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Thread: San Francisco International Film Festival 2007 (50th anniversary)

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    San Francisco International Film Festival 2007 (50th anniversary)

    LINKS TO ALL CHRIS KNIPP REVIEWS OF SFIFF 2007 FILMS:

    7 YEARS (JEAN-PASCAL HATTU)
    12 LABORS, THE (RICARDO ELIAS)
    AD LIB NIGHT (LEE YOON-KI)
    amour-LEGENDE (MI-SEN WU)
    AGUA (VERONICA CHEN)
    ALONG THE RIDGE (KIM ROSSI STEWERT)
    ARIA (TAKUSHI TSUBOKAWA)
    BAMAKO (ABDERRAHMANE SISSAKO)
    BORN AND BRED (PABLO TRAPERO)
    CAYMAN, THE (NANNI MORETTI)
    COLOSSAL YOUTH (PEDRO COSTA))
    CONGORAMA (PHILIPPE FALARDEAU)
    DANS PARIS/INSIDE PARIS (CHRISTOPHE HONORE)
    DARATT (MAHAMAT-SALEH HAROUN)
    FALLING (BARBARA ALBERT)
    FLANDERS (BRUNO DUMONT)
    GARDENS IN AUTUMN (OTAR IOSSELIONI)
    GRANDHOTEL (DAVID ONDRICEK)
    HANA (HIROKAZU KOREEDA)
    HEAVEN'S DOORS (SWEL AND IMAD NOURY)
    HOW IS YOUR FISH TODAY? (XIAOLU GUO, 2006)
    ISLAND, THE (PAVEL LOUNGUINE)
    LADY CHATTERLEY (PASCALE FERRAN)
    LOVE FOR SALE: SUELY IN THE SKY (KARIM AINOUZ)
    MURCH (EDIE AND DAVID ICHIOKA)
    OLD GARDEN, THE (IM SANG-SOO)
    OTAR IOSELIANI (JULIE BERTUCELLI)
    PAPRIKA (SATOCHI KON)
    PARTING SHOT (JEANNE WALTZ)
    PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES (ALAIN RENAIS)
    RAGE (ZULI ALADAG)
    ROCKET SCIENCE (JEFFREY BLITZ)
    REPRISE (JOACHIM TRIER)
    ROAD TO SAN DIEGO, THE (CARLOS SORIN)
    ROME RATHER THAN YOU (TARIQ TEGUIA)
    SILLY AGE, THE (PAVEL GIROUD)
    SOUNDS OF SAND (MARION HANSEL)
    SUGAR CURTAIN, THE (CAMILA GUZMAN URZUA)
    THESE GIRLS (TAHANI RACHED)
    TIMES AND WINDS (REHA ERDEM)
    VANAJA (RAJNESH DOMALPALLI )
    VIE EN ROSE,LA/LA MOME (OLIVIER DAHAN)
    VIOLIN, THE (FRANCISCO VARGAS)
    YACOUBIAN BUILDING, THE (MARWAN HAMED)

    HIGHLIGHTS OF THE FESTIVAL: A ROUNDUP

    You will find some these reviews at the Festival Coverage NYFF and Rendez-Vous with French Cinema links, but most are below.

    The full SFIFF film listings (200 from 54 countries) can be found here.

    SOME SFIFF DIRECTORS:


    MARWAN HAMED (THE YACOUBIAN BUILDING)


    BRUNO DUMONT (FLANDERS)


    KIM ROSSI STEWART (ALONG THE RIDGE)


    ABDERRAHMANE SISSAKO DIRECTING BAMAKO
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-05-2013 at 09:15 AM.

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    MARION HANSEL: SOUNDS OF SAND (2007)

    MARION HANSEL: SOUNDS OF SAND (2007)



    Pluses and minuses (see below)

    Positive review: Adapted from Marc Durin-Valois' prize-winning novel Chamelle by Belgian director Hansel, Sounds of Sand/Si le vent soul�ve les sables is the beautiful and moving saga of a little family somewhere in Africa forced to leave home and struggle eastward across the desert with their livestock in search of water. Along the way they endure great loss, danger, cruelty, and heartbreak. This film dramatizes many of the demographic and human problems that face the African continent: drought, revolution, lawlessness, poverty, homelessness. Hänsel's powerful visual storytelling makes all these things real to us, while bringing alive the drama of human beings. Images are striking, and so are the people, and all the actors are fine, particularly the father, Rahne, played by Isaka Sawadogo and his little daughter, Shasha, played by Asma Nouman Aden. Music is used deftly and economically. This is committed narrative film-making at its best. It brings home major issues but never seems preachy or doctrinaire. At the end, what remains of the family winds up in a UN camp. "This is my Pouzzi," says Sasha, using her pet name for her father. "He looks sad because he has lost his camel." The viewer will remember a series of striking, pathetic tableaux. A heartrending and vividly told tale.

    Negative review: Shot in Djibouti, Hansel's film attempts to be universal by being unspecific in locale and by casting the dialogue by all and sundry entirely in rather academic French. Everything is generic and sanitized. If the family is desperately short of water, how come they have full wardrobes of immaculately clean clothes and are perfectly clean themselves? At the outset Rahne meets another man who says they should travel together because it's safer that way. "Yes," Rahne says, "we will travel together. We will leave before dawn to take advantage of the coolness." It's stilted elementary primer language. Even religious phrases that sound Muslim, like "God wishes it so," are said in French, when likely they would be said in Arabic. A bunch of wild looking outlaws speak the same academic French. An online viewer wrote that this is "a romanticized film made by a middle aged western woman aimed at...middle aged western women" and added, "naturally in the end the main characters get saved by white people from the West." And this is true. Hänsel uses the authentic setting and real-looking African actors to make us naive westerners believe that we're watching something real, but it's a downbeat fairy tale, none of which is true to a specific and coherent whole. Sawadogo, by the way, has lived in Norway for the last fifteen years.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-14-2007 at 12:47 PM.

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    DAVID ONDRICEK: GRANDHOTEL (2006)

    DAVID ONDRICEK: GRANDHOTEL (2006)



    High above a Czech town, it's raining. . .

    In this whimsical, rather fey movie in a setting that's both shabby (the town) and grand (the landscape), two couples who trade places and two older men who bother the shy main character wander in and out of scenes in a hotel perched on a mountain and topped by a pointed weather tower. There are dreamy, breathtaking panoramic views of sky, clouds, and the town of Liberic below. Up in that tower, Fleischman (Marek Taclk) practices the art of meteorology and shies away from girls. He knows exactly when it's going to rain -- which is pretty often.

    Fleishman's bugged by the sex-obsessed hotel manager, Jegr (Jaromr Dulava), and carries out occasional paid "operations" for "Mr." Franz (Ladislav Mrkvicka), a man who claims he was a Luftwaffe pilot. An old dilemma comes up: should one travel or stay at home? Fleishman's putting together a makeshift hot air balloon to escape his unpromising existence. Marek Taclk has a rumpled appeal, but only comes to life in the final minutes when hotel maid Ilja (Klra Issov), who's ditched her irritating waiter boyfriend Patka (Jaroslav Plesl), persuades Fleishman to kiss her. Platka pairs off with another lovely housekeeper, Zuzana (Dita Zbransk), who was sweet on Fleishman, and Mr. Franz's ashes have been scattered over Liberic. The skinny Platka, a slick Steve Buscemi type, claims to have lived a year in the US and is constantly using English phrases. He sells an all-purpose bottled liquid called "Happy Life." Nobody's buying.

    Ondricek's previous films have done well at Czech and other Europlean film festivals. This occasionally funny, sometimes poetic work may be his grandest, dreamiest, most beautiful feature yet, and it has a certain winsome charm, not to mention the memorable sky- and land-scape images and the glimpses of the unique Hotel Jested. The use of sound and original music is as fresh and beautiful as the panoramic images. But all this doesn't ever meld into a satisfying emotional or intellectual package, mainly because the action is too desultory.

    Characters are emblematic and each thinly conceals some sort of philosophical message. The two older men -- the manager and the fake veteran -- are self-assertive bores. The two couples are sad sacks; a winning moment is when, sitting together in the dining room, they all tell each other they're "sorry." Everybody is acting their heads off most of the time, which is rather fun. As Jason Pirodsky says in an excellent review on the Czech website Expatz, "David Ondricek's Grandhotel is an odd bird of a film; satisfying neither as comedy or drama, yet moderately interesting and mildly affecting throughout." It consists of a series of vignettes and "almost isn't there. Almost nothing happens, nor do we expect much to happen --- only a director like Ozu, I imagine, would be able successfully to unearth the subtle profundities hidden in a film like this. But this isn't the work of Ozu."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-08-2007 at 03:14 AM.

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    IM SANG-SOO: THE OLD GARDEN (2006)

    IM SANG-SOO: THE OLD GARDEN (2006)



    Historical meditation on the conflict of love and politics

    Im satirically (and brutally) depicted the 1979 assassination of South Korean ruler Park Chung-hee in his last film, The President's Big Bang. The Old Garden is another animal, soft, intimate, notable for its physicality and not without moments of poetry. The color is rich, and small details, hair, a touch, the munching of food, as well as the splash of water on a torso or a face, rain, snow, a policeman's club, are lovingly dwelt upon or intensely felt. This film is set only a little later in time but also in another more thoughtful style. It follows the outlines of a bestselling novel by Hwang Sok-yong, a story about the conflict between a memorable love affair and a life of devotion to leftist politics. It opens with the release of its hero, Oh Hyun-woo (Ji Jin-hee), who has spent seventeen years in prison for leftist activism and complicity in the student anti-government riots of May 1980 known at the Gwangju Massacre (they left several hundred dead). The 1979 coup led not to democracy, but military dictatorship. Public outcry against Gwangju was decisive in the run-up to democratic elections in South Korea that finally happened later in the Eighties. At Oh's release (which would be around 1997), times have certainly changed, though oddly enough, there is no reference to the new political situation. Clearly South Korea has had an economic boom and Oh's mother is now a wealthy realtor, who buys him 11,000 euros worth of new clothes without giving it a thought. His old political allies are either ineffectual idealists or hopeless pessimists who squabble among themselves at an evening gathering.

    Oh doesn't want to stay with his mother. He returns to the mountains where he was hiding out before arrest and revisits the home of art teacher Han Yoon-hee. She hid him for a while after the massacre and they had an intense affair. She is gone, dead of cancer ten years into his confinement without ever being able to see Oh again. He goes to her old place, where her paintings and writings are starting points for flashbacks to the earlier political events and to those days in hiding with Yun-hee. The editing is lovely here, moving from present to past seamlessly and neatly time after time and with a minimum of confusion.

    As we watch Hyun-woo's troubled idyll with Yoon-hee, we know what's going to happen -- he's going to get caught -- and we wonder how. This is the portrait of a relentlessly dedicated crusader. His political duties are more important to him than his love. Though Yoon-hee begs him to go with her deep into the mountains to hide -- she will quit her art teaching job for that -- he decides to go back to Seoul, and he's quickly captured there.Yoon-hee is pregnant with his child. It's a girl, Eon-gyul.

    The second half of the film focuses more on Yun-hee's life during Hyun-woo�s time in prison and on the horrible time of the massacre. Yun-hee doesn't raise Eon-gyul, and the little girl is sometimes alienated from her mother. She remains faithful to Oh, and when a cute younger leftist comes on strong to her, she sends him packing.

    The accusation that this film will be incomprehensible to us because it's a little vague about the historical events is hard to credit. We know very well what's going on. If anything is off-putting, it's some odd eating habits, not the politics. The emotional side, anyway, is very understandable. Hyun-woo's behavior is a little hard to sympathize with, but that's because he is who he is: someone who remains a hero by in some ways failing as a human being. But he's never made predictable. And where before we wondered how he would get caught, now we wonder how the story will end.

    When he finally talks to Eon-gyul on the phone and then meets her on a busy glitzy street in Seoul (and she's a sexy babe now) Hyun-woo doesn't admit he's her father, but she knows. Haven't we seen that somewhere before? The ending, with this scene followed by a sentimental, sugary song, is cheesy, with the shadow of Yun-hee lingering none too subtly in the background (the couple's palpable longing for each other has been handled beautifully up to here). Yun-hee's paintings, ultra-realistic sentimentalized and aged "photographs" of the family and personalities, are also a bit cheesy. They may have worked better in the novel where you don't actually have to see them.

    Still, the beauty of early scenes, the understated depiction of the intense love affair, the seamless but clear and logical ways the film shifts time-frames, leave good memories that the somewhat rudderless second half can't erase. As a whole, The Old Garden reads as a passionate meditation on how lives can seem in memory and in reality to revolve around a few key moments. Im has almost made us forget about the "long littleness of life," made us believe in the grandeur of a historical narrative where each scene seems a beautifully crafted piece in a chronological puzzle held together by fact and emotion. As Yoon-hee, Yum Jung-ah is intense without ever being weepy or melodramatic. Ji Jin-hee, as Oh Hyun-woo, is a sexy hunk with acres of charm. He has a smugness that is unappealing, but that just may be exactly right for his character. You almost wish she had lived instead of him. What is to become of him now? Will he get rich like his mother, or continue to be a crusader for workers rights?

    The film, Im's fifth, is currently playing in Paris, where its complex melding of love and politics has been critically well received, according to Allocine. Whether Americans are as responsive to such a story, with its intense mix of historical and personal, is another question. Hwang Sok-yong's novel was a Le Monde "Books of the World" selection in France.

    Part of the San Fransicso International Film Festival 2007.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-16-2007 at 03:24 AM.

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    EDIE AND DAVID ICHOKA: MURCH (2006)

    EDIE AND DAVID ICHOKA: MURCH (2006)



    "Gerald McBoing Boing" gives a master class in film editing

    Walter Murch is the premier, high-profile American film and sound editor associated with longtime film school colleagues Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas (and in the grand old days American Zoetrope). This is a documentary where Murch talks to us, while the editors playfully manipulate the images a bit sometimes to illustrate his points (jump cuts, sound channel shifts, etc.) and intercut clips from films. They show clips with the dialogue just a tad off to remind us the elements are separate. Murch talks about how he edits "mute" initially to simplify the process.

    Murch is a superb elucidator of his art, his talk pungent with interesting comparisons, metaphors, vivid hypotheticals and examples. You hear the methodical craftsman in the calm voice and see the inspired artist in the sampled work. David Ichioka is one of Murch's former assistant editors.

    This is about breaking the rules, starting with how Godard's 1960 Breathless used taboo jump cuts, which was like an artist letting brushstrokes show in a painting, Murch says. Murch went to Paris to study at 19, in 1963, right at the height of the New Wave, and "got bitten by the film bug." He came back to study film at USC and combined his new "bug" with his old one for tape and sound editing.

    Another rule to break was the one against looking directly into the camera, a taboo much broken to good effect in Apocalypse Now where it makes sense because everything is from Willard's point of view. You invent or reinvent to suit the work, Murch is implying. Thus 5.1 sound (RIGHT /CENTER /SUBWOOFER / LEFT-SURROUND / RIGHT-SURROUND) was invented for Apocalypse Now and Murch reedited sound to fill theater space divided that way. The sound mixer plays a Times Square "shell game," Murch explains: he switches which elements are highlighted among ambient sound, music, and dialogue, bringing only one or two of these to the fore at a time, alternately, because this is clear, while to present the whole package all at once all the time would be a blur to the audience.

    Film is a "theater of thought," Murch says. Actors' faces show the passage of thought and emotion to the camera, an effect impossible to create on stage. Blinks of the actor's eyes indicate articulated joints of thought that may be a place to cut.

    Murch stands up to edit, because of the energy, and it's like conducting an orchestra or performing surgery or butchering meat, all jobs done standing up. He doesn't say anything about the switch to digital, which might be interesting, but maybe to Murch the transition has been too seamless to mention, one can't say. This is a rich condensed sampling of the Murch wisdom, not an entire treatise.

    The 1989 reediting of Orson Welles' Touch of Evil following Welles' 58-page memo to the studio is one of his triumphs; I think that's when I learned who he was and how important his work has been. Likewise the reediting we know as Apocalypse Now Redux with the film riskily but successfully cleaned, a new richer soundtrack, and missing sequences restored.

    It's an art form Murch is talking about here, hence his stress on fostering accidental collisions that are better than conscious decisions, that overcome the limitations of the rational.

    You will see details of how the Bronx "El" train sounds are used to lead up to Michael's (Pacino's) shooting in a restaurant in The Godfather to avoid music and make the music when it comes more effective.

    Music can be overdone, "almost spray-gunned on the film" after it's cut, and Murch is a master of the inspired under-use of music of which that Godfather scene is an example. Another astute collage-ing of music works (to keep it from over-determining, which is "like an athlete taking steroids") as we see in the horse's-head-in-the-bed scene.

    Murch talks specifically also about THX 1138, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, and Touch of Evil, classics it's exciting just to dip back into. Also discussed with clips: Minghella's (and the Saul Zaentz Studio's) The Talented Mr. Ripley, The English Patient. The master talks about his early love affair with a tape recorder in the fifties: as a pre-teen, he knew what he wanted to do. They called him "Gerald McBoing Boing" from the animated cartoon character who could open his mouth and emit any sound. The whiz kid is no nerd; he's a brilliantly articulate adult, simply as straightforwardly informative as you could ever want.

    The Ichiokas have neatly and appropriately edited Murch's talk. This is a short film (it's only 78 minutes), but it is packed with nuggets of gold any cinephile might want to memorize.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-03-2007 at 01:44 PM.

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    JEFFREY BLITZ: ROCKET SCIENCE (2007)

    JEFFREY BLITZ: ROCKET SCIENCE (2007)



    "A teenage boy with a horrific stuttering problem joins his high-school debate team in an ill-fated effort to win the girl of his dreams. "
    -- publicity blurb.


    A Sundance film, this has been described as a combination of Thumsucker, Art School Confidential, and Napoleon Dynamite. Also mentioned are The Squid and the Whale for the focus on adolescent sexual obsession and Zach Braff's Garden State for the New Jersey coming-of-age setting. Election has been referred to as the classic forerunner. The reason for all these associations is that this first fiction effort by Jeffrey Blitz, the director of the highly successful Spellbound (a documentary about a national spelling competition and its quirky top competitors), is in a familiar genre and struggles to distinguish itself from other versions. It's not as definitive a statement as Election; it's people aren't as appealing as Thumsucker's, or as ludicrous as Napoleon Dynamite's. The parents aren't skewered as sharply as The Squid and the Whale's. Art School Confidential was a flop and Garden State was a bore, so we can disregard them. Young Hal Hefner (talented Canadian actor Reece Thompson) has a worse problem than thumbsucking: an erratic stutter that makes him tongue-tied under pressure, though at other times he can communicate to various degrees.

    That's the most persistent thing Hal struggles with, but there are plenty of others. His parents are breaking up. His older brother (Vincent Piazza) is a bully who attacks him in the shower and an OCD kleptomaniac to boot. His crap school counselor can't help him: "it's a shame you're not hyperactive," he quips. And Ginny (Anna Kendrick), the high school champion debater, is using him in a peculiar way. Why has she asked him to be her partner on the team, the year after they've lost the New Jersey State High School Policy Debate Championships because of a breakdown on the part of the awesome, but now disgraced dropout, Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D'Agosto)? The reason she gives is that she senses intense competitive instincts in Hal: "deformed people have a hidden source of anger," she says. One thing you can say about this movie: it's smart, its characters are clever, and the dialogue is witty and sometimes surprising. That doesn't make it altogether work, but it makes it watchable; besides, the actors are all pretty good, and Reece Thompson is an appealing actor. He's borderline goodlooking, but, intentionally on the part of the director, who had to do two exhaustive searches to find him, he isn't sexy and buff like all the young actors in California. He's from Vancouver.

    It turns out that writer/director Blitz himself stuttered, and was on the debate team and they won. But that isn't how it happens in Rocket Science. Maybe Blitz didn't think anybody would believe it if it did. But it's even harder to believe Hal's persistence when at every trial he can't get a sentence out, while Ginny can summarize an eight-minute argument in ten seconds. This story seems to be about persistence, but it's also about too many other things: first love, parents splitting, sibling problems, overcoming a handicap. One point is clearly made: being a teenager is hell for a boy, especially if he stutters. But maybe stuttering is just a metaphor for being a teenager. Maybe that's what thumbsucking was in Thumbsucker. Only Justin in Thumbsucker became a star of the debating team, and that was more fun.

    This movie is made for the kind of audience that gets it (and enjoys doing so) when a boy urges Hal to join the philosophy club and then reassures him that Hegel is not included. There's a soundtrack of odd songs with downbeat lyrics (notably by the Violent Femmes) that are often spot on and appealing. Disturbia's cool and edgy Aaron Yoo does a surprising reversal as Hal's proper, nerdy friend and competitor Heston. Hal describes Ben as a "god" who (as a dropout) is "doing drycleaning," and he is convincingly godlike and brilliant in his brief turn as the returning team member. The plot falters here, because Ben and Hal enter competition without school approval. How could that be? Come to think of it, why doesn't Hal overcome his stutter, the way we want him to--at least a little bit? His presenting the resolution in the debate to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic at Ben's suggestion, because stutters can be overcome while singing, is pretty far fetched. The whole movie is a string of ornate whimsy. Perhaps so were those other films, especially Napoleon Dynamite. But they hang together a bit better. Still, I liked Hal: rarely has a handicapped character been made so appealing and human -- in an ironic high school coming-of-age flick, anyway.

    Part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007, Rocket Science will open in theaters in California June 1st.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-03-2007 at 01:47 PM.

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    SWEL AND IMAD NOURY: HEAVEN'S DOORS (2006)

    SWEL AND IMAD NOURY: HEAVEN'S DOORS (2006)



    Absurdly ambitious but also highly stimulating

    You may need to be 28 and 23 to be as wildly over-ambitious as Swel and Imad Noury, the half-Moroccan, half-Spanish brothers who made the multiple-plotted Heaven's Doors (Abwab ul-Jinnah), their first narrative feature, for only $180,000. Does everyone want to start out with an Innaritu-style diagram of all human experience now? The Nourys have created what in some ways is a sentimental and amateurish film, but the panorama is rich and the milieu feels authentic. A lot of movies are shot in Morocco, including, to mention only two, Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down and parts of Michel Gondry's Art of Sleep. But those are the work of interlopers and don't capture authentic Moroccan life like this one.

    The Nourys seem to have wanted to throw in everything but the kitchen sink: cocky young men, blind peasant women, drunken sages, innocent schoolchildren, ex-cons, gangsters, break dancers, and an alcoholic American expatriate woman from San Francisco whose soul-bearing and whining phone calls to her mother back home are, to an American audience, obtrusive and somewhat embarrassing. Even she seems a real Casablanca resident, though: how else could she be American yet obviously understand Moroccan Arabic and be fluent in French?

    In the first segment and the last (of three, all set in Casablanca), with their gangsterish content, it feels as if the Nourys may be influenced more by cinema than by their own experience, which is fine. We get a close look at several characters in each of the three parts. The most fully realized people -- even if their stories are left hanging -- are the expatriate lady of the middle segment and a fifty-year-old man just released from prison who dominates the final segment.

    As the film opens, Ney (Rabie Katy), a young man whose pals all wear muscle shirts, long hair in a pigtail, and turned-around baseball caps, reports to a slick character with a big swimming pool and a bar-lined SUV and thereby turns to crime to support his blind mother (Latifah Ahrare) and a young sister, Maria (Samia Berrada), who's well behaved and bright in school. This opening sequence is the most irritating of the three, because none of the action is clear and the hand-held camera makes you seasick. Despite his being closest in age to the filmmakers, Ney seems the least realized of the main characters. His moments at home with his blind mother are hard to reconcile with the way he spends his time otherwise.

    A feud Ney gets into with a gangster named Faisal (Farid Regragui) leads to his killing a father and putting the mother in a coma, and the little son Salim (Taha Ghrabi) and the mother are taken in by the American lady, Lisa (Aimee Meditz), who's grumpy and put-upon at first and then falls in love with the little boy and is devastated when he's taken away with the comatose mother by a Moroccan relative. This segment anchors the whole, because it's about the stuff of everyday life more than the crime stories that bookend it. It shows the cameraman can keep his hand steady when he wants to, and the woman is interesting, even if her emotional arc seems pushed and weepy. She seems a real person; it's a pity she's not a better actress. Smail (Hakim Noury, the directors' father), the quiet, self-contained, elegant released prisoner, is the film's most interesting figure. He's mysterious, but perhaps because of the filmmakers' connection with him, they make us feel close to him. He's been incarcerated for fifteen years and connects with his best friend -- who turns out to be the Amercan lady's estranged husband -- and his girlfriend before preparing a rglement de comptes with a pal who betrayed him. This doesn't quite feel like a conclusion so much as like a story that could have been more fully developed. Paulo Ares' cinematography has its moments, but the jiggling in the Ney scenes simply seems clumsy. The editors' inter-cutting of tiny slices of earlier and later moments into scenes is more distracting than illuminating. You have to learn to walk before you can dance. The Nourys and Ares seem to have been far too much in love with every shot, though given the ambitious schemework, it's hardly surprising the film is over-long (160 minutes). Apart these criticisms, there is a lot of interesting stuff here, and the plotting is pretty ingenious, with its regular structures and its recurrent focus on mothers and sons. And despite the obvious flaws, it's somewhat exhilarating to see an almost indigenous moviemaking effort of such complexity coming out of Morocco. Probably this isn't destined to be anything but a festival film, but one hopes it will lead to more from this country and these young men. The film was produced by the directors' mother, Pilar Cazorla.

    Part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, 2007.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-14-2007 at 12:56 PM.

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    MI-SEN WU: AMOUR-LEGENDE (2006)

    MI-SEN WU: AMOUR-LEGENDE (2006)


    YOUSUKE KUBOSUKO, RACHEL NGAN

    He loses his passport and his memory, and it's all a lark


    "Be careful. I will fall in love with somebody who needs me... Just kidding." Says the girl who comes to rescue Oshima, when he's lost in the desert after his girlfriend, May, went off to find a police station supposedly only a few miles away, and was gone for four hours.

    So begins the essential story of amour-LEGENDE, though not the film itself, because it's here that the young man who's called "Oshima" has just dozed off and then wakes up to find he's lost his memory, but has a new girl there in front of him saying her name is Coco -- a girl to tell him what's happening, where he is, and so forth.

    Amour-LEGENDE's essential charm lies in several elements. Though being trapped in a desert on an island off the coast of somewhere in South America, locked out of one's rental car (a cheery light-blue Mercedes) and losing one's memory don't sound like easy things to deal with, both of the principals, or all three of them, since the two women are played by the same actress, Rachel Ngan, and the man is played by Yousuke Kubosuko, have a light-hearted quality. There's something dashing and casual about the stylish Kubosuko, perhaps a profound indifference engendered from the actor's recently recovering from a fall from his nine-storey-high condo or his controversial advocacy of marijuana use. Ngan was born in Hong Kong and educated in Canada and she answers Kubosuko's Japanese remarks in casual, slangy American English. (He sometimes speaks English too and she sometimes speaks Japanese.) Both, it later turns out, are also fluent in Chinese. She speaks Spanish, which comes in handy dealing with the locals. Perhaps this constant alternation of languages helps contribute to a sense that these people are on separate planets. It also means this is a "pan-Asian production." But director Wu has used that polyglot aspect to his own ends. The linguistic flourishes provide amusement and a certain detachment.

    There is also something consistently light and beautiful and elegant about the visuals. The desert images are a little washed-out. The actors are both very easy on the eyes. The unflappable (but at times lightly annoyed) Oshima never loses his composure, and this somehow lightens the viewer's load in going through an experience that never seems to move forward. Midway, it returns to the beginning. Along the way, flashbacks finally allow us to guess what might have happened. The long-haired Oshima, somewhat improbably an office executive (he seems more like a playboy or a fashion model -- or why not both?), lived with his wife in Taipei. It was there that he began an affair with May (Ngan, of course), whereupon they decided to go off for an idyll on this island she'd found out about called La Bamba del Corazon. Incidentally "Oshima" means "big island" in Japanese, so maybe Oshima is happening inside somebody's head. And by the way his wife's name was April, but it seems that he may just call her that, as he comes to call the new woman (whom we see as May) May, though she says her name is Coco, just because he likes these names.

    Sitting in the nice hotel where Coco and Oshima wind up, she says, "You look like a vet." A veterinarian. How do you look like a vet? And he is one. He wonders if the island really exists. The map they have found for the island in May's empty suitcase is really a map of the Egyptian towns that run along the Nile.

    Oshima thinks Coco, or maybe May, took away his memory. There are hints of a misogynistic attitude in the film, and it's firmly from the young man's point of view. But it's also a love story. Life is just a dream, or as the Spanish line goes, a dream of a dream, and love too then is just a dream; but it's a dream worth having.

    When May and Oshima went to a hotel on the island (this is before May disappears), they met the King and Queen of the island. Later the Spanish-speaking king reappears as a man in evening clothes wearing a large squirrel's head and talks to Oshima and Oshima answers in Japanese. They understand each other. And they wonder why. Could this all be a dream?

    Coco and Oshima continue to look for May, on a place called Snow Mountain which is where May had intended for the couple to go. Finally Coco disappears in another hotel, and Oshima meets May but she denies they know each other and says, repeating what they were told eons earlier, "If a couple breaks up on Snow Mountain, it will take eight hundred million light years before they can meet again." And Oshima says, "No one's told you? A light year is a unit of distance." End of story. End of film. Amour-LEGENDE is just a diversion. But Mi-sen Wu's light touch makes it work. (It's an elegant puzzler like Resnais's Last Year at Marienbad; and it has links with the Antonioni of L'Avventura). To be harsh with it would be to "break a butterfly upon a wheel."


    Mi-sen Wu's amour-LEGENDE /Songshu zisha shijian (2006) is being shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-08-2007 at 03:17 AM.

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    Pedro costa: Colossal youth (2006)

    PEDRO COSTA: COLOSSAL YOUTH (2006)


    PEDRO COSTA

    Sketches for a cinema of exhaustion

    This filmmaker is Portuguese and has been chronicling the Cape Verdean immigrant population of Lisbon for some time. The Portuguese title is Juventude en marcha, Youth on the March; it's not clear where the Colossal comes from, though in either case the phrases are presumably ironic. Nobody is going anywhere. Using cinema v�rit� methods, Costa focuses on Ventura, a tall, lean sixty-something Cape Verdean man living in Lisbon whose wife leaves his cave-like second-story slum dwelling, tossing out the window and thereby destroying a lot of the furniture before doing so. Ventura subsequently appears to wander around acting as "a genial but vacant guide" to a series of people he refers to as "children" or "son" or daughter" and who engage in "impossibly long-winded monologues" in "uniformly grimy, unlit interiors" (except for a couple of bright white ones in the new housing project that has since replaced the slum; these quotations are from Justin Chang's review in Variety written after the film's Cannes Festival screening). Occasionally Ventura, who refers to himself as a "retired laborer," recalls building projects he worked on when he first came to Lisbon and a fall he suffered during one of them, but he does not offer much commentary or advice to his younger interlocutors.

    The visuals are mostly gray, with patches of color that sing out in contrast. Ventura plays cards; looks at a new apartment in the project; listens there to Vanda (Vanda Duarte, subject of an earlier Costa film) talking about her painful childbirth experience,and later with her child; plays cards or eats a meal with "sons;" and visits the national museum where another "son" is a guard.

    Costa offers less to viewers (and conversely perhaps gives them more to do) than almost any filmmaker presenting lives and people. Hence, in part paradoxically, he has a "coterie of fans" whom this new film will keep in "rapt attention"-- while doubtless "proving a colossal bore to anyone else" (Justin Chang again). Costa is a minimalist, and in minimal art, less is more; with success, the principle of the "tremendous trifle" will apply. Elements that elsewhere would go unnoticed will become significant or beautiful. The online cinephile writer Aquerello (Strictly Film School) believes this to be true of Colossal Youth and says of Ventura that his "lean and angular physicality cuts a dark and sinuous figure as majestic and transfixing as the works of art that frame him" in the museum. Aquerello further comments on the film's most studied element, in which an injured laborer asks Ventura to write a letter home to his girlfriend --a letter, Aquerello speculates, that also subsequently "becomes an expression of the wan protagonist's own sense of abandonment since his wife has left him." Aquerello calls the repetition of the letter's phrases in the film an "incantation." This, he thinks, typifies "the transfiguration of the corporeal into the ethereal through mundane ritual" of the film's "awkward composition, disarming humility, and poetic ineloquence."

    In its most elaborated form the letter Aquerello refers to goes like this:

    My love, being together again will brighten our lives for at least 30 years. I'll come back to you strong and loving. I wish I could offer you 100,000 cigarettes, a dozen fancy dresses, a car, the little lava house you always dreamed of, a threepenny bouquet. But most of all, drink a bottle of good wine and think of me. Here, it's nothing but work. There are over a hundred of us now. Did my letter arrive safely? Still nothing from you. Some other time. Every day, every minute, I learn beautiful new words for me and you alone made to fit us both, like fine silk pajamas, wouldn't you like that? I can only send you one letter a month. I often get scared building these walls. Me with a pick and cement, you with your silence, a pit so deep, it swallows you up. It hurts to see these horrors that I don't want to see. Your lovely hair slips through my fingers like dry grass. Often, I feel week and think I'm going to forget you.

    The overwhelming impression of Ventura is of fatigue, and one of my points of reference from literature for Costa's filmmaking as exhibited in Colossal Youth is the novels and to a lesser extent the plays of Samuel Beckett. "I can't go on. I'll go on," is a famous Beckett conclusion. Beckett's Irish gift for the music of language served him so well that he deliberately switched to French to limit himself, though in his own English translations of the results, especially the plays, the poetry still sings in the mud and ruins of his devastated dead-end characters' lives.

    Beckett works entirely with the ear- and mind-stimulating power of words. However impoverished the vocabulary, in the hands of a master words can work magic. Costa is doing something different, because if he seeks indeed a "poetic ineloquence," whatever that might be (Beckett's characters aren't ineloquent, just desperate and impoverished), then in editing 320 hours of digital video down to 155 minutes, he may be trying to knit together a fine carpet out of torn rags.

    New York independent filmmaker Kevin Lee has a respectful take on Costa like Aquerello, but he has reservations. Lee rejects the assertion that Costa is completely outside the "zeitgeist," i.e., utterly original, insisting he "falls into much of the same stylistic territory as a dominant strain of festival cinema that relies heavily on static long takes and a non-demonstrative approach to performance. It's a style that I am finding increasingly exhausted and exhausting, which may be why I at times resisted Colossal Youth, suspecting it of defaulting to an international cinematic house style for universal ennui." But Lee is impressed by Costa's use of space, the way he gives his characters "profound dignity" by his "lensing" and use of limited single light sources (Aquerello's painting analogy may work here; one thinks of Caravaggio--though if you come to this film expecting the beauty of Caravaggio you will be as deeply disappointed as if you come to Beckett expecting Shakespeare). Lee concludes:
    As much as I've tried to make a case for the logic behind the film's more puzzling elements, after one viewing I am not fully persuaded that Colossal Youth's many fragments cohere into a masterful whole. According to Peranson, Costa spent two years shooting 320 hours of footage, and no doubt he established strong relationships with his actor-subjects in that time, but that still does not discern whether the film's seemingly loose structure is a vivid reflection of the dissolute lives playing out on screen, or is simply dissolute, indulgent filmmaking. Yet I have no reservations in lauding the film for the specific and innovative approaches it takes toward depicting a way of life that is usually portrayed, when it is portrayed at all, without attentiveness or empathy. It is in the attempt to create a house of cinema from the derelict moments of these people on screen that I find Colossal Youth pulsing with purpose.
    This may be true, and certainly there is something unique about Costa's dingy imagery, but the pulsing with purpose is a thing that comes and goes. What lasts a sense of the hopelessness of urban immigrant poverty.

    Part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-10-2014 at 09:32 AM.

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    NANNI MORETTI: THE CAYMAN (2006)

    NANNI MORETTI: THE CAYMAN (2006)


    [B]MORETTI (CENTER) DIRECTS IL CAIMANO

    Too many good things

    The new movie by popular Italian leftist filmmaker Nanni Moretti (whose The Son's Room was much admired by US art house audiences) is new only to us. It opened over a year ago in Italy, and that long a lag is crucial in politics -- long enough for Romano Prodi to have replaced Silvio Berlusconi as Italy's prime minister. Il caimano is, however diffusely, a political satire, an "attack" on Berlusconi, notably providing an overview of his dubious practices -- the way he used to hide ownership of multiple companies, his gradual domination of Italian media long before he became president, his manipulation of the judiciary, and much more. What is a "caimano," a "cayman"? A kind of crocodile: a reptile, large and dangerous, with a long mouth full of teeth to devour its victims. A rapacious creature. Berlusconi is waiting in the wings to leap back into power if the center-left coalition fails, as it recently temporarily did. Hence though there have been big changes, Il caimano's theme is not stale.

    In various forms, Berlusconi plays an important role in the movie -- and played a tremendous role in its promotion in Italy, as did studious secrecy about who would play him and what role Moretti himself would play. Not only does the film include footage of Berlusconi in person uttering some of his most flagrant public remarks, notably his likening European Parliament member Martin Schultz to a "Nazi kapo," but there are three actors portraying him. Perhaps to take the bulk of the flack, the final climactic Berlusconi-surrogate scenes star Nanni Moretti himself. In these, Berlusconi is sentenced to seven years in prison for various crimes but is cheered by the crowd coming out while the judges and prosecutors are jeered and attacked with fire bombs. But before that there are two other actors: one (Elio De Capitani) who looks indeed unmistakably like the billionaire politician; and another (Michele Placido) who looks more like a distinguished Italian movie actor.

    But this being Moretti, Il caimano isn't so much about Berlusconi as about Moretti himself, or a surrogate, and above all about cinema. Il caimano has a distinctly autobiographical dimension and takes on germane topics -- filmmaking, the Italian taste in movies, and the fortunes of a central character who is a director with a marriage on the rocks.

    Ultimately the film is a little soft on Berlusconi. As someone says when making a film to expose his main offenses is mentioned, "But everyone knows all that," and this must have been one of the obstacles Moretti faced. Moreover the reality is more extreme than any satire. The actions of America's current administration may seem over the top to opponents. But imagine a president who was the subject of criminal trials almost too numerous to mention, including bribing a judge, illegally financing a political party, embezzlement, perjury, tax fraud, false accounting; who has passed laws to exempt himself from charges; and who owns a majority of the private sector national media and during his tenure controlled a large segment of state television as well. It's another world over there, a world, from the Anglo-Saxon point of view, too surreal to satirize. It may also be said that, since Berlusconi's propaganda machine was active long before he took power and his television stations became the popular ones, Italy's problem is not Berlusconi but the world he has created.

    But let's look more specifically at Moretti's movie. In it, Silvio Orlando plays Moretti's stand-in, Bruno Bonono. Once Bruno made popular action films but he has long been in difficulties. At the outset he considers making one about Christopher Columbus but is abandoned by his longtime producer and approached by a young woman at an awards show honoring earlier efforts, who gives him the scenario "Il caimano" skewering Berlusconi. The fledgling screenwriter, Teresa (Jasmine Trinca), is the essence of all that is wholesome, but later Bruno is shocked to be invited to her family gathering in the country and learn that she is a lesbian and she and her female partner are raising her baby. (No radical, he begs her not to tell him how the baby came into the world.)

    Perhaps unaware that this scenario is a difficult project to complete (though Moretti himself would know), Bruno finds Polish billionaire Jerzy Sturovsky (Jerzy Stuhr) to finance it and, despite those interjected sequences we've been shown depicting both the real Berlusconi and the actor who closely resembles him, he instead persuades Marco Pulici (Michele Placido), a seasoned Italian film star with nice cheekbones and luxuriant white locks, to take on the role in order to give "The Cayman" a gravitas and sex appeal (and hence a kind of three-dimensionality) that in real life he lacks. This seems to be a bad choice, since Pulci withdraws and Jerzy pulls his funding.

    But Bruno's main problem is at home. He is sleeping at work, but trying to be a good dad by telling bedtime stories based on one of his most outrageous movies, Cataratta (Cataract), to his two boys, Andrea (Daniele Rampello) and Giacamo (Giacamo Pasarelli), and he hopes to make peace with his estranged wife Paula (Margherita Buy) who once starred in that actioner.

    Il caimano is tumultuous, funny, and winning. Silvio Orlando, Moretti's regular alter ego, is appealing and multidimensional. The trouble with the film is that it tries to do too much and, because of its inability wholly to meld together the various plot lines, at times seems thrown together even as its sequences are often impressive and always well photographed, well acted, and technically polished. Moretti is multitalented. Perhaps here too many of the talents are on display at once. The reason why The Son's Room, despite occasional comic moments, is so moving and dramatically effective is that it chooses to limit its focus to an intimate personal level. And there are conversely times when one wished that Moretti had had the imagination and ingenuity to make a film not about three topics -- fiulmmaking, marriage and the family, and a right-wing politician -- but on just one of those, whether it be the political, the personal, or the artistic and cinematic elements of Il caimano.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-03-2007 at 02:00 PM.

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    HIROKAZU KOREEDA: HANA (2006)

    HIROKAZU KOREEDA: HANA (2006)


    HIRAKAZU KOREEDA

    Are we ready for a cowardly samurai?

    In Hana Koreeda has turned from modern times to make another samurai-going-out-of-style movie, set in 1701 when "sword fighting has flown out of fashion with the wind." The film focuses on the cute Soza, played by boy-band singer Junichi Okada, who's supposed to avenge the death of his samurai father (killed, embarrassingly, in a fight over a go game rather than any battle), but would rather play go himself, soak in a hot tub, or teach neighborhood kids writing than practice his swordplay. Hana questions the very validity of revenge and war but unfortunately does so with an inept fighter and even a coward as a hero. Why this isn't a good way of presenting alternatives to warlike philosophy is obvious: a hero is needed who can say "I can do it but I choose not to," rather than one who must say, "I can't, so I better not." Despite the film's considerable charm in presenting a variety of colorful characters and incidents -- abetted by excellent acting, a realistic period tenement setting, and fresh-sounding western renaissance music -- its main character becomes an embarrassment and a disappointment rather than a revelation. Unfortunately the young star's appealing sweetness seems a mockery. As Mark Shilling of Japan Times has commented, Okada is "too handsome and cool to be a sympathetic coward. Too bad Bill Murray isn't 20 years younger -- and Japanese." Moreover (as Shilling also says) Hana's lively incidents are rather meandering, don't interconnect very well, and don't add up to climactic moments: the story line "lacks anything major." The natural impulse is to want the climax of a real revenge, the one Sozo is supposed to enact. Defeating such conventional expectations, the film feels longer than it is.

    It may be that Koreeda, whose films have created a unique mood, means for Hana to make us uncomfortable, and the colorful characters and rude toilet jokes are an intentional effort to put us off our guard. Certainly when the moment first comes when Soza is beaten up by a local punk in pink, Sodekichi (Ryo Kase), it's horrifying and demoralizing because Soza up to then has been not only immensely simpatico, but a guy with a worthwhile function in the tenement house (nagaya) village -- which Koreeda has departed from film tradition in making realistically rickety. Soza says he's in the shabby place because (as introductory titles have told us) samurais are frequently undercover in such locations at the moment. When he learns his revenge-object, Kanazawa Jubei, is living nearby, it turns out one of his informants and caf-pals knew it all along and the latter advises him to say nothing. "This samurai revenge thing is out of style," he adds. Besides, "with your skills" (i.e., the lack of them), "you're doomed." Hana makes this sort of point too bluntly and repetitiously.

    The setting, which compares (as Shilling notes) to that of Kurosawa's memorable flop Do-des-ka-den, is a lively but pathetic community where people live selling scraps -- and their own excrement, sold for fertilizer to a landowner, is worth more than the fruit of their labors. It's a world where indignity is a constant, in which Soza's humiliations seem almost normal.

    The interest of Hana, despite its not being Koreeda at his best, is that it reflects contemporary Japanese demoralization -- a deep sense of the loss of traditional values as well as an equally strong sense of personal uncertainty in the old areas of machismo that once were strong. And it does this in a deceptively traditional-looking framework that shows how seductive and unavoidable Japanese tradition still remains. In that way, the director has been able to manufacture the same troubling unease that made his more powerful Nobody Knows so riveting and disturbing. This still feels like a distinct misstep for the filmmaker -- but he has seemed capable of doing something completely different almost every time -- and no doubt what comes next will be a surprise, perhaps a more exciting one.

    Shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-03-2007 at 01:55 PM.

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    MAHAMAT-SALEH HAROUN: DARATT (2006)

    MAHAMAT-SALEH HAROUN: DARATT (2006)


    ALI BARKAI, YOUSSOUF DJAORO

    A cold dish in a hot climate


    Like Koreeda's Hana, Haroun's Daratt is another new filmed tale about delayed revenge, but a very different and much more powerful one. Atim (Ali Barkai), whose father was murdered in the aftermath of Chad's civil war, goes out to avenge his father's killer after a general amnesty is declared. His plans change when in order to carry out his task he goes to work at the killer's bakery. While Koreeda's Soza is timid and doubtful and lives with a lot of other people, Atim is virtually alone and perpetually angry and seems ready to kill at any moment.

    Revenge is a dish best enjoyed cold means it's not a crime of passion but of premeditation. Into that premeditation play not only a personal sense of wrong but often hereditary cultural rules governing loyalty to tribe, clan, family, or parent. It seems unlikely anyone would feel obligated to carry out an act of revenge (as both Soza and Atim do) without cultural input requiring it; and since traditional values are in a state of flux or devolution, the motivation may wane. This must explain the arcs of both Hana and Daratt. Soza of Hana feels an obligation to his clan, which however his own nature rejects; he's a gentle soul who would rather teach calligraphy than practice his dubious swordsmanship skills -- which don't seem to translate well from the dojo to the street. Atim is directed by his ancient, blind grandfather to avenge his father's death. It seems almost a religious duty, and in some folk interpretations of Islam such obligations are given a religions sanction. In fact, though, when Atim arrives at the unidentified town where his "victim" lives and begins working for his father's killer, he refuses to go to the mosque with him, perhaps sensing that subjugation to the will of God might dampen his sense of purpose, or because he realizes his bloody mindedness ill fits a religion whose greeting is "peace be upon you."

    Daratt's fable-like quality arises from its forceful simplicity. Each character has some iconic function. Atim's grandfather Gumar Abatcha (Khayar Oumar Defallah) acts as a relentless force of judgment. The soldier who is nasty to Atim on his trip (Abderam ane Abakar) is a minor wrong-doer, who disrespects Atim, which also must be avenged. Upon arrival Atim's befriended by an amiable petty thief, Moussa (Djibril Ibrahim), who helps him get established in town, but whom he summarily abandons once he narrows in on his task. When we first see Nassara (Youssouf Djaoro), the man who killed Atim's father, it's obvious he is more important. He looks like a priest. He is a tall, thin man in a robe with a scarf around his neck and a distant, ascetic air -- off-putting, but not easy to despise on sight -- and he appears at a gate with a bag full of bread scraps that he distributes to poor boys who come to him with tin plates. This happens several times, and then Atim goes up to Nassara. Everything about Atim from first to last suggests inarticulate rage. One would say his performance was one-note were it not so strong and convincing. He takes the proffered hunk of bread, bites out of it, then spits it out. The man says if he wants work, to come back tomorrow. Nobody talks much in the film. In fact Nassara has had his throat slit during the war and has to hold a gadget up to his neck to be able to say anything.

    The strength of the film comes from its tension and suspense, from the accumulating power of things left unexplained. It is never obvious, right up to the last scene, what Atim is going to do. When he stays with Nassara and is befriended uneasily by his young wife Aicha (Aziza Hiseine) and begins to work for him, it's not clear why. Is he biding his time to achieve maximum surprise? Or is he simply hesitating? Moreover while evidently Nassara is becoming fond of the young man, it's hard to say whether Atim is liking him more or feeding his hate. Certainly the situation is complicated by the fact that in some strange way Nassara has become a surrogate father figure for Atim (an outcome recalling events in the Dardennes brothers' The Son), but also because, when Nassara's back is killing him and he lets Atim do all the baking, it delights Atim to accomplish this task with success. Nassara like Atim is silent and seems full of anger, further linking the two men, young and old, in an uneasy embrace. One of the most vivid ever portraits on film of prolonged, inarticulate rage, Daratt is also a more emotionally intense and convincing depiction than Koreeda's Hana of how someone bent on revenge might waver painfully over the task.

    Daratt is a fascinating, powerful tale. Its intensity, its vividness, its simplicity, even the dry heat of the setting, all conspire to make for a riveting film.

    Shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-14-2007 at 01:00 PM.

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    JEAN-PASCAL HATTU: 7 YEARS (2006)

    JEAN-PASCAL HATTU: 7 YEARS (2006)


    VALERIE DONZELLI, BRUNO TODESCHINI

    Strange ways of loving

    This West Coast premiere film and contender for the SFIFF SKY Prize depicts a triangle that occurs when a young woman starts an affair with an employee where her husband is incarcerated. Hattu worked with Andre Tchin on Wild Reeds and Les Voleurs. This is his first feature-length film. Mat (Valerie Donzelli) faithfully visits her sexy, intense husband Vincent (Bruno Bruno Todeschini of Ozon's 5x2), when she's spotted by a pale, pointy-faced man (Cyril Troley) who says he's there to visit his brother Jean. Having been advised by her nurse friend Djamila (Nadia Kaci) to take a lover, she consents to mechanical sex with Jean in a car. The relationship continues and intensifies. It's not till some time later that Mat learns Jean is a guard at the prison, not a visitor, and that in fact he is friendly with Vincent and is making life easier for him. Mait's life revolves around this strange triangle; she gives up an opportunity to work in a beauty parlor to take care of Djamila's feisty little boy Julien (Pablo De La Torre) during the days. Another surprise comes latter.

    For a film about deprivation, 7 Years nonetheless manages to be brim-full of sensuality, gestures, words, smells expressing longing and excitement, and there are plenty of scenes of sex real and imaginary. The film's drollest aspect is that not only is Jean equally important in both Mat and Vincent's lives, but to Jean himself, his relationship with Vincent seems as important as his relationship with Mat. Half way through one begins to wonder: Is Jean bisexual? And his face has that longing, Taste of Honey look. Suffice it to say, things get more and more intense -- and twisted, though in a quite logical way. This film is good at using limited means to arouse complicated emotions. It's a solid piece of work, but has nothing special about it to make it memorable. The plot structure is such that the story fizzles out somewhat at the end. The film feels like the product of a sophisticated tradition but also a somewhat exhausted one.

    Shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-04-2007 at 01:25 PM.

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    RAJNESH DOMALPALLI: VANAJA (2006)

    RAJNESH DOMALPALLI: VANAJA (2006)


    MAMATHA BHUKYA

    A festival favorite with lovely cinematography

    Set in rural South India, this sweet movie with its nice music and dancing and lovely colorful visuals has a disturbing arc that leads to a picture of old social barriers being challenged. Fifteen-year-old Vanaja (Mamatha Bhukya), the daughter of a drunken fisherman, goes to work for a rich lady, Rama Devi (Urmila Dammannagari), who teaches her to dance. The lady's son Shekher (Karan Singh) comes home from America and he sees Vanaja being fresh with her friend from home the boy postman Ram Babu (Krishna Garlapati), and, thinking she's loose, later rapes her.

    Vanaja is pregnant, and when Rama Devi finds out, she punishes her son, insisting Vanaja have an abortion at once. But Vanaja decides she must have the baby (when she does, it's half as big as she is). The girl is wily, and deals with adult sized problems as a young teenager.

    The world of this film seems in some ways untouched by modernity; or it could have taken place as well in the 1930's as the 2000's. No televisions or computers come into sight. But maybe Vanaja learned her independence from things happening in India today, even though they don't seem to touch the milieu of the film. The subject is a girl, and the background is light and entertaining, with local color respected but not filled in too elaborately, but this isn't a picture for young people to watch.

    It may seem a bit peculiar that the rich woman's hunky son, who has lived in America, would wind up becoming half enamored of a scrawny young lower caste girl, but that's what happens; but this isn't completely impossible: after all, Vanaja's baby is his child. Spoiled and a little weird and violent and not very grown up, Sheker is in sharp contrast to his mother, with her warmth, wisdom, and independence; she's a real Indira Gandhi.

    There are scenes of Vanaja dancing for Rama Devi (with her musicians) throughout. The final one, in a big blue room, is quite magical, a triumph of bright color and luminous natural light. Young Mamatha Bhukya's dancing is at its most complete and accomplished in the scene. She acts out a whole drama, with all the expressions and movements. But obviously there is a lot more to this film than the story of a servant girl who wanted to learn to dance.

    Vanaja is a festival favorite, being scheduled, I've read, for 22 such screenings in the US. So it ought to do okay in art houses. The cinematography is absolutely lovely, without seeming artificial or overly studied. India is still one of the most colorful places on earth in more ways than one. Domalpalli gets excellent performances, some broader than others, from everyone. There's truth here, but this is far from vrit, and as in so much traditional Indian filmmaking, the director seeks more to entertain us than to hit any profound notes.

    "Submitted in partial fulfillment of the degree of MFA. Columbia University, New York," the end titles tell us. He earned the degree and then some with this accomplished piece, which is notable for its visual beauty. Its weakness is that despite her adult problems, the young Vanaja somewhat lacks depth as a character.

    Shown as part of the San Francisco Internation Film Festival 2007.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-04-2007 at 01:29 PM.

  15. #15
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    RICARDO ELIAS: THE 12 LABORS (2006)

    RICARDO ELIAS: THE 12 LABORS (2006)



    Brief, episodic, but cohesive portrait of urban Brazilian youth

    As the 1959 Marcel Camas film Black Orpheus and its 1999 Carlos Diegues remake Orfeu were Brazilian popular life retellings of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice set in Rio de Janeiro, this film, Os 12 trabalhos, is (more superficially, however) a So Paulo retelling of the Labors of Hercules. Incidentally Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro) was a seminal "crossover" film which for many US and European film viewers must have been their first glimpse of Brazilian life and exposure to the musical sound of Brazilian Portuguese. The idea of using the colorful favela world of Rio's urban poor to recreate an ancient myth was a powerful one. The remake sets Camus' effort in perspective by being more ethnically authentic and more totally Brazilian. In recent years Brazilian film-making has become increasingly visible with the success of 'Doa Flor and her Two Husbands, the Oscar won by Central Station; some may have seen Lavoura Aracaica, or Madam Sat; more have seen City of God, itself an ambitious personal and generational history set largely in the favelas. Thus we North Americans approach The 12 Labors, even without knowing the language, with a certain background and set of expectations.

    It may seem a letdown to know that the twelve "labors" given to Herakles (the handsome Sidney Santiago) after his release from Febem juvenile detention consist simply of complications that arise as he learns the ropes as a messenger boy, but we remember that the "hell" of Black Orpheus was a big bureaucratic office building. This time there's no romance (the girl who kisses him is just his cousin's ex-girlfriend), and more rap than samba, So Paulo instead of Rio. Things are at a lower key. The tasks (a misdelivered envelope, an escaped cat, a grumpy man) can on the whole hardly be called "Herculean," and Herakles never seems in a life-and-death struggle to complete them: hence the parallels with the Greek myth are pretty weak. (If as an online note says there are 300,000 messengers in So Paulo and two of them get killed in traffic accidents every day -- we do see two of them, one fatal -- so too the stakes for Herakles might have been made considerably higher, the pace faster.)

    The result is appealing, richly human but unspectacular. However, the effect of the new Brazilian cinema can be felt in the fluent vernacular portraits of urban under- and middle-class people, the clear sense of living, pulsing city life. Nice features are the disenchanted voiceover with its poetry and its extra data on characters, the sparky dialogue spoken by Herakles' cousin Jonas (Flavio Bauraqui), who got him this job, and a sequence bringing to life a comic strip Herakles has drawn in his notebook. There are over a dozen other characters, colorful and attractive: the film is as much a string of vignettes as a coming-of-age tale. The story ends on a somber, tragic note that modulates into something deeper with a nice ending sequence of a long night ride ending in a dawn walk on the beach and a look at us that recalls the finale of The 400 Blows. No doubt Elias and Santiago will be heard from again, of that we can be pretty sure. Nice music by Andr Abujammra , editing by William Dias, and images by Jay Yamashita. Very cohesive, very watchable, and, as so often with Brazilian films, brimming with life.

    Shown as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival 2007
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-16-2007 at 03:30 AM.

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