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.


Delta - Kornél Mundruczó (2008 Hungary)

A quiet young man returns to the wild, isolated landscape of the Delta. It is a labyrinth of waterways, small islands and over-grown vegetation, where the villagers are cut off from the outside world. The young man, who has been away since early childhood, is introduced to a sister he never knew he had. She is frail and timid, but resolute when she decides to join him in his run-down hut on the shore. Together they build a house on stilts in the middle of the river, far away from everyone else. One day, they invite the villagers over to share a meal together, but it becomes apparent that the coarse locals do not accept their ''unnatural'' relationship.

Stunning. Heartbreaking. Powerful. This film was really difficult to watch in parts, the ugliness of man and men, and in particular, isolated men. Beautiful photography, minimal dialogue, skint motivation and backstory. The Delta itself becomes the living metaphor for this dark and engaging story. Interesting sidenote is that one of the main cast died during while halfway through this and had to be recast.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Stellet licht - Carlos Reygadas (2007 Mexico)

In Northern Mexico's unique Mennonite community, a husband and father of seven struggles with his love for a woman who is not his wife. His personal and religious crisis plays out against the eerily massive spaces of Chihuahua, Mexico.

This is the 3rd feature by Mexican director Carlos Reygadas. I watched his VERY strange 'Battle In Heaven' just many months back and can hardly believe this is the same director. He really presents a unique vision and storytelling style, again with Stellet Licht he lulls you into the pace of life with a stunning 6 minute sunrise timelapse. As for the story, it's a mature mediation on life, destiny, duty, passion and the choices we make.

I love the way this film is shot, Ultra-wide 2.35 with a lot of static shots and just allowing the action to take place within the frame. This film has won 25 awards so far and will stay with me for a long time to come.


La Rabia - Albertina Carri (2008 Argentina)

''Life in the Argentine pampas is nasty, brutish and short, judging by the intense, compelling drama ''La Rabia.'' Impressive if challenging-to-watch work by helmer Albertina Carri (''Los rubios,'' ''Geminis'') observes adultery, violence and animal slaughter largely through the eyes of two disturbed children, while use of jagged animation and luminous landscape shots transmutes the base material into something more sublime. ''La Rabia'' is certain to sweep through fests, but could have trouble finding distribution in some territories due to unfaked deaths of various animals which, per opening credits, ''lived and died as they naturally would.'' - variety

This is a raw, brutal, honest and artistic film that has no qualms exploring some pretty dark subject matter and unspoken territory with regard to relations in tight and isolated communities. That the film comes from a female producer and director team makes it all the more intriguing. It also uses sections of watercolour animation to contrast the often violent imagery and matter of fact rumoured 'real sex'. Carri, whose previous work deals with incest is clearly not shy of some confronting subject matter.