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Ta'm e guilass (1997)
Meditation on life and death
In this finely tuned work of cinematic art we meet Mr Badii, who is desperately searching for someone to assist him to commit suicide. He is willing to pay his assistant well. All his helper has to do is to is to fill the grave Mr Badii has already dug, once he is sure that Mr Badii has died. Mr Badii found it really difficult to find an assistant. After many unsuccessful efforts to convince a young Kurd soldier, an Armenian seminary and others to help him, he meets a taxidermist who needs money to take care of his sick child, who agrees to assist. The taxidermist, too, had previously attempted suicide.
We are taken on a dusty road through a bleak mining landscape which suits the ambiance of the film perfectly. The film picks up momentum slowly, but once it got going, I sat glued to my seat.
We never know why Mr Badii is driven to suicide, but that is not important. By leaving such detail out, the director and writer, Abbas Kiarostami, elevates the film above the level of just another sentimental drama about death, with a clear beginning, motive and ending. This film is much more, in fact. It is an incisive meditation on life and death, clearly elucidated by the taxidermist, and by the silent action and demeanour of Mr Badii. The ambiguous ending is perfectly tuned too. This is a fascinating film with a lot of food for thought. It is clear why this film was awarded one of cinema's highest awards, the 'Palme d'Or' in Cannes.
Cinematography, acting and directing are top-notch. 9/10.
Partes usadas (2007)
A great Mexican film
Iván, a 14-year old boy lives with his uncle Jaime in Mexico. Both dream about moving to the US. They plan to illegally move there and are seriously saving money for the journey. They specialize in buying stolen cars, strip them and sell the spare parts. They realize that they will have to increase their income because their people smuggler wants to leave for the US in three weeks. The two expand their business by stripping parked cars of wheels, rims and mirrors. The boy starts to involve a young friend to help. Then his uncle's girlfriend mentions that she wants to move with them to the US too. The uncle tells his nephew that first he and his girl will move to the US and send money so that the boy can join them later. This is not what they agreed upon and Iván has a physical altercation with his uncle, after which the boy runs away. This was only the start of his problems...
Excellent cinematography,a great score (Schubert chamber music) and particularly a tight script with good acting make this film a winner. 8/10.
Mille mois (2003)
A rewarding film
Mille Mois is a rewarding and atmospheric film that takes place in a small Moroccan village during Ramadan of 1981. We quickly learn that there is civil unrest and that the father of Mehdi, the young protagonist, is in jail because of his political activities. It is up to Mehdi's grandfather to try to keep the family together.
Difficult circumstances with a devastating drought and government land-use policies force peasants off the land. The barren and harsh landscape is well captured by the camera.
We see the village and its people through the eyes of young Mehdi and in the process meet a range of colourful characters, from corrupt politicians to devout Muslims.
Although the pace of the film is slow, it is rich in nuance and ultimately rewarding. Mention must be made of the great, natural performance of Fouad Labied, the young actor who played Mehdi, as well as the outstanding cinematography. 7.5/10.
La tutora (2016)
An excellent and intelligent film based on the Henry James novel 'The Turn of the Screw'.
A young woman, Mona (Romina Pinto), applies for a job as governess to look after and teach two kids who live in a rural part of Argentina. The kids' parents passed away a couple of years ago. The children live with their housekeeper in a manor belonging to their uncle (Julio Mendez). He runs a medical practice in the city and is too busy to look after his nephew and niece. Mona has studied psychology and worked a short while in a Kindergarten. This would be her first permanent position. Mona is over the moon when she hears that she got the job.
Mona is in for a surprise; the children are feral, running wild and are poorly educated. They could scarcely read. Àngel (Valentino Vinco) and his sister Ema (Malena Alonso) run around the property half-clothed, and that is really bothering Mona. Being nude in the open is unnatural, she believes. She is determined that it will have to change. It does not seem to bother the housekeeper, Clara (Cristina Maresca) though.
One evening Mona spots a man standing on the lawn, looking at the house. It resembles the man on the framed photograph, posing with Àngel, she saw earlier in the house. She asks the housekeeper about this man, and learns to her shock that it is a photograph of the gardener, who died a couple of years ago. The gardener and Àngel were apparently close. Mona, with her quasi-psychological background is convinced that the gardener must have molested Àngel at some stage, and that this is the reason why the lad is acting so strangely. Mona's 'do-gooder', hypocritical and know-all approach to 'help' the children gathers momentum as the film progresses. But Mona could never foresee how things would eventually turn out. (And neither could this reviewer, who was in for a few surprises too!)
This clever film, part psychological drama, part gothic thriller, presents comments on several important issues: Innocence can be destroyed by interfering hypocritical 'moralists' who do more harm than good. It also highlights the right to be natural and yourself, even to be a non-conformist, irrespective what others may think. There are also other elements in the film: the role of dolls and birds, and their use as allegory, the relationship between brother and sister, between Àngel and his friend, and the tragic history of the housekeeper's son.
The cinematography is top class, from the surreal under water scenes to the indoor shots, where a gothic atmosphere is created by ramshackled walls, broken windows and bats hanging from the rafters. The soundtrack has an ominous feel to it, and drags the viewer relentlessly along. Apart from an excellent script, the other outstanding element of the film is the acting. I found the acting superb, be it the gentle housekeeper with her secrets, the over-zealous Mona or the exuberant Àngel and Ema. 'La Tutora' is a complex, intelligent film with a lot of food for though, and in my view Iván Noel's best to date. This is a film that I will watch again. I score this film an excellent 9.5/10.
Hin helgu vé (1993)
A rather average film with interesting milieu
A young lad, Gestur (Steinþór Rafn Matthíasson), gets sent to live with relatives on an isolated peninsula off the coast of Iceland, while his mother, a concert pianist, is on tour. There the precocious boy falls in love with a woman nearly three times his age. The problem is that she is about to get married...
Close to the homestead is an ancient Viking burial mound, which, the boy is informed, contains a treasure and Viking weapons. Gestur is warned not to dig around the mound, as the spirits residing in the mound, would, when disturbed, cause the farmhouse to burn down. The boy becomes obsessed with the mound. The lad has a lively imagination, and convinces himself that he will need the ancient Viking weapons to kill the young man who is about to marry the girl Gestur is infatuated with.
It is not a great film; the narrative is rather thin. However, I did enjoy the Icelandic landscape and culture of the locals, and the actor who played Gestur did so convincingly. The quality of the copy of the film I viewed was unfortunately rather poor with lots of speckling. (I did not penalize the film for this.) 5.5/10.
La blonde aux seins nus (2010)
An enjoyable, quirky film typical of many independent French film producers.
This review contains slight spoilers.
Julien Rivera (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and his younger brother Louis (Steve Le Roi) live on their father's barge on France's waterways. They make a living by transporting gravel to building sites. Their mother passed away when Louis was two; their father is terminally ill in hospital. The boys insist that their father confirms that they will inherit the barge, as it is their only home and source of income. Unfortunately the old man stubbornly refuses. The boys' money is running out and they desperately need to find another way to make a living.
Julien hears that somebody is willing to pay a lot of money for the painting of a woman with bare breasts by Manet, exhibited in one of Paris's art museums. He convinces Louis, small of stature, to visit the museum, pretending he is from a wealthy art school. All the lad has to do is to make sure the security guard does not see him, cut the oil painting from its frame, put it in his folder and make sure he gets the hell out of there. Easier said than done. Just as the boy runs out of the art hall, the girl working as security guard notices that the Manet is missing, sees the boy running and gives chase. The girl, Rosalie Durieux (Vahina Giocante), follows him right into the barge where the panicking Louis locks her and the painting she has grabbed out of his hands, in a room in the barge. Julien decides they will have to get rid of her, but how?
The two lads gradually get to know Rosalie, and there is suggestions that both boys are falling for the charming lass. This sure would complicate things. In a newspaper they read that she is the prime suspect in the theft of the Manet. This obviously puts her in a predicament. She asks if she can join the Rivera brothers in their venture, but they are rather reluctant. They are still toying with the idea to get rid of her. She just knows too much about them.
The film kicks off with great speed, but loses momentum halfway through. Fortunately it picks up towards the end of the film. The movie occasionally gets a tad too sentimental to my taste. There are also a minor plot-hole or two, but they do not distract much from the flow of the film. The film's strong points far overshadow its weaknesses: the cinematography is excellent - particularly the river scenes - and so too the soundtrack. Acting by the three protagonists is accomplished. It is particularly the character development of the two brothers that impresses. This is an enjoyable and quirky film full of surprises and worth my good score of 7/10.
Kuusikko ja kuoleman varjot (1997)
A surprisingly enjoyable adventure series.
A few Finnish children take part in a cinematography project where they have to make their own short film. They accidentally shoot a real crime scene, and that is where their adventures begin.
I found the characterization realistic. The acting by the largely unprofessional cast should be commended.
I score this suspenseful film a good 7/10.
Mon fils à moi (2006)
A heartbreaking psychological drama
This review may contain slight spoilers.
This is the heartbreaking story of Julien, a young and bright schoolboy from a seemingly normal family. Julien's dad is a hard-working academic at university, his mother a great cook who keeps the household going, and Julien's older sister is about to enter university. We quickly learn that all is not well. Julien's manipulative mother has a major issue with her son growing up and would like to keep him at home, as hers alone. When he starts rebelling and questioning her actions, she starts unraveling, mentally and even physically assaulting Julien. She clearly has serious psychological problems.
His indifferent, remote father is a busy man, who in his spare time escapes home by playing tennis with his mates. Julien's dad turns a blind eye, even when his sister complains to him about the way her spiteful and controlling mother is treating her younger brother. Things get worse, with Julien threatening to commit suicide. Then one afternoon, it all comes to a point...
This is a depressing, unsettling and somewhat manipulative psychological drama with outstanding performances by Julien (Victor Séveax) and his hateful, selfish mother (Nathalie Baye). Great camera-work and excellent, foreboding soundtrack too. 8/10.
Poletje v skoljki (1985)
An interesting film
This review may contain slight spoilers.
Conflict between 'warring', opposing boy gangs is not new and is portrayed in several films. Just think of 'War of The Buttons' ('La Guerre des Boutons') of 1962, the Irish version 'War of The Buttons' (1994) and the excellent Hungarian film 'The Boys of Paul Street' ('A Pál utcai fiúk') (1969). In 'Poletje v koljki' we meet two gangs from neighbouring villages on Yugoslavia's picturesque Adriatic coast. Our protagonist, Tomaz and his gang are from Piran, and they have a long-standing feud with the lads from Portoroz. When the latter spray-paint graffiti on Piran's buildings, it is like a declaration of war.
Tomaz is living with his mother; his father had left them and lives in the city of Ljubljana. A rather strange element in the film is Tomaz's clever computer who thinks like a human being and provides answers to any questions Tomaz may ask. He even gives Tomaz advice on how to get revenge on the boys of Portoroz.
Some of the families depend on shellfish farming along the coast. When they discover that a few of the ropes with shellfish are missing, the boys suspect the other boy gang to be responsible. Tension rises between the two gangs, until they discover who the real culprits are; a few tourist hooligans with motorcycles who camp nearby. The gangs join forces and with military precision, aided by the computer, they confront the culprits.
The adventurous summer ends on a low note for Tomaz when he learns that his mother has decided to join his father in the city and that Tomaz will have to move too, leaving his mates and girlfriend behind. But will Tomaz move, or will he take matters in his own hand and run away from home?
This is unfortunately not an outstanding film; I found the acting and cinematography rather average. The most interesting part for me was to 'experience' Yugoslavia what it looked like a few years before the tragic Balkan War. From my outsider perspective, a bit of history and era of innocence gone by. 6/10.
Rasmus på luffen (1981)
An enchanting film
Rasmus is a young boy in an orphanage in rural Sweden during the early years of the 20th century. Every time when potential foster-parents arrive, Rasmus is overlooked. Then one day he just has enough and decides to find his own foster-parents. He just walks out of the orphanage into the wide world. Along the way he meets a tramp, Oskar, who makes his living by playing his accordion at farmsteads and villages he visits in his travels, in return for a few coins or a plate of food. He joins the tramp and together they have many adventures, including crossing paths with a couple of burglars who are dressed as gentlemen. The latter have just robbed a business of a large sum of money during a hold-up. Things get problematic for the tramp and Rasmus when the 'gentlemen' spread word that the tramp and boy are behind the spate of recent burglaries in the vicinity. And almost everybody believed them and suspected the bum and his young accomplice to be the culprits.
It may sound as if this is a film rather thin on plot aimed at younger viewers. However, this movie is not as simple as it sounds and has many quality cinematic elements. The set is lavish and realistic, costumes great, but it is the cinematography in particular that impresses. Beautifully shot pastoral scenes in verdant summer landscapes, contrasted with atmospheric indoor footage. The casting is excellent too; both Allan Edwall (Oskar) and Erik Lindgren (Rasmus) play their roles with distinction. Erik Lindgren's facial expressions alone say more than words.
I score this well-crafted film a good 7/10.
Prílis mladá noc (2012)
An unusual film
Two teenagers are sledding down a steep snow-covered hill, when one of the boys crash-lands. Bystanders come to his aid. The two lads get invited to the apartment of their young adult rescuers. It all happens against the picturesque back-drop of a snow-covered townscape with revellers celebrating New Year. One gets the feeling that most of the people in the apartment are somewhat bored and just trying to kill time. However, it wouldn't remain quiet for long: The lads would be in for an interesting evening, where they would be introduced to the 'pleasures' of grown-ups: liquor, dope, and, it is hinted, even sexual adventures. And, as in real life, also learn about disappointments.
This film reminds me of the excellent Mexican film, 'Duck Season', where a few bored youngsters try to kill time, and in the process gain experience about real life.
Technically speaking, 'A Night Too Young' is an accomplished work with atmospheric cinematography and soundtrack. I found the acting of the mainly young cast also above average. The film runs for 65 minutes; it is just the right length to keep one's interest.
I score this engrossing little film a good 7/10.
Brothers of the Wind (2015)
Stunning cinematography makes this film a memorable viewing experience
I have seen quite a few films dealing with the interaction between wildlife and man in the natural environment, and then I am not talking about wildlife documentaries, which seem to get better and better as new photographic techniques are developed. The classic 'Born Free' of 1966, and another film with African background, 'Duma' of 2005 come to mind. And then there is the excellent 'Entrelobos' ('Among Wolves') of 2011. Last night I watched another film in this genre, 'Wie Brüder im Wind' ('Brothers of the Wind'), and found that it compares well with others in this genre.
High in the spectacular Hohe Tauern part of the Austrian Alps, we see how a pair of golden eagles rears two chicks on a narrow rocky ledge, and as is typical with large birds of prey, the stronger of the two chicks forces the weaker one from the nest. The chance that the weaker chick would survive is rather slim, but it is in luck. Fortunately it has not fallen to its death; vegetation cushioned its fall and the bird landed safely on the ground at the foot of the cliff below the nest. Furthermore, shortly thereafter a boy, Lukas, (Manuel Camacho) finds the young bird before predators could get hold of it, and decides to rear it.
Through the narrator, a forester called Danzer (Jean Reno), we get to know Lukas, who lives high in the mountains with his father (Tobias Moretti). Quite early on it becomes clear that the relationship between Lukas and his father is strained; the lad does not speak to his dad, and more often than not hides away in a derelict house, where he lives in his own world. A sympathetic Danzer decides to help the boy and gives advice on how to rear the young raptor.
Can you build a film on such a slim narrative with only three main human characters? Well, after watching the movie, it is clear that you can successfully do so. The main emphasis of the film is on the life of the golden eagle, who against the odds and setbacks survives and grows into adulthood. The growing up of the eagle becomes a metaphor of the coming of age of Lukas, who also has obstacles to overcome.
The strong point of this film is without doubt the astonishing cinematography. The wildlife photography, particularly the action shots and the lingering landscape footage are literally breathtaking. The soundtrack is great too. The actors all do a fine job. Special mention must be made of Manuel Camacho, who seems to have a knack for excelling in wildlife films. He was justly nominated for a Goya Award, and won the Spanish Actors Newcomer Award for his acting in 'Entrelobos'.
I score this lovely film a high 8/10.
Funny Games (1997)
Don't give eggs to strangers, or swallow a brilliant director's bait
I watched the original 1997 version of 'Funny Games' a few days ago and haven't stopped thinking about it since. The narrative in short: A wealthy Austrian family, dad Georg (Ulrich Mühe) mum Anna (Susanne Lothar) and their young son Schorschi (Stefan Clapczynski), arrives at their holiday home at a picturesque lake. Soon after their arrival a young man knocks on the door, saying that he is staying with mutual friends and that they ask to borrow a few eggs. Anna lets him in; soon his friend joins him. The home invasion starts. Both intruders Peter (Frank Giering) and Paul (Arno Frisch) initially look open-faced - even their names echo some biblical connotation - but their evil side would soon appear when they psychologically and physically assault the family. The tragedy relentlessly unfolds.
I have seen quite a few truly unsettling films (such as Lars von Trier's 'Antichrist') but 'Funny Games' tops the list. The visuals are not that graphic; we are mostly shown post-violence scenes and not the physical attacks actually happening. Director Haneke clearly avoids sensationalism.
I found this film extremely hard to watch. Yet, I could not look away, sitting mesmerized in front of the screen. Michael Haneke had me hooked. Afterwards I realized how I was being manipulated. When Anna took the shotgun and shot the chubby intruder, his blood splattering the wall behind him and even the face of his mate, I felt elated. Serves him right, that will show the son of a b! I Only when the narrative was 're-winded', with both antagonists now surviving, did I realize that in my initial reaction I had become not much different from the intruders. A shocking realization.
This intelligent and provocative film should be seen by serious movie-lovers. Viewers suffering from psychological stress should be warned that this film may not be for them. I found it profoundly unsettling, but with outstanding cinematographic qualities. 9/10.
The Tree of Life (2011)
An ambitious film with a lot of food for thought
Those of you who haven't seen this film, be warned; it is not the normal run-of-the-mill movie with clear narrative and conclusion. It is a challenging and demanding cinematic experience.
'The Tree of Life' may seem disjointed, with four main sections. More than half of the movie deals with the life of a 1950s Texan family: the rigid paternalistic dad whose ambitions to become a musician were frustrated early on; his fun-loving wife, and three kids. Then tragedy strikes with one child losing his life in an accident. This would have serious consequences for the cohesion of the family.
The remainder of the film is a visually lavish exploration of the cosmos and nature on both dazzling temporal and spatial scale. From prehistoric dinosaurs, otherworldly landscapes and bright yellow sunflower fields, to galaxies in all their magnificence. Bringing these two main themes - the life of the Texan family and the bigger picture cosmic perspective - together gets us to the question the film poses right at the start: Is life all about 'grace' or 'nature'?
The interpersonal dynamics of the Texan family form the backbone of the film, yet other unexpected elements of interaction are also evident. Just think of the dinosaur that could have killed the smaller animal that was lying on its side, but did not do so.
The question of 'grace' or 'nature' is visually underscored by the contrasting images of pristine forests and visuals of our man-made forests of glass, steel and concrete.
Viewers looking for a clear, prominent plot and suspense may be disappointed. The film does have a plot; it deals with the complex relationship of a father with his children and wife, and particularly the love-hate relationship between father and eldest son. But it is much more than that; in a sense it gives us perspective on how important - or rather unimportant - our lives on the 'tree of life' really are. The more adventurous viewers with open minds can just sit back and let this film with its stunning visuals and soundtrack wash over them.
Love it or hate it, the film offers lot of food for thought and source of many a discourse. Just look at the varied reaction on this website. I found 'The Tree of Life' an exhilarating cinematic experience and score this meditative and intelligent work of cinematic art an excellent 9/10.
An unusual art-film
Young Simo's (Johannes Brotherus) older brother Ilkka (Jari Virman) is to start a prison sentence for a minor crime the following day. We share their 24 hours together before Ilkka leaves for prison. Their mother is more focused on her social life than spending this last evening with her sons. Yet she instructs Simo to keep his older brother company. While rain intermittently sifts over grey Helsinki, the two brothers go to the city center for some fun, a drink or two. Back at their apartment a bored Simo goes out and starts chatting with the gay photographer living across the street. He invites Simo in, shows him some Wilhelm Von Gloeden prints and asks to photograph Simo. This would have serious consequences
This black-and-white film has a nihilistic, despairing mood like few others. This is a film of no hope: "If you're free of hope, you're free of everything", we are informed. Another movie sharing this ambiance is Lars Von Trier's unsettling 'Antichrist'. The theme of hopelessness is also explored in the excellent Macedonian film 'Mirage' (also known as 'Iluzija', 'Eat or be Eaten' or 'Seasons of Hope') by Svetozar Ristovski.
It becomes more than just hopelessness. In a disconcerting misanthropic vision the extinction of man is predicted, with scorpions and other lower order animals taking our place.
This sombre theme of hopelessness is captured effectively in monochrome visuals, where the contrast between light and dark is accentuated, with little grey in-between. Some of the scenes are presented as nightmarish visions, without any chance of escape. Whether you are trapped in a train carriage after the train derailed and plunged into a deep river, or whether you caused serious and irreversible harm to somebody, there is no escape. The nightmare becomes real.
I found the acting quite good. Although Simo is not a very talkative fellow, his body language and facial expressions in particular, say a lot. Simo, an introvert, is a true outsider. The more vocal Ilkka and their mother, and the photographer, give fine performances too. The soundtrack, mostly of classical nature, effectively adds to the gloomy ambiance of the film. This film's strengths however, are the excellent, unusual narrative, and especially the outstanding cinematography. Credit to cinematographer Peter Flinckenberg. Several of the scenes are surreal, such as the footage of the train in the river, with jellyfish swimming past; also the scenes when downy feathers drop from the sky or of Simo wiping the misted-up mirror clean. What attention to detail!
'Concrete Night' offers a lot of food for thought and is a film I will watch again. I score it a very good 8/10.
Amici per la pelle (1955)
Great Italian neo-realist film about friendship
Mario (Geronimo Meynier), son of a ceramic artist, is unhappy when, after a short absence from school due to illness, he arrives back at school to find that his seat in the class has been taken by a new boy, Franco (Andrea Sciré). Franco is the son of a diplomat and regularly changes schools as his father is transferred to new postings. Mario rather ungraciously accepts the fact that the new boy has taken over his seat. In spite of this poor start a friendship quickly develops between the two boys. Mario is sporty and mischievous while Franco, a smart lad, is still affected by the passing away of his mother some 8 years earlier.
Franco is very unhappy when he learns that he has to move school again as his father was suddenly transferred to Sudan. Mario decides to help his friend and arranges that Franco moves in with his family. That way the boy will be able to continue his studies at the same school.
Mario, good athlete that he is, is convinced that he will win the local cross-country race and even better his previous record. When the Franco unexpectedly beats him in the finals (after Mario started with too fast a pace), it is a bitter pill for Mario to swallow. Mario impulsively starts a rumour about Franco which quickly snowballs into something ugly. Would this mean the end of the friendship?
The film ends on a poignant note, in my view the right ending. I found the performances of both young protagonists quite accomplished while the cinematography of this black and white film and soundtrack by Nino Rota are of high standard.
Although I score this film a good 7/10, it is not quite as good as the similarly-themed 'Shoeshine' (aka 'Sciuscià ') of 1946, a masterpiece by Vittorio De Sica, where we witness how the friendship between two lads is put under incredible pressure. Nevertheless, if you haven't seen 'Amici per la pelle', try to get to get it; it's worth it.
Un ange à la mer (2009)
A profound and unsettling psychological drama
Young Louis and his family live in a nice neighbourhood in the picturesque village of Sidi Ifni on the Moroccan coast. His father suffers from severe depression, the impact of which is not fully appreciated by his mother or older brother. His father refuses to get help and withdraws totally into his office where he spends his days working, or more often brooding in silence. One day he shares a secret with Louis after swearing him to secrecy. This terrible secret would have a profound impact on Louis' once happy life. From now on the boy would shadow his father, with major ramifications for the boy.
The title refers to a French poem, as well as the role that Louis tries to play in his father's life.
This is in every respect a well-crafted film. The drama unfolding at home is handled with restraint and subtlety, the acting by Martin Nissen (Louis) and Olivier Gourmet (his father), in particular, is truly outstanding. Their body language and facial expressions say more than words could do. The cinematography is imaginative and reflects the troubled nature of the subject matter. Indeed, the camera-work is some of the best I had seen in quite some time. The soundtrack should be mentioned too, with haunting North African melodies adding to the melancholic ambiance of this outstanding film. 9/10.
Running with Scissors (2006)
A Coming-of-Age film with a difference
Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross) comes from an unhappy family. His father (Alec Baldwin) loves his booze, his mother (Annette Bening) is a temperamental aspiring poet with psychological issues, most likely bipolar of nature. Augusten is much closer to his mom than his dad. His mother decides that the family should see a psychiatrist, Dr Finch, to solve their problems. The outcome is that his parents get divorced, mother starts living on her own and poor Augusten moves in with the Finch family, after being adopted by Dr Finch.
Augusten keeps a journal, giving us an indication how the lad tries to cope with this environment, and the people he meets and how they relate and react to each other. For most of the film it makes for engrossing viewing.
If you thought that Augusten's mother had issues, wait until you meet the Finch family: From their stoic mother Agnes (Jill Clayburgh), the nun-like eldest daughter, Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow), the younger rebellious daughter Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood) to the eccentric Dr Finch himself (Brian Cox), they are part of one unorthodox family. To call their household chaotic, would be an understatement. Enjoying the erratic behaviour of this odd family is part of the fun of watching this film. I am not going to add detail and spoil it for those who still have to watch this movie. Suffice to say, if you love the bizarre (including below-the-belt humour), you will most likely enjoy this film.
Technically this is a fine film with great soundtrack, cinematography and set. I just loved that chaotic house with its unimaginable range of paraphernalia.
The character of Augusten is well-developed and three-dimensional. His mother is a more complex person, yet the effect of her bipolar condition is effectively portrayed. Although not playing a major role his confused, booze-loving dad is also well-presented. I found the acting by all accomplished, but special mention must be made of Annette Bening and Brian Cox who really excelled. Joseph Cross also acted well, and this brings me to my only serious bit of criticism, and that concerns the casting. Augusten is suppose to be fourteen and later fifteen according to the book and film, yet he is played by a clearly much older Cross, who was close to 20 when filming took place. A younger actor playing the protagonist would have generated more sympathy for the vulnerable lad; Cross comes through as a less vulnerable, rather independent young adult. The strong points of the film fortunately outweigh this negative aspect.
This is a coming-of-age film with a difference, and worth watching. 7/10.
A powerful yet subtle film
Not many directors start their full-length future film careers with powerful films. The few examples I can think of include Jean-Luc Godard with his 'À bout de soufflé' ('Breathless'), Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'Amores Perros', Gus van Sant's 'Mala Noche', Larry Clark's 'Kids' and Xavier Dolan's 'I killed my mother' ('J'ai tué ma mère'). And now there is another one on my list: Andrew Steggall's 'Departure'.
Elliot (Alex Lawther) and his mother Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson) are vacating their holiday home in the south of France. As they are packing, a picture unfolds. Once happy times don't seem so happy anymore. Could the absent husband be part of the problem? It is not that simple. We gradually get to know the mother and her son. Beatrice's life is slowly crumbling away, while Elliot, on the other hand, seems to be living in his own world. Elliot meets a French lad, Clément (Phénix Brossard) a few years older than him and develops a crush on him. Both boys have issues to deal with, influencing their friendship. When Elliot's dad arrives, matters come to a point.
This film has several strong points: The cinematography by Brian Fawcett is outstanding, be it of the forest and river landscapes, or indoor scenes. I found the acting excellent; special mention must be made of the powerful performances of Juliet Stevenson and Alex Lawther. My only negative comment is that the editing could have been a tad tighter, particularly regarding the underwater footage that seems to be over-emphasized. This is only a minor issue and has no serious impact on this rewarding film. I am looking forward to Andrew Seggall's next film. I score 'Departure' an excellent 8/10.
Hol volt, hol nem volt (1987)
A delightful and original film.
Three years after the birth of Andris (Dávid Vermes), his mother Maria (Mária Varga) took him to get officially registered. It turned out that the official needed the particulars of his father. His mother did not know his detail, not even the man's name or address. She met Andris' father at a performance of the opera 'The Magic Flute' and spent the evening with him. She never saw him again. The official Orbán (Huak Frantiek) assured her that it would not be a problem; he would just write down an imaginary name and address, which he did.
A few years later Andris's mother tragically loses her life in an accident. It seems as if the boy would be sent to an orphanage, as there is no trace of his dad or any other relative. Andris finds his registration document in his mother's drawer, with his father's (fake) name and address, which the poor lad assumes to be genuine. His quest to find his dad begins.
Andris has many adventures along the way; he meets helpful and also some eccentric people, including Orbán, the official who filled out his registration form, who, it appeared, was on a quest of his own. As if this is not enough, Andris enjoys some rather unusual surreal experiences too.
The script is original and well-presented by director Gazdag. It is full of unexpected and delightful twists and turns. It is by no means a simplistic film; it has elements of Mozart's enchanting 'The Magic Flute', giving this film greater depth. The black-and-white cinematography, a combination of hand-held and stationary camera footage, is excellent. Credit to cinematographer Elemér Ragalyi. I found the soundtrack, mostly classical music, adding to the ambiance of this Hungarian film. The protagonist, young Dávid Vermes, gives a great performance of Andris, who at times appears stoical, but underneath the façade is a very uncertain lad. The subtitles are adequate, although the white letters at times are not that clearly visible when seen against a light background. This minor criticism that does not detract from this little gem of a film. 'A Hungarian Fairy Tale' deserves to be seen more widely. 8.5/10.
An engrossing film
This review may contain slight spoilers.
Johan's (Joris Putman) father owns a tea estate in the Dutch colony of the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. The Dutch colonists live a life of luxury, surrounded by servants and workers from the local indigenous communities. Johan's best friend is his buddy Oeroeg (Ramelan Bekkema), whose father works as Johan's dad's personal servant. Together the two best buddies, who call each other blood brothers, would go to school to receive an Eurocentric education, learning all about Holland but little about the island on which they live.
During WWII the island was invaded by the Japanese. Some of the Dutch returned to Holland, whilst a few stayed behind. We meet Johan, now a young man, again in 1947 when he enlists in the Dutch army for duty in Indonesia. There are political uprisings in that country and armed insurgents seem poised to take over. Johan's knowledge of the country and language made him a natural choice and he gets appointed lieutenant.
Back in Indonesia he learns that his friend Oeroeg is now a leader of one of the rebel groups. Shortly after Johan arrived back, his father gets murdered. It seems as if Oeroeg's gang is behind the murder. Johan is determined to find Oeroeg. It seems as if the two erstwhile friends are on a collision course.
I found 'Oeroeg' technically an accomplished film with great cinematography and set. The acting is fine, although not outstanding.
I have seen a few films dealing with the impact of the transition from colonial to self-governing rule on the friendship between kids from both sides of the sociopolitical spectrum. It is specifically the dynamics in relationship between colonists' kids and children from the indigenous population that are highlighted, as their adopted and home country gains independence. Here I think of the excellent 'Cartouches Gauloises' ('Summer of '62') of 2007 by director Mehdi Charef, and 'Quelque part vers Conakry' ('Somewhere Near Conakry') of 1992 by Françoise Ebrard. 'Oeroeg' compares well with them, even though this film's emphasis is somewhat different. 7/10.
Mia aioniotita kai mia mera (1998)
A profound film about life and art, the inevitability of death, and the burden of regret.
Alexandre (Bruno Ganz), a respected writer, received bad news: He is terminally ill and has to enter the hospice tomorrow. It may be his last day. And then the question: "How long does tomorrow last?" He tries to wrap up his life; he only has today to do it. To find a new home for his dog seems to be a priority.
Alexandre has flash-backs to his youth, and becomes quite nostalgic. He visits his daughter, suggesting that she looks after his dog "as he will be going away tomorrow". Fruitless; her husband does not like dogs. He hands his daughter a bundle of letters, all from his wife Anna (Isabelle Renauld), dating back many years. She reads one of her mother's letters to Alexandre, and as she does so, a picture unfolds: An aloof Alexandre not returning his doting wife's affection, too self-centered and preoccupied with his writings. The aged Alexandre's regret is palpable.
On his way home, on this last day, Alexandre spots a street urchin who cleans car windows at stop streets being chased by police. Impulsively he opens the door and tells the young boy to get in. Alexandre decides to help the boy (Achileas Skevis), an illegal immigrant from Albania. He tries to get the boy back to the Albanian border so that the boy can return home in safety. But does the boy really want to go back?
The dialogue between Alexandre and the boy is illuminating. "I see you smiling, but you are sad", the boy tells Alexandre. Alexandre narrates a story that changes into something more: the art of writing and imagination, 'buying' words when you have run out of them. Alexandre realizes he is running out of time; he would like to get the lad safely on his way, and he still has to pay his elderly mother a last visit.
'Eternity and a Day' is a complex film with many elements: It touches on the nature of life and art, regret and the inevitability of closure. The cinematography by Yorgos Arvanitis and Andreas Sinanos is glorious; the sunny coastal scenes, but with discontentment simmering below the surface; the misty landscapes in the mountains close to the Albanian border.
The sound track and effects superbly fit the ambiance of the film. Good work by Eleni Karaindrou and Nikos Papadimitriou. Then the acting: Bruno Ganz gives a powerful performance. Acting by Isabelle Renauld, Achileas Skevis and Fabrizio Bentivoglio is excellent too. 'Eternity and a Day' deservedly was awarded the Palme D'Or. My score: 10/10.
Vilko dantu karoliai (1997)
An interesting film about a Lithuanian artist looking back on his youth during troubled times.
It is the oppressive years just after the Second World War, the last years of Stalin's dictatorship. Young Tadulis is sent to live with his granny and uncle Jokubas on their farm in rural Lithuania, after his father Simonas was exiled to Siberia for being an 'enemy of the State'. His mother did not have the means to look after her son and stayed behind in town.
The boy helps his uncle fish and seems to enjoy quite a happy childhood. He even falls in love with a friend. After a few years Tadulis gets sent back to live with his mother in town, where he is in for a rude awakening. His mother is having a hard time making ends meet, and she has to sell her body to make a living. Among her customers are influential politicians and police officers. The boy is growing up fast and like many kids his age he has a rebellious streak. He breaks a few shop windows, produces a memorable play with a few friends and even has his first sexual experience with a girl 'with a reputation'.
His father gets released from Siberian exile earlier than expected, and back at home discovers that his wife and son had changed a lot. His wife seems to be aloof, even cold. In an indiscreet moment Tadulis hints to his dad that his mother was sleeping with other men. This back-stabbing act would haunt Tadulis the rest of his life.
I found the acting above average. The set and costumes seem truly authentic and together with traditional-sounding music included in the soundtrack created just the right ambiance. A lot can be said about the cinematography. The camera team made extensive use of various colour filters. The yellow and amber hues and greys tend to dominate many of the scenes, and in my view should have been used with a lighter hand. Apart from this minor criticism, some of the scenes are absolutely stunningly beautiful. The highlight for me is the surreal scenes towards the end of the film.
Other films have covered the theme of a Russian (or previous 'East Block') father who joins his family after an extended absence (through imprisonment, for example), and the difficulties to adapt to the changed situation at home. Just think of the excellent 'The Return', director Andrey Zvyagintsev's debut film of 2003, or the 1988 film 'Frangsuz' (aka 'Frenchman' or 'Frantsuz') by director Galina Daneliya-Yurkova. In terms of cinematic quality 'Vilko Dantu Karoliai' is comparable with 'Frangsuz', but not quite as good as the outstanding 'The Return'.
'Vilko Dantu Karoliai' lacks a strong story-line and has little suspense, so some viewers may be disappointed. I however found it a nostalgic and rewarding viewing experience. 7/10.
Carnets d'ado: Grosse bêtise (2001)
An original and quirky drama
Nicholas Guérin's parents are involved with small-scale drug dealing. During a police chase his father crashes his car, killing himself and landing his wife in jail. Thirteen year old Nicholas (Erwan Demaure) gets placed with foster parents, the Delmas family (Christian Crahay and Nathalie Willame), a really nice couple who go out of their way to accommodate the boy. Their daughter Elodie (Stéphane Caillard) is unfortunately the opposite, and quite bitchy.
Nicholas visits his mother Laetitia (Isabelle Habiague) in jail and learns that she may be sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. A very long time by the boy's reckoning. He starts to think of ways to get his mother out of jail. At the jail he meets an older lad, Tanker (Ouassini Embarek), whose father, a gangster, is also imprisoned. The two boys become friends. It looks as if Tanker is a bad influence on Nicholas; they go shop-lifting, although Nicholas has enough money to buy the items. At school Nicholas gets taunted for his mother being in jail and even assaulted by a bully. Tanker comes to his rescue. Nicholas invites Tanker to his 'new' home, where Tanker seems to take a liking to Elodie.
Nicholas is seriously hatching a plan to get his mother escape jail. He decides he will fake his death and at his 'funeral' overwhelm the prison guards who are with his mother, and make a run for it. For 'his' body he will unearth the corpse of another person who died recently, and burn it unrecognizable. He shares his plan with an enthusiastic Tanker. Elodie, who fortunately has become more friendly, hears about their plans and asks to join them. Nicholas reluctantly agrees. They don't have much choice; either that or she spills the beans. She turns out to be quite valuable with practical suggestions. There are a lot to be arranged: a corpse, a get-away car, a gun
'Breakin' Out' is a delightful film full of unexpected twists and turns. The acting by Nicholas, Tanker and Elodie is quite good, but unfortunately the casting of Nicholas is somewhat off the mark. Instead of a vulnerable thirteen year old, we get a streetwise guy who looks sixteen, and that reduces the impact of the film. The script is lively and that is one of the film's strong points. The sound track and cinematography are above average too. There are a few minor plot-holes which the observant viewer may pick up, but they are pretty insignificant. I still score this entertaining film a very good 7.5/10.
A film worth watching
It is three years after the end of WWII and things are not easy in Italy. Particularly for one family. The husband is a small-minded and petty bully and regularly physically and verbally assaults his wife and daughter. His young son Ju (Sven Valsecchi) is his favourite and barely gets criticized. It is clear that women are seen as lesser beings than men. The husband runs his household like a tyrant and gives his wife barely enough money to buy proper food. It is more important that his son gets a proper (and expensive) education, than wasting money on food, he argues. The man's brother is gravely ill and the husband agrees that his niece can move in with them. This girl, Nenè (Leonora Fani), is a warm-blooded 14 year old lass who quickly makes friends with a young vagrant of mixed race, a mulatto, who lives with several other homeless people in a derelict building nearby. This young man only has one thing in mind.
Ju is precocious and despite his very young age gets to learn about the facts of life quite early on, Nenè an enthusiastic teacher. He is inquisitive and spies on Nenè when she gets together with her boyfriend. And that is how Ju's father found them...
This is an engrossing film, particularly with the background of post-war political turmoil. The film is funny at times, but the underlying atmosphere is one of sadness at the oppression the women suffer.
I found the acting quite good, but is is particularly the cinematography that impressed. I score this film a good 7/10.