Page 3 of 4 FirstFirst 1234 LastLast
Results 31 to 45 of 56

Thread: The 2008 Miami International Film Festival

  1. #31
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    CALIFORNIA DREAMIN' (ENDLESS) (ROMANIA)

    California Dreamin' was inspired by the actual detainment of an American convoy carrying radar equipment to Kosovo by the station master at a small Romanian town because of insufficient documentation. It's the feature debut of 27 year-old Cristian Nemescu, a director who had developed an excellent reputation based on several short and medium-length films. The shoot of the ambitious project was finally completed in July of 2006. About a month later, Nemescu and his sound editor were riding in a taxi which was hit by a car traveling at high speed. Both of them died. The producers eventually decided to release the film in the condition it was when Nemescu died rather than tinker with it. They added the word "nesfarsit" (translated as "endless") between parenthesis to the title. They also added pre-credit text explaining their decision to release the film "as is". California Dreamin' premiered as part of the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2007. The jury had decided not to judge the film because of of its "unfinished" status but they were so impressed after the screening that they gave it the section's top prize. Subsequently, California Dreamin' won several awards at other festivals, was released commercially in parts of Europe and is currently making the US festival circuit.

    California Dreamin' is divided into five parts corresponding to the five eventful days between the arrival by train of a platoon US Marines lead by Captain Jones (Armand Assante) and their departure. When the convoy stops at the town of Capalnita, station manager Doiaru (Razvan Vasilescu) insists that transport of the radar system they are taking to Kosovo requires customs documents that are missing. His motivation is gleaned in a prologue in which Doiaru, as a child, suffers because the communists have arrested his parents and hopes the Americans will come to the rescue. The saviors never arrive, the communist era comes to an end, and the bitter Doiaru becomes Capalnita's very corrupt station master. Bureaucratic attempts to solve the impasse fail initially because of Doiaru's intransigence and the rampant inefficiency and disorganization of the Romanian authorities. Everybody wants to benefit from the American presence. Doairu's daughter Monica (Maria Dinulescu) figures that romancing Sgt. McClaren (Jamie Elman) could be her ticket out of Capalnita and her father's clutches, the town's mayor decides to hold an elaborate celebration to honor the Americans and raise his political profile, a group of disgruntled factory workers decide this is the prefect time to strike because of the media attention, the town's single girls are fascinated with the newly arrived, very fit, men-in-uniform, and a Romanian soldier traveling with the Americans decides to pass himself as American to score with the girls. There's more; California Dreamin' is a film with an epic scope and novelistic attention to detail.

    California Dreamin' is thoroughly entertaining and deeply satifying. It's the rare film that is alternately and sometimes simultaneously funny, tragic, sweet, caustic, thoughtful, and freewheeling. It's a critique of Romanian post-communist governance, a meditation on the often unintended and always unpredictable consequences of American presence on foreign soil, a drama about a domineering father and her freedom-loving daughter, a character study about man who loves and hates America with equal intensity, a sexy romantic comedy, and more. All of it works and the acting is superb, particularly the performance by Razvan Vasilescu, a veteran actor who appeared in some of the most memorable Romanian films of the 90s: The Oak, Betrayal, and An Unforgettable Summer. I personally found that DP Liviu Mardighan's use of handheld cameras looks amateurish in the early parts of the film. California Dreamin' is, as advertised, a rough cut. At 155 minutes, the film feels too long. Transitions between sequences are sometimes jarring and the sound design lacks polish, particularly the integration of music, dialogue and ambient sound. None of this detracts from the impression that Cristian Nemescu was a major talent and that his feature debut deserves to be seen and appreciated.

  2. #32
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    MATAHARIS (SPAIN)

    I try to avoid approaching a film with high expectations. Tha laws of probability ensure one is likely to be disappointed and, consequently, judge the film too harshly. Having seen her three previous films, it's hard not to walk into actress-turned-filmmaker Iciar Bollain's fourth feature expecting excellence. More so because her last one, Take My Eyes, was so accomplished: perhaps the essential film about domestic abuse because Bollain managed the rare feat of humanizing and facilitating identification with the perpetrator without minimizing the gravity of his behavior. Besides, Bollain's four features have accumulated a total of 20 Spanish Academy nominations, six of them for Bollain's writing and direction.

    The novelty of Mataharis is that, in contrast to a long tradition in literature and cinema, it is women who are the private dicks or voyeurs-for-hire. There are three of them working at a Madrid agency run by the ruthless, results-oriented Valbuena. Eva (Najwa Nimri) returns to work after three months of maternal leave. She tries to get back on the swing of things but becomes derailed when she discovers her husband is making mysterious trips to Zaragoza. She decides to trail him. The more experienced Carmen (Nuria Gonzalez) can't get her workaholic husband to pay attention to her, so she draws closer to a client who wants proof of his wife's infidelity. The younger and single Ines (Maria Vasquez) does undercover work at a corporation where employee theft is suspected. It turns out that is an excuse. What top executives really want is information about the workers' union activism. Ines falls in love with Manuel (Diego Martin), a manager who is helping organize a strike. Each "matahari" faces a moral dilemma.

    The most engaging subplot in Mataharis involves Ines, who yearns to settle down with the right guy. Manuel seems to fit the bill but being honest with him will likely cause her to lose her job and there's no guarantee he would forgive her. Bollain avoids cliche in her portrayal of the familiar flirtation between Carmen and her client. But the character of Carmen's husband is woefully underwritten and the depiction of the agency boss is too one-sided. Excellent work by the three well-established actresses in the lead roles and assured lensing by Kiko de la Rica (Sex and Lucia), who tastefully incorporates bits of surveillance camera footage. Like Take My Eyes, Mataharis earned Iciar Bollain best director and best screenplay nods from Spain's most important critics organization. I think it's a notch or two below Bollain's masterpiece. A solid if unspectacular drama from one of Spain's best filmmakers.

  3. #33
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    SANTIAGO (BRAZIL)

    Joao Moreira Salles, the brother of famous film director Walter Salles (Central Station, Motorcycle Diaries), is highly regarded in the smaller and less glamorous world of documentary filmmaking. Salles' documentaries evidence a wide range of interests: China, the poet Jorge Amado, soccer, blues music, President Lula da Silva, American culture, the life of a concert pianist, etc. Santiago, recently acquired by the Museum of Modern Art for its permanent collection, seems to be his most personal work.

    Salles initially intended to make a film about the memories of his youth in the magnificent mansion where his banker and diplomat father and high society mother entertained the world's elites (the Rockefellers, the Onassis clan, Hollywood stars, European royalty, Maria Callas, you name it). A central figure was their beloved butler Santiago, an erudite polyglot born in Argentina of Piedmontese parents. Salles aborted the project after filming his family's dilapidated estate and a five-day shoot in Santiago's apartment in 1992, two years before Santiago's death.

    In 2005, Salles decides he can incorporate the 1992 footage into a new documentary. He didn't simply edit and complete the film he intended to make back then. He has made a documentary about the documentary that never got made by injecting himself into the subject matter and questioning his old methods and assumptions. Was the use of a fixed camera at medium distance simply embracing the esthetics of Yasujiro Ozu? Was it also a way to maintain the separation between social classes typical of the environment in which Salles was raised? Was it a sign of respect for Santiago's privacy? By means of narration, written by Salles but voiced by someone else, the documentary examines the issue of control over content between filmmaker and biographical subject . There is an insightful and thorough deconstruction, in the postmodern manner, of the raw footage of Santiago waxing poetic about a world that is no more; an intellectual, high culture, aristocratic world where etiquette and good manners were rigorously practiced.

    Santiago, the man, is fascinating. He recites poetry, discusses literature, tells amusing stories, plays maracas to Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" and explains why a musical number from The Band Wagon featuring Fred Astaire means so much to him. He is most excited when showing off his life-long project: 30,000 typewritten pages in which he documents and comments on the leaders of all the world's civilizations in five different languages. Santiago was no aristocrat or world leader but he was a great man. I think he'd be proud of the film that bears his name.

  4. #34
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    LOKAS (CHILE)

    This comedy inspired by the French farce La Cage aux Folles is having its world premiere at the festival. Charlie is a swindler and con artist who left Chile and moved to Mexico years ago. He got married and divorced and has raised 9 year-old Pedro on his own. He gets in trouble with the law and faces deportation to Chile. Charlie is also a homophobe who hasn't seen his dad since he was a little boy, about 30 years ago. Of course, dad turns out to be gay, extravagantly so, and in a relationship. The couple attempt to hide the fact but give up fairly quickly. Little Pedro really likes his grandpa and his new "uncle" and doesn't understand why Charlie is making such a fuzz about their being gay. Charlie can't find a job because of his bad reputation and grows desperate. He eventually and reluctantly agrees to apply for a position at the gay nightclub Lokas. He must first undergo a make-over and acquire a gay education because only homosexuals need apply for the job. He manages to fool everyone but falls in love with the very sexy female manager of the club.

    Lokas was directed by established veteran Gonzalo Justiniano. His brand new film is indeed quite professionally made, with production chores handled skillfully down the line. When La Cage aux Folles had a wildly successful commercial run in the US almost 30 years ago, critic Dave Kehr complained it was "one of those sitcoms that explain a minority to middle-class audiences by making their members cute, cuddly and harmlessly eccentric". That criticism would also apply to Lokas, although the fact that what we have here is a homophobe pretending to be gay rather than a gay couple pretending to be straight is somewhat progressive. Otherwise, Lokas is rather tame, predictable and overly familiar. It's also quite funny, in no small part because of the performance of veteran stand-up comic Coco Legrand, here making his film debut.

  5. #35
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    HELP ME, EROS (TAIWAN)

    Kang-sheng Lee has been Ming-liang Tsai's alter-ego/muse since the very beginning, in 1990's midlength Boys. He has played the protagonist role in every single Tsai movie. Lee was obviously paying attention. The Missing (2003), his auspicious debut as writer/director had a successful run through the festival circuit. It received, among others, the top prize at Rotterdam 2004. The influenced of Tsai was palpable in the length of the takes and the resistance to use dialogue as a means of storytelling and characterization. Unlike The Missing, Lee's Help Me Eros is the type of controversial "film maudit" that generates wildly divergent opinions. Top prizes at Gijon (Spain) and Bangkok, and negative reviews in US trade magazines Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, for instance. Reviews apparently dismissed by distributor Strand Releasing which purchased the North American rights to Help Me, Eros recently, about a month before the US premiere in Miami.

    Lee cast himself in the leading role of Ah Jie, a partly autobiographical character. He is 28 and has recently lost his stocktrader job due to the recession. His SUV and his luxury apartment have been inpounded but he sneaks into the apartment at night with his spare key. He survives by pawning his belongings, which are growing scarce. The only thing he seems to care about is the marijuana plant growing in his hidden greenhouse. Ah Jie is depressed and probably suicidal. He resorts to a telephone helpline and forges a connection with a girl named Chyi. Under the influence of marijuana, Ah Jie indulges in sexual fantasies involving Chyi. She is quite different than Ah Jie pictures her. Chyi is fat and married to a gay, avant garde chef who has a TV show in which he cooks animals while they are still alive. Chyi sublimates her sexual cravings by stuffing herself with her husband's elaborate dishes_there's a stunning metaphorical sequence in which he brings home live eels, puts them in the bathtub and Chyi jumps into the water and lies down suggestively. Meanwhile, Ah Jie begins a relationship of sorts with Shin, a pretty 20 year-old who works as a betelnut girl in a sidewalk stand below his apartment. They hang out and have mechanical, joyless sex. Ah Jie continues to fantasize about the helpline girl and stalks someone he thinks might be Chyi but turns out to be Shin's co-worker. Ah Jie and Shin split up. He falls further into depression and becomes increasingly disconnected from reality.

    Lee has a perpetually sad expression in Tsai's movies. It's not only the roles he plays but part of his psychological profile; "I'm not a very optimistic kind of person", he says. Help Me, Eros is downbeat despite bits of absurdist humor here and there. Some scenes are unpleasant and rather shocking like some you'd find in films by Chan-wook Park (Oldboy). Moreover, the plot is elliptical and image-based, thus requiring more attention from the viewer. I am willing to admit Lee's narrative skills are still at a developmental stage and that Help Me, Eros would benefit from more narrative clarity. These reasons seem to account for some of the negative reaction Help Me, Eros has gotten. There are reports of walk-outs at screenings _I read somewhere that about 50% of the audience at the Toronto Film Festival's screening left before the ending. One can't rely on these reports though; I estimate the walk-outs in Miami at about 10 %, mostly older filmgoers. I think Help Me, Eros is a very good film that has no mainstream appeal but will develop an intense cult following. It's a convincing condemnation of rampant materialism, sexual objectification and escapism among emotionally detached, urban youth. A highly stylized scene of acrobatic sex between Ah Jie and two girls in which the threesome's bodies are covered in Gucci and Louis Vitton logos will be offensive and/or indulgent to a segment of the audience no matter how powerful an expression of corporate branding it is. Granted, it is not subtle.

    No one will find fault with the performances by all involved_if anything Lee has proven himself a good director of actors, as befits his background. The lensing by Peng-jung Liao and Tsai's art direction/production design are simply exquisite. I look forward to a second viewing of Lee's intriguing Help Me, Eros and will follow the development of this promising filmmaker with great interest.

  6. #36
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    THE OLD THIEVES (MEXICO)

    In the 50-year history of the Mexican Academy Awards, a documentary had never been nominated in the Best Picture category. It happened this year to Everardo Gonzalez's The Old Thieves, a film about a group of thieves that became famous in Mexico City during the 1970s because of their skill, style, and code of honor. Gonzalez depicts a whole subculture of folks raised to be criminals from childhood who adhered to unwritten codes of behavior. None of them ever carried weapons, or so they claim, but it's a fact that the half dozen notorious pickpockets and burglars interviewed were never charged with assault or any type of violenct act. They were also known as people with impeccable manners and a sense of style. "I remember the silk suit, Napoleon-style, I wore when I broke into President Echevarria's home" says Carrizos, also known as "the king of thieves" at the time. The Old Thieves contrasts the gravity of the corruption at high levels of the Echevarria administration with the relatively benign crimes of the actual thieves. Gonzalez also interviews a few detectives and police officials who served at that time. A most interesting chapter involves an ambitious cop nicknamed "Dracula" who made a deal with Carrizos, who allowed "Dracula" to arrest him so the cop could get a promotion, knowing that they had no clear evidence against him. The Old Thieves ultimately takes a stand against deplorable prison conditions which foster violence. We learn that two inmates who were never violent in society are serving long prison sentences because of murders committed while incarcerated.

    The Old Thieves is padded with archival material from TV news shows of the time; some of it is only minimally relevant and not very interesting. Gonzalez also has a tendency to use extreme closeups for no apparent purpose. The film would have benefited from a more reflexive approach to the genre. Listening to the director explain the process of locating, meeting and developing relationships with his subjects during pre-production convinced me that The Old Thieves would be much more compelling if Gonzalez had incorporated this "making of" material into the film. For instance, the months-long negotiations between the filmmaker and Carrizos regarding the latter's participation and what he'd received in exchange reveals as much about his personality as the filmed interviews. Sometimes what a documentary leaves out is as important as what it includes.

  7. #37
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    XXY (ARGENTINA)

    I wonder if Lucia Puenzo felt any pressure based on her being the daughter of Luis Puenzo, the director of the only film from Argentina to win an Oscar. The 34 year-old Lucia was a scriptwriter for several years before XXY, her directing debut. By any measure, she passed the test with flying colors. XXY debuted at Cannes 2007 as part of the Critics' Week section and won the Grand Prize, the first of its many festival awards. More recently, XXY won both the Spanish Academy and the Mexican Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film in Spanish. It can be argued that, with the possible exception of Carlos Reygadas' Silent light, XXY is the most celebrated Spanish-language film of the past year. The programmers at the Miami festival decided to exhibit it out of competition as a Gala Showcase at the biggest festival venue. Lucia Puenzo and her XXY truly deserved the red carpet treatment.

    XXY was inspired by a short story by Sergio Bizzio about a 15 year-old born with both male and female genitalia. Alex is played by Ines Efron, a gangly actress in her early 20s who gives a most memorable, very convincing performance. She channels Alex's simultaneous maculinity and femininity into every scene. Efron undergoes quite a transformation here. I didn't realize she is the same actress who had a major role in Glue, one of my favorite movies released last year. She's created a whole new voice for her protagonic performance as the marginalized Alex. When Alex was born his/her parents decided not to have him/her operated and wonder whether that was the right decision. They moved from Buenos Aires to a small port city in Uruguay years ago. We learn that Alex was precribed drugs to supress masculine traits and that she has discontinued taking them. Suli (Valeria Bertucelli), the mother, has a friend from her high school days who is married to Ramiro, a plastic surgeon who has successfully operated on intersexuals. Kraken, Alex's father and a marine biologist, seems to be against such drastic intervention but probably hasn't ruled it out since he's allowing Ramiro and his family to visit for a few days. Ramiro's softspoken 16 year-old son Alvaro is at first curious about Alex then becomes attracted. Alex is at the point where sexual initiation becomes imperative in a teenager's life. We learn that Alex has recently gotten in a bit of trouble for giving a boy named Vando a bloody nose and there are hints that it's related to Alex's difference.

    XXY is the rare film that doesn't have a single gratuitous moment. Every scene serves the purpose of advancing the narrative or developing the characters and their interrelationships. The three kids and the two sets of parents get Puenzo's full attention. There's a scene for instance between Ramiro and Alvaro, based on the latter's inability to measure up to his brilliant father's expectations, that builds to scalding emotional frankness. Puenzo subtly and elegantly develops metaphorical correspondences between Kraken's efforts to preserve a turtle species under threat of extinction and his dawning realization that the best thing to do about Alex is nothing, probably. Kraken is played by Ricardo Darin, an excellent actor who is perhaps Argentina's best known thespian since appearing in Nine Queens and Son of the Bride. Puenzo has broached subject matter with obvious potential for sensationalism and made something insightful, honest and deeply touching. She's taken a short story about a rather rare type of person and honored the person's uniqueness while finding the universal themes within it. She's ably assisted by cinematographer Natasha Brier (In the City of Sylvia, Glue) and the appropriately understated score by Andres Goldstein.

    XXY is my favorite film of this 25th edition of the festival. I'm reluctant to thrown around the word "masterpiece" after a film's single viewing so I watched it again. XXY is a masterpiece. It's a distinct pleasure to report that Lucia Puenzo's debut will be distributed in the US by the smart folks at Film Movement beginning with a theatrical run in New York City in May followed by a "national rollout".

  8. #38
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    KATYN (POLAND)

    The renowned Andrzej Wajda has been a filmmaker since 1950 but it wasn't until last year that he managed to complete the film he absolutely had to make. When the 82 year-old director was a country boy of 14, his father became of the 12,000 officers (some say 20,000) murdered in the Katyn forest. The mass graves were discovered in 1943, three years after the massacre, by German troops.

    I became aware of this terrible historical event a few years ago from a rather unlikely source: Dusan Makavejev's 1974 film Sweet Movie, which includes footage of the german soldiers digging out the bodies of the Polish officers. The Yugoslav director's irreverent, polemical film was banned in all Soviet block countries. In 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev acknowledge that the massacred was ordered by Stalin; documents proving so became public. However, during the preceding half century, the Soviet Union blamed it on the Nazis and put into practice a massive campaign to cover up their culpability.

    None of this constitutes a spoiler for Katyn audiences. Wajda's film includes this background information in pre-credits text. The compelling opening scene dramatizes the plight of Poles during WWII when they were almost simultaneously invaded from the West by the Nazis and from the East by the Soviets. It's set on a bridge where groups of Poles running away from invading troops in opposite directions meet in chaotic confusion. Katyn then tells the story of a woman who finally locates her officer husband, begs him to escape with her and their daughter, and grieves after he decides he must remain with his platoon. It soon becomes apparent that Wajda has many stories to tell and that his film is a narrative mosaic without a single protagonist. The father of an officer, a professor, gets summoned to a meeting at the University, and is summarily arrested and sent to a camp along with dozens of colleagues. The sister of another officer who's been missing for years won't rest until there's a gravestone conmemorating his passing. Katyn is both about the massacre and the systemic concealment that followed. A youth writes "murdered by the Soviets in Katyn" next to the word "father" in his college application, refuses orders to erase it, runs into the street, tears out a Soviet-propaganda poster and gets shot. Katyn moves back and forth in time, from one harrowing episode to the next. It's a magnificently mounted film with crisp, assured editing and expert lensing (The Pianist's Pawel Edelman). As would be expected, Katyn ends with a very realistic depiction of the massacre. It lasts 15 to 20 minutes and it's a stunning sequence of undeniable power that rivals any of the filmed dramatizations of the Holocaust.

    Katyn doesn't strive for suspense and, like all of Wajda's films, it can be enjoyed by the whole world but it's made resolutely with a Polish audience in mind. Katyn was enormously successful when it was released in Poland last fall and was one of the five films nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It has yet to secure distribution in the US though. I think that mostly the reason derives from Wajda's apparent aim to make the ultimate and definitive 2-hour Katyn movie. Unlike Polanski's The Pianist, there isn't a character one follows throughout the movie who can serve as a guide through events that would be unfamiliar to many among foreign audiences. I think most viewers outside Poland will experience some confusion at times. Consequently some episodes don't register with maximum impact. Katyn is worthy of admiration for presenting such a comprehensive and technically brilliant picture of the subject and its ramifications. Yet I think that Katyn would be really great if it was longer, with more expository material and a more stately pace. I wonder if young Poles, Wajda's acknowledged and declared target audience, would also feel this way.

  9. #39
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    MY DREAM (CHINA)

    This performance film directed by Wang Honghai is a showcase for China's Disabled People's Performing Arts Troupe, an institution founded in 1987. I cannot think of a more beautiful and entertaining film of this type. My Dream had its world premiere last November at the American Film Market. The Los Angeles Times reports the producers were "flooded" with offers from distributors from all over the world. The performances by these disabled artists are of the highest caliber. What makes My Dream particularly entertaining is that the performances are derived from a wide variety of sources and that the film boast the highest production values. The fact that the artists are physically disabled might make it more compelling to some and make one more conscious of the years of hard work and dedication required to reach this level of artistic excellence. Each number is preceded by a quick introduction, usually in voice-over, with biographical information about the artist and brief inspirational snippets. Between numbers, we see footage of the artist(s) practicing diligently and preparing backstage.

    My Dream opens with the Troupe's signature piece, a glorious interpretation of the Thousand Hand Goddess of Mercy. A wheelchair-bound girl with spina bifida sings the loveliest "Edelweiss" amidst a wintry landscape. A number called "To See Spring" is performed by a group of blind dancers against painted backgrounds inspired by Van Gogh. Another one, "Sobbing Flowers" incorporates East European black-lantern theatrical staging. Being a fan of Chinese opera, I was particularly entranced by the musical number "At the Crossroads" which features flute and several string instruments, and the main aria from the quintessential Chinese opera "The Beautiful Lovers".

    My Dream utilizes just about every theatrical and cinematic means to present the performances in the best possible light. Each moment is filmed from the best possible vantage point, including overhead shots, and the precise editing gives the film a steady rhythm while allowing the viewer to savor the brilliant performances of these amazing disabled artists.

  10. #40
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    THE AERIAL (ARGENTINA)

    Esteban Sapir's second film is by definition a cult movie: a mostly silent, Orwellian sci-fi adventure in black & white that pays homage to early pioneers like Georges Melies, 20s German Expressionism, and a number of more modern dystopic allegories. The tyranical Mr. TV has stolen the voices of the people who live in a perpetual winter night, subjected to mind-numbing, soul-stealing tv broadcasts and ruled by the dictates of a giant metacorporation. An unassuming TV repairman witnesses the capture of a faceless singer, presumably the only one who still has a voice, and decides to rescue her. He enlists his dad, his little daughter and the singer's eyeless son, who turns out to have inherited his mother's ability to speak.

    Esteban Sapir has much in common with Winnipeg's Guy Maddin in the sense that both appropriate and rely on silent-era conventions and technology. But Sapir's synthesis is entirely his own. Thematically, The Aerial (original title "La Antena", released in France under the most fitting title of "Telepolis") targets corporate power and consumerism more pointedly than other films in the genre. Formally, what sets it apart is the very creative use of text balloons_like the ones in comic books but given a life of their own via animation techniques, and Leo Sujatovich's extraordinary, tango-inflected music score.

  11. #41
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    BLIND (NETHERLANDS)

    Actress Tamar van den Dop's feature directorial debut is a gothic tale inspired by the works of the brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen. Blind is set in and around a 19th century manor, the home of an ailing woman and Ruben, her irascible, blind young son. Ruben's violent tantrums have driven away everyone hired to read to him. Then comes Marie, an albino woman who bears the physical and emotional scars of a lifetime of abuse. Through patience and perseverance, she manages to transmit to the very handsome Ruben her love of literature and storytelling. They grow closer and Marie conquers her fear of intimacy. A doctor claims Ruben's sight can be restored by a new procedure. Ruben's illusion that Marie is young and beautiful would be shattered. Would his love endure? Is love truly blind?

    Blind is set during a long winter which serves as a metaphor for Ruben and Mary's emotional frigidness. The film boasts very attractive, often fantastic, sometimes poetic images courtesy of cinematographer Gregor Meerman. Joen Seldeslachts and Halina Reijn effectively convey Ruben and Marie's intensity and desperate need for human connection. Dop's script cannily creates parallels between the central premise and the stories Ruben and Marie share, particularly Andersen's "The Snow Queen". It does take a misstep, perhaps two, before its highly satisfying conclusion. The response from the festival audience at this US premiere leads me to believe this adult, romantic fairy tale would do reasonably well commercially if it were to find a willing distributor.

  12. #42
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    A PAPER TIGER (COLOMBIA)

    "In my five-foot two inches there is compressed every imaginable contrast and contradiction. It can be asserted with equal truth that I am a poltroon or a hero, a clever fellow or an ignoramus, extremely talented or stupid. Nothing will surprise me. I myself have finally resolved to believe that I am merely an instrument, the plaything of circumstance.”
    —Pedro Manrique Figueroa

    Director Luis Ospina follows his documentary about writer Fernando Vallejo with this complex biography of Colombian collage pioneer Pedro Manrique Figueroa. Complex by necessity because Figueroa was a contradictory, chameleon-like figure (a Colombian critic compares him to Zelig, the fictional protagonist of the Woody Allen film). Complex by choice because Ospina has decided to "print" both the truth and the legend. Ospina uses the structure of a biographical documentary to reflect on three decades of Colombian culture and politics, roughly from the mid 1940s to the mid 1970s. A Paper Tiger: a title that both references Mao's characterization of the United States, thus acknowledging Figueroa's Maoist phase, and applies to Figueroa himself. He is portrayed here as an agitator and agent provocateur but ultimately a gentle soul.

    Ospina makes ample use of Figueroa's pointedly political and highly appealing artwork. He interviews many artists and intellectuals from Figueroa's inner circle. What they have to say is not as interesting and insightful as Ospina apparently believes. At close to 2 hours, A Paper Tiger runs about 20 minutes too long. An additional problem is the overuse of on-screen text, especially when it's pedantically revealed a letter at a time, to create anticipation I presume.

  13. #43
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    THE SECRET OF THE GRAIN (FRANCE)

    I think it's inarguable that the 47 year-old, Tunis-born Abdel Kechiche is the most celebrated director to emerge from France this decade. His debut Blame it on Voltaire, a young Tunisian immigrant's Paris adventure, was awarded at Venice. Then L'Esquive, in which Kechiche found a way to relate classic 19th century French literature to the lives of contemporary teens living in the banlieue, won Cesars for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. His third film, La Graine et le Mulet, just repeated that feat. Every time around, Kechiche seems to get bolder and more ambitious while retaining an unpolished, improvisational vibe.

    The Secret of the Grain is set in the Mediterranean port city of Sete, where 60 year-old shipyard worker Slimane finds himself forced into early retirement. He has a long-term relationship with Latifah, the 40-something owner of the inn in which he occupies a room. He's very close to Latifa's daughter Rym, who considers him to be her father. Slimane maintains close ties with his ex-wife Soad and their kids Karima and Majid. Karima, who's still sore about her parents' divorce, is frustrated at her inability to toilet-train her toddler. Majid is neglecting his Russian wife and their infant son and being openly unfaithful. They all get together for a weekly family meal in which Soad's famous fish couscous is the centerpiece. Now unemployed, Slimane endeavors to own a restaurant featuring Soad's dishes. Efforts to secure a loan or find investors fall flat until Slimane finds an abandoned wrecked boat and figures he can restore it. Slimane's idea is to serve one great dinner at the restored boat hoping to impress investors, bank loan officers and other important town people he's invited. Despite palpable friction and conflict, both Slimane families pitch in to realize his dream.

    Many scenes in The Secret of the Grain combine the raw, unmitigated emotion of the films of John Cassavettes with the handheld camera style popularized by Dogma '95 directors_Thomas Vinterberg's The Celebration is strongly evoked during the family luncheon at Soad's apartment. The preponderance of close-ups, excessive at times, is perhaps more a function of the realistically cramped interiors than directorial choice. The long takes, the overlapping dialogue, and the unaffected naturalism of the performances help provide an immersive experience for the viewer. There is a consistent feeling of authenticity in Kechiche's depiction of family life and in the way he exposes the polite but pervasive prejudice of the native French towards immigrants. Some scenes towards the end create the impression of being in real-time and have been cited as being simply too long. The criticism has validity yet I found myself in a forgiving mood at that juncture after being served such a rich, novelistic narrative populated by highly dimensional and nuanced characters.

  14. #44
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    USED PARTS (MEXICO)

    Feature debut by Sorbonne graduate Aaron Fernandez who apparently honed his skills by making a number of shorts over the past decade. Indeed, there's nothing amateurish about Used Parts. It's set in a working-class section of bustling Mexico City. The specific milieu is the shady world of used auto parts in which Jaime (Alan Chavez) and his 14 year-old nephew Ivan (newcomer Eduardo Granados) operate. The 30-something Jaime owns a modest shop but plans to emigrate without a visa to Chicago. A relative living there has a job lined-up for him. He plans to take Ivan but the smuggler demands more money that initially agreed. They need to raise some funds pronto. Ivan quickly learns from Jaime how to steal radios, mirrors and hubcaps from cars. His fun-loving pal Efrain tags along looking for adventure. When Jaime introduces Ivan to "El Guero", a threatening thug who deals in cars others steal from him, we understand Jaime's pressing need to go north.

    Used Parts conveys a strong and specific sense of place. It was obviously shot in real locales using natural light. Debuts made under these conditions seldom look this assured whereas Used Parts is polished and professional. One figures Fernandez and DP Javier Moron thought out their camera setups before the shoot. The film is dynamically paced and precisely edited. The script penned by Fernandez allows secondary characters, like Efrain's protective mom and Jaime's girlfriend, their moments in the limelight. At a certain juncture, it becomes easy to anticipate the resolution. Perhaps too easy, yet I'd rather have that than overwrought or illogical eleventh-hour twists. The actors give the impression of having internalized their lines to make them their own. Used Parts emphasizes the characters-in-the-environment and never becomes a sociological treatise or a film with a discernible agenda. It's ultimately a universal story of loyalty and betrayal.

    Used Parts received awards at the Guadalajara and Montreal film festivals. It got good notices as a Cannes '07 selection. The film received Mexican Academy nominations for Best First Film, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor (Mr. Chavez).

  15. #45
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,830
    EMPTIES (CZECH REPUBLIC)

    Fourth collaboration between actor/screenwriter Zdenek Sverak and his son, director Jan Sverak (The Elementary School, Dark Blue World, Kolya). The latter won a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Foreign Film and featured the elder Sverak in the starring role. In Empties he plays Josef, a gruff high school teacher in his sixties who retires and can't stand the boredom of being at home with his wife all day. Josef is a confident fellow who figures his reasonably good health and life-long Prague residency make him the ideal bicycle courier. The job proves more unwieldy than he anticipated. Then he finds a job at a supermarket exchanging returnable bottles ("empties") for customers. Josef is very personable and curious about people. He finds ways to make an impact on the lives of co-workers and customers. He even manages to establish a connection with an almost incommunicative ex-general and finds a potential mate for his divorced daughter. Josef has a very active imagination, especially in the form of sexual fantasies that serve as a respite from Empties' social realism. At their best, and Empties might just be their best film, the Sveraks maintain a consistent humanistic tone in which the serious and the comedic are perfectly balanced. It seems effortless, but we known from the film's production notes that father and son engaged for years in negotiations regarding the content of the film. Reportedly, Jan felt his father had created an insufficiently sympathetic character for himself. Josef is indeed not as huggable as Kolya's Louka and Empties lacks what Variety magazine calls the moppet "awwww" factor. No complaints from this corner on either count.

    A major twist occurs when the supermarket's management decides to automate the process of exchanging beverage bottles, which threatens to destroy this community Josef has built around him at the "empties" exchange window. There's a scene in which Josef goes to the neighborhood's public library and finds it's been replaced by a teeth-whitening clinic named "Happy Smile". Empties evidences a deep awareness of what's been gained and lost by the advent of democracy and capitalism to the Czech Republic. Jan Sverak's ace team, including DP Vladimir Smutny and art director Jan Vlasak, are fully engaged in delivering top-notch production values. Empties broke box office records for a native film in the Czech Republic last year. It is apparently being deemed not enough of a crowd-pleaser to merit distribution in the US. I'd like to think our foreign film audience would embrace it. I get the impression East European films have a harder time being picked up by American distributors than films in French or Spanish, for instance. It's a shame that films like Empties and the also Czech Beauty in Trouble (MIFF '07) don't get the exposure they deserve.

Page 3 of 4 FirstFirst 1234 LastLast

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •