playwright and filmmaker, and won an Academy Award for his debut short, Six Shooter (06). He subsequently directed In Bruges (08) and Seven Psychopaths (12), which played at the Festival and received the Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (17) is his latest feature.

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 12 JANUARY 2018

Suburbicon (2017)

Dir: George Clooney | Co-writers: Cast: Julianne Moore, Matt Damon, Oscar Isaac, Noah Jupe | Drama | US | 105′

Matt Damon and Julianne Moore star in this seductive but flawed satire that touches on social greed, marital dissatisfaction and insurance fraud. Directed by Clooney from a script by Joel and Ethan Coen, Suburbicon parades as a pastel and pristine 1950s family drama, but behind the scenes matters are going seriously awry in the moral compass of its squeaky clean citizens.

Gardner Lodge (Damon) is a family man who is clearly dissatisfied with his seemingly peaceful existence due to his desire for Margaret (Moore), his crippled wife’s live-in sister. Gardner and Margaret form a covert plan to stage a home invasion, collect the insurance money, and clear the decks of his wife (also played by Moore) and run away to Aruba. But the idea flounders due to the interference of Oscar Isaac’s shrewd loss adjuster – echoing TV detective  Columbo – and Gardner’s appealingly astute son (Noah Jupe).

This 1950s pastiche plays out in the style of a Noirish version of Mad Men that reveals a tawdry face racial hatred and marital disquiet behind the manicured gardens of this plastic paradise. Performances are pitch-perfect as the tale’s tone claws at the edges of unsettling paranoia. SUBURBICON is ultimately a suspenseful and highly entertaining film that throws its toys out of the pram in a misjudged melodramtic meltdown  in the final scenes.

George Clooney was born in Lexington, Kentucky. He is an Academy Award–winning actor, producer, writer, and director. His filmmaking credits include Good Night, and Good Luck (05), and the Festival selection The Ides of March (11). Suburbicon(17) is his latest film. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017 REVIEW

Angels Wear White (2017) Chinese Film Series 2021

Dir: Vivian Qu | Drama | China | 101′

Writer and director Vivian Qu was the producer of Black Coal, Thin Ice and rose to fame with her debut Trap Street. Her second feature is a low-key female-centred affair that deals with the complex web of corruption that emerges after two young girls are assaulted in a seaside town. This is a subtle and luminously delicate drama that leaves the details of the crime offscreen to deal with the psychological effects on the teenagers who are both underage, one of them only 12. Covering similar ground to Black Coal, ANGELS WEAR WHITE offers a bleak but affecting insight into the plight of women generally in modern China, not only from middle-class backgrounds but those who have escaped rural poverty and found themselves at odds with the criminal elements  in more prosperous areas.

Teenager Mia (Wen Qi) is a chambermaid in a resort town on the island province of Hainan. During her night shift on reception she checks in a man and two little girls, Wen (a tiny and delicately vulnerable Zhou Meijun) and Xin (Jiang Xinyue), who are staying in the room next to him. One of the girls has a blonde wig and orders drinks, but what happens next during the night is never revealed on camera, although it turns out later the girls have been abused, and undergo a hospital examination.

Clearly both teens are suffering from the strict ‘Tiger’ parenting and harsh discipline at school but they keep the trauma under wraps until Wen runs away from mother’s home and turns up at her estranged father’s in the middle of the night, sleeping on the beach when she can’t get in. Mia is scared of losing her job, so fails to give any evidence about why her older more sophisticated colleague Lily was bunking off with her boyfriend.

Police Inspector Wang (Li Mengnan) leads a cursory investigation where the girls gloss over the facts frightened to reveal the truth due to the shame they feel and how the consequences of their revelation might be viewed – not only by the authorities but also their own community and society as a whole. Mia is more streetwise, but the other two are really very naive compared to Western teens. A canny female lawyer (Shi Ke) probes further and gets a better grasp of Mia’s impossible plight.

Qu views her characters dispassionately, we cannot help feeling for them and the deplorable lives they lead, especially little Wen, who only looks about 9, but clearly understands more than she reveals in this dainty, pastel-hued portrait captured by Belgian cinematographer Benoit Dervaux. A subtle occasional score adds a haunting atmosphere to this impressive modern noir. MT

NOW SHOWING DURING THE CHINESE CINEMA SERIES AT SELECTED ONLINE SCREENS IN LONDON 2021  INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 

The Taste for Rice Flower | Mi Hua Zhi Wei (2017) | Pingyao Year Zero 2017

Director: Pengfei | writers: Pengfei, Ying Ze | Cast: Ying Ze, Ye Bule, Ye Men | China | Drama | 89′

Chinese filmmaker Pengfei’s Underground Fragrance was a delicately rendered story of love amongst the ruins of Beijing’s property boom, and won him the Fedeora award at Venice Film Festival 2015. His second feature explores love of a different kind: that of a Dai woman for her only daughter and her strongly felt ethnic heritage, in the Yunnan province of China, where the drama unfurls in magnificent pastoral landscapes and vibrant interiors of her small village.

Taste of Rice Flower brims with positive energy unlike its visually alluring but oppressed predecessor and takes a more pragmatic approach to its marginalised characters who are also caught in the cultural maelstrom of 21st century change. Pengfei gently ruminates on the lives of these ethnic minorities, and the result is enchanting. Many Eastern cultures have travelled to the West and the large cities in search of work, and although it’s normal for their young to be left at home with older members of the family, the naturally presents a challenge for both children and parents, and this is the focus of the narrative. Ying Ze – who co-wrote with Penfei – plays the mother (Ye Nan) whose city experience has left its sophisticated mark on her appearance and tastes, but she is now glad to be home. But village life is far from idyllic as the local women complain about dressing in costume for an cultural event and the children have all the latest gadgets and modern labels, not to mention a newfound sense of entitlement, as they try to bargain for favours with their elders.

Sadly Ye Nan’s daughter (Ye Bule) has gone the same way, although insecurity and latest resentment could be the reason for her bad behaviour and lack of parental guidance. When he school friend Xianglu (Ye Men), falls ill the elders try to cure the girl with their shamanistic rituals — eventually leads to tragedy.

Taste of Rice Flower is a simple parable but never drifts into melodrama or cliche. If offers Pengfei a chance to raise the profile of changing values emerging out of a clash in tradition and modern life. The humour is often subtle but effective, and Liao Pen-jung’s ravishing visuals find beauty in everyday life in a thoughtful and subtle insight into contemporary China. MT

SCREENING DURING PINGYAO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 28 October – 4 November 2017 

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Writer/Dir: S Craig Zahler | Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jennifer Carpenter, Tom Guiry, Don Johnson, Udo Kier, Fred Melamed | Thriller | US | 132′

Vince Vaughn plays a lean, mean, decent human being in S. Craig Zahler’s terrific BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99. infact its almost impossible to believe the integrity of the lead character Bradley Thomas who is forced to do what a man’s gotta do when his pregnant wife is kidnapped and threatened with death and the mutilation of her baby, in this tightly scripted vicious crime thriller that puts all Thomas’ problems down to the Mexican drug trade he’s involved in. With lines like: “Don’t call me a foreigner, the last time I looked the flag wasn’t coloured red, white and burrito”, this is a free-spirited affair that grabs you by the lapels with its straight-talking narrative and some of the best bare-fisted fighting scenes ever committed to celluloid. In fact the only criticism of BRAWL is the slighted bloated running time of over two hours, hardly a crime thanks to the fruity cast who keep us entertained throughout, with some awkward laughs at the unmitigated violence of it all. Vaughn is terrific as the guy who tries to salvage his ailing marriage by financing his future running drugs for a local gangster, but ends up in jail for defending his accomplices in a pick-up that goes wrong.

Best known for his Western Horror Bone Tomahawk, S. Craig Zahler packs genre tropes into a endlessly moving action thriller that continuously erupts with shocking violence. Vaughn’s Thomas is a solid mensch of a man whose stoicism and emotional intelligence is trounced only by his courage and physical prowess. After being made redundant he pulverises his wife’s car into the driveway, rather than take his anger out of her, despite her confessing to an affair, which the two resolve in calm dialogue each admitting their faults. After being convicted and set to the ‘FRJ’ prison, Thomas resolves to tough it out with his wife’s support, but a sinister threat from the beautifully-besuited Udo Kier,  sends Thomas into slowly unravelling meltdown. At this juncture, the film turns from a sober crime drama to something outlandishly deranged.  There are memorable vignettes from suave prison warder Don Johnson, snippy guard, Fred Melamed and a seething Mustafa Shakir. The dialogue is witty and sardonic as the body count rises and the nightmare reaches its astonishing denouement, with our hero setting a new benchmark for the all time action hero and 21st century man. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 20 OCTOBER 2017

Hunting Season (2017) | San Sebastian Film Festival 2017

Dir/Writer: Natalia Garagiola. Argentina/USA/France/Germany/Qatar | 105′ | Drama 

Natalia Garagiol’s feature debut is an evocative and nuanced take of alienation that makes good use of its stunning locations in windswept Patagonia to tell a well-drawn and convincingly performed story of family discord in Argentina.

In the opening scenes teenager Nahuel (Lautaro Bettoni) is expelled from his Buenos Aires boarding School after a tiff on the games field and is shipped off by his affable stepfather Bautista (Boy Olmi) to spend some time with his distant father Ernesto in a wintery Patagonia. Here father and son keep continue to keep their distance in the new family set-up consisting of wife Clara (Rita Pauls) and three young step-sisters.

Game ranger Ernesto takes Nahuel hunting with him and teaches him how to use a gun in the hope of bonding after their difficulties and gradually the two become less frosty towards one another to despite a distinct verbal froideur in this story telegraphed by its often menacing atmosphere – mostly over the dinner table – in body language rather than meaningful dialogue. In flashbacks it emerges that the rift between the men seems to have developed after the loss of Nahuel’s mother but all this plays out in the final scenes via a video on his mobile and a roadside contretemps with his dad.

Fernando Lockett’s blue-tinged images often picture Nahuel as a distant and disengaged character who is ruminative, morose and miserable in common with the icy landscapes surrounding him. The only solace appears to be from Bautista, although it’s unclear why Nahuel can’t stay with him, rather with his hostile father, who seems to hold some grudge against him as the pair eventually thrash it out with some success. With appeal for young audiences as well as the arthouse crowd, TEMPORADA DE CAZA is a sure-footed first feature for Garagiola and a deserving winner of the SIC Award at this year’s Mostra. MT

NOW SCREENING AT SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL
CRITICS’ WEEK WINNER VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 30 AUGUST – 9 SEPT 2017
https://youtu.be/25DljJromt0

Venice Film Festival 2017 | Awards

COPYCATS AND THE LACK OF ANYTHING RADICAL

nico-1988Yesterday the 74. Mostra de Arte Cinematografica in Venice came to an end with a prize giving that symbolised the whole festival in many ways. The Golden Lion for best film went to Guillermo del Toro for his utterly empty second-hand spectacle THE SHAPE OF WATER. Anything really radical was mostly ignored not only by the juries, but in the programme in nearly all the sections. At least the Orizzonti Award was won by Susanna Nicchiarelli’s NICO, 1988, a stunning biopic of the final years of the renowned model and musician Christa Pfaffen, played by a feisty Trine Dyrholm.

Del Toro’s very thin narrative of a mute woman falling in love with an amphibious creature, used by the CIA in the Cold War of the 1950s, is a total rip-off: it uses the main protagonists of Rachel Ingall’s 1986 novel MRS. CALIBAN, the creature itself is a replica of the titular CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (Jack Arnold, 1954), and the story is a compilation of countless cold war spy movies of the Eisenhower era, when the Red menace was infiltrating the USA. Whilst no money was spared for design and images, del Toro’s feature might not have won without the help of Annette Bening, Hollywood actress and – first female – jury president. And talking of Jack Arnold (1912-1992), his INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) was re-made by Alexander Payne in DOWNSIZING (Competition). The Hollywood veteran had also a hand in one of the Wonder Woman TV-series of 1977.

_0000_insult_01The rest of the awards were given to worthy contenders such as Samuel Maoz for his critical view of war torn Israel in the shape of FOXTROT  (Grand Jury Prize), or simply politically correct features like SWEET COUNTRY by Warwick Thornton (Jury Prize) and Xavier Legrand with his JUSQU’A LA GARDE/CUSTODY (Best Director). Really dark portraits of the USA, like Paul Schrader’s FIRST REFORMED, were ignored, or got a minor nod for best screenplay like the brilliant THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri (THE INSULT) was equally treated, his main actor Kamel El Basha got the award for Best Actor, but the provocative feature about Palestinians living in Lebanon, went unrewarded.

zamaThe only feature worth the Venice journey was hidden in the Out of Competition section: Lucretia Martel’s ZAMA. Her story of a Spanish officer on duty in South America, who yearns for a return to his homeland but is repeatedly thwarted, is an intense study of a man losing his mind, identity and finally part of his body. This arthouse treasure is both utterly frightening and glorious to look at: Martel takes her time introducing the protagonists, before plunging head first into the demise of her hero. Why Zama was not part of the competition, is one of the many questions many asked of Venice director Alberto Barbera, but got a dusty answer in return.

l-utopie-des-images-de-la-revolution-russeOften one had to go to the Retrospective Classics, to find solace: Claude Chabrol’s rarely shown L’OEIL DU MALIN (with a very young Stephane Audran) was a discovery, Ozu’s THE FLAVOUR OF GREEN TEA OVER RICE was towering, and Emmanuel Hamon’s L’UTOPIE DES IMAGES showed the destruction of Soviet cinema at the hands of Stalinist bureaucrats. The Lion’s share of these nineteen features and nine documentaries in the Retrospective Section offered more infinitely more satisfaction than stoically working your way through the anodyne contemporary offerings.

wormwoodIronically, the only other film that stands out besides ZAMA is Errol Morris six-part Netflix series WORMWOOD, a docu-drama about the murder of an US scientist by the CIA, who participated in the biological warfare of his nation in the Korean war, and wanted to blow the whistle. A number of quality films did feature in the Awards: Sara Forestier’s debut M (Giornate degli Autori) where a stuttering girl and her illiterate boyfriend help each other to overcome their difficulties; and Alireza Khatami’s OBLIVION VERSES (ORIZZONTI), a poetic feature about death and perception. But that is not enough to compensate for all the mediocre or downright awful features littering this 74th edition of the Mostra, the standout here being Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER! another pale imitation – this time aping Rosemary’s Baby. We will hope for better things. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 30 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2017

LEONE D’ORO – THE SHAPE OF WATER

LEONE D’ARGENTO – FOXTROT

BEST SCREENPLAY – THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

BEST ACTRESS – Charlotte Rampling, HANNAH

BEST ACTOR – Karmel El Basha, MEKTOUB, MY LOVE: CANTO UNO

BEST DIRECTOR – Xavier Legrand, CUSTODY

JURY PRIZE – SWEET COUNTRY

BEST EMERGING ACTOR – Charlie Plummer, LEAN ON PETE

Mother! (2017)

Dir/Writer: Darron Aronofsky | Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Domhnall Gleeson | 120′ | DRAMA

Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer star in Darren Aronofsky’s highly anticipated psychological thriller about a couple threatened by the arrival of uninvited guests. MOTHER! is best described as a melodrama that portrays the existential angst of a young woman as she tries to build a home and tend to the obsessively humourless needs her ego-driven writer/husband in their precious early days of their marriage. Beset by anxiety about getting pregnant and pleasing her partner (Javier Bardem) in bed, she runs herself into the ground pandering to his quirky demands which become increasingly unbearable when he invites a dying and neurotic man – and gradually – his extended family into their home who they rapidly outstay their welcome with their own demands in this nightmarish scenario.
This, in a nutshell, is the plot – which sounds bad enough – but the execution is even more inbearable for both Jennifer’s Lawrence’s character, simply called ‘the mother’, and the rest of us. MOTHER! spews out from Lawrence’s POV like a free-flowing torrent of endless sewerage effluent: we are forced to endure her partner/husband Javier Bardem’s petulant posturing, then those of his guest in the shape of Ed Harris’ surgeon, who spends his time smoking, vomiting and talking about his terminal illness, and is soon joined by his snippy wife Michelle Pfeiffer who adds to the mother’s general feelings of unease with her patronising comments and bitchy jibes. Soon more characters join the fray. DP Matthew Libatique’s camera is like a voyeur scanning proceedings from above, and prowling the rooms where bloody stains (putatively representing an aborted foetus) seem to seep from every crack and cranny, with repetitive views into the lavatory basin. Mother! Lacks the rich texture and arthouse credentials of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby but it feels similar in tone, although more irritating than anxiety-provoking. Entertaining it is not, but it loosely does the job of conveying discomfort: thus achieving its goal of inducing general misery to Lawrence’s character and the audience. It’s a toxic and offensive film to watch, which will no doubt please the horror crowd. So do go and be irritated- you have been warned. MT
Darren Aronofsky was born in Brooklyn and studied live-action and animated film at Harvard. His feature films include Pi (98) and Noah (14), and the Festival selections Requiem for a Dream(00), The Fountain (06), The Wrestler (08), and Black Swan (10). mother! (17) is his latest film.
REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 15 SEPTEMBER 2017

Strange Colours (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir: Alena Lodkina | Cast: Kate Chile, Justin Cortin, Daniel P Jones | Australia | Drama | 85′

Another film from Australia had its debut in the Biennale College sidebar selection where budding filmmakers have a chance to shine away from the main competition. STRANGE COLOURS is beautifully captured mood piece directed by Alena Lodkina who co-scripts with Isaac Wall in this unsettling tale of a young woman returning to see her hospitalised father Max in the remote opal-mining outback of Lighting Ridge, near Alice Springs.

Milena (Kate Cheel) arrives in the hostile terrain after a day-long journey to get short shrift from her cantankerous dad (Daniel P Jones) who merely comments: “you’re not bouncing around like a tennis ball, are ya?”. This is macho man territory and the terse locals see her for her feminine charms rather than personal attributes, a dishevelled older man invites her to a party to meet other drifters: “Even if you’re broke, you can live here”. But she declines and gets an early night in her father’s ramshackle pad. The following morning reveals this as a backwater for single male bottomfeeders, who drink and chat to pass the days. But one of them, in the shape of mine-worker Frank (Justin Courtin), seems more intriguing, leading to the enigmatic second act of this well-paced feature debut.

There’s a cinéma vérite quality to STRANGE COLOURS which indicates Lodkina’s documentary background in a style that associates well with the local flora and fauna of the region adding textural richness to this rather mournful, elusive narrative. There’s gorgeous sequence that shows the glowing irridescent quality of the opals and brings an otherworldliness to the feature that is heightened by Mikey Young’s  eerie occasional score.

Suddenly the pace seems to quicken as Milena pursues Frank across the bleached out landscape and the two end up sharing a night together, but Milena promptly decides to leave the following day, a decision that feels prescient considering the facts that slowly emerge. This is a seductive and weirdly beguiling feature that tells the tale of lost souls and those waiting to be found in a distant country forsaken by time. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 30 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2017

Tueurs | Killers (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir: FRANÇOIS TROUKENS, JEAN-FRANÇOIS HENSGENS  | Belgium, France / 86’ |cast: Olivier Gourmet, Lubna Azabal, Kevin Janssens, Bouli Lanners

The first feature by a notorious 1990s ex-gangster turned director ABOVE THE LAW (Tueurs) is a high-octane, on the boil Belgian crime thriller that follows a hard-edged armed gangster who, in predictable style, has just completed his final heist. As the ideal suspects, Valken and his gang find themselves caught up in a criminal case dating from thirty years earlier. It looks as if the outlaws are back.

The chilling opening scenes remind us of the notorious ‘Brabant Killers’ who remained at large evading the authorities; archive footage showing how they gunned down 28 innocent bystanders in a series of town centre raids in the early 1980s. This glossy noir then takes shape 30 years later with another crime involving an explosion in the underground carpark in contemporary Brussels, where all witnesses are subsequently eliminated including the investigating inspector Veronique Perotte (Natacha Régnier). The narrative then flips back to the weeks preceding the murders where Olivier Gourmet’s Frank Valken and his gang prepare for the heist.

But the police and security forces have finally got their act together, headed by Bouli Lanners’ Dany Bouvy and astute detective Lucie Tesla (Lubna Azbal). As crime thrillers go, this is run of mill stuff but terrifically well-crafted and expertly performed in its slick Belgian settings that showcase the city’s underbelly and aerial views rather than it’s more refined venues. Clément Dumoulin’s throbbing occasional score keeps the action turning over in the breathless action sequences. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 30 AUGUST – 9 SETPEMBER 2017 .

Oblivion Verses | Los Versos del Olvido (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir: Alireza Khatami | Doc | Iran | 89′

Alireza Khatami’s intriguingly elusive debut feature draws you into its kafkaesque scenario where poetic realism coalesces with cinema verite elements and docu-drama to tell a tale set in a rural mortuary in the distant aftermath of murderous regimes, although the South American country of its setting isn’t named.

Juan Margallo plays the establishment’s wizened 24-hour caretaker and he seems to know a great deal more about his defunct and unclaimed residents than we initially imagine. He looks on laconically as one man arrives and weeps pitifully over a recent corpse in the morgue’s vast basement. We also meet a gravedigger (Tomas del Estal) and hearse driver (Maunel Moron)  who perform their tasks with quiet resignation when some putative assassins turn up with bodies from a recent debacle in the local town.

The narrative remains evasive in this mood piece, but there is a great deal to admire in DoP Antoine Heberle’s fizzingly vibrant images that capture the daily doings in the morgue and the fascinating characters that inhabit it and flesh out the backstories of their lives and how they met their grim fates. Haunting and arcane, this is a film that seduces you with its macabre charm and leaves you speculating and scheming for hours after the credits have rolled. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | 30 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2017

Nico, 1988 (2017) | Venice Film Festival

Writer/Dir: Susanna Nicchiarelli | Cast: Trine Dyrholm, John Gordon Sinclair | Biopic drama | 93′ | Italia, Belgium

Danish singer and actress Trine Dyrholm holds centre stage as the maverick ’70s icon Nico in this stylishly cinematic third feature from Roman director Susanna Nicchiarelli.

NICO, 1988 focuses on the final years of the Berlin-born Christa Pfaffen who died in 1988, aged 49, having enjoyed a full life as mother to Alain Delon’s son, lover to Jim Morrison and muse to Andy Warhol – while also writing vocals for legendary band Velvet Underground.

Resenting the ’80s, Nico emerges a single-minded sullen misanthrope who takes no hostages amongst her associates or band-members while exuding a vulnerable charisma: “I’ve been at the top and the bottom – both places are empty”. Her final lasting love is for her son, a playfully convincing Sandor Funtek (Blue is the Warmest Colour). John Gordon Sinclair gives a dour turn as her manager but Dyrholm dominates in an astonishingly powerful performance.

Even if you’re not a fan, this enterprising part-imagined drama has pleasurably Noirish undertones sashaying through live sessions based on Nico’s last European tour: Paris, Prague, Nuremberg and even Manchester look tantalising through Crystel Fournier’s vibrant lensing as each perfectly composed frame resonates with Nico’s born-again soul. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 30 August – 9 September 2017 | ORIZZONTI AWARD

 

Victoria & Abdul (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir: Stephen Frears | Cast: Judi Dench, Adeel Akhtar, Michael Gambon, Olivia Williams, Simon Callow, Eddie Izzard | UK | Drama | 112′

Queen Victoria had an eye for a good-looking man and clearly missed love and sex after her beloved husband Albert died. In his latest racially-themed, glossily-mounted costume drama Stephen Frears makes hay of the final years of Victoria’s reign (from 1887-1901) with this elegantly saucy snapshot of her last dalliance, purely purely based on friendship and companionship, between the Queen and an Indian clerk, Abdul Karim, sent from Agra to deliver a gold medal in recognition of her Golden Jubilee.

Judy Dench plays Victoria and we really feel for her when she tearfully expresses her feelings of abject loneliness, isolation and responsibility as longest-standing British Monarch and Empress of India: “everyone I loved has died, and I just go on”. Ali Fazal steps fills the void as a convincing Karim who goes on to become her teacher, spiritual adviser and devoted friend. Lee Hall’s witty and engaging script trips lightly over the casual racism of the era contrasting the bitter rivalry and infighting of her courtiers and fey son Bertie with the fair and liberal-minded attitude of Queen Victoria herself in this enjoyable and sumptuously-crafted royal romp. MT

Stephen Frears was born in Leicester, England, and studied law at Cambridge University. His films Sammy and Rosie Get Laid(87), Tamara Drewe (10), and The Program (15) all screened at the Festival, as did his Academy Award–nominated features My Beautiful Laundrette (85), The Grifters (90), Dirty Pretty Things(02), Mrs. Henderson Presents (05), and Philomena (13). His other films include Dangerous Liaisons (88), The Hi-Lo Country(98), High Fidelity (00), and The Queen (06). Victoria & Abdul(17) is his latest film.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | OUT OF COMPETITION

 

La Vita in Comune (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir: Edoardo Winspeare | Italy / 110’ |cast: Gustavo Caputo, Antonio Carluccio, Claudio Giangreco, Celeste Casciaro

A cultured mayor, a semi-retired gangland boss and a troubled teen are three of the convincing characters in Edoardo Winspeare’s tender-hearted but rambling comedy drama that doesn’t know how to end. LA VITA IN COMUNE is set in the picturesque Puglian seaside town of Disperata that, contrary to its name, is a place that hasn’t been completely abandoned by God’s salvation, as we discover in this lyrical look at life after crisis.

Thoughtfully played by its cast of mainly newcomers LA VITA IN COMUNE is a  humorous tale whose tender-hearted warmth comed from the lasting hope that literature, nature and animals can provide the power of healing for the human soul. Mayor Filippo Pisanelli (Gustavo Caputo) feels inadequate in his job of leading his depressed village towards the light, compensating with voluntary work while instilling an appreciation of poetry in the lost and lonely souls of recently released criminal Pati and his teenage son Biagetto, and ex-gangster brother Angiolino. Gradually these disenchanted men find their way back through his perseverance, and their belief in God.

The film opens as Pati Runza (Claudio Giangreco) is robbing a local petrol station killing a dog that attacked him and his brother in the process. He is taken to prison, while his brother Angiolino (Antonio Carluccio) gives Biagetto some toughening up lessons, including how to use a gun. There is also another man, who is central in all the action: the mayor Filippo Pisanelli (Gustavo Caputo). After being released, Pati is deeply affected by killing the dog and starts to dream that the animal has been sanctified in Heaven. Convinced that he has been touched by the hand of God through the dog’s death, he tries to become a better man, but Angiolino is not keen on the whole idea as he needs Pati’s help with another planned robbery. So Pati appeals to Pope Francis for support, and, low and behold, The Pope gives Angiolino a call, or so we are led to believe. Meanwhile, Pati’s estranged wife, Eufemia (Celeste Casciaro), enters the fray in a desperate attempt to knock some sense and normality into the menfollk.

Delicately captured in the rolling seascapes of Southern Italy’s stiletto, Winspeare shows the soft underside of a region normally protrayed with brutality and violence. Although the narrative drifts rather in the final stages there is much to be enjoyed in this often tougue in cheek ant-mafiosi drama.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 30 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2017

 

West of Sunshine (2017) | East End Film Festival 2018

Dir: Jason Raftopoulos | Australia / 78’ | cast: Damian Hill, Ty Perham, Kat Stewart, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Arthur Angel

Jason Raftopoulos’ well-meaning but flawed father-son portrait has plenty of twists, but still panders too much to the notorious Australian male ego . It follows a dad with less than a day left to repay a debt while also bonding with his offspring. Low on the tension needed to fuel the countdown narrative West of Sunshine is a metaphor for a life where hope and the future reside under sunnier skies.

Set in a the back end of Melbourne the action takes place between morning and evening, and Raftopoulos loses no time in introducing the two main characters: father Jimmy (Hill) who is running late collecting his teenage son Alex (Perham) from his estranged wife’s house in a middle class suburb. Jimmy is a compulsive gambler working as a courier, and even his best friend Steve (Angel) is running out of patience with him. The clocks ticks by as he first upsets his on-and-off girlfriend, then starts peddling drugs for Mel (Stewart), another ex. In between, he makes a big win on the horses, but schematically gambles it all away. Everything happens more or less in front of Alex, who is told that Dad is “selling vitamins” – before he finds out the truth, tasting some of the coke. Down on his uppers, Jimmy then leaves his vintage car with his debtor, having been beaten up by two heavies. No surprises in store here.

Raftopoulos pulls off the action scenes with a certain aplomb, but when he turns his camera to the emotional father and son scenes the drama turns soggy and kitsch with the use of slow-motion and sunsets. When asked by his mother how his day with Dad went, Alex answers “the best day ever”. Really? AS

SCREENING DURING EAST END FILM FESTIVAL 2018| 19 April 2018

Endangered Species |ESPÈCES MENACÉES (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

 Dir: Gilles Bourdos | France, Belgium / 105’ | cast: Alice Isaaz, Vincent Rottiers, Grégory Gadebois, Suzanne Clément

Gilles Bourdos’ interlocking trio of stories from American writer Richard Bausch is strangely unengaging despite the colourful antics of its central character Josephine, gamely played here by Alice Isaaz.

After his sumptuous but flaccid biopic drama Renoir French director Gilles Bourdos travels to the Riviera for his latest offering, the vividly shot but narratively over-ambitious and uneven Endangered (Doomed) Species where Josephine is variously beset by difficult characters in her life: a macho tree-surgeon husband; a difficult new neighbour and his pregnant daughter; her future husband and his PhD student whose mother is finally institutionalised.

The first two stories unfurl prodigiously showcasing Josephine’s fraught wedding night with tattooed groom Tomas (Vincent Rottiers from Renoir) ending in tears for the bride, not auguring well for their future and echoing the doomed relationship of her parents (Gregory Gadebois, Suzanne Clement). The second sequence features an incendiary phone call between the pregnant Melanie (Alice de Lenquesaing) and her father, Vincent (Eric Elmosnino) telling him of her putative marriage to a man (Carlo Brandt) nearly forty years her senior, while his news of divorce pales into insignificance in the process. The third and weakest story features Damien Chappelle’s Anthony (who is also a student of Melanie’s father’s baby) and his deranged mother Nicole (Brigitte Catillon).

Bourdos aims to explore the dynamics, pressures and loyalties of family and how ‘sins of the father’ infect future generations, but in doing so some of his characters are not as fully fleshed out as the others, particularly those of Melanie and her partner and Anthony and his difficult love life. The overbearing score often threatens to dominate a film gorgeously captured and vivaviously realised in its ravishing Riviera locations making this an occasionally enjoyable watch despite its drawbacks. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 30 August – 9 SEPTEMBER 2017

M (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir.: Sara Forestier, Cast: Sara Forestier, Redouanne Harjene, Jean-Pierre Leaud, |France 2017, 100 min.

Actor and director Sara Forestier creates a simple but moving love story of two outsiders who, against all odds, give each other a new start in life. Wonderfully acted by Forestier and Harjene in the leads, M is passionate, but never soppy.

Lila (Forestier) is living with her grumpy, lazy father (Leaud) and her capricious little sister in a rundown flat. Days ares spent with household chores and looking after her sister and working towards BAC examinations. Lila stutters, and is made fun of in the classroom, even though she is by far the brightest student in the class. Then she meets Mo, an Arab guy who makes a living doing daredevil stunts with his car, and the two seem to be heading for a doomed romance with not much of a future. But Mo is able to loosen her up giving her confidence inspite of her speech impediment. Whilst Lila is progressing her life, the secretly illiterate Mo, loses his job in Lila’s father’s restaurant: he cannot function without reading the orders. Lila’s growing success turns the tables on her romance as she has a one last crack at breaking Mo’s defences down. M enjoys some amusing moments and those between the sisters, are often hilarious. Jean-Pierre Leaud is superb as Lila’s strict but tight-lipped father, hardly ever saying a word, feeling trapped by his paternal role yet never offering any emotional support. Harjane is vulnerability and macho aggression rolled into one. Overall M is a brave debut showing that detail not big ideas often make for an engaging intimate domestic drama. This is a heart-warming tale set in a world of conflicts on all levels. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 30 August – 9 SEPTEMBER 2017

The Insult (2017) | Venice Film Festival 2017

the-shape-of-waterA TALE OF TWO FILMS

This morning’s Venice competition films could have not have been more different. There was Guillermo Del Toro’s blockbuster THE SHAPE OF WATER, mainstream Hollywood, beautifully framed – but empty and second-hand. Then we watched THE INSULT, by Lebanese director/co-writer Ziad Doueiri (West Beirut), produced by five companies as far apart as Lebanon and the USA and shot on a shoestring, THE INSULT  is set in contemporary Beirut, still suffering from the wounds of the civil war. Del Toro’s tale is set in 1962 Baltimore, at the height of the Cold War. Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a cleaner, isolated, because she is mute. The Defence Ministry Institute she works for, is run by the security villain Strickland (Michael Shannon), who is in charge of an amphibian creature (very much the replica of the creature from the Blue Lagoon), who is also wanted by Russian spies. Elisa and the creature connect and fall in love, and in spite of being shot dead by Strickland, will have a happy under-water future. SHAPE OF WATER is not even secondhand, it is just a wishful retelling of the sort of movies produced by Hollywood in the 50s and early 60s: colourful entertainment for teenagers, before they graduate to adult entertainment. Every shot is artificially framed for the maximum effect, recreating an idyllic world of mild suspense. But the characters are all cartoon figures, making the dialogue superfluous. Production Department and DoP got the Lion’s share of the budget, but the creativity did not stretch to the script department, as is often the case. The result is Jack Arnold meets Douglas Sirk, with Del Toro as the apprentice who loses any originality in the transposition. **

the-insultZiad Doueiri tries hard to make the most out of his scarce resources and succeeds in keeping the audience engaged during the tale of a seemingly mundane conflict which could have led to an outbreak of civil war in Beirut. Toni is a garage owner in the capital, and not too fond of his Palestinian neighbours. When one of them, Yasser, who works as a para-legal for a building company, repairs the leaking drainpipe of his flat. Toni wants an apology, after having destroyed the new pipe. Toni insults Yasser, shouting that wished General Ariel Sharon had killed all Palestinians. Yasser retaliates, breaking his opponent’s two ribs. In court, Yasser is found not guilty, but Toni does not give up, engaging a new, very political lawyer for the retrial. Yasser is represented by the daughter of Toni’s lawyer, who hates her father. All sides are set for a trial by media, whilst the political atmosphere in the city reaches breaking point, as fighting breaks out in the city starts. Doueiri makes it clear that this is a story of male male egos loving nothing a verbal and physical confrontation. The men hold their other side responsible for their or their family’s suffering, overlooking the 1990s civil war where Christian Falange and Palestinian PLO fighters both committed atrocities against the civilian population. But Toni and Yasser seem to use the past as a competitive replay of whose side suffered the most. Before the opening credits, the Lebanese government insisted on a disclaimer, distancing themselves from the film. We wonder why….. ****

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 30 AUGUST – 9 SEPTEMBER 2017

Rosita (1923) | Venice Film Festival 2017

Dir.: Ernst Lubitsch, Cast: Mary Pickford, Holbrook Blinn, Irene Rich, George Walsh, USA 1923, 97 min.

Countless rumors surround the making of Lubitsch’ first US film – never mind the aftermath, when Mary Pickford, whose company produced the film, had all but the last reel destroyed. She claimed that she and Lubitsch disliked each other, even though the Berlin-born director came to Hollywood invited by her “to shoot an adult picture” and get the star away from the image of a little girl. One can say  Lubitsch succeeded – surely he did not need the rumoured help of Raoul Walsh.

The story line is slim, as in the many “thousands” of films Lubitsch had directed, causing Kracauer to condemn most of them as mindless entertainment. Rosita (Pickford) is a street singer in Seville and is fancied by the philandering King (Blinn). He has her arrested, but a nobleman, Don Diego (Walsh), rescued her, killing an officer of the guard in the process. The King condemns him to death, seeing in him a rival for the love of Rosita. But all ends well, thanks to the intervention of the wily Queen (Rich).

With a new score from Gillian Anderson and updated intertitles from MOMA this feels an even more grandiose occasion. The mass scenes are brilliantly directed and Lubitsch changes colours three times: most scenes are shot in sepia-brown, the scenes in the prison are shot in dark black and white, whilst some other scenes are have a grainy, more modern feeling. Add on some spectacular orange firework and you get the idea: this would be Lubitsch’ calling card for Hollywood after he went there for good. We have the St. Petersburg film archive to thank for the negative, which allowed the restauration of this small but glittering gem. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | 30 August to 9 September 2017

The Untamed | La Region Selvaje (2016)

Dir: Amat Escalante | 100min | Fantasy drama | Mexico Denmark |

Amat Escalalnte follows his Cannes-awarded Heli with a community based sci-fi fantasy drama inspired by the machismo, homophobia and misogyny of his native Mexico.

THE UNTAMED is an obscure and unsettling piece that deftly manages its tonal shifts – from grim social realism to sinister fantasy – in a mysterious narrative slowly unfolds, taking its characters to unexpected places while leaving them firmly rooted in contemporary Guanajuato, weighed down by their reality of poverty, overcrowding and crime.

In the outskirts of a town a large crater has opened up filled with animals that appear to have been affected by an extraterrestrial force. One of these has morphed into a benign tentacled creature capable of giving ultimate sexual satisfaction to the women who visit its cabin in the woods. But the creature can also turn nasty, like a disgruntled male. In this way, THE UNTAMED could work as a metaphor for Mexican oppression and the dire social issues facing the country, or for any other Western country caught in the current climate of political and social uncertainty.

We first meet Veronica (Simone Bucio) a willowy waif in the throws of ecstacy, courtesy of our alien-like tentacled tempter in his darkened cabin. This is one of the most bewildering scenes of the film and is captured by the same cinematographer who worked on Nymphomaniac. In a further twist, the creature is being looked after by a weird couple who are purported to possess psychic powers.

Meanwhile, back in town, young mother of two Ale (Ruth Ramos) is being abused by her husband Angel (Jesus Meza), a brutish civil engineer in a sexual relationship with her brother Fabian (Eden Villavicencio), who works in the local hospital where Veronica turns up later with a strange wound on her torso. The two are clearly attracted to one another and decide to meet up later, where it emerges that Fabian is unhappy with Angel.

The trio’s situation grows all the more desperate due to the Sci-fi occurences in the nearby woods: nothing is clear, everything seems to be degenerating both ecologically and societally for the country and its people who are caught in the grip of circumstances beyond their control.Despite the underwritten characters, Escalante’s attempts to chanel Mexico’s serious social issues into this Sci-fi drama are convincing and exciting marking him out as one cinema’s most visionary contemporary filmmakers.  MT

NOW ON BFI PLAYER

 

 

 

Venice Film Festival | Sidebar Selection | Orizzonti | Specials

ORIZZONTI

COSIMO GOMEZ – BRUTTI E CATTIVI Italy/Japan , 87′ Claudio Santamaria, Marco D’Amore, Sara Serraiocco 

TZAHI GRAD – HA BEN DOD (THE COUSIN)
Israel, 92′
Ala Dakka, Tzahi Grad, Osnat Fishman AMICHAI GREENBERG –

HA EDUT (THE TESTAMENT)
Israel, Austria, 91′
Ori Pfeffer, Rivka Gur, Hagit Dasberg Shamul, Ori Yaniv 

VAHID JALILVAND – BEDOUNE TARIKH, BEDOUNE EMZA (NO DATE, NO SIGNATURE)
Iran, 104′
Amir Agha’ee, Navid Mohammadzadeh, Hediyeh Tehrani, Sa’eed Dakh 

ALIREZA KHATAMI – LOS VERSOS DEL OLVIDO
France/Germany/Chile/Ned 92′
Juan Margallo, Tomas Del Estal, Manuel Moron, Itziar Aizpuru

DAMIEN MANIVEL, IGARASHI KOHEI – LA NUIT OÙ J’AI NAGÉ 
France/Japan , 79′
Kogawa Takara, Kogawa Keiki, Kogawa Takashi, Kogawa Chisato

ALI ASGARI – DISAPPEARANCE Iran, Qatar, 89′
Sadaf Asgari, Amir Reza Ranjbaran, Nafiseh Zare, Sahar Sotoodeh

GILLES BOURDOS – ESPÈCES MENACÉES
Francia, Belgio, 105’
Alice Isaaz, Vincent Rottiers, Grégory Gadebois, Suzanne Clément

NANCY BUIRSKI – THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR
Usa, 91′

ANNE FONTAINE – MARVIN
France, 115′
con Finnegan Oldfield, Isabelle Huppert, Grégory Gadebois, Vincent Macaigne

PABLO GIORGELLI – INVISIBLE
Argentina, Brasil, Uruguay, Germany, France, 87′
con Mora Arenillas, Mara Bestelli, Diego Cremonesi

COSIMO GOMEZ – BRUTTI E CATTIVI
Italy/ France , 87′
Claudio Santamaria, Marco D’Amore, Sara Serraiocco

SUSANNA NICCHIARELLI – NICO, 1988
Italy, Belgium, 93′
Tryne Dyrholm, John Gordon Sinclair, Anamaria Marinca, Sandor Funter

RICK OSTERMANN – KRIEG
Germany, 93′
Ulrich Matthes, Barbara Auer

JASON RAFTOPOULOS – WEST OF SUNSHINE
Australia, 78’
Damian Hill, Ty Perham, Kat Stewart, Tony Nikolakopoulos, Arthur Angel

ALESSANDRO RAK, IVAN CAPPIELLO, MARINO GUARNIERI, DARIO SANSONE – GATTA CENERENTOLA (ANIMATION)
Italia, 86′

 
HAFSTEINN GUNNAR SIGURÐSSON – UNDIR TRÉNU (UNDER THE TREE)
Iceland, Denmark, Poland, Germany, 89′
Steinþór Hróar Steinþórsson, Edda Björgvinsdóttir, Sigurður Sigurjónsson, Lára Jóhanna Jónsdóttir

OUT OF COMPETITION 74

FERNANDO LEON DE ANANOA – LOVING PABLO  | Spain/Bulgaria, 123′

LUCRECIA MARTEL – ZAMA | Argentina, Brazil 115′

JON ALPERT – CUBA AND THE CAMERAMAN | DOC | Usa, 113’

RITESH BATRA – OUR SOULS AT NIGHT | Usa, 101’ | Jane Fonda, Robert Redford

DANIEL MCCABE – THIS IS CONGO (DOC) | Congo, 91

STEPHEN NOMURA SCHIBLE – CODA | USA, Japan, 100′

FRANCESCO PATIERNO – DIVA!  | Italy 75′

MICHAEL R ROSKAM – LE FIDELE | Belgium, France, Ned 130′

DAVID BATTY – MY GENERATION [ DOC | UK, 85’ | Michael Caine 

ABEL FERRARA – PIAZZA VITTORIO | DOC | Italy, 82’ 

STEPHEN FREARS – VICTORIA & ABDUL | UK, 149’ | Judi Dench, Ali Fazal, Eddie Izzard

WILLIAM FRIEDKIN – THE DEVIL AND FATHER AMORTH | DOC | Usa, 68’ 

RACHID HAMI – LA MÉLODIE | France 102’ |Kad Merad, Samir Guesmi, Renély Alfred, Youssouf Gueye

TAKESHI KITANO – OUTRAGE CODA | Japan 104’ | Beat Takeshi, Nishida Toshiyuki

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | 30 AUGUST – 10 SEPTEMBER 2017  

 

Frantz (2016)

Director: François Ozon

Cast: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stoetzner, Marie Gruber, Johann von Buelow, Anton von Lucke, Cyrielle Clair, Alice de Lenquesaing

Drama | France | 112min

With the theme of guilt firmly at the forefront, François Ozon takes his inspiration from Ernst Lubitsch’s ‘Broken Lullaby,’ in his first black and white film – a gloriously imagined postwar drama that flips fluidly from French to German.

The First World War changed everything – not only from a political point of view but also from a societal one. European countries were left reeling from the devastation but Ozon focuses here on the bitterness and remorse ordinary people felt at losing their dear ones to the war effort and the enemy, both from the German and French perspective.

After a lightweight dramady The New Girlfriend, Ozon is back on form with this lusciously filmed magnificently mounted masterpiece that takes place in the immediate aftermath to the Great War in a small village in rural Saxony (with echoes of Haneke’s The White Ribbon) and slowly builds to a powerful bodyblow in its emotive final scenes set in Paris and provincial France before returned to Germany. Basing his premise on a series of blatant lies, albeit white ones, the inventive French filmmaker tells a story of guilt and loss – where a young man (Pierre Niney plays Adrien) is driven to protect an old couple (the Hoffmeisters) and their daughter-in-law Anna (Paula Beer), in order to assuage his own actions in the trenches of Verdun, where Anna lost her lover in the slaughter that wiped out thousands and divided Europe in a way that many of our own relatives can still remember (beware Brexit!).

Paula Beer radiates a tragic sadness here as the complex heroine who gradually falls for Pierre Ninney’s fragile yet hopelessly handsome French soldier who manages to conceal his secret for most of the film, spinning her tortuously into a spiral of mixed emotions ranging from longing to anger, hatred and gradually, love and acceptance.

Ozon’s cinematographer Pascal Marti crafts velvety images 35mm in black-and-white. His regular composer Philippe Rombi crafts a atmospheric soundtrack of orchestral splendour that seems to continually presage doom in judiciously chosen moments, and there is an enchanting scene in Adrien’s family chateau where an impromptu piano and violin recital takes place between Anna, Adrien and Fanny (du Lenquesaing). Ozon’s theme of art as a potential healer and inspirer once again appears with Manet’s painting Le Suicide representing a potent motif. This is an accomplished and immersive period drama that will resonate with arthouse audiences and is certainly Ozon’s most mature and accomplished film so far. MT

NOW OUT ON RELEASE FROM 12 MAY 2017 at selected arthouse cinemas including CURZON | BEST EMERGING ACTOR SOPHIE BEER | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016

 

The Journey (2016) | Venice 2016

Dir: Nick Hamm | Drama | 94min | UK | Timothy Spall | John Hurt |Colm Meaney | Toby Stevens |

A rather crass comedy that reduces the Northern Ireland peace process to a glib foray into the forest. THE JOURNEY is a missed opportunity to make a really resonant and worthwhile meeting of minds between the influential figureheads of the era known as The Troubles..

The cast is superb and well chosen: Timothy Spall plays Ian Paisley, the gritty Protestant leader and head of the Democratic Unionist Party as a toothy gruffalo – almost a parody, while Colm Meaney is perfect as Martin McGuinness – he looks and sounds just like the fearful IRA member and chief negotiator for the dreaded Sinn Féin. Colin Bateman’s script places the two in a Scottish hotel near Edinburgh during the St Andrews meeting that took place in 2006, Paisley was to return to Northern Ireland to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary and McGuinness decides to accompany him during the car journey to the airport – although in reality Paisley’s celebration fell on the final day of the talks.

John Hurt makes an utterly believable MI5 agent (Harry Paterson) who has engineered their journey to the airport, arranging to bug the taxi driven by an undercover policeman (Freddy Highmore/Finding Netherland), unbeknownst to the two passengers. Meanwhile Toby Stevens plays a snarling and facetious Tony Blair who is listening in to the conversation, back at the hotel. But the car is involved in a planned collision leaving the two plenty of time to themselves while they ebulliantly thrash out their differences in a disused church in the heart of the glen.

Sadly this is a rather contrived piece of cinema that cherrypicks and tussles with the truth, jumbling historical facts. And for what? Hollowly humorous at times, and rather poignant as Hurt and McGuinness are now no longer alive, THE JOURNEY comes across as a rather trite final word from the main characters at the coalface of decades of murdering, mayhem and strife that was The Troubles – namely Eniskillen, Bloody Sunday and the 1979 murders of Airey Neave (who escaped from the Nazi’s Colditz) and Lord Louis Mountbatten . MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

 

Réparer les Vivants (2016) | Heal the Living

Dir: Katell Quillevéré

103min | Drama | France

Best known for her feature debut Love Like Poison, Abidjan born Katell Quillevere’s third feature is an ambitious but tonally uneven drama that brings together the lives of two French families through an extraordinary gift.

Featuring an eclectic cast from Canada, Belgium and France, and based on Maylis de Kerangal’s novel Mend the Living, the narrative is told in two parts, the second half linked to a tragedy that unfolds in the first. The film opens with a thrilling Dardennesque escapade of surfing and skateboarding for a young French boy (a spirited debut for Gabin Verdet), and develops into a nerve-shredding struggle for survival after a spectacular accident  leaves him with life-limiting injuries. Without revealing the entire story suffice to say that the final segment is a sluggish study of a ciggie puffing bisexual middle-aged woman (a thoughtful Anne Duval) who suffers degenerative heart failure culminating in a plodding medical procedural.

Although the plot is an inspiring one, the characters involved are singularly less so apart from Simon, who has the winning charisma and ebullient energy to carry the first act forward giving it considerable dramatic heft and one of the best surfing scenes ever – followed by his subsequent tragic death. There is a delightful scene, told in flashback, where we see him flirting with his girlfriend Juliette who then takes the funicular to the top of the hill, and Simon follows her on his bike, appearing at the summit to give her a romantic surprise and a really passionate kiss. His parents – played by Emmanuelle Seigner and Kool Shen – are understandably devastated by the accident but act with tremendous courage in the aftermath. After that we never see them again. Tahar Rahim plays an amiable hospital assistant who is responsible for organising the aftercare, he is also a bird fancier (or the feathered variety) who is prepared to pay over 1000 euros for a goldfinch, adding his tousled-haired charm to the otherwise bland medical staff. After the hero of the piece is killed off, the second segment feels comes as a crashing disappointment. Anne Duval fails to generate any sympathy for her character who is a one a dimensional mother who lives for her two teenage kids (Oldfield and Cholbi) and – in a bizarre twist – is  also attempting to have an affair with a concert pianist (Alice Taglioni) but is perpetually too out of breath. Apart from being less dynamic or resonant, this second part is also more pedestrian with its needlessly graphic scenes of prolonged surgery feeling a little ‘de trop’ in what is essentially a drama. If you’re squeamish or anti-smoking, it’s prabablu time to call it a day at this point . MT

ON RELEASE FROM 29 APRIL | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

The life of Oharu (1952)| Saikaku Ichidai Onna | Criterion bluray release

Unknown-2Dir.: Kenji Mizoguchi; Cast: Kinuyo Tanaka, Tsukie Matsuura, Ichiro Sugai, Toshio Mifune, Toshihaki Konoe | Japan | 133 min.

Kenji Mizoguchi, who together with Yasujiro Ozo and Akira Kurosawa was mainly responsible for the introduction of Japanese cinema in post-war Europe, has filmed Saikaku Ihara’s novel ”The Life of a Woman after Saikaku”. This poetic epic explores the tragic life of the 17th century heroine, whose life is destroyed by men.

Oharu (Tanaka) grows up as a handmaiden at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, where she falls in love with Katsunosuke (Mifune), a Samurai who belongs to a lower cast. They are severely punished: Katsunosuke is beheaded, Oharu is sent back to her parents in disgrace. Her father Shinzaemon (Sugai), a rich merchant, loses prestige and clients, but soon compensates for it, selling his daughter to Lord Matsudaira (Konoe) as a concubine. Oharu is going to have his baby, since his wife is unable to have children after an illness. After the birth of her son, Oharu, is once again sent back to her parents since the Lord has fallen in love with her, and his wife is jealous. Her father, very much in debt, had counted on a fortune from the dishonourable Lord, but only gets a pittance. Against the will of his wife Tomo (Matsuura), he sells Oharu to work as a geisha. A client wants to “buy” her, but he turns out to be forger and Oharu has to return to her parents again. Soon they sell her again, this time to a rich merchant, whose wife has lost her hair after an illness. Sadly this is not the end for Oharu whose life goes on to be touched by tragedy yet Mizoguchi’s avoids melodrama in his delicate and utterly beguiling adaptation of the novel

Shot in soft black and white by DoP Yoshimi Hirano (Depth), Mizoguchi uses all shades of grey to compose a dreamlike environment where Oharu is literally sucked in: it is an emotional tour-de-force. Mizoguchi preferring – unlike Ozo, who was the master of the medium-shot – overhead shots, gives the spectator a birds-eye view of the proceedings. Oharu is a commodity for men: she is used as a pawn, in which ever game men play. Alone Katsunosuke is her equal in wanting an emotional relationship, not a trade-off. Tanaka gives a gracefully restrained performance, always using small gestures. Mizoguchi, had to leave Shochiku Studio after many years for Toho Productions to realise this very expensive project, which won him the International Prize at the Venice Film Festival. Even today its originality and deeply felt sensitivity is overwhelming – in the early 1950s it established Mizoguchi as one of the greatest directors worldwide. AS

AVAILABLE ON 24 APRIL VIA CRITERION UK

 

Hacksaw Ridge (2016) | Venice 2016

Dir: Mel Gibson | Biopic drama | US | 102min

Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most violent and gory films about pacifism ever made. But there again, its director is Mel Gibson. Based on the true story of a war hero and conscientious objector from Virginia, it is a film full of cliches and contradictions that still manages to move and inspire with its heartfelt and plausible narrative underpinned by the simple message of sacrifice and faith.

In common with Gibson’s unflinching dramas: Apocalypse, Braveheart and The Passion of Christ, Hacksaw ridge is long on a brutal battle that takes place on the blood-drenched battlefields of Okinawa. Shot in Australia, Gibson and his scripters Shenkkan and Knight create a narrative that embodies all that the United States strives for, particularly in the light of the Trump era.

Andrew Garfield succeeds in the leading role of a gentle but decent man who is first seen as a weak coward who adheres to his pacifist principles, but who later goes on to achieve greatness in battle eschewing violence: he will not carry a gun due to his religious beliefs as a Seventh Day Adventist. In reality, Desmond Doss came from a poor and dysfunctional background in rural Virginia but was keen to join the war effort believing he could do so as a medic. Naively believing he would go straight to the battlefield in a white jacket and stethoscope, it soon emerges that training and combat is part and parcel of the war effort.

At home in Virginia, Doss Senior (Hugo Weaving) is a hardbitten alcoholic and First World War veteran who balks at the idea of Desmond enlisting. But a childhood accident, where Desmond nearly kills his brother, has made a big impression and he is determined to avoid conflict. When he enlists for Pearl Harbour he comes across initially as a pain in the neck by upholding his stringent religious scruples. This premise is clearly going to set the men from the boys in the abuse he receives from his comrades (Sam Worthington and Vince Vaughn) that leads to a ludicrous court martial on the grounds of his refusal to bear arms and undergo the requisite training.

But when he gets to the battlefield his true grit emerges, as limbs are blown off and blood gushes in some startling combat sequences, filmed by DoP Simon Duggan and edited by John Gilbert, this is a heartfelt and inspiring action drama that will leave you upbeat and in a positive frame of mind about the power of peaceful conviction.. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 27 JANUARY 2017

La La Land (2016)

Dir: Damien Chazelle : Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone | US | Musical Drama | 129min

The 73rd Venice Film Festival opened with the razzmatazz of a rousing Hollywood musical, that is sadly not as good a film as it thinks it is, despite the much hyped critical acclaim that has it scoring more points on Imdb than some real classic masterpieces. Damien Chazelle’s much anticipated follow-up to Whiplash is a musical by theme and content and breaks into song during a title sequence that feels rather awkward and amateurish with most of the songs sung off- key, when you consider the wealth of US musical talent available.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star as LA wannabes at the bottom rung of the creative careers: he is Jazz pianist Sebastian, she as aspiring actor Mia. Gosling and Stone have worked together before with writer-director Damien Chazelle and both are decent enough dancers even if they do not have perfect pitch. They share a sparky onscreen chemistry from the outset when they first fall out during a mini fracas from their respective cars while driving into LA, and then later when their paths cross again just after Sebastian (Gosling) has been fired for playing his own tunes during his nightime gig at a fancy restaurant. LA LA LAND would work just as well, in fact better, as a straightforward drama – the banal script and musical elements sometime feel forced and unnatural although Seb does compose one catchy tune (from original composer Justin Hurwitz) which becomes ‘their’ song in an fluffy leitmotif that runs through the rest of the movie – at it is very much a movie: and boy can Gosling move.

This is a lively and entertaining film that make the mainstream crowd happy – it could be anybody’s story and resonates with most of us, whether we are working in creative fields or not, with its ‘reach for the stars premise’ of following your dream rather than settling for a safe and comfortable existence. Stone is the most vulnerable of the two as she finds the constant rejection of screen tests and auditions difficult to deal with but eventually gets into her groove. Gosling is more punchy and down to earth. Obsessed by trad jazz rather than the meandering self-indulgent kind, he eventually lands up with a well paid job playing the latter before setting up his own club which allows him to play the stuff he really enjoys. Falling in love comes naturally to them both but the road is rather rocky and involves the less travelled one on the way.

Gosling gives a suave and seductive turn throughout, never doubting himself for a moment. Stone – who won the Volpi Cup at Venice 2016 – feels more brittle and spiky, although she really puts her heart and soul into singing, dancing and acting. Damien Chazelle has a film grasp of the dark and dangerous nature of showbusiness and brings this to LA LA LAND as he did to his debut Whiplash. The final ‘what might have been’ montage works well enough to send to you off with a spring in your step. It’s a good film – but not a great one. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 13 JANUARY | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016 | Best Actress Emma Stone

Jackie (2016)| Best Script | Venice 2016

Dir.: Pablo Larrain; Cast: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Max Castella, John Hurt; USA/Chile 2016, 91 min.

Director Pablo Larrain (Neruda) films Noah Oppenheim’s intricate script of JACKIE, covering four days in the life of first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy that opens on her arrival in Dallas on that fateful day in November 1963.  Roaming ecliptically, the film de-constructs the tragic and delivers a moving portrait of trauma and grief that turns into a media event.

Even though politics are always present, this is never a political film. Jackie (Portman) has to deal with the sudden wrecking ball of her husband’s death followed immediately by the loss of her family home in the Whitehouse. The presidential successor Lyndon B Johnson, follows hot on her heels, chasing her out to move in with his own family, just as Jackie has restored the place to reflect the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. With the move, shown in great detail, comes the realisation of her loss in status: Jackie is quickly becoming a ‘has-been’, her husband’s funeral arrangement are her last official occasion.

Suffering from survivor’s guilt, Jackie argues with her brother-in law, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (Sarsgaard), about marching behind her husband’s coffin from the Capitol to Arlington cemetery – which is seen as a security risk by the new administration and foreign dignitories such as General de Gaulle. Changing her mind more than once, Jackie finally decides to risk of walking alongside the cortege – as did De Gaulle. Having no illusions about her late husband’s excessive philandering, she nevertheless wants to write a final chapter to his presidency, “something the world will remember”.

The losses mount up: Jackie decides to re-bury her two lost children the next to their father’s grave in Arlington, whilst dealing with her official assistant Pamela Turnure (Gerwig), who was one of her husband’s mistresses. The awkwardness is obvious, Nathalie Portman’s performance resonates with subtle complexity in her leading role. Only in an interview with Jack Valenti , (Castella), a PR man working for Johnson, do we get a glimpse of the real Jacqueline Kennedy, who after all worked as journalist before her marriage. Acutely aware of the difference between public perception and the truth: she is not willing to give an inch in her battle to canonise her husband as a great president.

The film flashes back to a black and white re-created TV clip, shot at beginning of her reign as First Lady, explaining to the public the redecorations she had made in the White House. Here, we see Jackie, fragile and vulnerable, before she enters public office, part of the illusion played out for the adoring public. And finally we learn about the legendary “Camelot” reference which is always associated with JFK’s presidency. It turns out to the name of his favourite musical – the vinyl was on the turntable before the couple left for Dallas. JACKIE is not so much history biopic as a case study of a courageous woman who was loyal to her husband, even after his death and despite his utter contempt of her: “we did not spend many nights together, not even the [last] one in Forth Worth”

Larrain directs with great sensitivity and a good eye for detail. Only the scene with a cleric (John Hurt) come over as stilted, the rest is perfect detachment and observation. DoP Stephane Fontaine finds a perfect style for all occasions: the Dallas shooting is tense and realistic, the White House sequences show not so much glitter but a film-studio like appearance. The close-ups are always telling, separating lies from truth. Natalie Portman gives the performance of a lifetime, as a intelligent woman, adored by the public for her innate style and elan as ‘sold’ by the media. AS

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 20 January 2017 | BEST SCRIPT WINNER NOAH OPPENHEIM

The Light Between Oceans {2016) | Venice Film Festival 2016

DIR: Derek Cianfrance

Cast: Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbinder, Rachel Weisz

Based on the 2012 novel by M.L. Stedman, director/writer Derek Cianfrance picks up where he had left off with Blue Valentine: a relationship spoilt by circumstances, fate and human fragility. The epic format, rare today, suits the subject well: spanning decades, the emotions are played out in full, leaving the audience exhausted by the end of the sweepingly romantic tragedy.

Tom Sherbourne (Fassbinder), a British soldier in WWI, seeks refuge as a light keeper on an isolated rock called Janus, off the coast in Western Australia. Emotionally and physically spent, he just seeks solitude; the bloodbath in France has opened his eyes to the endless possibilities of human cruelty. Just before he leaves for his post, he falls in love on the mainland with the young and headstrong Isabel Graysmark (Vikander), who later agrees to marry him. The two live – for a time – happily in the wilderness, before two miscarriages drive Isabel into a manifest depression. When Tom rescues a rowing boat, the couple find a dead man, and a baby girl very much alive. Isabel talks the very reluctant Tom into keeping the baby, pretending it was their own and setting in motion untold drama of colossal proportions.

The Light between Oceans is somehow a meeting between Henry James/Thomas Hardy and David Lean. The emotional hurt inflicted on their protagonists by the two authors, match well with Lean’s strong sense for the epic battle in hostile surroundings. The wild, beautiful landscape is the perfect background for this drama of guilt, savage suffering and motherly yearning seen through this visceral human need to procreate. DoP Adam Arkapaw’s magnificent visuals match both the human obsessions in the intense close-ups, and the dramatic remoteness of the environment in panoramic shots. Vikander and Fassbinder, a couple in real life, play their hearts out; Vikander’s strong but elegant poise (she is a trained ballet dancer), is well opposed to Fassbinder’s tortured movement and demeanor. Weisz’ Hannah, in spite of her turmoil, being the detached chess player, setting a trap for Isabel. This might be traditional cinema, but it is emotional and aesthetically powerful, well crafted on all levels, and truly moving thanks to Alexandre Desplat’s operatic score. AS

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED CINEMAS VUE, ODEON, CURZON FROM 2 DECEMBER 2016 | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 REVIEW

Austerlitz (2016) | Tallinn Black Nights 2016

Dir: Sergei Losnitza | Doc | Ukraine | 94min

In a former Nazi concentration camp where tee-shirted tourists snigger, snack and shuffle with selfie-sticks, Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Losnitza (Maidan) brings rhythm and rigour with his sober yet richly textured black and white portrait that a sense of sad irony at the banal contrast between the tortured past and the insouciant contemporary.

On the outskirts of Berlin, Sachsenhausen is now a memorial to the many thousands who met their death there. Set up as an interrogation centre during the Second World War; the Gestapo questioned prisoners of war in spartan conditions of near starvation and physical privation. The captives were then gassed alive in the showers and were later imcinerated in the vast ovens by a series of Sondercommandos (themselves prisoners) who were also regularly exterminated, although the final Sondercommando 14 unit left the site to tell their tale.

Using the burbling background of human chatter and the ambient sounds of nature as his soundtrack, Losnitza’s static camera records a typical summer’s day here in a series of long takes. The first sobering one lasts nearly fifteen minutes. Eventually a narrative emerges as we learn about the history of the camp from the (here) Spanish and American tourist guides whose desultory diatribes recount the events that took place during the Holocaust. Tourists look on, some in voyeuristic amazement. But for many the site seems just another picnic site in their daily agenda.

Contemplative and unsettling, Loznitsa’s film illustrates the spectacular banality and insuperable void between past and present. Although we look and learn can we ever really engage and comprehend the events that took place when many are faced with so many momentous tragedies of our own in the 21st century. Losnitza opens up the debate with his remarkable documentary.

Austerlitz takes its title from the final work by the German novelist W.G. Sebald. The film is a sober yet strangely satisfying piece: at the end we do feel as we have not only learnt facts but experienced the gravity of the momentous tragedy that went on here. While the film’s structure initially seems simple, each successive composition moves nearer to its subject allowing our thoughts to wander and engage with the horror of what went on during the world’s last war. MT

TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS UNTIL 27 NOVEMBER 2016

 

Francofonia (2015)

Writer | Director Alexandr Sokurov

Cast: Louis-Do de Lencquessaing, Vincent Nemeth, Benjamin Utzerath, Johanna Krthals Altes

87min | Docudrama | Russia | France | France | Germany| Netherlands 2015

Sukurov once again reminds us what cinema could be: an intellectual tour-de-force of documentary, essay and feature: as such, FRANCOFONIA is entertaining and absorbing fare.

FRANCOFONIA is foremost a film about German-French relationships on a mostly cultural level; the director calling the link between the two nations “sisterly” which is an unusual word to use considering the many wars they fought with each other – unless he is hinting at sibling rivalry here. The star is certainly The Louvre where the two protagonists: the French director of the museum, Jacques Jaujard (Lencquesaing), and the German officer, Count Franziskus Wolff Metternich (Utzerath), in charge of cultural affairs for the German occupiers, fought in a low-key manner between 1940 and 1942. Metternich was then recalled to Germany not having given in to the Nazi leadership whose main aim was to steal the art treasures – a task they managed successfully later. Jaujard, who worked for the French Resistance, could rely on Metternich for help, a favour which was returned after the end of WWII, when Metternich needed help for the de-Nazification trial. But in the two years, Metternich, a Nazi Party Member since 1933 was civil while trying to delay the art robbery of his superiors, like a good Nazi.

In the summer of 1940 it was clear to the M Jaujard that his Museum was in danger, haunted by the spectre of Germany as the French government surrenders and the German army arrives in force. Archive footage of the era shows Hitler casting his beady eye over the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysees, desperately looking for the Louvre and its treasures.Fortuitously the perspicacious M Jaujard, the museum director, has taken precautionary measures and does not flee his museum when Count Wolff-Metternich, the officer commanded by Hitler to supervise France’s art collection for the Nazis,  arrives at the Louvre to find its most important works have vanished. Jaujard has had them moved to Chateaux hundreds of miles away in preparation for the German bombings – and Metternich – who made the same wise moves in Germany – thus protects the French patrimony from the thieving hands of Hitler, Goering and Goebbels. In this ‘sisterly’ way Jaujard (a suave Louis Do de Lencquesaing) and Metternich (a suitably aristocratic-looking Benjamin Utzerath) are bought together with their love and appreciation of Art.

Marianne, the typical French heroine who chants “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” and self-obsessed Napoleon – who points to himself in paintings around the walls – are the ghosts who haunt the Louvre in their traditional costumes. Napoleon claims that his sole purpose of waging war was to raid countries for their art treasures. And Sokurov takes us on a guided tour of these treasures, marking out the particular European propensity for portrait painting, enabling us to identify ourselves hundreds of years ago. Something that, he points out, the Muslims did not do. The Mona Lisa is given the most attention, with her enigmatic smile.

Often the director is seen sitting in his office, talking to a sea Captain on a ‘ship to shore’ computer link. The ship is bearing artworks and clearly many thousands have been lost at the bottom of the sea during their transportation around the globe, by trophy-taking warlords.

FRANCOFONIA is the first Sukurov film which shines a positive light on the Soviet Union. Bruno Delbonnel’s breathtaking cinematography successfully recreates the wartime effort in Paris, and the extensive archive material gives so much information and philosophcal debate that one viewing cannot do justice to this masterpiece. This is a film to savour.

ON RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE CINEMAS FROM 11 NOVEMBER 2016

Arrival (2016)

Dir: Denis Villeneuve | Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whittaker | US Canada | Sci-Fi | 120min

We can always expect something fresh and exciting from Canadian filmmakers and Denis Villeneuve delivers just that with this Venice Competition entry: a Sci-fi thriller based on a positive premise: that non-verbal communication has the power to save the world.

Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner star as academics hired by the US military to attempt a parly with the aliens that arrive in a mysterious pod-shaped spacecraft that lands in the Montana farmland. This is a crisp and pristinely packaged piece of kit that brings no blood-letting or gruesome images in its wake. Instead it feels like a dreamily intelligent vision giving an uplifting image of an imagined future where our scientists and, particularly, our linguistic specialists can use their brainpower and training to bring about good and heal our troubled, wartorn planet.

And it is a woman who naturally will bring this into being. As a professor of linguistics, Amy Adams gives a deeply sensuous and emotionally intelligent performance in this adult drama whose tension and palpable terror rises out of the cherished hope that human communication could be the answer rather than malign or nefarious forces. Suffering from an intangible loss or beareavement she harnesses her innermost intuition and professional training in an attempt to reach out amicably and sensitively to the seven legged shapeshifters or heptopods that emerge from the summit of the pod. Scripted by Eric Heisserer, ARRIVAL is based on Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life,  and feels very much like Close Encounters in its subtle approach to the interplanetary arrivals unspooling as a peaceful and intelligently nuanced arthouse outing. Ambitious in scope and exquisitely mounted, there are minor flaws and ambiguities in the plotting that occasionally arise out of the parallel narrative of present and future. That said, the spirit of adventure and compromise is laudable in this decidedly upliting and inventive film that will make you leave you with a smile, if not the odd tear. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 11 NOVEMBER 2016 | REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016

 

Nocturnal Animals (2016) | Venice 2016 | Grand Jury Prize

Dir: Tom Ford | Cast: Jake Gyllenhal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Michael Sheen

116min | drama | US

Like his handmade suits or ballgowns, Tom Ford’s films are always beautiful and well-crafted and his Venice competition hopeful NOCTURNAL ANIMALS adds some inventive and surprising detailing to its exciting plot: there are shades of David Lynch, Nicholas Winding Refn and even Paul Verhoeven to this darkly louche and occasionally sordid thriller that takes you to unexpected places, even if it takes its time in getting there.

This is his most intriguing film so far and also feels like his most confident and sure-footed with its well chosen cast, fabulous locations and the sheer swaggering boldness of its aesthetic, complemented by Abel Korzeniowski’s sinister and suggestive score,   marking Ford out to be an accomplished storyteller as well as a accomplished couturier to the rich and famous. Suave and intoxicating, the narrative interweaves three strands that visit the present and past reality, and depart into a darkly imagined cul de sac that serves as a timely retribution for its heroine’s mispent romantic past.

As with A Single Man, Ford has adapted his script, this time from American novelist Austin Wright’s 1993 Tony and Susan, and the film’s title comes from the book within that novel. As the piece plays out it emerges that nocturnal animal was the name given to the heroine (Amy Adams) by her author and now ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) on account of her inability to sleep.

The film opens as Adams’ Susan is a successful gallery owner living in a sumptuous modernist lakeside home in LA and married to an attractive husband (Armie Hammer) who sleeps around. While he is away in New York one weekend, she receives a manuscript of her ex husband’s book and reading it she is drawn into its shady and provocative storyline that appears to shadow their former life together – 20 years ago –  in ways that are both louche and disturbing, leaving her emotionally shaken up and stirred.

Although outwardly a consummate professional, Adams’ vulnerability smoulders under her impeccable tailoring (Gucci?) and after a telling phonecall with her husband, she drifts off into a reverie of her past love life while she reads Edward’s manuscript. It tells how Tony (Gyllenhaal again), is driving in West Texas with his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and their precocious daughter India (Ellie Bamber) when their car is ramrodded by a trio of menacing hoodlums (one is Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the saga does not end well. Susan is transfixed by the novel through the small hours as flashbacks of her former life remerge to taunt and shame her. Gripped by its sordid storyline she reads on: enter Michael Shannon’s seedy sheriff Bobby Andes who is determined to track down the perps and – in an unexpected twist – not afraid to serve mean justice on them due to his terminal cancer. Back in her bedroom Susan realises the error of her ways reflecting on how she left Edward because he lacked the backbone to follow his dreams.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is packed with fabulous performances from Laurie Linney in cameo as Susan’s patrician mother, Michael Sheen as a gay man married to her best friend , Jena Malone as a gallery assistant, and Shannon as the quinessential hard bitten chain-smoking cop and the narrative strands cleverly dovetail into the satisfying finale that combines a gritty sun-drenched Western with the steely glamour of frigid LA.

Apart from the Seamus McGarvey’s brilliant visuals there is plenty of amusing texture to keep you on your toes in the meticulous masterpiece – from twinking nightscapes to witty interludes and Adams is luminuous as Susan in her second appearance here at Venice Film Festival. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER| IN COMPETITION

Take Me Home (2016) | Tribute to Abbas Kiarostami

Director, Scriptwriter, Photographer: Abbas Kiarostami | Editor: Adel Yaraghi | Visual Effects Supervisor: Ali Kamali
Music: Peter Soleimanipour

16min | Iran | Black & White

Abbas Kiarostami was born in Tehran to a professional artist father who influenced his decision to study design. After winning a painting competition, he went to study graphic design, working as a commercial artist, graphic designer, illustrator and eventually shooting adverts the 1960s.

This artistic training informs his filmmaking and is noticeable here in a 16 minute short entitled TAKE ME HOME. The film is really all about symmetry and gracefully illustrates Kiarostami’s natural ability and visual flair in understanding shape, form and architectural perspective.

TAKE ME HOME is engaging as a film and satisfying as a multimedia piece of art. In Southern Italy, a little boy drops his football at the top of a narrow stone stairway outside his home, As the ball bounces downwards, our eyes are drawn along with it, in an endless rhythm from side to side, as it travels to the bottom. Each perfectly framed tableau could stand as an individual piece of artwork. Put simply, the film shows the balance of lines and perspective, the chiaroscuro shadows that move and constantly change from dark to light in the black and white minimalism of shades of graphite grey and chalky white as the football cascades inexorably connecting each frame to the next in a mesmerising sprial study that draws us in, until a little boy retrieves it and goes back home. Adel Yaraghi’s perfect editing and Peter Soleimanipour’s upbeat original score give this a hopeful and positive feel. From a more complex perspective TAKE ME HOME is a metaphor for life’s diurnal rhythms soothing us reassuringly in the knowledge that whatever happens,  and despite the endless chaos of the day, all will be well in the end. MT

SCREENED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 | TAKE ME HOME IS ON A FESTIVAL WORLD TOUR AS A TRIBUTE TO ABBAS KIAROSTAMI (1940 – 2016)  

 

 

 

Quit Staring at my Plate (2016) | NE GLEDAJ MI U PIJAT |Warsaw Film festival 2016

Dir.: Hana Jusic, Cast: Mia Petricevic, Croatia 2016, 105 min.

Marijana (Petricevic) has the misfortune to be a member of the most dysfunctional family in a small Croatian town. At 24, she works as a midwife assistant in the local hospital where the staff are all fearful of keeping their jobs. But life at home is even worse: her father is a tyrant, beating her with a towel when she gets on his frayed nerves. Her brother is an overweight layabout who has never worked a day in his life, but is protected by their mother, who, like her son, is only interested in stuffing her face with food. Marijana meanwhile is fit and slim, always trying to make the best of herself. Things go from bad to worse after the father suffers a stroke and she is forced to care for him whilst sharing a bed with her mother, who has fled the marital bedroom.

Without a boyfriend, Marijana takes up casual sex, but it fails to satisfy her emotional longings. Sliding more and more into a masochistic way of life. Marijana is finally ‘saved’ by her mother in an unexpected release. Although freedom now beckons, the young woman is not quiet sure yet what do with it .

Jusic crafts a fine portrait of a person who is driven to despair by her repressive family, and retreats into herself. Without a concrete identity – apart from feeding her family – she succumbs to her grim existence as a cleaner. Petricevic is brilliant, and Jusic observes her with distance and slight humour. Cinematography is also impressive, with particularly good use made of camera angles that swoop down on Marijana in her hopeless existence. Yet despite of its grim subject matter, Quit Staring is energetic and innovative drama. A little gem. AS

IN COMPETITION AT WARSAW INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 16 OCTOBER 2016

L’Hermine (2015) | Courted

Director: Christian Vincent

Cast: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Fabrice Luchini, Marie Riviere, Miss Ming

98 min | Drama | France

United with Fabrice Luchini, the star of his 1990 film La Discrète, director Christian Vincent’s drama COURTED observes the goings on in a courthouse in Saint-Omer, north-west France, where the trial of a presumed child murderer is taking place.

Judge Racine (Luchini) is presiding over the trial, he is not very much liked, his frigid manner and punitive nature earned him the nickname “Double-Figures” because of his severe sentences. The defendant, a young man is not very helpful, he simply repeats that he did not kick the four-year-old Mélanie to death. Racine, who is in the process of divorcing and lives in a hotel, comes down with a heavy flu at the beginning of the trial, which does not improve his mood. But soon enough, Racine mellows, when he finds out that one of the jurors, Ditte Lorensen-Coteret (Knudsen), is the anaesthetist he fell in love with in the hospital where she treated him after an accident. Suddenly, Racine becomes human and allows the defendant to go free, since it is clear, that he covered up for his girl friend, who was expecting another child at the time of the crime.

The meetings in a restaurant with Ditte show another side of Racine: he is a lonely man, only too willing to impress Ditte, even trying not to show his annoyance at her internet-obsessed daughter, who hijacks the rendeszvous of her mother. The visuals cleverly convey the two levels of this film: medium and wide shots dominate the court scenes, close-ups the restaurant scenes. Vibrant colours suffuse the romantic meetings, whilst in the court the light is harsh with all protagonists being more or less colourless ciphers. Vincent does not try to tell a story: L’Hermine is episodical and fragmented, only held together by Luchini’s personality, and it carries it well and very competently. There is a masterful dramatic tension here that leaves the audience always wanting to know more. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 30 SEPTEMBER | VENICE 2015 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW | WINNER BEST SCRIPT AND BEST ACTOR

Questi Giorni (2016) | These Days | Venice 2016 | In Competition

Dir: Giuseppe Piccioni | Drama | Italy | 119min

Festival head Alberto Barbera openly lamented the lack of strong Italian titles at this year’s Venice festival and this piece of contemporary social realism certainly confirms his views. An everyday story of cardboard characters it has the luminous presence of Margherita Buy but not even she can save it from the banality of a plot and script that is vapid in the extreme.

Four young women decide to go to Belgrade: you could pick the characters off the shelf: one has cancer; another is a lesbian, the third is pregnant and the fourth has a bad boyfriend. Nothing stands out in their colourless performances and they all appear interchangeable in their personalities. Then there is Professor Mariani (a greying middle-aged man) who tries to be funny in a vain attempt to get off with one of them who must be half his age, and his pupil into the bargain. Meanwhile Margherita Buy’s character, a single mother, flits around desperately trying to gain acceptance by the younger girls, one if whom is her daughter who treats her with utter contempt.

THESE DAYS is reductive, poorly thought out and derisory to women in general and is hopefully not coming to a cinema near you. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

Paradise | Rai (2016) | Best Director | Venice 2016

Fir: Andrei Konchalovsky | 130min | Drama | Russia, Germany

Russian veteran Andrei Konchalovsky has been making films for fifty years and bringing them to Venice where he first won the Volpi Cup in 1966 with his debut Pervvy Uchitel. His élatest Golden Lion hopeful PARADISE interweaves three tragic lives during the Second World War – Olga, a Russian countess and member of the French Resistance; Jules, a French collaborator; and Helmut, an aristocratic German SS officer.

PARADISE is a dense and romantically complex piece that provides an intense experience for those who have the stamina for its complicated episodic structure, despite superb performances and outstanding cinematography from Russian DoP and regular collaborator Alexander Simonov (Postman’s White Nights) who also worked with the sadly missed Alexei Balabanov (Brat, Cargo 200). The velvety black and white visuals and combination of 35mm and 16mm perfectly conjure up the war years from 1942-44 and there is sumptuous and intimate attention to detail and lighting throughout the film’s graceful interiors and more grisly scenes in claustrophobic concentration camps evoke a keen sense of confinement. The only scene where freedom is felt is in flashback to the pre-war years where Olga and Helmut frolic on a rooftop (main picture).

Olga is played by the sinuously elegant Russian actress Julia Vysotskay who we first meet after her imprisonment for having taken two Jewish children under her wing in occupied Paris. In the offices of genial police interrogator Jules (Christian Duquesne) she is écross-examined and deftly turns the table on him by seductively opening her legs. In exchange for a Grand Cru classé (1919) she agrees to meet him the following day. But the rendezvous is never to be as Jules is later assassinated while in the woods with his son Emile.

Olga is then sent to a concentration camp but again siezes her chance for freedom when the camp’s rambunctious chargé d’affaires is caught for cooking the books, by Olga’s willowly ex-lover Helmut (Christian Clauss) who hires her as his very personal maid, and as the Nazi’s luck runs out the pair plot their escape via Switzerland until tragedy intervenes.

Scripted by Konchalovsky and Elena Kiseleva, the story unspools via sketchy face-on interviews with Jules, Olga and Helmut dressed in prison garb. These are interlaced with the action scenes and where the film requires intense concentration, making it difficult to engage with the characters and their story. Viktor Sukhorukov’s cameo as Heinrich Himmler is a fascinating interlude but is voiced by another actor in Russian and German, with some technical glitches.

And so PARADISE – an attempt by the Nazis to create a perfect Aerian world – becomes Paradise Lost. Despite the rather complicated mise-en-scene this is nevertheless an achingly beautiful and resonating picture of wartime from one of Russia’s most outstanding filmmakers. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

White Sun (2016) | Venice 2016

Dir: Deepak Rauniyar | Drama | Nepal | 94min

Deepak Rauniyar brings the only Nepalese film to Venice 2016. A delicately drawn and poignant paean to peace after a decade of civil war between Maoists and royalists (1996-2006), it takes place in the foothills of the Himalayas where nearly all the adult males have been wiped out leaving the only the weakened elders.

This is not a political film but a subtle and often intimate intergenerational cinéma vérité style parable where politics often rears its ugly head disrupting the characters’ relationships. Co-written by Rauniyar and David Barker, it takes place in the village of Nepaltra where the sudden death of the former mayor Chitra (Prakash Ghimire), poses a tricky problem: how to remove his body from the house to start the tortuous process towards the riverside where it is to be cremated according to strict traditions governing who can come into contact with the cadaver. There are no strong men to help.

Luckily, Durga (Asha Magrati) is a clever and strong-minded villager who appeals to ex-husband Chandra to make the journey from Katmandu to give his assistance, along with his brother. The long-standing rivalry between Chandra (Dayahang Rai – a famous star in his native Nepal) and his brother Suraj (Rabindra Singh Baniva) adds grist to the dramatic mill along with the fact that Durga’s young daughter Pooja (Sumi Malla) is neither his biological daughter, not that of his sibling. The subsequent journey downhill gives rise to some magnificent local views, all shot on the widescreen, as we get know the colourful local characters amongst whom is 10-year-old porter Badri (Amrit Pariyar), who has known nothing but war, and Deepak Chhetri’s priest who is the feisty star of the film, determined at any price to to resist change, in this thoughtful and deeply resonant arthouse drama. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

The Bad Batch (2016) | Venice 2016

Director: Lily Amirpour

Cast: Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Giovanni Ribisi, Yolonda Ross, Jayda Fink, Cory Roberts, Louie Lopez, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, Diego Luna

115min | Fantasy Drama | US | Iran

A girl walks out alone into a psychedelic desert of cannibals and crazed criminals in Lily Amirpour’s startling but generic follow up to her standout vampire drama A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night making this a visually exciting but narratively torpid experience despite its Mad Max pretensions. The Bad Batch is a brutal and bewildering blowout of surreal and dreamlike sequences that plays with some exciting toys but they all belong to other filmmakers such as Alejandro Jodorowsky, Robert Rodriguez and even Arturo Ripstein.

Outstaying its welcome at nearly two hours, the slim narrative wreaks of genetic or ethnic cleansing and suffers from longueurs, but the buzzy and inventive visuals make it almost worth the ride. Performances are adequate from the ensemble cast; the standout being Keanu Reaves who plays an almost sympathetic cult leader called The Dream. Ex-model Suki Waterhouse looks the part and is adequate as Arlen, the heroine loses an arm and a leg at the start of her journey into a dystopian, incandescent hell of lurid lights, surreal encounters accompanied by a sparky selection of eclectic tunes including All That She Wants, tracks from Chilean artists Darkside, South African hip-hop band Die Antwoord, and indie ambient musician Francis Harris..

After escaping from a penitentiary’s ‘bad-batch’ (delinquents) into the Texan desert, she is abducted by cannibals and maimed for their tea. Being a spunky girl with taut abs, attitude and ‘fear’ tattooed on her fingers, she escapes on a skateboard and is picked up by Jim Carey’s mute wayfarer who takes her in his shopping trolley to the Comfort community who dwell in a walled city where she is equipped with a prosthetic leg and so on. Her search for a suitable soul mate (no kidding) makes her yearn for love and a stocky Mexican called Miami Man could be the answer, but remember – this is dystopia.

The Bad Batch looks sensational and offers light-hearted fun while it lasts but its emptiness leaves you unsatisfied when the titles roll. MT

Venice Film Festival until 10 September | SPECIAL JURY PRIZE WINNER 2016 

Rocco (2016) | Venice Film Festival 2016

Dirs: Alban Teurlai, Thierry Demairziere | 112min | doc | Italy, France

The “Italian stallion” Rocco Siffredi always prayed he would be famous. Growing up in the Adriatic town of Ortona fame eventually came thanks to “the devil between my legs”  fuelled by a massive sex drive that started at an early age. Worshipping his mother Rocco is also a perfect example of the ‘madonna whore complex’ and has a fascinating ability to probe the women he meets both physically and emotionally despite his ordinary looks.

ROCCO is quite simply the self-indulgent story of his journey from council house to penthouse that starts here in the film studio where he is grooming his prospective – mostly East European – ‘porn starlets’ as he talks about his life, his mother and wife Rosa – whom he met on the set of Tarzan X, Shame of Jane . They now have several children. Siffredi has starred in more than 1,500 films over his 30-year career and also had a brief foray into French indie cinema, appearing in Catherine Breillat’s Romance and Anatomy Of Hell. Now in his early fifties, Siffredi has also decided to bow out due to disenchantment with the industry that has financed his entire life.

ROCCO is a well made: a glossy, big screen personalised version of what you might expect to see in online porn sites and, with a threadbare narrative, certainly overstays its running time of nearly two hours. But then porn sells. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

One More Time With Feeling (2016) | Venice 2016

Dir-: Andrew Dominik | with Nick Cave | Biopic | UK | 112min

Embracing the overwhelming grief Nick Cave is feeling due to the death of his son, New Zealand filmmaker Andrew Dominik has chosen to film his biopic in black and white, and with “ridiculous handheld 3D camera” – his words precisely but with the help of Benoit Debie and Alwin Kuchker things finally get on track. Leaving the 3D glasses off detracts nothing from the well-observed but overlong picture of the musician’s experience since the death of his son. Cave brings his own witty stream of consciousness to the party, as we watch the film taking shape in the studio during a pre-recording session.

With his seemingly idyllic life: a wife and soulmate, and twin sons – actor, writer and musician Nick Cave confessed to having it all in Iain Forysth’s (far superior) 20,0000 On Earth. Here he pours his grief on losing a child into a string of striking lyrics (“your legs are so long they should come with their own elevator”). He now confesses to occasionally feeling “an object of pity”, a fact that does not fit well with his own self image, but his natural self-deprecation prevents this from sounding narcissistic. Cave also admits that songs can foretell certain events, as dreams can be visionary, and this is something he shares with his wife whom he describes as multi-facetted. Clearly death and bereavement has brought them even closer together. But as he gets older he feels that “the struggle to do what I do requires more effort”.

The test of a successful biopic must surely be that it offers entertainment not only to fans but appeal to wider audiences. And here Dominik largely fails as the format and filming detracts from the subject matter. Despite these obvious flaws ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING adds a certain something to the Nick Cave experience that will appeal to his many fans and resonate with the bereaved arthouse audiences. Let’s hope there’s more great stuff to come from this engaging musician and lyricist. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

Tabl (2016) | Drum | Venice Settimana della Critica 2016

Dir.: Keywan Karimi, Cast: Amirezza Naderi, Sara Gholizade; France/Iran 2016, 95 min.

First time feature film scriptwriter/director Keywan Karimi crafts a disturbingly bleak and noirish picture of life in contemporary Tehran – the city’s name being the only concrete reference to its reality. The narrative is opaque, but everyone can decypher the code used. In October 2015 Karimi was sentenced to one year in prison and 223 lashes for defying the laws of Iran. He is still in a state of limbo, waiting to start his imprisonment.

The film opens as a lawyer (Naderi) is visited by a limping man who dumps a parcel on his desk and disappears. Soon afterwards, the lawyer’s flat is searched, and gets a visit from a man threatening with grave consequences if he does not give up the parcel. The harassment continues, and the lawyer is forced to oeave his flat, sleeping rough or taking a room in a hotel where he meets his girlfriend (Gholizade). The only other person he trusts is his best friend, who happens to be a drug addict. Tragedy eventually forces the lawyer starts to wreak revenge.

DRUM is a Kafkaesque nightmare with images worthy of any Bela Tarr film. Whilst the audience is made well aware of the enemy, the main protagonist is stubborn enough not give in to “them”. Tehran is very much a character here, portrayed as a nightmarish vision of never-ending staircases and vertiginous apartment blocks spelling danger, even in the modern hotel where the lawyer meets his girlfriend. Nothing is safe: the bleakness of the day is just a shade lighter than the nighttime, where most of the action is set. DoP Amin Jaferi evokes a world of shadows and doom where interiors are sparsely lit prison cells. Words do not help: they are either threats or enigma, the Farsi language has lost much of its meaning. Without naming the authorities in Iran, Karimi holds up a mirror to them: they have created a world of fear and hopelessness. What remains is individual resistance, the only way to bring light into the madness created by religious fanatics.

This is not the first time that a filmmaker has been threatened by authorities at home, whilst his film is being shown at a film festival abroad. DRUM is a promising debut. Let’s hope Keywan Karimi’s reprieve follows as soon as possible. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

American Anarchist (2016) Venice Film Festival 2016

Dir.: Charlie Siskel. Documentary; USA 2016, 80 min.

Providing compelling viewing filmmaker Charlie Siskel (Finding Vivian Mayer) interviews William Powell, the author of the infamous ‘The Anarchist’s Cookbook’ (still available on Amazon) in his home in Massat (France) shortly before his death in July 2016. Siskel relentless probing style and cross examination often has the effect of makimg the audence sympathise with Powell who gradually emerges as a man who has suffered emotionally during his peripatetic childhood – he was only 19 years old in 1970, when he wrote the provocative manual that lists amateur bomb-making methods during a time where the US was experiencing a period of cultural and societal shifting, similar to that seen in France with the student riots.

Powell was the eldest son of the spokesman for the UN General Secretary, and he went to be schooled privately in a UK boarding school were he felt as alienated for his ‘English upperclass accent’ as he did later on his return to New York State where was expelled from ‘a school for delinquent children of the rich’. He confesses to feel most at home in countries where he is an outsider, explaining his reason for settling in a remote part of rural France.

The near civil war atmosphere in the USA druing the Vietnam War at the end of the 1960s, made many outsiders like Powell feel that the time for revolution had come. After all, Lincoln himself had written about the right of the population to raise up against the government. The Anarchist’s Cookbook sold about 2 million copies – not bad for a book mainly copied from US Army handbooks, and found in public libraries. Powell himself sold the rights to his publisher Lyle Stuart for 10000$, and got royalties of around 5000$. Unfortunately for the Powell, 65 at the time of the film, when ‘interrogated’ by Siskel it also emerges that his book was found in the possession of the perpetrators of the Columbine School shooting, and the Oklahoma City tragedy amongst many others.  “Would you villify the makers of guns?” points out Powell, who maintains his innocence although confesses to feeling a certain amount of regret, if not remorse.

Nevertheless, Powell comes over as haunted man: his whole career in schooling pupils with special needs in Asia and Africa, was blighted by the “Cookbook”: he lost countless positions and always lived in fear that his youthful tract would catch up with him. What is surprising, is the fact, that neither Powell nor SIskel discuss the role of the USA gun lobby and State Weapon laws in the terror acts of the past. After all, the Columbine killers bought their weapons on the net! Who needs “The Cookbook” when they can buy weapons like sweets.

It is the US-gun culture, who is far more responsible for the violence in the streets than any books – and it is defended by politicians of both major parties. As long as no changes in the law are enforced, the status quo is an invitation to run amok – never mind the political/religious affiliation of the disturbed psychopath.

William Powell died suddenly this summer after one year into shooting of the documentary. He atoned all his life for his youthful provocation, helping young students to channel their alienation and aggression into something constructive. As for Siskel: we should thank him for his efforts as a filmmaker, which are invaluable. But one would except a little bit more humility from a man who was involved in controversy himself as a filmmaker of Finding Vivian Mayer and co-producer of Michal Moore’s Bowling for Columbine. Nobody should throw stones – never mind the glass house. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2016 | UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

Safari (2016) | Venice Film Festival

Dir: Ulrich Seidl | Doc | Austria | 90min

Ulrich Seidl’s deadpan documentary portrait of mindless game hunters in the bushy and peaceful paradise of Namibia’s low veldt is upsetting and deeply enraging. His unjudgemental approach is the ultimate in’ less is more’ craftsmanship, leaving us quietly seething as we sit by powerless as a devastating cocktail of mixed emotions slowly percolates through our consciousness.

In a series of limpidly filmed and perfectly formed tableaux vivants, (that recall those of his last film In the Basement), game hunters talk of their feelings of tension as they carefully track their victims and the extreme euphoria of the adrenaline rush after they have shot their prey – or ‘pieces’ as they call them. One bloated and elderly couple (who look like a pair of raddled wildebeasts) proudly churn out a macabre price list of their upcoming massacre: it would only cost them a couple of hundred euros to shoot an impala. Another young couple – kitted out in the latest safari gear and gold watches – try to defend their actions as somehow beneficial to the ecosystem. So they are killing and getting away with it as do-gooders to the universe. So this is their version of charity work or ‘giving-back’ as it’s glibly referred to nowadays.

Out in the bush Seidl’s camera tracks the hunters on foot and in their jeeps as the trackers mark out the potential prey while a professional marksman accompanies them on foot offering tips and guidance in preparation for the shoot. In one particularly graphic scene a zebra is followed and shot down. The young hunter is then congratulated before posing for photos with his lifeless trophy which we later see being butchered in the makeshift abattoir, ready for its journey back to Austria to guild the wall. Not since the death of ‘Cecil the lion’ in 2015 have we been so moved and angered. This self justification of slaughter is also partly based on the fact that their are purportedly giving the local trackers, rangers and marksman a livelihood. That ghastly feudal adage springs to mind: “it is the duty of the nobleman to give employment to the common man”. But their job is vile and the scene where they are required to skin and dismember a giraffe is one of the most upsetting pieces of footage ever committed to camera.

Humour and light relief comes from watching another raddled old bloke gently snoring – beer can in his hand –  to the ambient sounds  of animals,  as he waits for a potential shoutout behind a bogus hunting cabin.

Apart from the sheer horror of the killings, the most galling aspect of SAFARI is the glee and self-congratulatory nature of the hunters who trespass on this magnificent country. Many who have visited Southern Africa will have seen a notice: “Welcome to our country – take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints”.

The feint-hearted and animals lovers will find this documentary distressing. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

 

Sámi Blod | Sami Blood (2016| Venice Film Festival

Writer| Dir. Amanda Kernell

Cast: Lene Cecilia Sparrok, Mia Erika Sparrok, Maj Doris Rimpi, Julius Fleischandrl, Olle Sarri, Hanna Alström, Malin Crépin, Andreas Kundler, Ylva Gustafsson

110min | Sweden/Denmark/Norway.

Amanda Kernell brings her Sámi heritage to this impressive feature debut, a fresh and painterly portrait of Sweden’s little known history of racism and colonial domination, set during the 1930s and seen through the eyes of a fiercely precocious teenager who is determined to make a future for herself away from the Lapp reindeer-herding community of her childhood.

Kernell’s masterly command of framing, cinematography, script and tone is laudable and her ability to evoke powerful emotions through her central characters sets her out as a real talent  in the making. SAME BLOOD also raises the profile of the Sami community and their fight for a future which very much connects to a global narrative of survival for small communities all over the world.

The girl in question, Ella Marja is played by newcomer Lene Cecilia Sparrok as a young teen, and Maj Doris Rimpi as an elderly woman (based on the director’s own grandmother) who we first meet in the opening scenes where she has renounced her rheindeer hearding community, an event which sparks off her memories of the past which unspool gradually forming the central narrative. From the beginning Ella Marja is different from her school friends who are all happy to wear the Sami national dress in their local school.

After humiliation during a visit from Swedish scientists when she is forced to strip naked for the collection of genetic data she runs home and is set upon by a group of local Lapp louts. Deciding to call herself Christina, she then runs away to Uppsala where she reconnects with a wealthy Swedish boy she danced with at a party. The two develop a chemistry of sorts and she later turns up at his home in the mistaken belief that Swedish hospitality is as welcoming as that of her native culture. But his parents are clearly suspicious of his intentions and urge him to get rid of her, fearing she may get pregnant or become dependent on him. After attempting to join an expensive local boarding school, she finds her way back to his birthday party one night, and is cajoled into singing a traditional Sami yodelling song, as they look on condescendingly as if she if some circus clown.

Kernell makes great use of the magnificent skyscapes of Lapland and the elegance of Uppsala’s buildings and ‘beautiful people’ with impeccable attention to period detail, sumptuous fashions and glorious Scandinavian interiors . SAME BLOOD is one of the gems of the festival so far. MT

GIORNATI DEGLI AUTORI | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

 

The Net | Geumul (2016) | Venice 2016

Dir: Kim Ki-Duk | Cast:

Cast: Ryoo Seung-bum, Lee Won-gun, Kim Young-min, Choi Guy-hwa

112min | Korea | Thriller

Nobody wins in Korean maverick Kim Ki-duk’s latest film – a brutal North|South ‘defection’ tragedy that opened the new Cinema del Giardino at Venice Film Festival 2016.

With moments of dark and lacerating humour and a really grim scene where a potential North Korean spy gurgles to his death by swallowing his own tongue, this is a social and political story that condemns both the Communist regime in the North and the South’s rampant Capitalism showing that, at the end of the day, both are morally and politically corrupt and unsatisfactory for completely different reasons – although the North Korean hero, an honest fisherman who thinks the grass is still greener in his homeland until the mournfully tragic denouement.

When his fishing boat breaks down in a slim stretch of water between North and South, sending it into the ‘no go’ zone, he is captured by the South Korean security forces and remanded for questioning. Although he answers openly and frankly, his assigned investigator is an embittered sadist who is desperate to convict him for spying against the South and subjects him to a series of harsh cross examinations reducing his morale to rock bottom despite his fierce attempts at self preservation claiming his toughness and physical strength is earned him the name ‘Iron Fist’ – during his National Service days. A sympathetic guard (who secretly fancies him) desperately tries to protect him in the face of the ambivalent Head of Security but things go from bad to worse when he finally tries to make it on his own when his guard loses him while taking him on a reccy in downtown Seoul – engineered to see if he really has nefarious intentions. ‘Iron Fist’ shows himself to be a good guy by first refusing to open his eyes to avoid the corrupting forces of the surrounding commercial district, and then beating off some venal pimps who are chasing a prostitute clad only in her baby dolls. This lands him back in custody where he is practically forced to defect to the South, on ‘humanitarian’ grounds after insisting on returning home. But his problems are far from over when he is eventually released back to join his wife and daughter in the North.

Kim Ki-duk tells his political satire in a straightforward linear style taking a disenchanted look at each regime, not really coming down on either side but but exposing the gross inhumanity and injustice of both parties. At the end it is the common man who suffer; the ordinary self-employed worker. Sound familiar? MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL CONTINUES UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

 

Tutti a Casa (1960) | Venice Classics 2016

Unknown-4Dir.: Luigi Comencini; Cast: Alberto Sordi, Serge Reggiani, Martin Balsam; Italy 1960, 115 min.

Luigi Comencini (1916-2007) was an Italian director mainly known for his successful comedies like Till Marriage Do Us Part (1975). And Tutti a Casa, restored for the centenary of his birth seems to start off in a lighthearted manner. But soon, the narrative takes a very serious turn, when Lieutenant Innoncenzi (Sordi) and his men try to return home, instead of joning the German soldiers on 8th of September 1943, Armistice Day as Italy surrenders to the Allies Forces, but is thwarted by German troops, who kept on fighting,

The Germans start killing their former allies, if they do not fight on with them, and bring the war to the civilian population, who they suspect to hide partisans. One by one, Innocenzi’s man are slaughtered by the Germans: helping a Jewish girl to escape; hiding an American soldier and being shot in crossfire; doing slave labour for the Germans. Finally, Innocenzi is left alone, and is ready to fight with the partisans, firing the first shots in anger of the film.

Comencini here addresses certain taboos in Italy, where post-war history saw the country only as victims of the Nazis, never as their collaborators. But Tutti a Casa is anything but a war film, it is a humane portrait of pacifists who do not want fight on either side, but just want to return to their families. Italians were unable to see the moral dilemma of Italy becoming the accomplices of Nazi ideology after four years of war,- even if it was just by silent consent. Tutti a Casa is a humanist masterpiece, directed by a master craftsman. AS

VENICE CLASSICS | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

You Never Had It – An Evening with Bukowski (2016) | Venice 2016

Director: Matteo Borgardt

With Charles Bukowski

51min | US | Doc

Not really much to be learnt from Silvia Bizio’s seventies interview with the legendary American writer who appears here in LA surrounded by a psycophantic wntourage of his young chain smoking wife Linda Lee and a photographer. Interspersed with Bokowski’s maxims and truisms to a collage of grim photos of down and outs in LA – Jem Cohen style without the irony – Bizio attempts to ask leading questions as they all get drunk together, but is met with a stream of largely uninformative answers laced with plenty of references to the sex that Bukowski is clearly not getting, or managing: pithy it is not. One of two revelations emerge: He puts his candour and insight down to prolonged beatings by his father and dislikes talking to other writers describing it as “like sitting in a bath drinking water”. Bizio was right, her tapes are in poor condition and the sound in Sala Perla was screachingly loud. Stick to his books is the advice here.

SCREENING DURING VENICE FILM FESTIVAL until 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

Venice International Film Festival | Competition titles | 31 August – 10 September 2016

CochwLhXgAApL_kThe 73rd edition of Venice International Film Festival runs this year from 31 August until 10 September stealing a march on Toronto with a sparkling array of some of the most innovative arthouse world premieres of the year together more mainstream fare competing for the coveted GOLDEN LION.

Under the auspices of Jury President Sam Mendes, Venezia 73 presents the following films in Competition»

ANA LILY AMIRPOUR – THE BAD BATCH
USA, 115’

Amirpour’s follow-up to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, this dystopian love story is set in Texas amongst a community of cannibals and features locals alongside stars Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey and Giovanni Ribisi. Amirpour’s regular award-winning DoP Lyle Vincent and musical collaborator  Andrea von Foerster should make this another entertaining watch.

Une Vie © TS Productions 4STÉPHANE BRIZÉ – UNE VIE

Brize’s screen adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s first novel is a pessimistic study of love and loss seen through the eyes of a Normandy woman in the late 1888s. Starring Judith Chemla, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Swann Arlaud, Yolande Moreau it is a French Belgian co-pro.

DAMIEN CHAZELLE – LA LA LAND (cover picture) USA, 127’

Chazelle’s follow-up to the ubiquitously popular Whiplash is an LA-set love story again music is the theme – this time full on Jazz. Stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, J.K. Simmons, Finn Wittrock

THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANSDEREK CIANFRANCE – THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS
Usa, Australia, New Zealand, 133’

Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz are the troubled trio in this lighthouse-set story about an Australian couple who adopt a baby discovered in a lifeboat. With Alexandre Desplat doing the score this promises to be a sweepingly romantic love on the rocks affair with some inventive visuals from Macbeth (2015) DoP Adam Arkapaw.

El ciudadano ilustre 1MARIANO COHN, GASTÓN DUPRAT – EL CIUDADANO ILUSTRE
Argentina, Spain, 118’

Award-winning Argentinian directors Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat are best known in their native country particularly for their dark comedy thriller The Man Next Door. Oscar Martínez, Dady Brieva, Andrea Frigerio, Nora Navas, Gustavo Garzón star in this Golden Lion hopeful about a Novel prize winner who visits the town and meets the real people who have been the inspiration for his novels, with some spectacular revelations.

Spira mirabilis 1MASSIMO D’ANOLFI, MARTINA PARENTI – SPIRA MIRABILIS
Italy, Switzerland, 121’

Anyone who saw the documentary ‘Never Ending Factory of the Duomo’ at Locarno last year will be looking forward to this latest documentary offering from the prize-winning Italian director.

 

t0602charo2LAV DIAZ – ANG BABAENG HUMAYO (THE WOMAN WHO LEFT)
Philippines, 226’

Another slow and thorough drama from Diaz this time offering a leading role for veteran Philippina actress Charo Santos-Concio. John Lloyd Cruz also stars.

La región salvaje 1 © Manuel Claro Martín EscalanteAMAT ESCALANTE – LA REGIÓN SALVAJE
Mexico, 100’

Fans of the Mexican director will be thrilled to see that he is back in the competition line-up with another gritty drama from the wilds of his often violent homeland starring Ruth Ramos, Simone Bucio, Jesús Meza, Edén Villavicencio.

Nocturnal Animals 3 © Merrick Morton Universal Pictures InternationalTOM FORD – NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
USA, 115’

A Single Man director and former Gucci impresario Tom Ford’s latest drama is set in California with a starry cast of Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher and Laura Linney. It centres on an art gallery owner who is haunted by the violent subtext of a thriller written by her ex-husband. With Oscar-nominated DoP Seamus McGarvey behind the camera and Ford helming, this should be a good-looking and glamorous affair.

Piuma 5 © Antonello&MontesiROAN JOHNSON – PIUMA
Italy, 98’

British filmmaker, writer and actor Roan Johnson directs an Italian cast in this drama starring Luigi Fedele, Blu Yoshimi Di Martino, Sergio Pierattini, Michela Cescon, Francesco Colella.

IMG_2735

ANDREI KONCHALOVSKY – RAI (PARADISE) 130′

The Russian auteur was last in Venice in 2014 with his Green Drop award-winning drama Postman’s White Nights which is still waiting for a UK release. This Russia Germany co-pro follows three people whose paths cross during wartime: Olga, a Russian aristocratic member of the French Resistance, Jules, a French collaborator and Helmut a senior SS Officer. It stars Julia Vysotskaya, Christian Clauss, Philippe Duquesne, Victor Sukhorukov, Peter Kurt and is shot by ace DoP Aleksandr Simonov (Cargo 200, The Stoker, Heaven on Earth).

CocaSGWWAAAq4XhMARTIN KOOLHOVEN – BRIMSTONE
Holland, Germany, Belgium France, GB, Sweden, 148’
Dakota Fanning, Guy Pearce, Emilia Jones, Kit Harington, Carice Van Houten

Winter in Wartime was Koolhoven’s beautifully crafted and touching wartime drama that never got a UK release but is available for less than a £1 on amazon. This promises to be an epic Western drama that boasts Spain, Hungary, Germany and Austria amongst its settings for a tale of religious vehemence, as the title would suggest.

CocaufJWcAA1veEEMIR KUSTURICA – NA MLIJECNOM PUTU (ON THE MILKY ROAD)
Serbia, GB, Usa, 125’

This film has be mired in controversy for several years, so if nothing else, it will be interesting to see it finally on the big screen. Monica Bellucci was last in Venice in 2014 for Alice Rohrwacher’s The Wonders and is always worth watching. Emir Kusturica, Sloboda Micalovic, Predrag Manojlovic also star in a drama that is billed as “3 periods in the life of a lucky milkman who ends up as a monk” . Go figure.

Jackie © Stéphanie Branchu copyPABLO LARRAÍN – JACKIE
Usa, Cile, 95’
Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt

Eclectic casting here will certainly make Larrain’s drama an intriguing watch if nothing else. But with his latest films Neruda and The Club still resonating amongst critics and audiences, it’s a tribute to the young Chilean director that he has finally made it to the Venice competition line-up with a biopic drama that explores the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy’s days in the immediate aftermath to JFK assassination. Surely it will be better than the last film that tackled this subject at Venice, Peter Landesman’s Parkland.

Coca343XgAQfBvmTERRENCE MALICK – VOYAGE OF TIME
Usa, Germay 90’

Malick is back with a docudrama that may not prove to be as divisive as his recent efforts To The Wonder and Knight of Cups. This sets out to be an examination of the birth and death of the Universe with narration by Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Photographed by The Revenant‘s DoP Paul Atkins it should at least offer an eyeful so watch this space. Hopefully no more swirling through sunlit beaches by scantily clad nymphs…but you never know.

CocbcOlWcAAeYm1CHRISTOPHER MURRAY – EL CRISTO CIEGO
Chile, France, 85’

A drama set in a remote backwater of the Chilean desert is Christopher Murray’s third feature – the leading actor is Michael Silva who made his big screen debut in Neruda and here he plays Rafael aka Christ. He is also ‘blind’  Bastian Inostroza, Ana Maria Henriquez, Mauricio Pinto also star.

IMG_2734FRANÇOIS OZON – FRANTZ
France, Germany, 113’

After his gender-bending comedy drama The New Girlfriend, French maverick François Ozon will be in Venice to present a black and white WWII romantic drama starring Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent) and Paula Beer as a couple who meet at the grave of her fiance. Marie Gruber, Ernst Stötzner, Cyrielle Claire provide support.

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GIUSEPPE PICCIONI – QUESTI GIORNI
Italy 120’

Margherita Buy is Italy’s answer to Isabelle Huppert although she tends to take on softer more tentative characters as here where she plays Adria in Giuseppe Piccioni’s literary adaptation of Marta Bertini’s novel about four provincial university friends and their trip to Belgrade, where one of them has a mysterious friend and an possible job opportunity.

Arrival 2DENIS VILLENEUVE – ARRIVAL
Usa, 116’

Set to be the action film of the late summer, premiering at Venice before opening Toronto. Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker lead a starry cast in this Sci-Fi adventure that takes place after alien crafts land across the globe inciting the military to bring in an expert linguist to discover whether they are goodies or baddies.

CoccZmtXYAARypN.jpg-largeWIM WENDERS – LES BEAUX JOURS D’ARANJUEZ (3D)
France, Germany, 97’

Wim Wenders certainly enjoys filming in 3D, this being his second foray – his first Everything Will Be Fine – was met with mixed reviews as to why he’d used the medium for a standard drama that explored the aftermath of a domestic tragedy. Experimental to the last, this stars Reda Kateb, Sophie Semin, Jens Harzer and  Nick Cave who find themselves in the contempo Spanish city of Aranjuez dealing with a complex set of moral and sexual dilemmas. Judging from his previous 3D affair this should be torrid and colourful. MT

WATCH THIS SPACE FOR FURTHER ADDITIONS TO THE COMPETITION LINE-UP | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 31 AUGUST – 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

Venice Film Festival | The 1960s and 1970s

Ivan_5Between 1961 and 1962 the Festival became a showcase for renewal in cinema. The different sections included films from free British cinema, the consecration of the nouvelle vague, and young Italian directors: Pasolini, Bertolucci and the Taviani brothers. The Lions were reliable and not lacking in courage: L’année dernière à Marienbad by Alain Resnais and the Zurlini/Tarkovsky team with Cronaca familiare and Ivan’s Childhood.

dreyerThen came the era of Luigi Chiarini, the “professor”; who from 1963 to 1968 renewed the spirit and structure of the Venice International Film Festival. A coherent and authoritative director who spent six years organising series of films according to strict aesthetic criteria regarding selection and resisting the social scene, political pressures and the interference of the film industry. Chiarini skilfully placed the work of masters with that of young emerging talents: Godard and Dreyer, Bergman and Penn, Pasolini and Bresson, Kurosawa and Bellocchio, Truffaut and Rossellini, then Carmelo Bene, Cassavetes and Cavani. This continued up until the last Lion, in 1968, that meant an opening onto the neuer deutscher Film with Alexander Kluge’s Die Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: ratlos.

The Festival (along with the Biennale) still had a statute dating back to the fascist era and could not side-step the general political climate. Sixty-eight produced a dramatic fracture with the past. Up until 1980 the Lions were not awarded.

As an effect of the dissent, prize-giving was abolished in ’68. From 1969 to 1972 the Festival was non-competitive (the first two were directed by Ernesto G. Laura, and the successive one by Gian Luigi Rondi), and numerous parallel festivals were organised. In 1971 John Ford and Charlie Chaplin the following year, received the Golden Lion for Career Achievement assigned by the Festival. 1971 was also the year in which festival audiences saw a Chinese documentary, a filmed ballet which was screened for the first time: Hung sik laung dje ching (The Red Detachment of Women). 

In 1972 the historic city centre of Venice was used as the venue for the “Giornate del Cinema italiano”, in contrast with the Festival held at the Lido. From 1974 to 1976, under the direction of Giacomo Gambetti, an attempt was made at a “different” Festival with “proposals for new films”, tributes, retrospectives and conventions, with some screenings still in Venice. 1977 saw an event focused on cinema in Eastern Europe that was integrated into the Biennale project on “cultural dissent”. The Festival did not take place in 1978.

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL RUNS FROM 31 AUGUST UNTIL 10 SEPTEMBER 2016

El Clan (2015) | Best Director| Argentinian Film Festival

Director: Pablo Trapero

Cast: Antonia Bengoechea, Gaston Cocchiarale, Guillermo Francella, Stefania Koessl

110min  Crime Drama | Argentina

Pablo Trapero’s heightened melodrama chronicling the true story of the Puccio Clan, a family who kidnapped and killed people in 80s Buenos Aires, will have little interest for those outside Argentina. Though as a study of family psychopathy, it zips along in undeniably gripping although at times uneven style.

It emerges that the Puccio family were hardly on the breadline. The scion, Arquimedes Puccio, is father to five kids who live in reasonable comfort together with wife Epifania (Lili Popovich), a teacher; while making a living kidnapping those who clearly had a few bob more than themselves. Guillermo Francella (The Secrets of Their Eyes) plays the hard-eyed cool operator with a smug obsequious conceit that is both irritating and deeply unsettling; his fiery rugger bugger son, Alex (Peter Lanzini), is a more appealing character and the two vy with each other throughout making this an absorbing father|son portrait as much as it is a noirish seventies-set crime thriller.

EL CLAN opens with a brief political sketch of the Argentinian scene in the early eighties when the country was attempting to return to democracy after years of dictatorship. As in most Latin countries, well-heeled Arquimedes is closely connected to the right people in business and government. He also expects to rule his family with a rod of iron, maintaining a close grip on family affairs and engaging the children as accomplices in his skulduggery – whether they like it or not. Alex resents his father using him to facilitate the kidnap of a rugby club contact – even though he gets to set up a diving shop with a cut of the dosh – but is horrified when the victim is kept chained to a radiator in one of their bedrooms. Kidnappings pile up often ending in the victims being killed after the ransom is collected.

There’s nothing particularly stylish or inventive about the brass-tinted aesthetic of Sebastian Orgambide’s production design or Julian Apeztquia’s camerawork: this is a bog standard genre thriller that slips down nicely as a straightforward narrative – if you happen to drop off for twenty minutes – you can rejoin the action without really missing a trick, although you’ll be hard-pressed to get much rest with Sebastian Escofet’s pounding soundtrack. Particularly macho and misogynist is the scene where Alex’s girlfriend’s cries of ecstasy are matched with those of a distressed kidnap victim.

All and all, this is stolid, run-of-the mill stuff. Decently scripted by Trapero and his sidekicks Esteban Student and Julian Loyola this will appeal to men who like a good kidnapping story or Trapero’s style. Quite why it won Best Director at Venice Film Festival remains as much of a mystery as the activities of the strangely banal yet clearly lethally dysfunctional Puccio family. MT

ARGENTINIAN FILM FESTIVAL | CURZON LONDON on 18 August 2016 | REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015

Equals (2015) | Competition | Venice Film Festival 2015

Director: Drake Doremus

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult, Guy Pearce, Bel Powley

101min  Sci-Fi   US

A futuristic love story set in a world where emotions have been eradicated

Drake Doremus (Like Crazy) has moved us with his tender love stories such as Like Crazy and Breathe In, but sci-fi romance eludes him despite Nathan Parker’s decent script that explores a world where emotion and sex are forbidden. With its catatonic pacing, EQUALS is minimalist in the most derogatory sense of the word and quotes every important Sci-fi movie ever made but forgets to create anything new. Worst still, its central lovers (Stewart /Hoult) have no chemistry.

Living in a futuristic collective, where everything seems to be white/beige: the buildings, the Nehru suits everyone wears – even the brains seem to be equally white washed. It is very difficult to create any excitement in a world bereft of emotion. Feelings are detected in regular controls and the victims are sent on a last trip. Our leading lovers, Nia and Silas hide in a little cupboard, just to hold hands. When their love blossoms, they are helped by an underground movement called ‘Hiders’, led by Guy Pearce and Jackie Weaver. But they fall victim of the ‘Health and Safety Department’, and their punishment in this dystopia is final and fatal.

Doremus tries very hard for symbolism: Silas is an illustrator, Nia writes the texts. The white gowns and militaristic day-to-day life may hint at how life under Islamist fundamentalism might be. Filmed in Japan and Singapore, images by DOP John Guleserian are impressive. But we cannot engage with Stewart and Hoult; particularly Stewart is particularly vacuous, coming across like a dead fish: not for a second can one believe that she would risk her life for a basic emotion, never mind passionate love. Nia and Silas are timid and passive, somehow one wants to root for their capture. If there would be a prize for the most insipid couple in film history, they would be odds-on favourites.AS

SOUNDTRACK STARS AWARD | VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2015

From Afar (2015) | Desde Alla | Golden Lion Winner | Venice Film Festival 2016

Director: Lorenzo Vigas

Cast: Alfredo Castro, Luis Silva, Jerico Montilla, Catherina Cardozo

93min  Drama  Venezuela | Mexico | Spanish with subtitles

The feature film debut of director Lorenzo Vigas, who has created a body of documentaries, is a small but well- observed drama set in the violent environment of Caracas and is based on a story by Guillermo Arriaga.

Armando (Castro) is a well-to-do but lonely man in his fifties resigned to his lucrative work a dental laboratory. At an encounter with his middle-aged sister, who is planning to adopt a child with her husband, we meet Armando for the first time agitated at his father’s return from abroad; his sister attempting to keep the peace. It never emerges what Armando’s issue is with his father (who we see a few times in the distance), but these negative feelings seep into his life. Sometimes he pays for a young male prostitute, but the sexual experience is more voyeuristic than anything else – until he meets the young Elder (Silva), who beats him up. Strangely, Armando seems to return for more punishment, until we begin to understand that the older man is trying to use Elder to revenge his father. Eventually passionate sex occurs but Armando warns Elder “not to get too close”, a warning Elder, who is looking for a father figure, after his mother had rejected him as a ‘faggot’, does not take seriously. The clever twist in the tale lies in the ambiguity between the two men: what appears as a tale of sexual awakening turns out to be something quite different and intriguing.

Castro is well cast as the loner who is single-mindedly focused on his own revenge: his Armando is a distracted avoidant, wrapped in his own world, alone at work and in his flat, a subdued retreat full of books and records. Elder, on the other hand, is full of contradictions: his violence is a defensive mechanism, ashamed of his tender feelings for Armando, he compensates with a macho role when he is with his friends. Vigas evokes a threatening sense of place in the Venezuelan capital where violence and alienation of the young and poor, dominate. Somehow, Armando’s psychopathic tendencies gradually emerge and it is clear that his relationships have all being tainted by his hatred for his father but his reaction to Elder comes as a complete surprise. Cinematographer Sergio Armstrong (NO) creates a sense of alienation and detachment with his washed out and torpid palette of sombre olive green and teal. A subtle and expertly-performed character study from veteran Alfredo Castro (The Club, Tony Manero) and newcomer Luis Silva. AS

REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015 | NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 1 JULY 2016

Abluka | Frenzy (2015) |

Writer|Director: Emin Alper

Cast: Mehmet Ozgur, Berkay Ates, Tülin Özen, Ozan Akbaba

Drama  Turkish with subtitles

Mehmet Ozgur played the central role in writer|director Emin Alper’s stunning debut Beyond the Hill. Here he is again as the eldest brother in a family struggling to survive political violence in a dystopian Istanbul. Menacing by the same brooding tone of his first feature, FRENZY (Abluka) is a study in paranoia that transport the threat experienced in the mountains of Beyond the Hill‘s Karaman, to an urban setting in the capital.  Here the authorities here are losing control, and to achieve a semblance of order, Kadir and his brother Ahmet (Berkey Ates) are working to establish a reasonable living environment by clearing away undesirable elements: stray dogs are mercilessly shot and rubbish is collected and disposed of on a daily basis. But despite these methods of civil control, disorder rears its ugly head.

As in all Turkish films, the family is crucial to the storyline: and the family is usually divisive in some way. Here, the violent city environment – nightly bomb blasts from ‘terrorism’ and an aggressive police presence, are having a de-stabilising effect on Kadir’s relationship with Ahmet. Ahmet’s wife has left with their children. The middle brother Ali has disappeared. Kadir has served time in prison and is now working out his parol in a community-based rubbish clearance project which includes ‘bomb’ disposal. The stray dogs appear as a metaphor for the universal theme immigration. As a clever corollary to this, when Ahmet discovers an injured dog in his street, he takes him in but treats him badly.

Ahmet is clearly at odds with Kadir and resents his constant visits which turn into menacing intrusions with Kadir practically banging down the door and ringing his ‘phone incessantly. Ahmet retreats into himself as an act of defiance and fear. The two are clearly not communicating: another modern predicament that is skillfully woven in the storyline. Kadir’s boss (Mufit Mayacan)  starts to question his overly diligent report-writing (Mufit Kayacan). The projection here is evident. But in the absence of any real threats or tangible facts in this febrile and suspicious environment, one starts to tire of the enigmatic thriller and its suberb but deafening electronic score (Cevdet Erek also scored SIVAS). That said, this is a well-crafted affair set both on the widescreen and in intimate domestic scenes that successful evokes how daily paranoia can seep into the fabric of our everyday lives threaten our ability to communicate successfully and healthily. Alper has built a menacing thriller that conveys this paranoia with dramatic affect. While it has it downsides, he is a director worth following. MT

JURY PRIZE WINNER | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2015

The Childhood of a Leader (2015)

Dir.: Brady Corbet; Cast: Tom Sweet, Berenice Bejo, Liam Cunningham, Stacy Martin, Yolande Moreau, Robert Pattinson;

UK/Hungary 2015, 113 min.

First time director Brady Corbet tries to engage with Jean-Paul Sartre’s L’enfance d’ un Chef (1938), crucially leaving out one of the main themes of the book – anti-Semitism – to end up with a caricature; in the process transforming the future petit-bourgeois ‘leader’ of Sartre’s work into a laughable, monstrous dictator by the ending.

Set in a French village after the end of WWI, little Prescot (Sweet) the son of an American diplomat (Cunningham) helping President Wilson with the Peace treaty and a German born, religiously devout Catholic(Bejo), is prone to histrionics and dark tantrums. Since both his parents are control freaks who take an emotionally distant interest in the boy (quite normal for the era) this is not particularly surprising. After his mother dismisses Mona (Moreau) the only person of any warmth in Prescot’s life, on the grounds of her disobeying orders, the wilful boy decides to stay in his room, rejecting figures of authority. The mother also sacks Ada (Martin), the boy’s French teacher. Finally, the father chases beat him brutally when he refuses him entry to his boudoir – where he literally is, as the word suggests, sulking. Childhood of a Leader ends as a farce, with the grown-up Prescot morphing into a ludicrously overbearing ruler.

Corbet’s debut is a muddled affair that attempts to keep us in the dark throughout: the tone is sinister and often terrifying, heightened by a ominous and melodramatic orchestral score. Does Presot’s father have an affair with Ada? Has the mother (an effectively coquettishly petulant Bejo)  has the mother slept with family friend (Pattinson)  mother f who comes for sporadic visits? Prescot seems to look more like him than his putative father. It’s uncertain. And finally, what is the reason for the mother getting rid of everyone who comes into daily contact with her son without replacing them?. The acting – apart from young Tom Sweet – is contrived and rather wooden, DoP’s Lou Crawley’s images are muddy and pseudo-naturalistic – pseudo being the operative word which characterises the whole production: bereft of any insight into psychological or political structures, this is a superficial travesty of Sartre’s novella. Quite why it was awarded the LEONE D’ORO for Best Debut is also unclear. Corbet has a future, let’s hope it’s a more promising one than that of his protagonist little Prescot. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | REVIEWED AT  VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2015

Court (2014)

Writer|Director: Chaitanya Tamhane

Cast: Vira Sathidar, Vivek Gomber, Geetanjali Kulharni, Pradeep Joshi

116min | Drama | India 2014

COURT is a mature and analytical debut for first time director Chaitanya Tamhane, and won him the Orrizonti Prize at Venice Film Festival (2014): Not only does it deal with the disturbingly inefficient court system in India, but also the confrontation of different social classes, cultures and generations.

In Mumbai, in the state of Maharashtra, a folksinger and political activist Narayan Kamble (Sathidar) is accused of causing the death by suicide of a sewer worker: allegedly, one of his songs called for “all sewer workers to commit suicide”. His lawyer, an upper class Gujurati, Vinay Vora (Vivek Gomber, who also produced the film), tries to convince judge Sadavarte (Joshi), that his client is innocent since there is no proof of suicide. But prosecutor Nutan (Kulharni) is adamant about Kamble’s guilt: she uses colonial laws from Victorian times and all sorts of prejudice to convince the judge, asking for no less than twenty years imprisonment for the accused. And although Kamble is a native of Maharashtra, the folk singer is also a lower-caste Marathi. But Mumbai is a huge cosmopolitan city; home to people whose heritage is from other states, at both ends of the social scale. Nutan’s ideology is that of a petite bourgeoise, disliking Kamble for the simple fact that he is a Dalit (Untouchable), whether guilty or not, and she is afraid of any subversive activity (how ever far-fetched) the singer might engage in.

After the widow of the dead sewer worker testifies that her husband never talked about suicide, but was suffering from the sulphur gases of the sewage system, Vora at least gets bail for his client, paying the 100 000 Rupees himself, with no hope of seeing any of the money. But Kamble returns from prison to publish his poetry and is arrested again for breaking the rule of his bail conditions. With a whole month of court holidays coming, Vora tries to save the 65 year-old singer from another prison stretch.

Courtroom dramas are usually full of emotional confrontations and dramatic incidents, but COURT showcases the rather pedestrian system where postponements and archaic laws dominate proceedings. Tamhane claims the idea came about: “When I attended a non-descript lower court in suburban Mumbai, the sheer lack of drama, and the casualness with which life and death decisions were being made, sparked my imagination”. But COURT is much more than a matter of how the law is applied: Vora is clearly a member of the new upper-class, and whilst his parents are traditional and only interested in grandchildren, their son loves his bachelor life. In contrast, prosecutor Nutan is an ordinary, middle class mother who cooks for her family and talks non-stop about groceries.

COURT is an immersive and engaging film: DoP Mrinal Desai’s widescreen images are precise: in the courtroom scenes he uses a static camera, showing the rigid system in all its ponderings. On the outside, everything is lively and fluid, in contrast the courtroom sessions, with their biased rules and incompetent procedures, take up most of the day. Tamhane never forces the tempo, letting everything unravel gradually, including the well-drawn personalities who are full of contradictions arising from a society where the pre-colonial world view and the modern, enlightened but crass materialistic society collide. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE AT SELECTED ARTHOUSE VENUES FROM 25 MARCH 2016
Winner: Orizzonti Award for Best Film and Lion of the Future – Luigi De Laurentiis Award for Debut Film, Venice Film Festival 2014 | More info: www.day-for-night.org/court-film

 

Marguerite (2015) | Competition | Venice Film Festival 2015

Director: Xavier Giannoli

Cast: Catherine Frot, Andre Marcon, Denis Mpunga

France, Czech Republic, Belgium 2015, 127 min.

Xavier Giannoli’s  portrait of the Roaring Twenties in Paris is neither a satire nor a celebration of the artistic life of the era; best described as a study of lonliness and self-delusion – even Catherine Frot’s stirring performance as the eponymous chanteuse cannot save this ill-advised and overlong drama from descending into tedium.

Frot, who has seen much better days in films like La Tourneuse de Pages, has to sing her heart out to keep the film alive. Her character is obviously a terrible singer, paying her way on the concert platform with her own enormous wealth. Her unsupportive husband George (Marcon) usually arrives too late at her concerts – his sports car always ‘giving up the ghost’ at the same spot – a running gag used too often. But then, repetition is the main curse of MARGUERITE: her black valet Madelbos (Mpunga) tries again and again to con her audience and journalists with bribes to attend these embarrassing soirees, the singer flirts with younger men, and the flower arrangements to mark the ‘greatness’ of her performances grow to monstrous proportions. Instead of emotion, we get pantomime; instead of characters we have caricatures and, worst of all, every move is telegraphed.

The opulent production design makes one one wonder how costs could have been spent more wisely and the dreadfully contrived ending sends everyone rushing home before the final credits have rolled – just to escape this unspeakably noisy, over-bearing and unimaginative caricature of a film where the only laughs are involuntary, directed at the majority of unfortunate collaborators. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2-12 September 2015

 

Anomalisa (2015)

Writer| Director: Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson

With the voices of: Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Thewlis, Tom Noonan

90min Animation | Comedy | US

Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) is joined by stop-motion specialist Duke Johnson for this gloomy but watchable dystopian tale, which raises the odd laugh in spite of its depressing outlook.

Michael Stone (Thewlis), a small celebrity and author of a Customer Service bestseller, lands in Cincinnati to speak at a congress. In the bland hotel Il Fregoli, he feels lonely and ‘phones his ex Bella, a woman whom he left abruptly 11 years ago. They meet in a bar and we are shocked to hear her speak with the voice of Tom Noonan. Michael tells her about his unhappy marriage and Bella runs off, frustrated. Back in the hotel, Michael still feels depressed so he knocks on a few doors and eventually meets Lisa (Lee), the only woman with a female voice. After much drinking, he seduces her and promises her the Earth. Disillusioned the next morning, he returns home to his wife Donna and his little son.

There something very intriguing about ANOMALISA despite its banal premise and is largely due to the fascination of the puppets. Endearing and rather cute, they have soft downy looking faces and move a round with a jerkiness that reminds us of the TV series ‘The Woodentops’. Sometimes the upper end of their faces sometimes becomes unhinged, so we can see the electronics of their brains. The women all look more or less the same and the individual male characteristics are not much more developed facially, although Michael’s intimate parts are fully formed. Everyone lives in a state of emotional regression and there are clearly anger management issues resulting from emotional stress of 21st century and talk in cliches picked up on TV or from advertising. Michael is a banal character who is disconnected from reality or the consequences of his actions: when he picks up a present for his son, he ‘overlooks’ that he is in a sex-toy shop, presenting his son on his return with an antique Japanese sex doll, which secretes sperm in the hand of the minor.

Kaufman is, as usual, very clever: The Fregoli syndrome is a psychiatric term for a paranoid development which allows the person afflicted to see all his attackers as one being. One of the causes of the condition is the long term use of anti-depressants. There are hilarious moments in Anomalisa, when Lisa sings a heartbreaking version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cindy Lauper in Michael’s hotel room. But overall, Anomalisa suffers from a detached approach where the audience is not always sure if Kaufman is laughing at or about his protagonists. The puppets are stunning, but the whole experimental atmosphere feels too orchestrated and contrived. A maximal aesthetic effort contrasts with a rather lightweight and schematic narrative but worth seeing for its original look. AS

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE 

Per Amor Vostro (2015) | Anna | CINEMA MADE IN ITALY WEEKEND

Direct0r: Giuseppe M. Gaudino

Cast: Valeria Golino, Massimiliano Gallo, Adriano Giannini, Elisabetta Mirra, Daria d’Isanto, Eduardo Cro

109 min | Italy France | Drama

Director and co-writer Giuseppe M. Gaudino (Round the Moon between Earth and Sea) delivers a typically Italian tale of woe and a sensitive character piece for Valeria Golino, one of Italy’s best loved actresses. Anna is a mother of three, a martyr to her family who is clearly depressed. Overloading the already confusing narrative with various subplots, Gaudino chooses a mannered style which oscillates between moody black and white images and colourful phantasy sequences, leaving Golino to struggle with her subtly nuanced performance amid a fog of artistic experimentation.

In Naples, Anna is in her forties and lives with her teenage children Santina (Mirra), Cinzia (D’Isanto) and Arturo (Cro), the latter being deaf, and her violent out of work husband Gigi (Gallo), a failed singer, whose has previously led his family to near ruin. But a criminal streak run throughout the whole family: Anna served time in a  juvenile prison to cover up for an adult relative, who would have had to spent ten years behind bars. Now working in a TV studio, she writes dialogue prompts for the amateurish cast of a TV soap opera that stars another Italian favourite Adriano Giannini (as Michele). In a brief spell of euphoria the two become lovers but gradually black clouds drift in (literally and metaphorically) when a friend, whom she replaced at work, is murdered. But that’s not all: her family is again plunged into financial trauma affecting the lives of her neighbours.

Valeria Golino moves elegantly through this drama with impressive grace and serenity despite her purported mental instability and Matteo Cocco’s appalling black and white images and freeze frames which lend and air of artificiality to the whole undertaking: they lack any crispness because they have been probably shot originally in colour. In an attempt to evoke feelings of helplessness, her bus becomes flooded with water. Other artful gimmicks include clouds of ink which gather whenever Anna looks out of her window into the Bay of Naples. Obviously, Gaudino is trying to convey Anna’s mental illness in these symbolic sequences but the results are often overbearing and provide no real insight into her troubled mind. An often repeated kitsch-colour scene shows her as an angelic child, having to ‘fly’ from her window down to the yard on a secured rope. But despite her unhappiness she feels a responsibility to her kids, despite Santina’s turning against her on the grounds of her lack of enterprise in acquiesing to her difficult past.  Valeria Golino won the Silver Lion for Best Actress at last year’s Venice Film Festival for her portrayal. She is the only reason to watch this over-ambitious, but flawed drama. And, of course, Adriano Giannini who is superb as the quintessential Latin Lover, with his raffish charm and come to bed eyes. AS

SCREENING DURING CINEMA MADE IN ITALY | 10 – 14 MARCH 2016 |

Remember (2015) |

Director: Atom Egoyan

Cast: Christopher Plummer, Bruno Ganz, Dean Norris, Martin Landau,

95min  Thriller  History

Atom Egoyan still has the power to pull an emotional punch, and even though REMEMBER doesn’t quite hit the highs of Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter it is a classy war-themed thriller with a relevant twist to its tightly scripted tale of revenge.

Christopher Plummer’s towering performance transforms this rather stolid affair into an emotional tour de force as Auschwitz survivor Zev Guttman who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and confined to a home after the death of his second wife Ruth. With time on his hands and the help of his fellow inmate Max (Landau) he hatches a plan to hunt down a former concentration camp guard Rudy Kurlander who lives under an assumed name in the USA. Rudy’s journey takes him from Canada to Ohio, then Idaho where he finds out that the Kurlander in question has already died. But his son (Norris), a state trooper, is an ardent Nazi like his father. who just  a cook in the SS. Finally, in California, where Zev’s son Charles (Czerny) catches up with his father, henseems to have found the right man – but his name is not Kurlander.

REMEMBER’s rather formal structure is given an inventive, surprise-ending and Plummer holds our attention with his utterly believable turn as a dementia-ridden family man with a killer instinct, clearly homed during his war experiences and although Egoyan’s strict linear narrative takes some of the suspense away, he transforms little details into meaningful images: observations of the modern consumer world seen through the eyes of a septuagenarian make this feel real and even humorous, breaking up the sombre subject-matter. REMEMBER is old-fashioned but engaging – just the right film to see with the whole family on a Sunday afternoon. AF

ON RELEASE FROM 19 FEBRUARY 2016 |REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | now SHOWING AT LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2015

 

Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)

Director Amy Berg | Producer: Alex Gibney | Narrator: Cat Power | Documentary   US

In her biopic of the maverick artist Janis Joplin, which has its premiere here in Venice Film Festival, Amy Berg offers up a treasure trove of musical footage and interviews to flesh out a voluptuously generous portrait of an American sixties singer who sang from the heart and was tenderly in touch with her emotions: “maybe ambition is a quest for love, lots of love”.

Janis Joplin’s life was cut short when she died on October 4th, 1970 at the age of only 27, in the midst of a musical odyssey that had started to take a promising professional turn. In an era where most women were being housewives and mothers, Joplin was pushing out the boundaries of a musical career. Berg focuses on Joplin’s overwhelming desire to engage and interact with her audience rather than to be a star standing alone on a stage: “I like Music because it comes from emotion and creates emotion”. And this emphasis on her music as a gift to inspire is what ultimately makes Berg’s documentary JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE a winner on a human level.

With JANIS, Amy Berg is becoming somewhat of a star herself on the documentary stage. Deliver Us from Evil, and the upcoming Prophet’s Prey are recent examples of her remarkable ability to communicate difficult stories in a fascinating and absorbing way. Her films play out with the tension and resonance of great drama and by avoiding endless facts and figures, they illuminate their subject matter in appealing and comprehensive ways. And JANIS is no different. What we take away here is a portrait of a likeable, non-conformist who was dedicated to her craft and had the ability to inspire and impress everyone she met. Janis was not known for her physical beauty: she was once voted “Ugliest Man” by University of Texas male students – an episode that understandably crushed her – but her electrifying enthusiasm charmed and seduced men as she developed her craft. And although her life ultimately ended in tragedy, Janis had almost conquered her demons and come to terms with her unhappy early years as a woman who was, clearly, very different from her peers.

So Joplin emerges as a young woman who found she had a voice in her late teens. In the narration by Chan Marshall (Cat Power) we discover that she left home after university in Austin, Texas to go to  San Francisco where she dated both men and women on the music scene and quickly became addicted to Methedrine, which sent her back to dry out at her parents’ back in Texas. After joining a popular band Big Brother and the Holding Company, she formed close links with Pig Pen and Country Joe McDonald in an industry that was dominated – and still is – by strong male personalities. There is a recurring motif of a train running down a track and this seems to celebrate Joplin’s spirit of always moving on to new challenges in the unknown, After a dalliance with the Kozmic Blues Band she went on to play at Monterey Pop and Woodstock, almost made a film with D A Pennebaker and gradually drifted on through a haze of drugs, drink, friends – Dick Cavett and Bob Weir (Grateful Dead) stand out – and lovers who remember her with great fondness and joy. There are frequent personal letters to her parents and her sister, who also appears on camera.

With JANIS, Amy Berg has distilled an intimate elixir of this charismatic force of nature, who wore her heart on her sleeve. When all is said and done – and the circumstances of Joplin’s tragic death are thankfully only mentioned briefly – what stands out is the tale of a pioneering woman who was loved and admired by everyone and who got better at the craft she valued most in her life. and that’s the most important part. This is not just a biopic for Joplin fans but for anyone fascinated by the music scene of the sixties. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | reviewed at VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2015

Amazonia (2013)

Amazonia_4_-___2013_Le_Pacte_Biloba_Films_Gullane copyDirector: Thierry Ragobert   Writers: Stephane Milliere

83min  Documentary   France | Brazil

AMAZONIA is Brazilian helmer Thierry Rogobert’s enchanting and eye-popping 3D docudrama filmed entirely in the Amazon jungle. Crafting an absorbingly tense adventure story, AMAZONIA follows Kong, an endearingly cute baby cappucine monkey, who is left to his own devices as the sole survivor of a plane crash that leaves him stranded deep in the Brazilian rainforest.

From the opening sequences we instantly bond with Kong. As his bewildered little face looks up at the camera, our natural instincts come to the fore with a strong desire to protect him on his journey as he fends for himself in the wild. Apart the natural ambient sounds of the forest: rain and random predators, Rogobert’s film is entirely unscripted providing viewers with a rich visual canvas of vibrantly and exotic flora on which to meditate on Kong’s eventful journey and its surprising outcome. David Attenborough will be proud!. MT

NOW OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE | REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2013

Everest (2015) Prime

Dir: Baltazar Kormákur | Cast: Jake Gyllenhall, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, Elizabeth Debicki, Keira Knightley | 121min  Action thriller

Icelandic director Baltazar Kormakur attempts to scale the highest peak but doesn’t quite reach Nirvana here in a thriller based on real events (always a tricky premise when those affected are still alive). Everest wraps a series of lukewarm love stories in the grip of an icy disaster movie, based on an attempt to scale Mount Everest in 1996. For once the 3D format actually brings to life the vertiginous peaks, hellish chasms and lofty mountain scenery of Nepal but somehow the human elements are less impressive.

The action shifts between a group of gung-ho mountaineers bent on proving themselves, leaving their disappointed partners back home trying to grapple with real life. And although Kormakur spends a long time at basecamp building rapport with his characters, none stands out with a personality to make us care if they succeed or fail. Jake Gyllenhaal is billed as the star of this ‘epic’ drama but is cast as a neanderthal nice-guy so cool he ends up frigid, quite literally. Josh Brolin starts out fighting fit but will limp back to his Texan roost where his wife (Robin Wright) is the one really wearing the trousers. Keira Knightley is there with her signature grimace and a bump to keep her grounded, while her on screen partner Jason Clarke gets to lead the expedition (as Rob Hall) in a ridiculously patterned romper suit. In a bizarre twist, there are no heroes but plenty of fall-guys – in the true sense of the word.

Ostensibly, climbing is now a commercial exercise, and there are plenty of organisations in the Himalayas making money out of their punters’ desires and dreams: And we’re talking big money to the tune of $65,000 a pop. Clearly there are risks as well as rewards and the former outweighs the latter. Rob is responsible for ensuring he delivers – not only for the clients but also for his bosses: As Emma Watson’s stolid base-camp administrator Helen (who job is to be the lynchpin) points out: “it’ll be bad if we don’t get any climbers to the summit again this year”.

As an experienced mountaineer, Rob is the consummate professional. Despite his unwise sartorial choices, you feel safe with him but spooked out by his climbing advice: “Human beings aren’t built to function at the cruising altitude of a 747.” The other clients in the group are Doug Hansen (John Hawkes) a part-time postman, and Yasuko (Naoko Mori), the token woman. And to give the expedition glowing press coverage there is well-known journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly, who also features in Amy Berg’s Prophet’s Prey) who went on to write about the ill-fated expedition.

Jake Gyllenhaal is oddly cast as Scott Fischer, a laid back guru leading a competing team, who ends up drifting off into the snowy outback as an also-ran. A perfect storm is to alter the course of their odyssey with unsurprisingly tragic results that make for some gripping viewing, and Kormakur doesn’t disappoint in icy ground already covered in  Kevin Macdonald’s 2003 documentary Touching The Void. The ascent is always easier than the descent where summits are concerned: the euphoria at reaching the summit leads to slackness in safety procedures and mistakes are inevitable on the way down A fatal flaw in the timing of Rob and Doug’s descent leads to tragedy – but whether this is due to human error or just an Act of God with the ‘mountain making it’s own weather’ is never determined.

Everest is an entertaining watch but its human backstory is as disappointing as that of Kormakur’s previous outing The Deep that loses its way in slushy characterisation so as not to upset the real people affected. Go for the terrific view. MT

NOW ON AMAZON PRIME | TOUCHING THE VOID is on MUBI

 

Black Mass (2015) Netflix

Dir: Scott Cooper | Cast: Johnny Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dakota Johnson, Joel Edgerton, Corey Stoll, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott | 122min  Crime Thriller  US

In Scott Cooper’s Boston gangland thriller Johnny Depp plays vicious psychopath Whitey Bulger who, like his English counterparts the Kray Brothers, was also very fond of his mother.

This is Scott Cooper’s first foray into the big time and he handles it competently – if not a little derivatively – largely due to a strong cast of talent in which Depp is the star turn. This is a saga of multiple murder, revenge and betrayal underpinned by a long-standing relationship between gangland boss Bulger and his childhood mate John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who for many years leads the unsuccessful police investigation into the capture of the arch felon.

With scrappy nicotine-tinged hair, brownish teeth and an icy stare that embodies evil, Depp provides compelling viewing as the terrifying James “Whitey” Bulger, a criminal who menaced everyone who knew him around South Boston from the 1970s until 1994, when he went into hiding for nearly 16 years before finally being run to ground in California. In his weak defence, he claimed to be ‘in league’ with the Feds to rid Boston on the Italian mafia.

The action sequences are intercut with interview testimonials given by members of Bulger’s mob to provide a tightly-scripted and absorbing account of events and add superb structure to the storyline. It emerges that Bulger was a long-term criminal in ‘Southie’ (South Boston) and also served time in Alcatraz. His enemies, the Angiulo family of North Boston, are the reason the FBI, under the auspices of John Morris (David Harbour) and Connolly, eventually persuade Bulger to secretly team up against their mutual enemy and this provides Bulger with an opportunity to flex his muscles largely without interuption until Corey Stoll (a masterful Fred Wyshak) takes over as a federal prosecutor determined to nail Bulger, once and for all.

The ubiquitous but stalwart Benedict Cumberbatch finds his way into the storyline as Whitey’s brother Billy who happens to be Massachusetts’ most powerful state senator. There is also a brief cameo role for Dakota Johnson as his steely wife and mother to Whitey’s only child, a six-year-old boy who dies from an allergic reaction to an injection.

Cooper’s production looks slick and authentic with some excellent interior sequences as well as plenty of shootouts in the rainy streets of a seventies Boston provided by Masanobu Takayanagi’s well-crafted cinematography. In support roles, Adam Scott and Kevin Bacon are stern and long-suffering as federal agents in this war against an enemy which seems to come from all directions. But this is ultimately Depp’s film and he gives a commanding performance that is one of the most convincing of his career. A charismatic seventies score from Jerry Goldsmith or Bernard Hermann would have put some icing on this rather bland cake, but that is sadly too much to expect here. MT

| BLACK MASS IS NOW ON NETFLIX

11 Minuty | 11 Minutes | Competition Venice 2015 | LFF 2015

Writer|Director: Jerzy Skolimowski

Cast: Richard Dormer, Agata Buzek, Dawid Orgodnik, Andrzej Chyra, Piotr Glowacki, Jan Nowicki

During the sixties, writer and director Jerzy Skolimowski focused on films that explored the ironic aspects and moral dilemmas affecting ordinary individuals in post-Stalinist Poland. His films were the ‘Impressionists’ of an era dominated by the sweeping epics of the Polish Film School. After collaborating in Polanski’s Knife in the Water, his directorial debut, Rysopsis (Identification Marks: None) 1965 was closely followed by Walkower. Since then, the 77-year-old Polish auteur has written, directed and acted in works ranging from the surreal to the dramatic, as here in his first film for five years: Venice Competition entry 11 MINUTES.

Best described as a suspense thriller, 11 MINUTES explores themes of fate and paranoia. Set in the sweeping urban spaces of contemporary Warsaw, it could also be entitled Crossover, dealing, as it does, with eleven minutes in the lives of a random bunch of characters whose lives collide in the centre of the capital. Wildly frenetic and octane-fuelled, the action unfurls chaotically with moments of surreal beauty and hard-edged passion. Invasion of privacy insinuates the narrative in the shape of security cameras, webcams and mobile phones which track the protagonists during this frenzied few minutes of precision filmmaking.

Tracking the various strands of the story, it’s easy to miss out on the pyrotechnics and wizardry of the expert camerawork and cutting-edge visual effects involving a crew of eight specialists lead by cinematographer Mikolaj Lebowski. There is a tacky film director (Richard Dormer) putting a newly married actress (Paulina Chapko) through her auditioning paces in a sleek hotel penthouse, her jealous husband (Wojciech Mecwaldowski) heads towards the building in hot pursuit, sporting a black eye (they argued earlier). Nearby, an ex-con hot dog vendor (Andrzej Chyra | In the Name Of) makes a point of remembering his customers’ orders to the letter and takes pride in serving a group of nuns and a young girl (Ifi Ude) with a dog. A window cleaner slips in from the high-rise block for a spot of home movie watching with his girlfriend, who joins him in one of the luxury bedrooms. A student thief (Lukasz Sikora) makes a abortive attempt at a robbery; and perhaps the most exciting – a motorcycle courier (Dawid Ogrodnik) visits his lover and almost gets caught ‘in flagrante’ by her high-powered husband on his return home to their villa in leafy luxury nearby. A group of ambulance paramedics try to take a heavily pregnant woman (Grazyna Blecka-Kolska) and a dying man (Janusz Chabior) to hospital from the highest floor of a mansion block. And last, but not least, veteran actor Jan Nowicki makes an appearance as a water-colourist painting quietly by the banks of the Vistula river.

Thrilling, bewildering and at times quite exhausting to take in, Skolimowski’s dramatic storyline is not the most involving or satisfying of experiences. Like a vintage wine, this is a multi-layered tour de force whose infinite subtleties will emerge with each viewing.  The mesmerising set-pieces are brilliantly crafted and certainly amongst the most extraordinary action sequences ever committed to film.  The final moments are simply breath-taking and mark out Jerzy Skolimowski as a director who, after 50 years, is still quite clearly at the top of his game. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015 | LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 7 -18 OCTOBER 2015

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The Endless River (2015) | Competition | Venice Film Festival | LFF 2015

Writer | Director: Oliver Hermanus

Cast: Crystal-Donna Roberts, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Denise Newman

108min  Drama  South Africa

Oliver Hermanus is a white South African director whose debut Shirley Adams was an outstanding portrait of a mother in crisis. Denis Newman played that mother and she stars here again in his third feature and Venice 2015 hopeful THE ENDLESS RIVER.

The film could be described as “Cape Noir” with its shady characters underpinning a realist romantic drama that burns as slowly as a South African Braai. Creating a powerful sense of place with the wild and craggy Cape scenery, Hermanus delivers a seethingly suspenseful story, ignited by moments of fiery melodrama and injected with a crafty mix of racial and class tension and mistrust.

A hefty title sequence suggests 40s Hollywood in golden hued graphics where the characters are billed with dots leading to their names. This is accompanied by a bold opening ‘overture’ from Braam du Toit, whose unusual and atmospheric original score often sets the mood for each scene’s ambiance. In a sleepy community in Riviersonderend near Cape Town, we meet Mona (Denise Newman) at the home she shares with her daughter Tiny (Crystal-Donna Roberts) and son-in-law Percy was has been released from prison, in a classic opening sequence. Clearly Mona has reservations about Percy’s future and so does Tiny, although she is desperately in love.

In a farmstead nearby, Frenchman Gilles (Nicolas Duvauchelle|Polisse), is eating dinner with his wife and two young sons. Their meal takes place in silence suggesting an undercurrent of unease but Hermanus never elaborates on this and shortly after the wife and boys are savagely murdered in their home by three Black interlopers, possibly exercising a gangland initiation with their innocent victims being the French family. The attack sequence takes place in silence scored only by Braam de Toit’s ambient soundtrack screeching terror into the proceedings. The initiation theory is suggested to Gilles, when he meets the local police chief Groenewald (a brooding Darren Kelfkens) who is leading the  hapless murder inquiry. As happenstance would have it, Gilles has already come into contact with Tiny through her waitressing job in an diner he frequents and after the attack, and he drives past her in a dusty country road when she is coming home alone from a difficult evening quarrelling with Percy.

Hermanus builds a menacing sense of tension as the story becomes more complex and misunderstandings and recrimations follow in the wake of more violence. Structuring his narrative into three chapters feels slightly redundant and adds nothing to our understanding of the tightly-plotted affair that gradually centres on Gilles and Tiny as they are drawn closer together, their racial differences fading into the background as a more crucial strand develops.

Nicolas Duvauchelle generates considerable emotional depth as the strung-out and desperate family man but the standout performance comes from Crystal-Donna Roberts who is able to convey her thoughts through minute gestures and even the twitch of an eye-brow, bringing potent dramatic tension and authenticity to a film whose plot occasionally feels outlandish. With her considerable skill and Gilles’ head of emotion as a man who is clearly brought to his knees with grief, THE ENDLESS RIVER remains commandingly gripping from its early scenes to its powerfully enigmatic denouement. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL RUNS UNTIL 12 SEPTEMBER 2015

 

Beasts of No Nation (2015)| Venice Film Festival |LFF 2015

Director: Cary Fukunaga

Cast: Idris Elba, Ama K Abebrese, Abraham Attah

133min  War drama  US

Dir.: Cary Fukunaga;Cast: Idris Elba, Abraham Attah, Grace Nortey; USA 2015, 136 min.

Based on the experiences of Agu, a child soldier fighting in the civil war of an unnamed African country.

Cary Fukunaga who has directed such diverse productions as Jane Eyre (2011) and True Detective (2014) turns his hand here to another literary work with this screen version of Uzodimna Iweala’s novel of the same name.

Set in a unspecified country in East Africa, it tells the harrowing story of young Agu (Attah) who is caught up in the harrowing civil war which ravages his country that not only destroys his childhood but traumatises him for life. We meet him first as a fun-loving boy who plays pranks on everybody particularly his older brother. Once a teacher, Agu’s father, now helps the Nigerian peacekeeping force acting as a buffer between the two warring fractions. Agu’s life seems complete, but one day, government forces overrun the village, killing Agu’s whole family apart from his mother who manages to escape to the capital. When soldiers kill his best friend, he wanders into the woods before being picked up by an army of rebels commanded by an pompous and violent warlord (Elba). In love with violence, the sadistic killler soon teaches Agu to kill and sexually abuses him whilst pretending to protect him as a surrogate father.

Shooting mostly outside in Ghana, Fukunaga paints an unredeeming picture of the inhumanity in this compelling and convincingly dramatised war movie that witnesses the corrupting of a young boy. This is not a war between ideological forces, but simply a fight between two gangster armies, fought without rules and killing the neutral population of the country in far greater number than the enemies. But after the victory of the rebel army, the same leaders become statesmen over night, doing away with their brutal elements like the colonel. Meanwhile, Agu phantasises about his mother again in the capital, before becoming violent on his ow accord. His voice-over tells us that he has lost faith in God, and that he will never play kids games again. Questioned by a young woman working for the UN, he feels like an old man, talking to a young girl.

Idris Elba gives a dynamite performance full of layered subtlety and charisma and Abraham Attah is simply astonishing as the boy. Fukunaga spares no gruesome details and Agu’s journey through hell is told without sentimentality from an observer’s point of view.The images of war and destruction are so realistic that occasionally one has to look away. Running at over two hours the length and a forced happy-end are the only elements that detract from this otherwise harrowing tour-de-force. AS

REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL | LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 7 -18 OCTOBER 2015

Blood of My Blood (2015) | FIPRESCI Award | Venice Film Festival 2015 | LFF 2015

Director: Marco Bellocchio

Cast: Roberto Herlitzka, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Abla Rohrwacher, Lidiya Lubermann

106min | Historical | Drama Italy

Marco Bellocchio fuses the past and present in this inventive horror story that explores a 17th century witch trial and its relevance to a more lightweight contemporary story.

The medieval town of Bobbio, Emilia Romagna, has inspired story-telling for hundreds of years. It was the setting for Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose and Bellocchio’s debut Fists in the Pocket. With Blood of My Blood he returns to the abandoned Bobbio convent; a slightly humorous arthouse outing that will appeal to cineastes prepared to let their imaginations wander.

The first half of the narrative is a classic tale of Catholic crime and punishment. A young nun, Sister Benedetta (Lidiya Lieberman), has slept with a fellow priest who has taken his own life in remorse. With her hair cut severely short, she hangs upside down in a cloister room awaiting punishment. Meanwhile, his twin brother Federico Mai (Pier Giorgio Bellocchio) has arrived to extract the truth and a confession from the defiant Benedetta, so that his brother can have a decent burial in holy ground. Federico pretends to be his brother while Benedetta undergoes a series of tests to determine whether she is Satan’s daughter and, surviving the trials, she is walled up in the convent. In an entertaining vignette, Alba Rohrwacher and Federica Fracassi meanwhile play a delicate duo of virgin sisters who accommodate Federico in their home and later their bed.

Embued with a rich palette of vibrant hues by expert cinematographer Daniele Cipri (Vincere|It Was the Son) the first half of the film is the most enjoyable. In its more fluid second half, the narrative broadens out into a more satirical style that feels at bewildering, and quite frankly disappointing, such is the intrigue of the opening section. Still in Bobbio, we land with an unwelcome bump into the world of social media and the upwardly mobile where a Russian billionaire (Ivan Franek) turns up at the convent doors (in his red Ferrari, naturally) demanding to buy the place. Federico Mai is now the estate agent. It emerges that the convent is haunted by Count Basta (a masterful Roberto Hertlitzka), vampire with a penchant for cultural pursuits. Implications and infringements on Italy’s strict bylaws and pension systems are also involved in this prospective purchase. But the Count has connections with the powers that be and an amusing final segment sees him swing into action in this playful if not tonally strange story. Carlo Crivelli’s score and Scala & Kolacny’s choir music feel out of place in this piece that feels happier in the past that it does in the present. A sentiment that many Italians will be in agreement with. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015

The Reunion (2014) | Atertraffen |DVD release

Writer| Director: Anna Odell

Cast: Anders Berg, David Nordstrom, Erik Ehn, Fredrik Meyer, Sandra Andreis

89min   Drama   Sweden

Artist, director, writer, exhibitionist: Anna Odell is many things. In 2009 she caused a furore in her native Sweden with a university graduation-project entitled “Unknown Woman 2009-349701” that involved her staging a fake suicide attempt and was taken away by men in white coats before admitting that the whole thing was actually a stunt in the name of Art. Any publicity is good publicity, and despite a court case that ensued, she became a household name.

In her debut feature, she plays herself in a striking lead in a psychological drama exploring the dynamics of power and bullying within a group of friends. During a college reunion 20 years after graduation, Odell examines how individuals ostracised in the classroom can go on to suffer mental issues later on in life.

Anna has found her way into filmmaking via her conceptual art projects which have proved controversial in her native Sweden, but found little interest abroad. This disappointingly tepid outing sees her acting out this new provocative persona on the big screen. School reunions are the unavoidable consequence of social media, which has made sure that no one can successfully disappear into oblivion from the schoolfriends they never even liked in the first place. Odell’s drama opens with a really disastrous example of how these gatherings can descend into farce or even tragedy. With shades of Thomas Vinterber’g Festen (The Celebration), this gruesome gathering of forty somethings rapidly goes awry when perpetual outsider Anna’s  ‘goes off on one” unleashing a torrent of accusatorial abuse.

Odell’s drama takes on a film-within-a-film structure: in a demoralising showdown she is forced out of the premises after the initial ugly mêlée Part One: The Speech and in a considerably calmer version of herself follows (Part Two: The Meetings) undergoes further demoralisation as she shows her work to the people on whom her protags are based, in a disingenuous attempt to garner respect that results in further alienation from her peers.

What emerges is a fictional film about the making of a fictional art exhibition but fails to really excite the audience or attract sympathy for her work: it actually elicits embarrassment rather than shock. And as another film blowing the lid off Scandinavia’s outwardly prim and ‘sorted’ society, it pales in comparison with Winterberg’s Danish dogma piece, and feels attention-seeking than entertaining, Nor does it shed any new light on the situation despite solid performances and slick crafting. MT

SETTIMANA DELLA CRITICA | BEST DEBUT WINNER | Venice 2014 | Now on DVD

 

Blanka (2015) | Venice Film Festival 2015

Director: Kohki Hasei

Cast: Cydel Gabutero,  Peter Milari

75min  Drama   Tagalog | English

Manila is the setting for this charming indie gem which is the debut of Japanese director Kohki Hasei, selected from the Biennale College Cinema at Venice 2015. In a similar vein but on a more modest scale to Trash and Slumdog Millionaire, it is an upbeat and unsentimental tale of urban survival that follows a trio of spunky street kids struggling to make ends meet in the Philippino capital.

Seen through the eyes of Blanka, a feisty little girl who is determined to go it alone in a world where adults are always trying to intervene, she manages on petty thieving to eek out an existence and escape the clutches of the local brothel and Catholic orphanage. One day she meets blind busker Peter (Peter Milari), a kindly man who has her best interests at heart. Blanka finds her voice and soon the pair are recruited as the star turn in the local bar. At the same time, Blanka feels that something is missing in her life and that ‘something’ is a mother. Advertising around with a reward of 30,000 pesos for anyone who will take her in to their home she becomes the target for several unscrupulous characters, but is determined never to become a victim.

The gentle rhythm of this heartfelt story with its vibrant camerawork of Manila is not without moments of tension, humour and sadness, making it the perfect family film. Cydel Gabutero gives a sparky central performance as Blanka supported by Peter Milari and her two young accomplices who could easily go on to bigger things and so could this promising new director. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015

Rabin, The Last Day (2015 | Competition | Venice Film Festival 2015

Director: Amos Gitai

Cast: Yaël Abercassis, Ischac Hiskiya, Rotem Keinem

153min | Israel/France |  Biopic

Yitzak Rabin, Prime Minister of Israel, was assassinated on the evening of 4th of November 1995 on King Square, Tel Aviv, after a rally for his peace policies. Amos Gitai’s sober docudrama tries to unravel events and draws far-reaching conclusions from repercussion of his assassination.

Strangely enough Rabin’s murder was caught by a cameraman who happened to witness this historical moment. The opening sequence with long overhead shots over King Square and jerky b/w images of the shooting give the film an intensive start; what follows are mainly re-staged scenes from the Shamgar commission which (under the leadership of Meir Shamgar, president of Israel’s Supreme Court) undertook the task of establishing the circumstances of the assassination. A third level shows the assassin, Tigal Amir (Yevet), preparing for his hideous crime, his interrogation in the immediate aftermath of the three fatal shots, as well as scenes from his right wing, fundamentalist environment.

These latter scenes are frightening featuring one of the the leaders of the movement declaring a ‘Din Rodef’ on Rabin -the equivalent of a Fatwa.  Leon Trotsky was the last person to receive this damnation. Amir is unrepentant, he smiles sardonically during his interrogation, feeling superior like most political offenders, who take refuge in martyr status and declaring Rabin a schizophrenic, who should be committed to a mental asylum – the projection here is axiomatic.

What emerges from the Shamgar hearings is unconscionable: there was no efficient security for the prime minister (or his entourage, including his successor Shimon Perez, who gives a sort of introduction to the film). Everyone could have access to him and hardly anyone was questioned by the police. Witnesses speak of a total chaos regarding police and security forces, the assassin was a few feet away from Rabin when he fired his shots.

Rabin, a soldier for more than 27 years, had signed the “Oslo Accord” with Arafat, which would have resulted in a separate, Palestinian state. For the orthodox and right-wing politicians, this was treacherous: in the month before the assassination, placards showed Rabin either in Nazi or PLO uniform and his efigy was burned. There was certainly a murderous atmosphere in Israel, reaching even the Knesset. As Gitai said in a press conference “the Oslo accord was a small window which occurred in ths conflict, Rabin’s death ended all hope, and his murderer was not the only one who knew that the peace process would be dead without him”. In 1996 Perez’ Labour Party lost the General Election to the right wing coalition.

To say that RABIN, THE LAST DAY is not a typical Gatai film, is praise indeed. The director has, for once, let the subject of this docu-drama dictate the narrative. There are no side-shows which usually spoil many Gitai films. Thanks also to the brilliant work of DOP Eric Gautier, this is a thorough research project, told with the neccessary detachment, but still evokes intense emotion. To say that Israel was never the same after this tragedy is an understatement: The orthodox underground from which Amir emerged to kill, is today only a small step away from forming the government. Theodor Herzl, Israel’s founding father, was an enlightened liberal who never envisaged a state run on the lines of backwardness and fundamentalism, but it now looks as if the Rabin murder might have only been the first step on the road to a dictatorial, medieval era in the 21st century. AS

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL RUNS UNTIL 12 SEPTEMBER 2015

 

In Jackson Heights (2015) | Venice Film Festival 2015

Director: Frederick Wiseman

190min  US Documentary

Dir.: Frederick Wiseman; Documentary; USA 2015, 190 min.

Even at the age of 85, Wiseman still has the zest to look for a grand picture, which can be put together from the little fragments he collects and his trademark – a certain editing style, is still unique.

Jackson Heights is a community in Queens, New York City, a melting pot of emigrants where 167 different languages are spoken. But times are hard and many of the small shop owners are facing eviction, because the big chainstores want to move into the area on the back of increasing gentrification. Leases are not renewed, particularly on Roosevelt Avenue, the main street of Jackson Heights. Help comes from the many religious organisations who live peacefully side by side. The Jewish Centre is given a helping hand too but the LGBT movement, still harrassed by the police. The cops seem to be very overzealous in general, breaking up a joyous celebration of Columbians, who celebrate a victory of their team at the Brazil World Cup. The local councillor tries his best to counteract the increasing poverty and homelessness, but often his standard answer is “this out of my control, the decisions are made by the New York City senate”. There is some wonderful humour when, for example, the owner of a repair shop for ‘Catholic relicts’ takes a holiday for the four weeks of the World Cup, his sales staff telling the irate costumers to come back in six weeks.

Primary colours dominate the documentary which shows a waving mass of mostly peaceful citizens, who fight at the lower end of social scale just to survive everyday. They communicate on all levels and their meetings are well attended and full of passion. DOP John Davey has successfully caught this community where solidarity is not only discussed, but often practised, much more than in othert social hemispheres. Even though, as always with Wiseman, the sheer length is often a detraction – particularly for the indie cinemas that need to be able to screen two films an evening to survive. In Jackson Heights shows that the USA is a country of immigrants, legal, semi-legal or illegal – but very much alive and fighting. AS

THE VENICE FILM FESTIVAL RUNS UNTIL 12 SEPTEMBER 2015

Underground Fragrance (2015) | Venice Film Festival 2015

Writer| Director: FengPei Song

Cast: Ying Ze, Luo Wenjie, Zhao Fuyu, Li Xiaohui, Lin Xiaochu

75min   Drama  | France | Taiwan | China

Stray Dogs co-collaborator FengPei Song returns to Venice with his directorial debut UNDERGROUND FRAGRANCE which tells another delicately rendered story this time of young love that blossoms amongst the ruins of Beijing’s property boom.

Yong Le, a young migrant worker from the south, works salvaging furniture from abandoned houses to re-sell.  He lives in cramped conditions in Beijing’s Underground City, a labyrinthian former bomb shelter that serves as cheap housing for people looking for opportunities in the big city. But after a bad work accident leaves him temporarily blind, he has to use a rope to find his way around the dimly lit basement halls, until one night when he meets a girl at the other end of his rope. Xiao Yun, is a migrant too. A night-worker in a pole-dancing venue, she is desperately trying to find a more suitable work when a tentative relationship develops between her and Yong Lee, encouraging  her to hunt for a more respectable job. At ground level, Lao Jin has been struggling with his wife for 8 years to get a decent compensation deal from the authorities who want to demolish his house. His health is declining and his savings are evaporating. Desperate to move on, he’s counting on Yong Le to sell his furniture at a good price. These stories intermingle in the meltdown generated by the  the “Chinese Dream” when Southern country-dwellers who thronged to the Beijing metropolis during the last decade’s property boom.

Suffused with melancholy and broken dreams this is an enchanting urban story with convincingly sombre performances from its talented cast of largely newcomers. Often crowding people or machinery into his vibrantly-coloured static long takes FengPei generates a feeling of claustrophobia that echoes desperate emotional alienation and loneliness rather than oppression and there are sharp some bursts of humour: at one point Lao Jin sets off fireworks in the trees outside his house in an attempt to silence nesting owls. Nostalgia for the past and the longing for country life and traditional values are reflected in some tender scenes involving attachment to animals and religious customs and Jean-Christophe Onno’s atmospheric original score adds a lilting romantic feel throughout this charming debut.

PENGFEI (Beijing, 1982) was born into a family of Peking Opera performers in Beijing. Under the influence of his family, he developed a strong passion for the arts. He went to Paris to study film at Institute International de l’Image et du Son and majored in film directing. After seven years of living in Europe, he returned to China to work on this debut. He worked as Tsai Ming Liang’s a.d. for Face in 2009, The Diary of a Young Boy, and the short Walker in 2012. Pengfei raised finance for UNDERGROUND FRAGRANCE – through various sources including the Cannes’ Atelier in 2012, the Production Award from TorinoFilmLab in 2011, and the Sundance Screenwriters Lab Cinereach Award in 2012. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL RUNS UNTIL 12 SEPTEMBER 2015 

Venice International Film Festival | 72th Edition | 2 – 12 September 2015

2015 is set to be a knock out year as VENICE FILM FESTIVAL claims its position as the oldest major international film festival, now celebrating its 72nd edition and championing a glittering array of independent and arthouse films. Unlike Cannes 2015, that promoted its own actors and filmmakers, Venice has chosen an eclectic mix of international talent drawn from veteran auteurs to sophomore filmmakers. Under festival director, Alberto Barbera and an erudite competition jury lead by Alfonso Cuaron, including such luminaries as Pawel Pawlikowski, Hsaio-hsien Hou, Lynne Ramsay, Elizabeth Banks and Francesco Munzi, the competition line-up sparkles with renewed vigour showcasing independent film talent and stealing a march on Toronto which neatly overlaps the Italian festival by two days, leaving the Canadians to show the blockbusters which will come to Britain very shortly anyway, for those who follow them.

1-11MINUTES-actorWojciechMECWALDOWSKIPresiding over the jury in 2001, Veteran Polish auteur Jerzy Skolimowski will be back in Venice with his long-awaited follow-up to Essential Killing, another thriller called 11 Minutes (left).  This time the setting is Warsaw, with a strong Polish cast led by Richard Dormer, Piotr Glowacki, Andrzej Chyra (In the Name of) and Agata Buzek. Sangue del mio sangue 1

The Italians have four films in the competition line-up this year: Marco Bellocchio presents Sangue del mio Sangue (Blood of my Blood (right) which knowing the director’s strong visual aesthetic with doubtless be a stylish vampire outing, set in the village of Bobbio (Emilia Romagna) and starring the ubiquitous and pallidly delicate Alba Rohrwacher. Giuseppe M Gaudino is not well-known outside his native Italy but his latest film Per Amor Vostro may well change things. Sicilian director, Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love), once again casts Tilda Swinton in crime thriller A Bigger Splash which is set on the volcanic island of Pantelleria (south of Sicily). It has Matthias Schoenaerts, Dakota Johnson and Ralph Fiennes who play an assortment of interconnecting lovers in a game of mystery. Juliette Binoche will be on the Lido as the main star of Piero Messina’s drama The Wait, essentially a two-hander where she gets to know Lou de Laâge (Breathe) who plays her son’s fiance as they both await his arrival at a Sicilian villa. I Ricordi del Fiumi  (Out of Competition) by Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio is a documentary about the platz, the large shanty town where over a thousand people of different nationalities live on the banks of the Stura river, in Turin. The area was recently the object of a major project to dismantle it and move part of the families into normal homes and the film documents life in this slum during the last few months of its existence, with its anguish, drama, hopes, life.

EQUALS VFF 01 ∏Jaehyuk Lee

Having shot their cinematic bolt at Cannes this year, the French are thin on the ground in competition repped by Xavier Giannoli with Marguerite, a drama starring Catherine Frot (Haute Cuisin) and Christa Théret (Renoir). Christian Vincent (La Séparation) who has cast Sidse Babett Knudsen (The Duke of Burgundy) and Fabrice Luchini in his comedy drama L’Hermine.

From Turkey comes Emin Alper’s second feature, Abluka (Frenzy). The sophomore filmmaker is best known for his striking 2012 widescreen drama Tepenin Ardi (Beyond the Hill) which was outstanding for its atmospheric ambient soundtrack and searingly authentic performances from Mehmet Ozgur and Reha Ozcan.

Heart of a Dog 1

From across the Atlantic, musician and actor Laurie Anderson will be in Venice with her latest drama, Heart of a Dog (right). Cary Fukunaga has cast Idris Elba in his actioner based on the experiences of a child soldier in the civil war of an unnamed African country: Beasts of No Nation. And where would Venice be without an animation title? Duke Johnson and Charlie Kaufman provide this in the shape of Anomalisa which features the voices of Jennifer Jason-Leigh, David Thewlis and Tom Noonon in a stop-motion film about a man crippled by the mundanity of his own life. Drake Doremus (Breathe In) presents Equals (above left) a sci-fi love story set in a futuristic world where emotions have been eradicated. The US crowd-pleaser, it will star none other than Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult and Bel Powley. Veterans Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau and Bruno Ganz lead in Atom Egoyan’s latest thriller Remember that looks back at a dark chapter of the 20th century through a contempo revenge mission. Australian Sue Brooks is the other female director In Competition with her drama Looking for Grace starring Odessa Young (The Daughter/Locarno) in the lead, supported by Radha Mitchell (Man on Fire) and Tom Roxburghe (Van Helsing).

Behimoth1

On the hispanic front, Mexico’s entry is Desde Alli (Out of There), the debut feature of filmmaker Lorenzo Vigas which stars Alfredo Castro (No). Pablo Trapero’s El Clan offers up a gritty slice of Argentine history in a drama that explores the true story of the Puccio Clan, a family who kidnapped and killed in Buenos Aires during the 80s.

Russian director Alexandr Sokurov’s La Francophonie: The Louvre Under Occupation studies the Second World War “from a humanitarian point of view” but the director is unlikely to attend the festival, according to sources. Israel’s Amos Gitai looks to politics for inspiration in his title: Rabin, The Last Day, and China’s Zhao Lang offers us a documentary Behemoth (left) which looks intriguing.

Danish

And last, but never least, Tom Hooper flies the flag for Britain with The Danish Girl, his screen adaptation loosely based on David Ebershoff’s book about the 1920s Danish artist, Gerda Wegener, whose painting of her husband as a female character led him to pursue the first male to female sex-change and become Lili Elbe. Eddie Redmayne leads a starry cast of Alicia Vikander, Ben Wishaw and Matthias Schoenaerts in this Copenhagen-set drama. MT

72TH VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 2 -12 SEPTEMBER 2015 | LIDO DE VENEZIA 

The President (2014)

Dir.: Moshen Makhmalbaf

Cast: Misha Gomiastvili, Dachi Orvelashvili

Georgia, France, UK, Germany, 115 min.

Moshen Makhmalbaf’s THE PRESIDENT is a collaborative affair with his filmmaking family. It tells the story of a deposed dictator, running for his life in a seemingly naïve way, with his grandson in tow – only when the story develops do we appreciate the wisdom and humanism Makhmalbaf is famous for.

The film begins with the president’s family still in absolute control with the power to switch the lights on or off in the capital to his heart’s content. When a mass uprising by the impoverished population of this nameless country sees the entire ruling family clan fly away to safer shores – the stubborn patriarch digs his heels in with his equally tenacious grandson: the two of them are made for each other. With servants and friends deserting or being shot, soon the odd couple is alone: running from the opposition forces and a vengeful nation who want the ever growing price put on their heads. The tyrant poses as a political prisoner and joins a band of them, many of whom are tortured, on their way home. We ask ourselves, how long it will take for the two to be captured, but when this happens, it us under the most extraordinary circumstances.

Told in the style of a fable, THE PRESIDENT contrasts the before/after effect of the dictator’s existence: cold and cynical when in power, he changes into something more human after he is deposed – and not only because he is now on the receiving end of life. His love for his grandson is unconditional, and his machiavellian cunning is used for the benefit of another human being, for the first time in his life.

THE PRESIDENT is a parable on what a revolution does to a nation: how quickly liberation gives way to revenge and the hunt for new enemies. Wonderfully performed, with sweeping cinematography of this magnificent, unknown country and of  the misery of the displaced. A mature and passionate film that finds humour n the most precarious situations. AS

OUT ON GENERAL RELEASE | CURZON BLOOMSBURY | AUGUST 15 2015

Venice | International Critics’ Week | SIC Selection 2015

30.SIC-sigla-6Venice International Film Festival has its own version of Cannes’ Semaine de la Critique, entitled, not surprisingly – SETTIMANA DELLA CRITICA. Celebrating its 30 edition, British veteran actor Peter Mullan will be in Venice to open the festival as a guest of honour and will receive the Saturnia Prize 30 Special Award for ORPHANS (1998) for the best debut feature in the entire history of the Venice Film Critics’ Week:  The selection runs in tandem with the competition films from 2 until 6 September at the famous Lido festival hub – all the films are debuts – as follows:

30.SIC-KALO POTHI-2BAHADUR BHAM – KALO POTHI (THE BLACK HEN) right
Nepal, France, Germany, 86′
Khadka Raj Nepali, Sukra Raj Rokaya, Jit Bahadur Malla, Hansha Khadka

MARTIN BUTLER, BENTLEY DEAN – TANNA
Australia, Vanuatu, 104′
Mungau Dain, Marie Wawa, Marceline Rofit, Chief Charlie Kahla, Albi Nangia, Lingai Kowia, Dadwa Mungau, Linette Yowayin, Kapan Cook, Chief Mikum Tainakou

30.SIC-JIA-1ESTHER MAY CAMPBELL – LIGHT YEARS
United Kingdom, 90′
Beth Orton, Muhammet Uzuner, Zamiera Fuller, Sophie Burton, James Stucky

ANTONIO CAPUANO – BAGNOLI JUNGLE [CLOSING FILM – OUT OF COMPETITION SPECIAL EVENT]
Italy, 100′
Antonio Casagrande, Luigi Attrice, Marco Grieco

PETER MULLAN – ORPHANS (1998) [OPENING FILM – OUT OF COMPETITION SPECIAL EVENT]
United Kingdom, 95′
Gary Lewis, Douglas Henshall, Rosemarie Stevenson, Stephen McCole, Frank Gallagher, Alex Norton

30.SIC-TANNA-1JOÃO SALAVIZA – MONTANHA (MOUNTAIN)
Portugal, France, 88′
David Mourato, Rodrigo Perdigão, Cheyenne Domingues, Maria João Pinho

LIU SHUMIN – JIA (THE FAMILY) right
China, Australia, 280′
Deng Shoufang, Liu Lijie, Liu Xiaomin, Jiang Jiangsheng, Chen Erya, Huang Liqin, Liao Zepeng, Liu Xuju

SENEM TÜZEN – ANA YURDU (MOTHERLAND) right
Turkey, Greece, 98′
Esra Bezen Bilgin, Nihal Koldas, Semih Aydin, Fatma Kisa

30.SIC-MOTHERLAND-4ADRIANO VALERIO – BANAT (THE JOURNEY)
Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, 82′
Edoardo Gabriellini, Elena Radonicich, Piera Degli Esposti, Stefan Velniciuc, Ovanes Torosyan

GREEN ZENG – THE RETURN
Singapore, 80′
Chen Tianxiang, Vincent Tee, Tan Beng Chiak, Gary Tang, Evelyn Wang, Wong Kai Tow, Isaiah Lee, Eugene Tan, Shan Rievan

INTERNATIONAL CRITICS’ WEEK | VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2 – 6 SEPTEMBER 2015

Venice Days | Giornate degli Autori | 2 – 12 September 2015

Venice Film Festival has its own version of Cannes Film Festival: Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, called GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI – VENICE DAYS. Independently run, parallel to the main programme, it all happens just down the road in the grounds of a lush villa overlooking the famous beach where Dirk Bogarde starred in Visconti’s melancholy masterpiece Death in Venice.

El Nascondido - RetributionWith a jury headed by French director, Laurent Cantet, this year’s official selection comprises new works from well-known talent including Chile’s Matias Bize and Italy’s Vincenzo Marra, along with emerging names such as Poland’s Piotr Chrzan and India’s Ruchika Oberoi. Agnes Varda will also be there with her short film Les Tres Boutons which is part of designer Miucci Prada’s strand  ‘The Miu Miu Women’s Tales.’

The Daughter

VENICE DAYS opens with Spanish filmmaker Dani de la Torre’s debut thriller EL DESCONICIDOS (RETRIBUTION) (above) and closes with Jindabyne actor and theatre director Simon Stone’s debut drama THE DAUGHTER. which stars Geoffrey Rush and is losely based on Henrik Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck.

KlezmerWe’re particularly looking forward to the WORLD PREMIERES of Polish wartime drama KLESMER (left) from Piotr Chrzan and Stray Dogs scripter Song Peng Fei’s directorial debut UNDERGROUND FRAGRANCE (below) which follows a similar vein to the 2013 outing which won Grand Special Jury Prize at Venice 2013. High on our list is also Vincenzo Marra’s fourth feature LA PRIMA LUCE which brings Riccardo Scamarcio back to the Lido again starring an Italian lawyer in search of his son lost in Chile.

Underground FragranceCarlo Saura’s documentary ARGENTINA showcasing the country’s national pastime, compliments his series on dance that includes; Fados, Blood Wedding and Carmen. The 83-year-old director is taking a break to come to the Lido from filming Renzo Piano: an Architect for Santander, to screen next year. Britain will be represented in a special event by Grant Gee and his latest film INNOCENCE OF MEMORIES, based on Orhan Pamuk’s book The Museum of Innocence.

GIORNATE DEGLI AUTORI | VENICE DAYeptember 2-12.

 

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014) | Leone D’Oro | Venice International Film Festival 2014

Writer/Director: Roy Andersson

Holger Andersson, Nisse Vestblom

101 mins, Sweden, Germany, Norway, France

To paraphrase Chaplin, life is a tragedy in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. That’s the spirit of Roy Andersson’s latest, dizzy, brilliant film. The film’s first three scenes offer slices of death: a man suffers a heart attack opening a wine bottle; a dying, wailing mother prizes her handbag of jewellery from her money-grabbing kids; a dinnerlady offers up the abandoned beer of a gentleman who has just collapsed and died in front of her. They’re all ferociously funny scenes. Why? Because we’re only human.

Pigeon’s characters may be acting a tragedy of their own making, but it makes for a warm, funny and beautiful movie, of the kind that reflects our own trials and tribulations and forces us to put them perspective, to laugh in their face. Yes, it’s that good.

The film concludes Andersson’s ‘Living’ trilogy (after Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living), each film released seven years apart. His latest has a similar series of related vignettes, most comic, contemplating something greater through the banality of everyday existence. If there is a through-line, it’s led by a pair of travelling salesmen Jonathan (Holger Andersson) and Sam (Nils Westblom), skating in and out of their own miserable lives amongst the memories and dreams of those they meet. Selling novelty gifts:“extra long” vampire teeth and “laughter bags”, as well as the latest “Uncle One-tooth” mask that they hope will be the next big thing. They know as much as we do that it won’t, their products so absurd they mock themselves.

Andersson meticulously crafts each set-up – he took four years to make the film – and yet each scene catches something serendipitous, as if captured by magic of the camera’s apparently arbitrary medium-shot length (of course, it isn’t). Some sequences are stunning: Jonathan and Sam are lost trying to find a shop called “party” (the existential joke is surely intended), and enter a shabby café to ask directions. While there, the huge army of King Charles XII march outside on their way to defeat at Poltava. Here’s a Swedish national hero reduced to a simple man asking for sparkling water. Later, in another period scene, 19th century English colonists load slaves into a furnace. Their screams squeeze through a series of trumpets into beautiful brass music.

There’s also a haunting repetition of The Battle Hymn of the Republic (better known as “Glory, Glory Alleluia”), translated to suit various settings from war marches to the melody of a barmaid asking for a kiss. The original song was about the American civil war – is the director contemplating a split in man’s soul between hope (that characters here show) and the reality that exists? Who knows, but it’s unquestionably moving.

Pigeon is an absurdist drama for today, and Andersson an heir to Ionesco or Beckett on film. To the director, we’re a tragicomic race: we so long for company and gratification, but dying alone is our lot – again, it’s what makes us human. But he’s asking us to take heed of another of Chaplin’s timeless quotes: “To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it”. Ed Frankl.

REVIEWED AT VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2015 | NOW ON DVD BLU

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Line of Credit (2014) |Kreditis Limiti

Director: Salomé Alexi

Cast: Nino Kadradse, Salome Alexi, Koka Tagonidze,

90min  Comedy Drama  Georgia

Georgian filmmaker Salome Alexi’s LINE OF CREDIT is a finely-tuned and delicately rendered comedy teetering on the brink of tragedy to paint a tense yet elegant picture of a well-to-woman family forced into debt in penny-pinching post Soviet Georgia.

Purple-tinted pastel visuals and careful mid-distance framing echo Miss Violence but this is lighter in tone lacking the glowering menace of Avranas’ outing , despite its serious undertones. A predominantly female affair, it sets off with a large family gathering to celebrate an elderly woman’s birthday in the faded grandeur of the upmarket apartment she shares with her middle-aged daughter Nino and her husband in Tbilisi. It emerges that Nino had pawned her mother’s wedding ring to pay for the party. Close friend Lili (Alexi) reveals, in a discrete post prandial tête a tête, the need for an operation but can’t afford the medical cost but there is a crafty way round this involving her joining a drug programme. Meanwhile the aristocratic Nino (Nino Kadradse) and her mother are quietly selling off the family porcelain to cover expenses.

Graceful and soignée, Nino keeps up her appearances while constantly scrimping and saving to run her small cafe in a quiet corner of the bustling capital. Enlivened by occasional bursts of local music, this intimate domestic drama depicts a close knit community that cares for each other in frequent encounters and conspiratorial chats but the debt-ridden duos invariably focus on money matters and will resonate with art house audiences experiencing the need to tighten their belts. Alexi’s well-crafted and watchable debut gradually builds towards a shocking climax and by the end we feel thoroughy au fait with contempo middle class Tbilisi and its subtle yet far-reaching political undercurrents. MT

LINE OF CREDIT is screening during East End Film Festival on 9 July 2015

The Lack (2014) |Cinema Made in Italy 2015

Directors: Nicolò Massazza and Iacopo Bedogni

70mins  Experimental | Drama |  Italian

Women’s suffering has long been the subject of World cinema and particularly in Italy. Curiously titled The LACK is a semi-experimental mood piece that plays a tune with four different themes: abandonment, separation, courage and exertion and their effects on six isolated female characters. With minimal dialogue and some sumptuously inventive camera effects, a visual narrative explores their inner journey of loneliness, discovery and eventually, self-healing in natural surroundings.

Best known for their work as video artists, directing duo Nicolò Massazza and Iacopo Bedogni call themselves THE MASEBO. A metaphor for survival, their film concentrates on sound and visuals to express the palpable emotions of their female protagonists as they grapple with the reality of life. The opening scenes play out like a slick advert for Volvo:, a woman wakes up abandoned in a bedroom and tries desperately to call her lover without success. In tears and distraught, she takes to the road and drives recklessly through a vast and frozen snowscape with only a flimsy white gown to protect her from the elements. As she leave sthe vehicle, the camera follows her in close-up and slow-mo, painting an ethereal picture of ice blue alienation against the windswept wasteland.

The second segment studies an Oriental beauty alone inside a massive ferry boat. Seawater gushes against ancient rock formations and craggy cliffs as waves wash over the echoing steel plates of the hull. Escaping to the shoreline she is warmed by the setting sun. Only her sighs of exertion and the mournful sound of the seagulls are audible in the marine wilderness as she installs a large searchlight on the cliff face, illuminating the approaching night.

Part 3 is set in remote Steppes of Russia where an enormous pipeline is carrying oil or gas from an inland refinery, belching smoke creates puffy clouds into the endless skyline. A woman flights for survival swaddled in furs. Another woman floats flotsom-like in the aftermath of flood desperately clinging to domestic detritis in possibly the most conceptual segment which is intercut with images of a little girl dressed in white. The final segment is probably the most bleak. The weaker sex emerges tough yet vulnerable, suffering throughout.

MASEBO have exhibited their work in museums and film festivals as well, such as Venice, Locarno, Rome, Istanbul, Lisbon, Athens, Miami and Reykjavik. Since 2002 they have been working with the French writer Michel Houellebecq with whom they have written and produced 11.22.03 and THE WORLD IS NOT A LANDSCAPE, video art piece with Juliette Binoche, it had its premier in Paris at the Grand Palais.

REVIEWED AT VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2014. SCREENING DURING CINEMA MADE IN ITALY

 

The Goob (2014) – Venice International Film Festival 2014

Dir: Guy Myhill | Cast: Liam Walpole, Sienna Guillory, Oliver Kennedy | UK Drama | 90′

In this enigmatic debut, Guy Myhill evokes the open spaces of the Norfolk countryside veiled in golden summery softness -wild flowers, drifting corn – and steeped in a an unsettling coming of age story, that 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 the gutsy inhabitants recalling that motorcycle opening sequence of Lawrence of Arabia with soft-focus art house twist contrasted with a gutsy song selection including Donna Summer. This is social realism that bristles with sexual tension and dreamy awakenings from childhood to young adulthood in the Fens, teasing with an enigmatic storyline that weaves through the fields but then departs in a different direction through never quite reveals itself.

The Goob is newcomer Liam Walpole who lives with his single mother Janet (Sienna Guillory) and her vicious partner 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 right the car off in a boy-racing moment, resulting in forced labour on the beet farm that threatens to curtail his social life. He does however meet hired farm-hand Elliott (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 other enigmatic subplots where there’s a constant suggestion that Gene (a spiteful, mincing Harris) is drawn to other female characters and quite why Janet is involved with him remains a mystery. The intensity of the racing fraternity adds a rough machismo to the narrative, placing it firmly in Swaffham and the locale and the cast is almost entirely drawn from Norfolk. Liam Walpole has a gangly vulnerability about him which brings a unique appeal and gentleness to the otherwise hard-bitten, rough-edged Harris. MT

 

One on One (2014) | London Korean Film Festival 2014

Director/writer: Kim Ki-Duk

Don Lee, Kim Young-min, Lee Yi-kyung, Cho Dong-in, Yoo Teo, Ahn Ji-hye, Jo Jae-ryong, Kim Joong-ki

Drama, South Korea, 122 min

Kim Ki-Duk hasn’t been given a competition berth at Venice since he controversially won the Golden Lion in 2012 (beating off The Master almost by proxy), so it’s to the second-string Venice Days strand that the veteran Korean prankster goes. And it’s a shame if he’s completely side-lined by the critical fraternity here, even if One On One is a lesser film than his grisly but hilarious Moebius (2013), which premiered here last year out of competition. His latest somehow remains an intriguing skew-eyed look into the pain of violence n the giving as well as in the gruesome receiving.

Moebius began with a castration and got grislier from there, and alarm bells start ringing from the off as Kim launches into a brutal murder of a teenage girl in the opening frames. But even with its lot of ultra-violence and extended torture sequences, there’s a more nuanced tone at work as the narrative gathers momentum. Months after the murder, a group of mysterious mercenaries abduct the killers and those who authorised the murder one by one, torturing them through rusty nails, hammers, pincers, and electrocutions. But they only torture until the perpetrators admit their part in the plot, letting them live with any shame or indeed pride they might’ve held. It starts with dogsbodies, and the film takes us up the chain of command to the top of a web of gangsters. At first the men are apologetic and say they only did what they were told, but later the top men say they did it because it was a just action – one whose motives are never conclusively revealed. But when one character tells its leader (Don Lee) that there is “something sad in you”, he reflects a man whose viciousness is as painful to him as it is to those he gives it out to (well, almost).

At first the film’s kill-list narrative suggests we’re in the territory of a genre flick, but Kim plays with the ideas that the film present and it becomes a more than adequate allegory on the echoes of genocide, where culprits at different points of the chain of command have different explanations for unforgivable crimes. The paramilitary group themselves disguise themselves in various garbs – from an anti-communist brigade to a shady government organisation, as if to heighten the sense that this story cold play out on different levels in different settings.

The film’s violence becomes so routine that it may well bore some, but that’s part of the point, so numbed are these characters to a world where violence begets violence. One of the members of the paramilitary is a victim of domestic violence, raped in a scene that might’ve just have crossed an exploitative line here. But as one character says, “dictators are in families just as much as countries”, and I found myself considering, among the expected bloody finale, the implications of how violent men are often as much troubled as troubling.

SCREENING DURING THE LONDON KOREAN FILM FESTIVAL 2014 | ONE ON ONE PREMIERED AT THE VENICE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL |

Q&A with the Director at the Villa Degli Autori, Venice Lido [youtube id=”ergRH05lqnw” width=”600″ height=”350″]

The Canyons (2013) Venice Film Festival 2013

Director: Paul Schrader

Script: Bret Easton Ellis

Cast: Lindsay Lohan, James Deen, Nolan Gerard Funk, Gus Van Sant, Amanda Brooks, Tenille Houston

A great director and writer doesn’t necessarily guarantee a good film: such is definitely the case for THE CANYONS, Paul Schrader’s much-anticipated ‘erotic’ thriller described as “Youth, glamour, sex and Los Angeles 2012”. Really?.

Matters got off to an unpromising start when it was reported that Leslie Coutterand had been on call throughout the entire filming process due to Lindsay Lohan’s repeated absences and feuds with the director, who had been forced to direct a scene naked just to placate her (?).  Finance was raised through a Kickstarter campaign, and the resulting film was rejected from Sundance and SXSW.  I was determined to give it a chance being a fan of Schrader’s earlier work, though not, I hasten to add, of Lohan.

As it is, she appears vaguely unhinged and physically bloated during her performance as young actress, Tara.  This is supposed to be a soft porn movie, so why is Lohan wearing a pair of Bridget Jones-style knickers under her leatherette treggings for an evening out with a girlfriend?. One can only assume it was to rein in her midriff from too much booze and cigarettes (consumed during the shoot). Sexy or what?

As suggested by the title, Tara is living with her producer boyfriend Christian (porn star James Deen) in a rather glamorous modernist house on the edge of the hillside, overlooking the ocean.  Theirs is not an easy relationship with Christian being a control-freak and demanding to know her schedule as he swings in from the studios to find her poolside.  He cleverly swaps her phone to discover text messages showing that she’s cheating on him with a pretty young actor called Ryan (Nolan Gerard Funk).  When the camera starts zooming in on mobile phone screens, and relying on text messages to drive the narrative forward, one realises the whole story is doomed.

The strange thing about ‘soft porn movie’ The Canyons is that it’s possibly the least sexual film of the entire festival (apart from the Andrea Segre’s La Prima Neve). There are no real sex scenes to speak of but a great of deal of glowering, posturing and pouting goes on, largely between Lohan and Deen.  It transpires that Ryan, who is straight, has his own cross to bear: he is up for a juicy acting role, but to seal his success he may have to sleep with the gay head of the studios and is forced to receive oral sex with him just for starters.

What follows is a predictably troubled but unremarkable voyage through the seamier side of dysfunctional relationships. It almost feels like one of those ‘made for TV’ soaps you catch in a hotel room in Spain or Italy when surfing through the options looking for News.  In a cameo, Gus Van Sant plays Christian’s shrink, and it’s the best thing about the whole affair.  Brett Easton Ellis’s script is appalling with cardboard dialogue along the following lines:  “Are you cheating on me?  What d’you mean by cheating?  Well cheating, with another guy….

Please Mr Schrader, you’re such a talented man.  When you next make a film, make it with proper actors and a decent storyline. MT

THE CANYONS IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 9 MAY 2014

Teorema | Theorem (1968) Venice Classics 2022

Dir: Pier Paolo Pasolini | Cast: Silvana Mangano, Terence Stamp, Massimo Girotti

98min | Italy  Fantasy Drama

A Milanese industrialist family is attracted to and then rejected by a ‘divine force’ in the shape of Terence Stamp who plays a young enigmatic English man with inappropriately tight trousers in the style of the era, who visits for a weekend that will change them all forever.

So taken was Pasolini after his first meeting with Stamp, that he never spoke to him again, giving no explanation of the role nor any indication of what he expected from him performance-wise even though he spoke rather good Italian. It’s quite obvious why he  cast Stamp as the young man: He was enchanted with his blue eyes, angelic tousled hair and slim figure and used him to torture, dissimilate and destroy the family members one by one in this intriguing and controversial drama set in a Palladian palazzo in late sixties Milan. It was to blast onto the screens of European cinemas unveiling Pasolini’s pent-up views on his own sexuality, religious beliefs and his hatred of the Italian borghesia and of the political set-up, although the political set-up in Italy has always been subject to controversy.

Pasolini’s camera hangs around on street corners picturing beautiful and suggestively alluring young men in this complex and provocative political parable that portrays the working class southerners as religious bigots and the upper class Italians as intellectually and morally bankrupt because, at this stage of the game, they hold the economic power in Italy along with the Mafia. The industrial triangle of northern Italy (Milan, Turin, Genoa) paved the way to economic success and wealth for the region but the south was to stay relatively poor and agrarian.

Casting aside ‘scholarly interpretations’ for this review – you could go on all night – suffice to say Pasolini was disenchanted with his country. Being a Marxist and atheist, he despised the capitalist North and the South’s devotion to the Catholic Church. Each character in his film is but a hollow shell serving their particular ‘God’ whether it be money or religion and is overly concerned with outside appearances and social status rather than emotional and intellectual  fulfilment.

It’s impossible to review this film without revealing substantial detail but this in no way  diminishes the viewing pleasure: it’s such an extraordinary piece of filmmaking that, like viewing a work of art, there’s always something new to discover, no matter how much you look at it.  It appears that Pasolini actually wrote the script after shooting the film so no one really knew what was expected.

Silvia Mangano is simply magnificent in the role of a society wife and mother. She was married to Dino De Laurentis, at the time, and had four children by him but had found fame due to her earlier romantic liaison with Marcello Mastroianni which lead to international stardom with Bitter Rice (1949).  Here, decked out exquisitely in Capucci Couture, she is the imbodiment of an Italian woman of the era with her impeccable hairstyle, sense of entitlement and expression of extreme boredom. She is empty in every sense of the word but Stamp’s arrival ignites an unquenchable sexual fire in her and after his departure, she heads off in her mini, lust-crazed like some female Nosferatu, in the hthat sexual conquest with beautiful strangers will satisfy the emptiness she’s purported to feel inside. Possibly she is Pasolini, and how he feels confronted with beautiful Italian men and subject to the severe social strictures of Italian society in the late sixties.

The father (Massimo Girotti) gives his factory to his workers and is cast out into the wilderness of a volcanic landscape to roam around naked looking for succour. After sharing a bedroom with Stamp, the son abandons his career and becomes an abstract painter leaving home much to the dismay of his mother who had high hopes for him in the social scheme of things. The daughter goes into a swoon and becomes catatonic before being admitted to a mental asylum.

The maid, Emilia, (Laura Betti) is sanctified and returns to her home in Sicily where she floats dreamlike over her family’s farm, a vision of moral rectitude and grace, possibly embodying the feminine, caring qualities of Pasolini’s mother, who also appears in the film (she is a regular feature in his work) but also scorning the religious pomposity of the Catholic Church. Laura Betti won best actress at Cannes that year for her role. Scored by a innovative soundtrack encompassing natural sounds with Mozart and Morricone, the film placed Pasolini in pole position with the international film luminaries of the era.

THEOREM IS SCREENING IN VENICE FILM FESTIVAL CLASSICS STRAND | 2022

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