Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Des Hommes et des Dieux (Of Gods and Men) - Xavier Beauvois (2010 France)

Under threat by fundamentalist terrorists, a group of Trappist monks stationed with an impoverished Algerian community must decide whether to leave or stay.

wow! winner of the grand prix at Cannes 2010, this is a really unique film. Not everyone's cup of tea however. The film concerns a group of French, Christian monks in Algiers during the 90's and their confrontation with Islamic militants who try to force them out. Heavy in parts, sparse in others, deeply religious yet completely human. At times it almost feels like an old western from the 50's yet managed to keep me riveted throughout.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Last Train Home - Lixin Fan (2009 Canada)

A family embarks on an annual tormenting journey along with 200 other million peasant workers to reunite with their distant family, and to revive their love and dignity as China soars as the world's next super power.

Excellent new documentary following the annual Chinese new year journey embarked on by millions of migrant workers as they leave the mega-cities to visit their families. Using this as a framework the doco paints a vivid canvas of wealth, poverty, west/east and forces us to take a hard look at what we value as quality of life.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Time That Remains - Elia Suleiman (2009 UK)

The final instalment in a trilogy that includes CHRONICLE OF A DISAPPEARANCE and DIVINE INTERVENTION, this is set among the Israeli Arab community and shot largely in homes and places in which Suleiman’s family once lived. Inspired by his father’s diaries, letters his mother sent to family members who had fled the Israeli occupation, and the director’s own recollections, the film spans from 1948 until the present, recounting the saga of Suleiman’s family in elegantly stylised episodes. Inserting himself as a silent observer reminiscent of Buster Keaton, Suleiman trains a keen eye on the absurdities of life in Nazareth.

Wonderful film making here. A colour palette to die for. An absurdist meditation on life, interconnectedness, loss and meaning. I will admit to having to pause and visit wikipedia a couple of times during this to fully understand the context and time-frame for the setting. That said I think there is more than enough universal appeal to make this enjoyable for anyone. Solid, theatrical performances. Subtle Coen-esque humour.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Mal Dia Para Pescar (Bad Day To Go Fishing) - Alvaro Brechner (2009 Spain)

Jacob van Oppen, the former strongest man on earth, and his manager Orsini, who calls himself "the Prince", make a good living by traveling around small South American towns and organizing wrestling exhibitions. Arriving in Santa Maria, they are met with uncommon enthusiasm, the local newspaper wants to sponsor the fight, helping hands placard the town with posters, and an open call is made for a worthy adversary. Ever so resourceful, Orsini knows how to find the right combatant, but fishing in Santa Maria could lead to a bigger catch than he'd hoped for.

Most likely Spain's entry into the next Academy awards. This is a really well-crafted, designed and beautifully shot tale of an aging former wresting champion and his sleazy manager on the hustle through small country towns. It's also the fable about biting off more than you can chew. A little bit Cohen Bros, with a slightly darker, heavier heart. Different enough from 'the wrestler' to avoid comparisons.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

La Doppia Ora (The Double Hour) - Giuseppe Capotondi (2009 Italy)

A spark between a newly-met couple is snuffed out tragically

Excellent new Italian Psychological/mystery/crime thriller with a dash of the paranormal. For a first feature this film is staggeringly impressive. Stunning lead actress Kseniya Rappoport took out the Volpi Cup for best actress at Venice last year and you can see why. Best mystery I've seen in a long while. Sound design is superb with music from Godspeed and A Silver Mt Zion.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Kynodontas (Dogtooth) - Giorgos Lanthimos (2009 Greece)

Three teenagers are confined to an isolated country estate that could very well be on another planet. The trio spend their days listening to endless homemade tapes that teach them a whole new vocabulary. Any word that comes from beyond their family abode is instantly assigned a new meaning. Hence 'the sea' refers to a large armchair and 'zombies' are little yellow flowers.

Beautifully demented social commentary here. Dark as the night in places too. Lanthimos coming from a commercials background really knows how to hone his storytelling and the visual imagery is mesmerising. More un-simulated sex here too.


Die Fremde (When We Leave) - Feo Aladag (2010 Germany)

Umay is a young woman of Turkish descent, fighting for an independent and self-determined life in Germany against the resistance of her family. Her struggle initiates a dynamic, which results in a life-threatening situation.

HEAVY drama centering on a young Turkish woman who flees her abusive husband and heads to Germany where her family is unwilling to shelter her for the shame she has brought the family name by leaving. Some really tricky territory here and the Turkish male stereotype gets a heavy examination. Bleak, Heavy, Depressing, perfectly shot and with an excellent piano based score.


Kak ya provyol etim letom (How I Ended This Summer) - Aleksei Popogrebsky (2010 Russia)

A polar station on a desolate island in the Arctic Ocean. Sergei, a seasoned meteorologist, and Pavel, a recent college graduate, are spending months in complete isolation on the once strategic research base. Pavel receives an important radio message and is still trying to find the right moment to tell Sergei, when fear, lies and suspicions start poisoning the atmosphere..

Quite a good, slow-paced, psychological thriller; a kind of Russian 'Moon' set on a meteorological station in the bleak and desolate Arctic circle. The story focuses on two men alone for months and the madness constantly on the creep. Impeccable cinematography. Location, location, location.


Kiskanmak (Envy) - Zeki Demirkubuz (2009 Turkey)

Seniha lives the life of a recluse with her brother Halit and his beautiful wife Mükerrem. When Nüzhet, the handsome son of the richest family in town, sets his eyes on the married Mükerrem, she is at first disgusted with Nüzhet's overt sexual innuendo. However, it isn't long before Mükerrem yields to her lust and thus they embark on an affair. Torn between a fantasy life she could never live and the honour of her brother, Seniha must decide which side to take. Seniha has no idea what the consequences will be and how cruelly her destiny will change.

Extremely dark and claustrophobic tale from Turkish Auteur Zeki Demirkubuz. This one deals with pride, jealousy, desire and honour. A period piece that highlights the inequality between the sexes, rich and poor, those blessed with good looks and those less fortunate. It does all this without a heavy hand. Shot on HD and finished on 35mm the cinematography is of the same high calibre we've come to expect from Turkish cinema.

Alle Anderen (Everyone Else) - Maren Ade (2009 Germany)

While on a Mediterranean vacation, a seemingly happy husband and wife find their connection to one another tested as they bond with another couple.

Here we have an interesting little window into the very private struggles of a budding architect, his music-industry wife and the lengths to which he is willing to push her aside to further his career. I found the characters believable and often painful at times to watch; their behaviour towards one another at times appalling. Set against the stunning backdrop of Sardinia, every frame breaths carefree summer and wild birds dominate the soundscape.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Nord - Rune Denstad Langlo (2009 Norway)

Following a nervous breakdown, ski athlete Jomar has isolated himself in a lonely existence as the guard of a ski park. When he learns that he might be the father of a child way up north, he sets on a strange and poetic journey through Norway on a snowmobile, with 5 liters of alcohol as sole provisions. On this trip through amazing arctic landscapes, Jomar seems to do everything in his power to avoid reaching his destination. He meets other tender and confused souls, who will all contribute to push Jomar further along his reluctant journey towards the brighter side of life.

Excellent black-humoured new 'road' movie from Norway. The cinematography is outstanding. One of the most beautiful films this year. Some truly original scenes and perfect performances. All hail the new absurd-ism. If you see kids with bald patches on top of their heads you will now know why. The tee-pee scene blew my mind.


Tony Manero - Pablo Larrain (2008 Chile)

Santiago de Chile, 1978.

In the midst of the tough social context of Pinochets dictatorship, Raul Peralta, a man in his fifties, is obsessed with the idea of impersonating ''Tony Manero'', John Travolta's character in Saturday Night Fever.

Raul leads a small group of dancers regularly performing at a bar located in the outskirts of the city. Every Saturday evening, he unleashes his passion for the film's music by imitating his idol. His dream of being recognized as a successful showbiz star is about to become a reality when the national television announces a ''Tony Manero'' impersonating contest. His urge to reproduce his idol's likeness drives him to commit a series of crimes and thefts.

In the meantime, his dancing partners, who are involved in underground activities against the regime, are persecuted by the government's secret police.

Tony Manero is a story about loss of identity and obsession in the recent Chilean history.

Tony Manero is one messed up film. This is such a dirty looking piece of cinema that just oozes sleeze and poverty. Lead character Raul is both captivating and revolting at the same time. Cinematography feels right for the era too with shots often left out of focus until our hero comes back to his first position.


Cherry Blossoms (Kirschblüten - Hanami) - Doris Dörrie (2008 Germany)

When Trudi learns that her husband Rudi is dangerously ill, she suggests visiting their children in Berlin without telling him the truth.

Beautiful, touching and sentimental film highlighting just how easy it is to get so caught up in ourselves that we miss out on truly understanding the people that are closest to us. The Japanese section of this film is shot all through the cherry blossom celebration and it just looks gorgeous. Measured and mature film-making here. Watch this one with someone you care about.


Johnny Mad Dog - Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire (2008 France)

A cast of unknown performers are used in this drama about child soldiers fighting a war in an unnamed African country.

WOW. The most powerful film I've seen in years. BRUTAL. It's jaw-dropping from start to finish. An amazingly well directed, shot and edited piece of cinema. At times it becomes a surrealist nightmare with these child soldiers, one in a wedding dress, one with butterfly wings skulking around committing any crime of their choosing and taking on a warped, music video feel. This is a look at child soldiers as you've never imagined it before.

There is even a mashed up rap-remix track of the famed Battles 'Leyendecker' by DJ EMZ running in the background at one point.