Monday, 29 November 2010


A review

When Da Qiang, his wife Yuan Ni and two children, Fang Da and Fang Deng, encountered a cloud of dragonflies on the afternoon of July 27, 1976, in Tangshan, China; he little realized that early in the morning of the following day he would be dead, his home destroyed, and his daughter lost for the next 32 years. That night, a earthquake measuring 7.8 in the Richter scale hit the city, killing an estimated 240,000 of its inhabitants. Tangshan itself was in ruins.

However, Aftershock is not so much a disaster movie, as it has been marketed, but rather a tale of two Chinas, the one which was left behind in ruins after the quake and the death of Chairman Mao Tse-tung later in that year, and the China we know today, as I heard my fridge softly humming in the kitchen. A China of values of family and togetherness was also left behind in the scram for money of the new one.

This is also a story of survival, of memories, of guilt, of forgiveness, of redemption. The format of the film is rather conventional, although it is beautifully crafted and photographed. The special effects of the quake itself are good, although they give the impression that it lasted for a long time, although its duration was only 23 seconds (most earthquakes do not last very long). Xiaogang Feng, the director, claims that Aftershock was conceived as a homage to the quake’s victims. However, that claim is somewhat lost by the intensity of the story, the last scene being somewhat like a kite in the wind, although still emotionally charged.

The device used to link all this different historical strands is the fate of Da Qiang family. His wife attempts to get into the apartment block in the middle of the quake, but he goes instead of her and dies after the building collapses on him, and the children sunk into the abyss of the collapse. Rescuers made her to choose between her two children, as they can only save one as to lift one side of the concrete slab where they are buried under will mean that one or the other will be crushed to death. The son is saved, although with one of his arms amputated as it was crushed, and the girl is left for dead. A Sophie’s Choice like scenario so far.

However, the girl survives, waking up on top of a truck full of corpses, her father’s body next to her, and wanders off. She will remember for ever those words her mother uttered: “Save my son”. She is adopted and raised by a couple of PLA officers as if she were their daughter, as the authorities were unable to reunite her with her surviving family in the chaos that followed the quake. In a key scene, she actually remembered her name when she is being enrolled to school and she is from then known as Wang Deng.

The two siblings grow apart for the next 32 years, the son believing his sister is dead, while she knows that he and her mother are alive, she cannot forget those three words. She eventually moves to Vancouver after she marries a Canadian , while her brother Fang Da manages to create a fortune in the new China, after having started as a ‘no-good’ for anything. Helping as a earthquake relief worker, her medical training being of great help, the two siblings finally reunite, her guilt resulting from her 32 years long resentment due to those three words surfaces.

One last point: Aftershock is a weepy, so make sure to have a box of hankies next to you when you watch it.

The DVD contains the film, scene selection and set up features (5.1 surround and 2.0 stereo sound).

Aftershock is China’s official foreign language entry to the 2011 Oscars.

Director: Xiaogang Feng
Cast: Daoming Chen, Chen Li, Yi Lu
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Film Certificate: (UK)15

UK theatrical release date: 12 November 2010
DVD UK release date: December 27th

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


A review

Another Year, a film precisely crafted by a director at the peak of his creative skills; a gentle and warm yet brutal study of a certain kind of Englishness found in the social interactions of suburbia, of lines drawn on the sand which are not supposed to be trespassed, and of loneliness while being with others.

Understated and nuanced yet merciless performances by Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville, and the whole of the cast,  tear apart the conventions that underline the day to day social interactions of the middle classes. Yet Leigh’s eye is always sympathetic with his characters, never judgemental. He presents them up there on the screen with an admirable economy of means for us to make up our minds. As usual with his films, the plot itself does not amount to much, just a year on the life of a couple, their sons and those surrounding them.

The magic of Leigh’s films resides in the humanity of its details, in his compassionate yet ruthless eye, in his ability to relate with us, his audience.

Magnificently filmed by Dick Pope, with a very controlled and close camera and lighting, without any of the fancy hand held movements so many recent British movies have indulged in, the attention is always centred on the actors and the story. A lesson in film making.

This is supreme story telling, absolutely brilliant in its forensic precision!

For more information and trailer, please follow the link below:

Trailer and synopsis

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


A review

A strange, and ultimately very rewarding, beast of a film. 

The lens excruciatingly follows Cristi, a young policeman as he in turn follows a school boy and his friends as they have been caught smoking hashish on the grounds of a kindergarten located in an unspecified Romanian city (we only know that it is not Bucharest).

The camera doubles as a mirror of Cristi’s forensic attitude, as he scans the school ground for remains of the joints that the youngsters have been smoking, and in the manner that the lens follows almost every one of his movements and the environment where he moves, particularly telling are the shots where the camera focuses on a dirty light switch as Cristi enters his office, then it pans in the room highlighting the shabby furniture and computer equipment, battered steel lockers on one wall. Prophetic are also the scenes filmed in a rather posh part of the city, with badly paved roads and footpaths, so commonly seen outside the so-called developed world. Are British streets leading to a similar fate, as funding to local authorities is being savagely cut in this era of austerity?

Police, Adjective, as the name implies, is about language, meaning, lack of meaning and multiple meanings of words, this chain started by Cristi’s conflict between his conscience and his duty as a police officer, as seen by his superior. Language, how we use words and what we actually mean, or do not mean, when we say something, this is the core of the film, leading to scenes with a calm and slow burning kind of humour, scenes that also lead to question my own use of language and what I actually mean when I open my mouth. I may decide not to open it ever again...

Particularly informative is the meeting between Cristi, his colleague Nelu and the philosopher Commander of the police station, Anghelache (wrongly translated as Captain in the subtitles, perhaps as an attempt to emulate the language used in American TV police series), resulting in the frantic search for a Romanian dictionary throughout the whole of the building.

A rewarding film that analyses with forensic precision the use of language, officialdom, morality, conscience, and the compromises we take during every minute of our lives to just get on. I did not only truly enjoyed it, but I also feel that Police, Adjective will slow burn in me for years to come.

Director & Screenwriter: Corneliu Porumboiu
Cast: Dragos Bucur, Vlad Ivanov, Irina Saulescu, Ion Stoican Marian Ghenea, Cosmin Selesi, Serban Georgevici, George Remes, Adina Dulcu, Dan Cogalniceanu, Costi Dita, Alexandru Sabadac, Anca Diaconu, Radu Costin, Viorel Nebunu, Emanoela Tigla, Daniel Barsan, Bungeanu Mioara.

Distributor: Artificial Eye

LEAVING reviewed

What film reviews have in common with buses, at least in this blog? Simply, you wait for one for ages, and when they come, they do so in three. If you did not see Leaving when was exhibited out there in the big bad (or good) world, then you are for a treat in your cosy homes as Metrodome Distribution is releasing the DVD in the UK on November 29th, 2010.

Kristin Scott Thomas pulls a magnificent performance as Suzanne, a middle age British woman supposedly “happily” married to a French doctor based in Nîmes, near the border with Spain. French veteran actor Yvan Attal portrays Samuel’s intensity, despair, humiliation, contempt and a desire for revenge when Suzanne leaves him for a younger man, Iván, a Spanish labourer hired to convert a unused outbuilding into a physiotherapy treatment room, as she desires to return to work after an absence of fifteen years (the kids will soon fly the nest).

As you may have deduced from the above, Catherine Corsini’s film reverses the usual stereotype of the husband leaving in pursuit of a younger model as Suzanne is the one who leaves the conjugal home, partly because she is tired of the daily routine of cleaning, making sure that the kids are ready for school, and cooking (just to face their moans as she dared to serve chicken twice in a day!). Iván, charmingly played by Sergi López, offers her the last chance to be a full and complete woman once again, of feeling as a fifteen year old girl once more, of getting out of a daily routine which can only be described as managed terminal decline.

In this sense, Leaving can not only be described as a feminist film, in so far as the stereotype of middle age man leaving woman for a younger one has been reversed, but also as anti-ageist, as Suzanne is clearly not far away from the last stage of her life. From this point of view, the passionate love scenes, expertly handled by Corsini and her cinematographer, Agnès Godard, are essential to convey that feeling to recapture, to reclaim, her life as a full woman when it is still possible.

Leaving is also a stark analysis of the patriarchy that still lays under the family as a social institution, and underpinning bourgeois society, a theme very dear to French film makers.

I truly enjoyed it, raising my mood from sadness to anger and to expectation all the way through until the completely unexpected finale, which caught me totally on the wrong foot, in spite of a clue having been laid early on.

The DVD contains an enlightening and not too long interviews to Catherine Corsini and Kristin Scott Thomas, UK theatrical trailer plus the usual scene and setting up options.

Leaving will be released in the UK on 29th November 2010.

Jirí Menzel’s Closely Guarded Trains revisited

I first saw Closely Guarded Trains when it was still fresh out of Czechoslovakia (when it still existed as a nation), back in the late 60s, in Cinema Arte in Viña del Mar, Chile. The irony of its humour impressed me as a young man, and continued to do so in later years as I watched it either in the box or when shown at Hull Screen sometimes in the 80s, if I remember well. I would have suspected that I would have grown tired of it by now (as I am sure it may well be the case for those of you who have been through film school or film studies courses). However, I found out that this is not the case,

I think that Closely Guarded Trains is as fresh and pertinent as it was then, back in the 60s.

This film, being a classic of European New Wave cinema, had had many studies, books and articles dedicated to it, so I will not dwell on it. I will only say that this parody, with a sting attached, where a small railway station in war time German occupied Czechoslovakia acts as a mirror for the whole country, produced during the Communist period (the Prague Spring) and primarily made as a covert criticism of Communist officialdom and their propaganda machine, has a message that can be translated in contemporary English as: “We are in it all together”.

Merry Christmas, Mr Cameron. Merry Christmas, Mr Clegg.

Closely Guarded Trains: Czechoslovakia, 1966, 93 mins.
Director: Jirí Menzel
Writers: Bohumil Hrabal (novel), Bohumil Hrabal (screenplay)
Cast: Václav Neckár, Josef Somr, Vlastimil Brodský

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Let Me In

A review

Matt Reeves’ Let Me In, what a disappointment! I do not normally give points to films, however, if I had to do so to Let Me In, it would get no more than 5 out of 10, and that because of Chloë Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Their powerful portrayal of the two central characters, Abby (Eli) and Owen (Oskar) saves Let Me In from being just another eminently forgettable horror flick. Matt Reeves claims in a Twitter Q & A session that he was inspired by Dial M for Murder, I dare to suggest that he rather should had been inspired by Psycho instead, particularly by the shower scene. A key problem with this film was expressed in an overheard comment made by someone when I was leaving the cinema: “I am desensitized.” When we reach the final scene in the school swimming pool, I just did not care, not any more, because of the lack of subtlety not only of its treatment, but also of all the previous gory scenes. In the original Swedish film, the restraint of its treatment injected even a bit of humour into this macabre scene, something which is totally absent in Reeves’ version.

To give Matt Reeves his due, he gave a good attempt to make an American version of the Lindqvist book, the problem is that the original film is so beautiful that it is very difficult to compete with it. He fails to do so. Where the Alfredson’s version begins with a poetic scene of snow falling, a very soft sound on the background, Reeves begins with a convoy of police cars escorting an ambulance, all sirens and shouts blazing, setting straightaway the overcooked and overbearing tone and pacing of Let Me In. In a way, I could say that Reeves made two films in one, a typical American style horror film, and a story of love and longing of two twelve year old misfits, Owen (Oskar), a bullied boy with dreams of revenge, traits of a psychopath killer already growing in him, and Abby (Eli), a girl who may be not be a girl after all, who is also twelve, the difference being that she has been twelve year old for a very long time.

Alfredson captures this central theme of longing, longing for a childhood to be as that of everybody else: for Oskar to be able to go out to school and around without being bullied, and for Eli to be, for once, a twelve year old human being she actually was once upon a time who can establish a close relationship with a boy of her own age as if she were a child, without seeing that boy simply as a source of blood. Both Chloë Grace Moretz and Lina Leandersson were able to powerfully express that inner conflict tearing Abby ‘s (Eli’s) inner self apart.

Reeves, while he is also able to capture that sense of longing, his overblown treatment of the violent and gory scenes manage to disrupt that central story to properly unfold, the pacing just completely blows it apart. Even so, in one scene where Abby (Eli) disposes of the “father” (Richard Jenkins) in hospital, after he has been captured, Alfredson manages to shoot it in a much more effective manner; even the make-up on the face of the actor was more realistic than in the American version (which looks too much like any other horror film monster rather than the face of a common guy disfigured by acid). However, in almost every other scene, Reeves’ overcooked treatment fundamentally disturbs the pacing of the film and looses the nuances of the original: Virginia catching fire ends up with the top floor of the hospital in fire, the shots of Abby jumping onto his victims are so ridiculous, I could have seen that it was a mannequin on top of the unfortunate victims even if I were a mile away, the blood splattering everywhere, or the old Abby appearing under the sweet and pretty face of the twelve year old Abby is grotesque and it goes on for too long (when she jumps and licks the blood on the floor after Owen tries to make a pact with her by mixing their blood); in the Alfredson version, there is just a hint of Eli’s old self appearing on her face, and much more realistic, at that.

There is one scene, which I thought it was crucial, in Let The Right One In missing in Let Me In: when Eli confronts Oskar after she went into his apartment in spite that she was not invited in (and, therefore, putting herself in mortal danger), remonstrating the first words she heard him saying when he was stabbing at a tree pretending it was the boy bullying him, and expressing that she does what she does because either she does it or she dies, while Oskar has options, yet he is already developing as a potential psychopathic killer. That that world weariness, is intensely conveyed by both Chloë Grace Moretz and Lina Leandersson.

However, Lina expressed that sadness, the sadness of a vampire who does not want to be one, a killer who does not want to kill, so intensely that I could feel it throughout my being, particularly in that scene in Let The Right One In when Eli is doing the Rubik cube. It was just unbearable to watch.

If you have seen Let The Right One In, perhaps to see Let Me In may be a bad idea as it is disappointing. I did bite my fangs on its neck, and found the blood to be rather anaemic. However, if you have not seen the Alfredson film, you may enjoy it: there is a darkness and world weariness in it missing from most contemporary American vampire movies. If Chloë continues to perform as she has done here, she could well be one of the great American actors of the 21st Century. On the other hand, perhaps Let Me In is worth seeing just because of her performance, and that of Kodi Smit-McPhee.

When I got home from the cinema, the cats hissed at me. Should I worry?

Trailer and stills

To read DVD and Blu-ray review please click here.

Let Me In DVD will be released in the UK on March 14, 2011.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone.

A review.

Winter’s Bone is one of those rare American indies that manages to be both a cinematic essay in social realism and cinematic poetry, a journey not only through the backlands of Missouri, but also through the human soul. A film that is both particular to a place and a time, and universal. This is American cinema at its best.

Powerfully acted and beautifully shot, Winter’s Bone follows 17 year old Ree (a wonderful Jennifer Lawrence) in her quest for the fate of her missing father, a drug addict who has put their house, yard, barn and land as payment for his bond (bail) for his forthcoming court appearance. If the property is repossessed, she, her young siblings Ashley and Sonny, and their invalid mother will be thrown into the wilderness to fetch as dogs, as she said in one of the key and emotionally charged scenes of the film.

We first see Ree taking their horse to be cared for a neighbour, because, as she put it: “Right now, I’m short of cash”. This particular scene sets the tone for the film, the harsh nature of the environment, the social bonds of mutual dependency formed in rural communities as theirs is, the strong and powerful character of Ree, and her will to survive and care for her family.

A subsequent encounter between her and the local sheriff sets her in her path to find her father, learning soon after that he failed to turn up for the court hearing, making him a “runner” and endangering her and her family. Her steel is evident when she tells the sheriff “I’ll find him”, the strength in her eyes was a beauty to watch. This is a community of few words, but each one is charged with meaning. You miss one, and you miss a whole world.

Her adversity, and that of her family, and her enquiries, initially meets indifference from the community and some of her relatives. This indifference soon turns into open hostility as she starts to find out some unsavoury truths, however, the power of the blood reasserts as she confronts this hostility, the depth of the passions aroused powerfully depicted in a poetically charged scene set in a cattle market. The film becoming at this point a comment on the hopelessness and, yet, resilience of rural communities in America such as this and, incidentally, throwing some light on the background of some of the recruits for the American military.

Winter’s Bone has a very authentic feel in language, the characters and the environment. I understand that Jennifer Lawrence’s Kentucky roots made her easier to understand Ree, and the film was shot in locations in Missouri, using local people as extras and homes as sets.

I was also relieved to see an American independent movie that is not a bad Woody Allen clone or about boring and shallow New York socialites.

Winter’s Bone is, in an odd way, a feel good tale, but one that dug deep into my heart and which, I suspect, will stay in there for a long time.

Based on the novel Winter’s Bone by DANIEL WOODRELL
ENGLISH / USA/ 2010 / 35MM / COLOR / 1.85 / DOLBY DIG / 100 min

Winner of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize and Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award, WINTER'S BONE is directed by Debra Granik (DOWN TO THE BONE) and adapted for the screen by Granik and Anne Rosellini. Based on the bestselling novel by Daniel Woodrell, this tense, naturalistic thriller stars Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Sheryl Lee and Tate Taylor.

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Kick-Ass DVD reviewed

Frankly, I was very disappointed by this film. Yes, I know, it was released ages ago, and yet I managed to see it the DVD only last night. I thought that it was a kick-ass of a movie rather than Kick-Ass. The story was totally predictable, the gags too (I hardly laughed at all during it), the rhythm was uneven. I can see that as a parody of the super-hero, so much predominant in American culture, it has some value. However, apart of that, and very strong strong acting (Chloë Grace Moretz was particularly powerful, while Aaron Johson delivered an excellent performance as the boy turned superhero), a waste of money, acting talent and space.

The DVD is pretty empty for a £16.99: I would have expected a pretty beefy bonus section, with interviews to the actors, etc. Apart of a short film on the comic that inspired the film, nothing else. In other words, a rip-off.

In short, an ass-kick film and DVD, just saved by the actors' performance, particularly those of Chloë Grace Moretz and Aaron Johnson. .

Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writers: Jane Goldman (screenplay), Matthew Vaughn

Cast: Aaron Johnson, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Mark Strong, Chloë Grace Moretz, Nicolas Cage

Friday, 15 October 2010

Beautiful Kate, a film by Rachel Ward

 A review

The marketing blurb for this film states that “[it] cannot fail to get under your skin”, and, for once, the PR is right.

Ned, a writer in his forties, gets back to his father farmhouse in the remote Australian outback, where he, and his girlfriend, Toni, are greeted by his younger sister, Sally. She asked him to return home as Bruce, their father, is gravely ill, we know that he will not live for much longer. The ghosts of two missing siblings haunt their first meal together, yet the subject is carefully avoided.

The story is developed in a series of shots of the farm life in the present intermingled with flashbacks, the device used being places within the compound that metamorphose into that bygone past, highlighting the decay suffered not only by Bruce’s face and body, but also by the face of the farm itself. Thus, the pond where one of the key moments in that past happened is now dry, with rusting cars and farm machinery littering it. Beautiful Kate, splendidly played by newcomer Sophie Lowe (she reminds me of a young Sissy Spacek), Ned’s sister, plays and flirts with her brothers. However, do not be fooled by that nostalgic view of the past, perhaps the times of childhood and early adulthood were better when seen through the lens of time past: there is a sting under that nostalgia, and its hurts.

This is an intense film not only about incest and sexuality, but also about the power of memory not only to guide us, but also to lead us to emotional dead ends. Memories are, by definition, always selective and narrow in focus, and this is evident when Ned’s recollection of his relationship and death of his sister, the Beautiful Kate of the title, is confronted by a revelation by Sally, an involuntary witness one night a long time ago on that now dry pond. The past is no longer seen on the same way, and Ned’s attitude to his dying father warms. The ghosts have been put to rest.

This closed and incestuous story is told over the magnificent and tough backdrop of the landscape, those long winding and dusty roads, the cinematography making an excellent use of the wide format and colour palette.

A self confident, sensitive and powerful exploration of incest and awakening sexuality on a desolate farm in the Australian outback. Rachel Ward is in full command of her material in this debut feature. She has no fear in tackling a subject that most of us would prefer to be silent about, and she does it with sensibility and love for her subjects.

Beautiful Kate got under my skin, particularly when facing its shattering, and, yet, cathartic, end. I feel that it will remain there for a long time.

Director: Rachel Ward
Starring: Ben Mendelsohn, Bryan Brown, Rachel Griffiths, Maeve Dermody, Sophie Lowe
Running time: 101 mins

For trailer please visit:

Stills  © Matchbox Films

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Ruben Östlund’s INVOLUNTARY

A review

Ruben Östlund’s Involuntary joins the list of recent Swedish films that have made to the world stage, such as Daniel Alfredson’s Millennium Trilogy (based on Stieg Larsson’s books), Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In (based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel), and Roy Andersson’s You The Living, between others.

Five interlaced stories run throughout the film, structured in clearly delineated cinematic tableaux, like paintings with moving figures: long takes with the camera left to roll in fixed positions, the actors moving in and our –sometimes just out as we only hear their voices, or moving towards the lens until becoming blurred. It is almost as if Involuntary were an exercise in mass observation, although the development of the stories in the timeline of the tableaux have been carefully constructed and orchestrated.

The link between these stories can be defined with just two words: peer pressure. How spontaneous and individual are our decisions? How much are they influenced by our desire, our need, conscious or not, to fit into a social group, into patterns of established and accepted behaviours within that group, or to fit into a intellectual or ideological construct? Key is the tale of the little girl who finally gives the response that was expected from her in the classroom, although she knew it was the wrong answer.

The recurrent feel of mass observation pervades the film, as the actors (all of them novices with the exception of Maria Lundqvist) play their fictitious lives as if they were their only lives, this is the degree of naturalism present in the acting. I noticed that the actors’ names are also the names of the characters they play, so Maria Lundqvist is Maria Lundqvist. I understand that most scenes were rehearsed several times, and took several takes before (50 or 60) making into the finished film (with the exception of the striptease scene with the two teenage girls, Linnea and Sara), a technique that streamline the understanding and absorption of the parts being played. This documentary feel to Involuntary is reinforced by the almost complete absence of a music track, the sounds being those of background conversations and noises, passing traffic, birdsong, children playing, all choreographed to punctuate specific moments in the film.

The tone of the camera is neutral and non-judgemental, almost tender at times in its outlook of the follies of us, human creatures; while, at other times, that coldness makes difficult to engage with the characters as we do not see them with the warmth present in, let say, Andersson’s You The Living. It prompted a desire to walk into the film to talk and argue with the characters and their transgressions, before realizing that the desire is actually to engage ourselves, as if we were the other. Have no doubt, the characters up there on the screen are no more than proxies, the camera is actually filming us, the audience. There is not a single one scene in the film that most people would have experienced in their lives, I dare to say. I was glad to see that Sweden also suffers a problem with drifting teenagers, drinking to stupor and falling into vandalism and what is called antisocial and reckless behaviour, the camera lens bearing witness to their antics.

The tale of Henrik, the coach driver, is, perhaps, the clearest of all: a social situation that becomes a trap, enslaving all those who are involved in it, feelings of unspoken embarrassment and guilt hiding just below the surface, as the camera pointed at the reflections on the coach windows hints.

Involuntary, with is dry, hilarious and, sometimes, dark humour, does not produce a immediate reward: the secret is in the details of each tableau, we miss them, and the film becomes meaningless and, even, tedious. We, the audience, have to work to reap the rewards.Yet, the prize for your efforts is a cinematic gem: this is a tender film that will haunt you for days to come.

Some films are like good wines: they get better and better as they mature. Involuntary is one of those, several days after having seen it, the smile is still on my face.

Do I need to say any more?

Director: Ruben Östlund | Sweden | 98 mins 


Villmar Björkman, Lola Ewerlund, Mia Ericsson, Hanna Lekander, Simeon Henry Nordius, Maricel Amance, Rikard Borg, Leif Ericsson, Margret Andersson, Staffan Mau, Eva Mau, Thomas Petéus, Guje Palm

Maria Lundqvist, Henrik Vikman, Ida Linnertorp, Birgitta Sundberg, Tommy Bech, Filip Nilsson, Edvin Daal, Lars Melin, Mikael Bundsen, Wille Lindelöw, Niklas Månsson, Emil Olsson, Jonny Jänsby, Malin Rosenqvist, Anna Karlsson

Linnea Cart-Lamy, Sara Eriksson, Moa Mathiesen, Malin Segerblad, Kenneth Bodin, Fanny Askerfors, Jonas Harström, Ludwig Palmell, Daniel Brandt, Lars G Svensson Elisabeth Cart-Lamy

Cecilia Milocco, Alicia Gustavsson, Ulf Lundstedt, Axel Hurtig, Gunilla Johansson, Biggan Hjelt, Ylva Nilsson, Josef Säterhagen, Per Johansson, Birte Niederhaus, Pupils From Lyrfågelskolan

Leif Edlund Johansson, Olle Liljas, P-A Emanuelsson, Pär Berg, Jonas Pärlbäck, Johan Bylund, Krister Bården, Vera Vitali


Stills and trailer © Trinity

Friday, 8 October 2010

Desire, a film by Gareth Jones.

I happened to be re-reading some of the classics of English literature, in this particular case, Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”, when I watched Desire:

“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!”

Desire drives the heart of those breasts, the creative impulses of not only artists, but of all of us, is what  I read from Gareth Jones' film.

The apparently innocuous façade of a London suburban house hides a universe of emotions, passions, human fragility, untold secrets and longings. We never see the exterior of the house, or indeed the outside world apart from glimpses through windows until the very end of the film, a cathartic scene.

We first see Ralph (Oscar Pearce, from Roegs’s Puffball and Paul Anderson’s Resident Evil), a writer holed on the top floor of the house, on a series of close-ups of his hands typing on a computer keyboard, like the hands of a musician on a piano keys; and his intense gaze, a kind of leitmotif running throughout the film, the gaze of an intellectual and emotional vampire lusting for the inner lives and bodies of those surrounding him to feed his writing and, thus, allowing him to survive as a human being. The proposition that desire, longing, sexuality, sensuality and survival are inextricable linked seems to be the subtext of this film “of ideas”.

Phoebe (Daisy Smith), his wife, is a soap opera star whose career is rapidly running downhill, her acting skills and career being wasted by increasingly banal plot lines and dialogues. She knows it, although she is outwardly in denial until this fact is slapped on her face in a brutal scene later on in the film. Ralph’s script for a film called Desire is vital to salvage her career, and the small universe that this family has constructed (a device that allows blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction). After all, Phoebe pays the mortgage. As she says in the film, if Ralph fails to produce the screenplay for Christmas, then there will be no more house, no more Chinese and African antiques, and no more Néné.

So, Néné (wonderfully played by Tella Kpomahou in a part that grows as the film progresses, her face and body expressing a myriad of emotions) enters the picture as the au pair in a morning scene repeated uncountable times in millions of homes on this planet: breakfast, and getting the kids ready for school.

So, who is Néné? Phoebe, and us, ask. We know that she is African, we know that she speaks French, we know that she was living in Paris, we know that she is learning English. We also know that she is one of those creatures that Dickens referred a couple of centuries ago: a face whose contours hides a deep unknown, and unknowable, world; we are only able to catch glimpses of it, a song by Malian singer Oumou Sangare here and there, like peeping into a room we think is full of marvels through a half open door. Language itself becomes both a barrier and a bridge, particularly when she rewrites her part that Ralph had concocted from hearsay and assumptions in his script (and to hell with “authorial rights”, life has taken over), in a powerfully acted scene, where Tella Kpomahou as Néné exerts her seductive powers on Ralph (and on us, the audience). Do we know what is driving her heart? We never do, although we can glimpse it, as her gaze teases Ralph and Phoebe, or when we glimpse (this word, again) a photograph of a child.

This stranger, whom Phoebe strongly distrusted that first morning in the kitchen, has become an inextricable part of this family, yet she remains a mystery, still a stranger in their hearts, unspoken desires driving them apart, yet gluing them together with a different structure of relationships, particularly when Phoebe brings her new co-star, Darren (Adam Slynn), a contributor to this redrawing of boundaries. I can read here parallels with Pasolini’s “Teorema”, where the inner fragility of a family hidden by its apparent bourgeois solidity is disrupted and reassembled by the catalytic visit of a stranger, like an angel (of Death, of Life?).

Néné’s capacity to reassemble the inner structure of this world is as much due to its fragile foundations as the emotional strength driving her. Ralph, Phoebe, Néné, Darren, they all circle around each other, all desiring the others, to suck their blood, to take over their bodies and their minds, to take them inside, to make them part of their selves. Underneath this dance, the intellectual, emotional and financial need for Ralph to finish the script.

Perhaps one of the reasons behind the popularity of vampire films, and books, is the need to exteriorize this inner desire to make the other part of our selves, this lust for their bodies, their lives, their entrails.

I do not know if by setting the film within the confined walls of a house was intentional or not in the sense defined by Dickens’ lines; or if it was a dramatic device to explore the simmering of emotions, exposed raw by unspoken desires, driving not only the creative processes of a writer, but their capacity to fundamentally alter the human relationships within what is, basically, a pressure cooker, a creative process in itself, where boundaries are redrawn.

Gareth Jones and Fiona Howe (who also composed the music for this film) states that “Desire explores the link between sex and creativity through the story of a screenwriter struggling with a character who threatens to take over not just his creative life but his sanity.” However, my reading makes it a far more complex film. It is not only Ralph who evolves and gains within these relationships, but Néné also gains, her rewriting of her own life within the script is a clear act of defiance and reasserting her own self as a woman who happens to be African, but who is, firstly, a woman. Intellectual colonialism is, thus, exposed.

Perhaps the strength of this film is also its weakness: the clinical coldness of the camera work, which, whilst allowing us, the viewers, to keep a critical distance from this emotional nest of vipers and, therefore, safeguard our own sanity, it makes very difficult for us to feel sympathy for any of the characters, with the possible exception of Néné, Tella Kpomahou’s injection of inner warm winning us over. Phoebe is played by Daisy Smith, revealing the essential shallowness of the character, not much different from that of the character of the soap opera within the film; while the vampiric intensity of Ralph is developed by Oscar Pearce, and the greed of upcoming boy Darren by Adam Slynn.

However, the complexity of this film, and the several possible readings of it, conspires against Desire, as, somehow, Gareth Jones seems to have lost control. There are just too many strands and ideas floating around, and the device to deliver this cinema of ideas, the voice over, is, at times, clumsy.

Alex Ryle’s intelligent use of a subdued and chiaroscuro palette, and his controlled camerawork, deserves special mention: without this restraint (and that of Gareth Jones), this film in less capable hands could have well ended up as an over emotional soap opera. Fiona Howe’s score also is commendable for its beauty and restraint. The voice over, whilst being essential for Gareth Jones’ aspiration to develop a cinema of ideas (and Desire certainly succeeds as such, setting it apart from much of the recent crop of British cinema) and being beautifully written, words that cut through the calm of my living room, is at times drowning the visual imagery.

Director/Screenwriter: Gareth Jones
Producer/Composer/Designer: Fiona Howe
Cast: Oscar Pearce (Puffball; Resident Evil), Tella Kpomahou (Les oiseaux du ciel - Birds of the Sky; Il va pleuvoir sur Conakry - Rain over Conakry), Daisy Smith, Adam Slynn

Desire will be released in the UK later in the year.


Stills and trailers © Scenario Films Ltd.

Post revised on October 19th, 2010

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW

What was the camera model that James Stewart was using in Hitchcock's iconic film Rear Window?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

I AM LOVE reviewed

I Am Love, nearly two hours of pure cinematic bliss, a film that manages to be both visually voluptuous in a manner that only the Italians can do, and measured in its intelligence, a real treat to the senses and to the mind, shot with masterly camera work and with a magnificent musical score by John Adams. I came out of my viewing session with an intense desire for good food (Iam afradi that you will have to see this film to fully understand this last sentence). The portrayal of each of the characters is powerful. Watching Tilda Swinton act is a stunning experience of artistry that only a handful of actors can achieve in its range, depth and breadth.

I Am Love is certainly one of the best films I have seen so far this year, a work that manages to nod at the cinema of Luchino Visconti (the digitally re-mastered copy of Il GatopardoThe Leopard – has recently been released in the UK), as its director, Luca Guadagnino, acknowledges in the excellent interview contained in the extra features of the disc, and to be truly original.

The film follows the slow but inexorable destruction of the Recchis, an old Milanese family whose fortune is based in the production of textiles, a part of the haute bourgeoisie, a relic of the 19th century entrepreneurial era of construction of industry, trhough the liberation of Emma, a Russian woman (Tilda Swinton), who is married to Tancredi, the heir to the fortune of the Recchis. The sensuality of food, specifically oucha, a soup that Emma learnt as a little girl from her grandmother back in Russia, plays a central part in the development of the story. It is, in fact, another character, onto which Emma relies every time she feels homesick.

The film is a rich tapestry weaving seamlessly the stories of Emma and the individuals who are part of the family into a magnificent cinematic tableau, layer upon layer of meaning being built by an exquisite attention to detail, essential for the comprehension of the film (even during a one second blink some essential detail may be lost).

One of the factors that distances I Am Love to the films of Visconti is the fact that the story is centred around a female character, Emma, the Russian who was acquired as a young woman by Tancredi and brought back to Milan as a living addition to his growing art collection, “a woman who is more beautiful than you”, as he said to his mother, and not as “a woman whom I love”, as the final scene makes painfully clear. Once in Milan, that northern Italian city that I could describe as being quietly exuberant (why do I put hs where there isn’t one?), a city where the shops were plentiful, she is expected to behave appropriately as the mistress of the household of one of the Recchis, a world of codified manners, behaviours, attitudes. The film portrays this world beautifully, with a slight tint of nostalgia, a world where everyone follows a distinct and predefined path, a world that starts to crumble when Edoardo, the grandson of the founder of the dynasty, fails for the first time in the history and tradition of the family to win a race, loosing it to a chef (who becomes a central character in the story), a world where Betta, Edoardo’s sister, presents her grandfather for his birthday a framed photograph rather than the painting – proper art - he was expecting, a world where the undercurrents of desire start to break through the masks and the etiquette, demonstrated when Betta breaks with Gregorio, whom she was expected to marry, to conduct a love affair with her female tutor in London. It is a world where the younger generation is slowly drifting apart from the expected behaviours, from the expected career paths they are supposed to take. When Emma realizes this, her liberation begins, the sensuality of food been its catalyst.

Emma, which is not her real name, as she does not remember her real name any longer, finds strong and sensual love outside the claustrophobic confines of the family and their social milieu, and begins through this love a process of rediscovery of her own self, of her own identity, erased behind those prescriptive roles and behaviours she had to take as one of the Recchis – a family to which she felt as an outside, a feeling she kept to herself. She existed not as a woman, as we learn by the end of I Am Love, but as an empty vessel collected by Tancredi, onto which behaviours and codes were fed for her to perform her duties and to be shown as another addition to the art collection – there is here a nod from me to Tilda Swinton’s description of the character in her interview in the very instructive Extra Features of the disc. Through this love affair not only she becomes a woman in her fullness, but also, like a mirror, we watch the slow vanishing of a social class, anachronistic in the global dimensions that capitalism has taken in the 21st century. Yet, here, there is a further nod to the Visconti of The Leopard and, particularly, to Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s description of the need for everything to change for everything to remain the same.

However, as the curtain closes on the final act, shot like an mise en scene of a Greek tclassic ragedy, another curtain is raised half way up as Eva’s hand touches her baby through her belly as she calls in succession .to the family members, only Betta responding with compassion, adding to the sense of her exclusion in the hospital Is there darker implications to this hand, to the fortunes of this family?

I have to pay special mention to the cinematography of this film, particularly to the intelligent camera work which is able to capture both the voluptuousness and sensuality of this world, and that of Milan, and simultaneously to convey the uneasiness that underlines it. Absolutely brilliant!

 I Am Love, a truly glorious, intelligent and mesmerizing cinematic jewel, with the feeling of a contemporary opera, that puts to shame many recent British productions. Judging by this film, Italian cinema is indeed in robust health.

Writer-Director: Luca Guadagnino
Producer-Star: Tilda Swinton
Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Diane Fleri, Edoardo Gabbriellini, Flavio Parenti, Marisa Berenson, Pippo Delbono, Tilda Swinton
Italy 2009 120 mins Cert 15

DVD UK Release date: 6th September 2010

  • Audio Commentary by Writer-Director Luca Guadagnino and Producer-Star Tilda Swinton
  • Interviews with Cast & Crew: Exploring the film’s inception, development, funding and casting
  • Moments on Set: Detailing the trials, tribulations and tender moments of the production process
  • Official UK Theatrical Trailer

Stills and trailer © Metrodome Distribution

Tuesday, 24 August 2010


London Population: 7 Million. Until Today.

The Last Seven starts with this tag line as the aerial camera floats over a city, Norman Foster’s iconic Gherkin tower identifying it as London. The lens pans down and focuses onto the figure of a man lying down in the street, then onto his arm, on his watch, which stops at 7.36 precisely, to mimic the speaking clock (in fact, this film could well have been called 7.36, as this stopped watch is one of the key clues that finally unravels the whole of the story). It looks like to be early morning. He gets up, looks around, and starts walking. There is no one around, yet all the traffic lights seem to be working normally. The city is eerily silent. The man, in his mid thirties and well dressed, just walks and walks, looking for any sign of life. At one point, he jumps in front of a CCTV camera, and vandalizes a car to attract attention. Nothing happens. There is no one. Something is not as it should be. Is he the last man on earth? The city, usually so familiar and reassuring, has become a dangerous and unknown place. A figure, no more than a shadow, runs past the top of the elevators as the man goes down into a tube station.

The hand held camera adds to this atmosphere of uncertainty, interrupted by short flashes of a newspaper cut out pinned onto a wall, depicting the smiling face of a young girl, a kidnap case, blood spills over it, then religious (Christian) symbols, and what seems to be bomb making equipment. However, the flashes are too fast for us to really know what is happening.

The man hears a voice in the distance, singing. He runs towards it, climbing the stairs until he gets onto the terrace of a building. He is not alone, he meets Henry, an older man in a pin stripped suit, drinking cognac. Then, other people comes up there, a teenager, Chloe. Then we realize that they have all lost their memories, no one is sure of who they are, or were. One of them is in army fatigues, who seems to have the rank of sergeant. He has an army issue gun in his hands. Flashes of lost memories are constantly thrown onto the screen. Something has happened that led to the current situation, as we catch glimpses of one of the survivors, who seemed to be a government minister – played superbly by John Mawson (why most government ministers are portrayed in British cinema as if they were Tories? Haven’t filmmakers heard of a home secretary called Alan Johnson?), discussing a crisis when riding in his ministerial car. We also learn that the young girl, in her late teens, only wanted her daddy to be with her for her birthday, but that was not to be, as their family was not a normal family, the country always comes first – is she the daughter of the minister?

The cleverness of this film resides in the fact that at not any moment we have a clear picture of what is actually happening. The ordinary has become extraordinary, the dramatic tension just keeps building up. Has the entire population of London been wiped out? Has the military cordoned off the city, and set up a no fly zone above it? What was it? A bio attack, or a dirty bomb?The hand held camera adds to this sense of uncertainty, this sense of the familiar having been utterly transformed into a strange and dangerous place in its ordinariness, as the group dynamic flickers between complete distrust –is the guy in the army fatigues with the gun really a soldier? – and the need to stick together as a group to face any possible threat. The bloodied image of a girl, the same girl we saw at the beginning in that newspaper cut out, flickers on and off the screen, her hand dripping blood, a sad smile on her face. Add to this mixture a deeply religious man, praying in a church, who joined this small band, and the shadow lurking in the background taking them slowly but surely one by one, the Angel of Death.

The film unravels suddenly, all the clues constantly been thrown to us fall then into their places, in an end which is completely unexpected.

The filmmakers have succeeded in creating with The Last Seven a well crafted and tense thriller which feels that every penny invested in it has been squeezed dry, touching on issues of guilt, redemption, and religious extremism, attention to detail being prevalent, the acting being particularly strong. I would have not believed that it was shot with a low budget. Not a single frame was wasted, the tension is kept throughout and beyond its duration, behind every familiar corner lurks an unfamiliar world. I find it difficult now to face the city, as I do not know what I am going to encounter around that corner.

Finally, it is good to see in a film that religious extremism is not only confined to Islamic fundamentalism. The Last Seven attempts to redress this particular issue.

Director: Imran Naqvi
Writer: John Stanley
Cast: Tamer Hassan, Simon Phillips, Danny Dyer, Sebastian Street, Daisy Head, Ronan Vibert, Rita Ramnani, John Mawson
DVD Release date: 30th August 2010
Running time: 84 minutes
Cert: 18

Stills and trailer © Metrodome Distribution.

Monday, 23 August 2010

LEBANON DVD reviewed

Lebanon is an emotionally intense film. It is about war, it is not a war film. It is a slap on the face, a tableaux about what war is like on both sides of the guns drawn from the guts. It produced conflicting emotions in me when I was watching it. If that was the intention of its director, Samuel Maoz, he certainly succeeded.

Director/writer: Samuel Maoz
Cast: Reymond Amsalem, Ashraf Barhom, Oshri Cohen, Yoav Donat, Guy Kapulnik, Michael Moshonov, Zohar Shtrauss, Dudu Tassa, Itay Tiran
Israel/France/Lebanon/Germany 2009 93 mins

Lebanon begins with a wide angle shot of a field covered with withering sunflowers, which are soon disturbed by a strong gust of wind, an indication of what is to come. The final scene depicts the same field, this time the sunflowers being disturbed by the presence of a tank.

One of the first impressions I had was to notice that this tank was a wreck, even before going into battle, as we watch the reflection of a soldier getting into it down the hatch on a mix of water, machine oil and rubbish laying at the bottom of the turret. This adds credibility to those military strategists who have argued that wars are not won by the most competent army, but by the least incompetent one.

The film follows the life of a tank crew for a few intense and claustrophobic hours in June 1982, at the beginning of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, four young men trapped in this oil stained urine smelling steel coffin that some people call a tank. We are not spared any of the brutalities of that conflict nor the savage damage inflicted not only on the hapless civilians and so-called terrorists we see through the cross wire of the tank guns, but also on the inexperienced young conscripts. The senseless destruction of a town, the wanton killing of civilians, women, children, old people with primordial hatred in their eyes, caught in the cross fire, people who only wanted to carry on with their lives, as we all do. We see how in a matter of hours gunners who had shot only blanks before are confronted with life and death decisions, the results of those decisions are not pretty. Not pretty at all: simply and plainly, they are war crimes. We also see the euphemisms employed by the Israeli army to circumvent international legislation, so phosphorous shells are called Flaming Smoke because Israel complies with international law.

The film is constructed as an interplay between what we see from the cross wire of the guns - like if we were in a video game, the stark and bloody reality beyond the confines of the tank turret, and extreme close ups of the faces of the young soldiers, their raw and conflicting emotions erupting to the surface. We practically can smell the sweat and raw despair of both the conscripts and the blood of their hapless victims. Technological warfare is no longer so clinical, as the military tries to make us believe. The reality is that the blood of a child killed by a blast of that tank would have stained the lives of its crew for ever.

To have put four young and inexperienced conscripts, complete strangers, poorly trained, and expect them to perform like a well oiled team in the madness, chaos and brutality of armed conflict was plain stupidity, the tank commander being barely able to establish any sign of authority and military discipline to his subordinates. Add to this volatile mix the fact that the tank was already a wreck before it was commissioned into this mission; it was a miracle that it managed to stumble to safety with the loss of just one member of its crew after a frantic run to end up on that field of withered sunflowers. Jalim, the commander of the platoon of paratroopers to which the tank had been assigned, leads his men into an area controlled by a Syrian army unit either by having faulty intelligence, or having misread it. This war is no longer a walk in the park, as he claimed at the beginning of the operation.

If the whole of the IDF have conducted their wars as depicted in this film, then the whole of the IDF, soldiers and officers, should be indicted of war crimes. Yet, the counter argument is that when young and inexperienced reservists and conscripts are put into situations such as this, where their options are severely curtailed if they want to get out alive, where their ways out are shrouded in darkness, they cannot behave in any other manner that they way they did, war crimes or not. The buck has entirely been passed onto the hands of the political classes, and it should stay there.

I will take this occasion to rebuke all those reviewers who criticized it for not expanding onto the wider landscape of the endless conflicts that have afflicted the Middle East. First of all, to have done so would have resulted in an extremely long and practically unwatchable film, its central and powerful narrative would have been diluted. Secondly, and more important, Lebanon fixes its gaze on the inner mechanisms and psychology of war, not on dry theorizing, by focusing on the daily lives of a bunch of complete strangers which constitutes the crew of an Israeli tank during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, one of the many endless wars that the Israeli political classes have embarked in their quest for a Greater Israel, a concept that is now as much a myth as El Dorado was in the 16th century. Wars carried out regardless of the blood spilled by their own soldiers, without counting the huge civilian body count on the other side, whichever it may be. The consequences? An ever expanding circle of fire, an endlessly enemy making machine which has made not only Israel more insecure, but also the West.

The disc also contains an optional commentary by the director and scriptwriter of the film, Samuel Maoz, a rather short but useful historical background of the conflict, and statements from Samuel Maoz, producers, photographer and actors of Lebanon. There is also the option of getting a free digital copy of the film to be watched in any portable device. The usual set up choices are also present.

Lebanon is an extraordinary psychologically gripping drama which defies the conventions of cinema making by developing story and character building in unbearable second by unbearable second. The camera follows the faces of the protagonists with a powerful chiaroscuro, highlighting the raw emotions of the actors who, by the end, had stopped acting to become the intensity of those feelings of despair and impotence, to the counterpoint of the sparse musical score. A film that kept me on the edge of my seat muttering to myself throughout its duration like a madman, a work of redemption for its director and writer, Samuel Maoz. Not recommended for those people of faint heart.

Images and trailer © Metrodome Distribution.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Baarìa reviewed

Written and directed by Academy Award® Winner Giuseppe Tornatore (CINEMA PARADISO).

Tornatore’s Baarìa, a broad brush sweep of 20th century Italian history, follows the adventures of Peppino from childhood to old age in the Sicilian town of Baarìa, his encounters with fascism and WW2. It also charts his raise, and that of the town, from poverty to relative riches as a politician and member of the Italian Communist Party (“Signora, if we, communists, eat babies, I promise I won’t eat yours” was one of his campaigning lines – alluding to the “red under the bed” hysteria of those years).

Magic realism Italian style defines this film, with cinematic references to Fellini, Bertolucci and American classic Westerns, particularly with those slow long lens panning shots on the town from a raised camera, the musical score also reminiscent of Westerns. Some of the scenes brought to my mind Fellini’s Amarcord, as the town life is seen through the eyes of the child Peppino.

An extraordinary sound track, bringing to the screen all the vivid sounds of a Sicilian small town in the midst of last century. The power of it was such that it nearly brought the smells of Baarìa to my nose (perhaps what it did was to rekindle those smells from my past, buried deep in one of the crannies of my memory), the paste being cooked, the freshly baked bread, the farm odours too, the unwashed feet.

I am sure that the film will be criticized for being somewhat misty eyed; as the fascists are characterized as a bunch of clowns, although the scenes of the inhabitants making fun of them are quite hilarious. If that criticism is made, it would not be totally fair, as it also depicts the landless farm hands being beaten and killed by the big farmers and their friends, the black shirts. There are also scenes hinting at the endemic corruption of Sicilian small town local politics. The structure of the film somewhat alludes, on this respect, to that of Bertolucci’s Novecento, although the tone of Baarìa is less politically shaded.

I laughed, I cried and I just felt good at being alive by watching this film. I feast to the senses.

The Andromeda Strain (USA 1971)

Director: Robert Wise, based on the novel by Michael Crichton
Cast: Arthur Hill, David Wayne, James Olson, Kate Reid, Paula Kelly

When I first saw this film, in the big screen, during the early 70s, it left a deep impression on me. I re-watched it again last night (a video recording going wrong), and all its potency and tension remained there, nearly 40 years later. I watched every single minute of The Andromeda Strain on the edge of my seat, although I still remembered the story line, it is that powerful, gripping, and pertinent today.

The film (and the novel I guess, although I have not read it) plays with the paranoia and the sense of cynicism regarding the secret state, the government and the cold war that permeated the American cultural life on those years: the Vietnam war was already on its last legs, the bombing of Cambodia (eventually leading to the Khmer Rouge victory in 1975), the flower revolution was on the wane and being replaced by that cynicism.

Nuclear armament (Dr Strangelove) here has been replaced by germ warfare, as a NASA recovery team in the Nevada desert search for a returning satellite, finding instead a small town deserted, all its inhabitants dead. They quickly follow that fate. The state machinery went into overdrive, on the name of “national security”, the area is cordoned off, a nuclear bombwas proposed to be dropped off on it to obliterate any sign of the epidemic, and a germ warfare team is quickly assembled. There are scenes here of armed soldiers waiting as military personnel collect the medical and scientific members of that team: the wife of one of those scientists attempts to phone her father, a Senator, to find that the communication was cut off for “national security reasons”, in other word, her being virtually ‘incommunicado’. The secret state is in action. The satellite was eventually recovered by two scientists wearing space-like suits, together with two survivors: a baby and an old man, a wino.

The race to find out what killed the population of this small town began ( what is the common link between the baby and the old man?), leading to the suspicion that what the satellite brought from space was not an extra terrestrial germ, but an experimental virus like form designed for germ warfare by the American military and its scientists. An experiment that went wrong – as usually these things go.

The film is able to sustain that tension all the way through, with humorous scenes thrown in and it dwells into the cracks appearing in that scientific team working in a secret research and containment laboratory buried deep in the Nevada desert, its entrance hidden behind an innocuous Department of Agriculture farm façade. Its subject is as relevant nowadays as it was then.

Regrettably, Robert Wise had to throw in the chase so ubiquitous on blockbusters, even then, the stage for the all American hero to shine, this time persecuted not by Russian or Al Qaida villains, but by laser guns. The ending of The Andromeda Strain has a too moralistic and closed ending. It would have worked better without it, leaving just a question mark behind... I suspect that, after all these years, my mind blanked out that ending, and just left the question mark.

Friday, 30 July 2010


Murder! British style.

Oh, the glamorous life of a British gangster!

A guitar playing Yoga practitioner mafia boss reminiscing of the free love swinging 60s between interminable cups of tea, decorating the breakfast room and burying the bodies of their latest victims? The flower revolution in free fall? A down trodden terraced house in Brighton, badly needing a lick of paint, at least? A suspected grass shutting himself down in a bedroom in fear (justified) of his life, yet the ‘baddies’ refusing to kick the door down as it is Victorian? A family, both in the sense of a criminal fraternity and a blood related one, destroying itself in a fit of paranoia? An ending which is apparently closed, but in reality being as open as they come?

All of these are found in British thriller Down Terrace, a low budget family based film just released, a thriller different to any other I have seen. The theme underlying it is the paranoia that fuel the self-destruction of a family, and issues such as family bonds and hierarchy, betrayal, all the simmering tensions found in any suburban family coupled with those emanating from their criminal activities.

The first scene shows two men coming out of the Law Court building, a street sign in the foreground indicating, ominously, the way to the Police. We soon learn that they are Karl, just acquitted, and his father, Bill, the boss of the Brighton underworld. If I had met someone such as Karl in the street, I would have thought that he was an accountant rather than a hardened criminal - certainly he has dreams of being just a normal dad when he learns that Valda, his girlfriend, is pregnant. Will he be? Maggie, his mother and Bill’s wife, herself the daughter of a gangster as it is hinted at in the film, is at first a silent figure in the background, cleaning the mess made by the men, an impression produced by the tone of Bill’s voice when he asks her to make a cup of tea when they get to the reception gathering in their terraced house, soon turn out to be very much in the thick of things, a motherly figure with the blackest of souls.

They ponder who grassed Karl to the police, not realizing that, by doing so, they pressed the family’s self-destruction button. And what a self-destruction it was! From this low key beginning the intensity of the tension increases, between dashes of dark humour and comic situations, some of them being intentionally quite ridiculous, until the utterly unexpected climax... which is open.

Which poses the question: Could Down Terrace be the British Godfather?

The first characteristic of Down Terrace that struck me was how wordy it is: every space, every frame, every scene, is filled with words, the dialogue flickering between the deadly serious to the most banal, even when preceding a murder, British style. The second characteristic was how home bound it is, claustrophobic: most of the action, structured around the suspicion underlying the vibrant dialogue, develops either in the sitting, the breakfast room or in a bedroom. The third characteristic is that the story is told in sharp scenes, akin cinematic tableaux, each of them with a defined mood. These traits makes me think that this film could also work quite well on the stage.

The mood vibrates between the homely – such as when Maggie, the mother, undoes the tie knot of his son, Karl, after returning from the court – to the paranoid – when the family tries to work out who the informer (or informers) may have been, to the dark shadows of murder, some of them being actually comical in their execution, which left me wondering how this lot could have ever been successful as a criminal gang. Perhaps that explains their worries about London’s reaction to their underperforming operation, the visit of the London man being sinister in his understated appearance, particularly when, leaving, he has a short chat with Maggie – who turns as being as powerful as Bill in the local hierarchy, as she has the key to glue the whole family together.

The sound track brilliantly underscores the changing moods of Down Terrace, from the folksy to the paranoid, whilst the camera work conveys initially a sense of claustrophobic unease becoming increasingly tense as the film progresses.

Down Terrace in many ways subverts and redefines the genre. Gone are the glamour and machismo, having being replaced by the shoddiness of kitchen sink social realism and a black humour typically British. 

Brilliantly sharp, witty and original.

Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Robin Hill, Ben Wheatley
Cast: Julia Deakin, Robert Hill, Robin Hill, Mark Kempner, Kerry Peacock, Kaly Peacock, David Schaal, Michael Smiley, Tony Way, Sara Dee
Original music: Jim Williams 

 At the ICA from July 30th to August 15th | ICA Cinema

Released in the UK on Friday 30th July 2010

Images and trailer © Metrodome Distribution.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema reviewed

Dir: Ralph Ziman   S. Africa   2010   1hr 59mins

Rehashing that old saying, the road to cinematic hell is paved with good intentions and bad films. I am afraid that Gansgter's Paradise: Jerusalema clearly falls into this category, in spite of Ralph Ziman's awoved aims of exploring the new Southafrica, where freedom fighters became gangsters, and the promised land did not materialize.

The main issue with this raw film is that it is trying to be too many thinks at once, and it does not succed in any of those. To be able to cinematically explore the complexities of life in the post-apartheid Southafrica requireds story telling and filming that are not present here. To have a clear view of what is going wrong with society is not enough to make a good film. Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema does not clearly explores the New Africa, is overlong, overwrought, badly filmed, and bad entertainment. It does not work in any level.

It ended up as a badly shot American gangster film set in Southafrica, with a few Zulu songs and dance added to give it a local character, and some appaling special effects which do nothing for the story telling.I found the quasi-didactic overtone of the voiceover to be particularly annoying.

I am afraid that this film does not deserve a longer review.

Friday, 2 July 2010

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN review/comments

I was so incensed about what has come out on the American remake of Let the Right One In, that I watched it again last night, for the 3rd or 4th time, I just do not remember. Every time I see it, I find some other delights in it, it is that kind of film: there is texture in it, not only a mechanically developed plot.

Lina Leandersson gives her character, Eli, that very endearing mix of tenderness and harshness, of the 12 year old girl who has being 12 for a long time, and who does not know if she is a she or a he (I understand that in the book, which I haven't read, Eli is actually a boy). Lina was able to give Eli this aura of androgyny that I doubt that Chloë Moretz can, the short trailer I saw is already indicating so.

Let the Right One In has that rare quality of being able to be read at several levels, an immediate one being that of high quality entertainment, a tense and gripping film which made me wanting not to miss any single frame of it, an atomic bomb could be exploding next to me and I still would continue watching it; and yet is a tender portrayal of the pains of growing up, if you allow me this cliché, of the insecurities about our place in the world, of the need to carve our niches; and about the gradual development of love and the acceptance of the other, in this case the vampire Eli. It is crucial for her that she has to be let in, otherwise she dies, as Oskar leans in a rather cruel scene, regretting his attitude later on.

The portrayal Eli is different to that of any other cinematic vampire, as she is pained for what she has to do, for her to live means the death of others, the opposite attitude of Oskar, who is already harbouring dreams of psycopathic murder, and yet, he still has that choice which is denied to her; and her lasting tenderness for her companions in her long never ending life, never being able to develop, imprisoned in the mind and body of a teenager who longs to be like anybody else is, and she can't, defines her uniqueness in the hagiography of vampires. The scenes where she gets sick after eating a sweet offered to her by Oskar, or when she refuses the offer of the Rubik cube (which she was able to solve in minutes) because she has no birthdays, not any longer, and therefore no presents, are indicative of this longing for having a life as anybody else, and her inability to do so: cats go berserk when  she is their vicinity, not counting the fact that she is nocturnal.

The poetic of longing is what defines this film, Oskar's psychopathic impulses to kill his tormentors at school are also a manifestation of his longing to have a normal life free of bullying, or the longing of those characters in a working class Swedish housing estate to some undefined goal that themselves do not know but it is still there hanging in their minds, and the longing for the sometimes horror of life to end. From this point of view, there is an exploration of the inner working of social groups, either at Oskar's school or in the housing estate outside Stockolm, and the psychopathic mind.

I reject the criticism uttered from some quarters that Tomas Alfredson exploited Lina Leandersson, criticism which, frankly, I don't understand. Is it because there some indication of nudity, although Lina is never, and I repeat that word, never shown naked in the film? Th only scene which could be construed to be exploitative, a dark and fast shot of Eli's frontal nudity when putting on a dress, a doll was used.

Don't take me wrong, this is not a depressing film, it made me laugh, cry, and, most importantly, feel the poetic of longing, the cinematography reinforcing this atmosphere. The tantalizing open ending adding to this feeling.

I fear that all these qualities will be lost in Let Me In, the American remake of the film. For one thing, Chloë Moretz is too fulsome an American girl, and too much of a female, to be able to convey the complexities and androgynous character of Eli, or Abby.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

10 Rillington Place

Last night I re-watched Richard Fleischer's 10 Rillington Place, a film which I first saw in the late 70s at the then called Hull Library Theatre. It is one of those films that, when seen, remains ingrained in the mind, at least it did so in mine. Fortunately, it was shown on TV many years ago and had the foresight of videotaping it. Unfortunately, the video tape is now finished, broken.

For those of you who haven't seen it, it follows a real life serial murder case in London during the 40s and 50s, which resulted in the wrong man having been convicted and hanged. Richard Attenborough, what a fine actor he is, was absolutely brilliant as the sinister John Reginald Christie, the serial killer, who we first see in action one dark night in 1944, during the last stages of the war, sweet talking to a young woman for then to proceed to murder her by gas and strangulation. Rape is not shown, but it effect is even more devastating by having been left out. We presume that the young woman may have gone to him after the sweet Mr Christie offered her to get rid of the unwanted child she was carrying, a common occurrence during the war. We see another woman foot sticking out of the ground in his back yard when Christie is burying her body.

The action then moves forward to 1949, during post war austerity, when a young couple, Timothy Evans and his wife Beryl rent the flat on the top of his house in 10 Rillington Place.Timothy Evans, who is unable to read and write and who is, apparently, mentally deficient, young John Hurt's performance conveying the nuances of the character with deep conviction, is involved in constant rows with Beryl, a young and charming Judy Geeson playing the part,  after she discloses that she is expecting another baby. Money is short, we know that they had to move downwards from a river front flat, so row after row ensue.

Sweet talking John Christie convinces Beryl that he can help her to get rid of the baby. Murder and rape follows. Timothy is talked over by Christie, and runs away as he believed that Beryl's death, which he believed was caused by an abortion gone wrong, will be pinned on him. Geraldine, the older baby, is left behind as he also believed that a couple known to Christie was going to take care of her. Of course, that couple did not exist, and the child is also strangulated

To cut the story short, Timothy Evans, his conscience bugging him, gives himself up in Cardiff. Christie manipulated the facts and his testimony during the trial in such a way that Evans is found guilty of the murders, and he is executed. Many years later, as Christie, after murdering his own wife as she knows too much, is forced to sell the house as money dried up - no one wants to rent a flat in a house where murders happened, is caught as the new West Indian owners of 10 Rillington Place discovered the bodies of some of his murder victims behind a panel.

Christie is finally arrested and hanged. We know little of what made him to commit those murders, one after the other, apart from hints of repressed sexuality behind that smooth talk and sweet face of a gentleman. The film is even more blood curling because of that, because of us knowing very little of his background, apart from the disclosure during the trial that he had several convictions for petty crimes and violence. We also know that, as a soldier, he was gassed during WWI.

It made me for years to look with suspicion at people in the street, including my own neighbours.

10 Rillington Place is based on a book by Ludovic Kennedy.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Rebecca Hall and Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn

This morning I finished re-reading Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn, originally published in 1984. Mary Wesley knew how to tell a  story, a story of unfulfilled love and loss, a story of hope, and the glory of life. This is a story about a funeral in Cornwall of a Jewish violinist, a refugee from Nazi Germany. Funerals mean reminiscences. About the break of the war, the blitz, the loss of innocence, the need to have another human body next to yours, whoever that body was, because tomorrow could evaporate in the dust and fire of the next bomb.

Mary Wesley have told me more about the daily life during the blitz in London than all the other books and news footage from that time.

A 9 year old Rebecca Hall, who is currently in the cinemas in Please Give, played the part of Sophie, the beautiful Eurasian child with the slanted eyes and the enigmatic face, in the 1992 TV series of the book, directed by Rebecca's father, Sir Peter Hall.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Israeli film Lebanon reviewed

Lebanon is an extraordinary film. It is about war, it is not a war film. It produced intense and conflicting emotions in me when I was watching it. If that was the intention of its director, Samuel Maoz, he certainly succeeded.

I will take this occasion to rebuke all those reviewers who criticized it for not expanding onto the wider landscape of the endless conflicts that have afflicted the Middle East. First of all, to have done so would have resulted in an extremely long and practically unwatchable film, its central and powerful narrative would have been diluted. Secondly, and more important, Lebanon fixes its gaze on the inner mechanisms and psychology of war, not on dry theorizing, by focusing on the daily lives of a bunch of complete strangers which constitutes the crew of an Israeli tank during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, one of the many endless wars that the Israeli political classes have embarked in their quest for a Greater Israel, a concept that is now as much a myth as El Dorado was in the 16th century. Wars carried out regardless of the blood spilled by their own soldiers, without counting the huge civilian body count on the other side, whichever it may be. The consequences? An ever expanding circle of fire, an endlessly enemy making machine which has made not only Israel more insecure, but also the West.

Lebanon begins with a wide angle shot of a sunflower field, withered sunflowers, which are soon disturbed by a strong gust of wind, an indication of what is to come. The final scene is shot in the same field, the sunflowers being disturbed this time by the presence of a tank. One of the first impressions I had was to notice that this tank was a wreck, before going into battle, as the soldiers getting into it down the hatch step into a mix of water, machine oil and rubbish laying at the bottom of the cabin. This adds credibility to those military strategists who have argued that wars are not won by the most competent army, but by the least incompetent one.

To have put four young and inexperienced conscripts, complete strangers, poorly trained, an expect them to perform like a well oiled team in the madness, chaos and brutality of armed conflict was plain stupidity, the tank commander being barely able to establish any sign of authority and military discipline to his subordinates. Add to this volatile mix the fact that the tank was already a wreck before it was commissioned into this mission; it was a miracle that it managed to stumble to safety with the loss of just one member of its crew after a frantic run to end up on that field of withered sunflowers. Jalim, the commander of the platoon of paratroopers to which the tank had been assigned, leads his men into an area controlled by a Syrian army unit either by having faulty intelligence, or having misread it. This war is no longer a walk in the park.

The myth of Israeli military infallibility is over. By sign posting that reality, Lebanon may well be indicating to the Israeli society that the road for peace, stability and security lays elsewhere.

In between, we follow the lives of these four young men trapped in this oil stained urine smelling steel coffin that some people call a tank. We see how in a matter of hours gunners who had shot only blanks before are confronted with life and death decisions, the results of those decisions are not pretty. Not pretty at all: simply and plainly, they are war crimes. We also see the euphemisms employed by the Israeli army to circumvent international legislation, so phosphorous shells are no longer called so. If the whole of the IDF have conducted their wars as depicted in this film, then the whole of the IDF, soldiers and officers, should be indicted of war crimes.

Yet, the counter argument is that when young and inexperienced soldiers are put into situations such as this, where their options are severely curtailed if they want to get out alive, where their ways out are shrouded in darkness, they cannot behave in any other manner that they way they did, war crimes or not. The buck has entirely been passed onto the hands of the political classes, and it should stay there.

As I said at the beginning, this is an extraordinary psychologically gripping drama in all its aspects,: story line, acting, cinematography, music; a film that kept me at the edge of my seat muttering to myself throughout its duration like a madman. Not recommended for those people who have a faint heart.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010


Four Lions is a comedy, it is not a political film.  It does not try to be controversial for the sake of it, although its subject may be considered as such by many, as some of the press it has received indicates. On the other hand, Chris Morris was aware of the controversial nature of the script, and trod a careful path in its realization.

Four Lions is not defending, or attacking, terrorism. At least, not directly. It is much more effective than that, as it makes fun out of them, out of the whole war on terror farce. In doing so, it exposes the utter ridiculousness , ignorance and stupidity of not only so many would be bombers, but also of the security and political establishment  - one of its hilarious scenes is set in the charade of a meeting to fight terrorism, an incongruous well bred politician, probably Tory, utterly scared in the midst of his Muslim constituents.

The film tells the story of four lions, our heroes, are four young clueless British Muslin men, including a white convert, who decide to take action in defence of the Ummah, the community of brothers and sisters of Islam, to become soldiers of their faith. The problem, and the laughs, come from the fact that our cubs (rather than lions) are as bright as two planks. We just follow their misadventures rolling one after the other as they attempt to carry out a suicide bombing. If lions are like these lost souls, no wonder that they are near extinction.

The film is also a parody of recent American studio produced blockbusters treading on a similar line, with its beautifully produced shots of charismatic heroes flying unscathed in the air whilst exploding cars miraculously do not touch a single hair out of place, the baddies portrayed as possessing sophisticated weaponry while the forces of law and order excel in their duties. None of this is found in Four Lions: what we got here is a would be terrorist crow being blown by the bomb strapped to it, whilst one of the would be mumbling bombers had to be picked up in bits in a black bin liner after blowing himself up, and a sheep, as he lost his way in a field, his head falling later from a tree onto the path of an unsuspecting man walking his dog. We witness the absurd situation of the imam who refuses to walk into a room because there is a woman in it, even more, a woman who answers back. The utter predictability and boredom of suburbia and terrorism has indeed comic potential.

We are indeed into a home grown version of the territory exposed by films, and books, such as The Men Who Stare at Goats, although I would call it in this case as The Jihadist Crows. We see the presumably MI5 agent pretending that the container  where both him and his prisoner are is Egyptian territory, a container located in the middle of an industrial warehouse somewhere in an industrial estate as he interrogates, and threatens, his Muslim suspect, who actually opposes violence, with the horrors of the tortures waiting for him in the hands of the barbarian Egyptian hordes waiting outside. A suspect brought in after a bungled raid carried out by a clueless police in a suspected house, when the actual would be bombers where to be found next door.

Hopefully, if all Islamic extremists are as inept as our four lions are, the possibilities of an effective terrorist attack in Britain are not as great as politicians have made us to believe. However, these hopes are dashed if the police is as inept as depicted in this film. I am sure that some readers will raise an eyebrow on the wisdom of such a statement. Well, let them be, although I would just remind them that we are inhabiting a land populated by people who stare at goats, or those who train crows to be bombers.  Not mentioning the soldier of Islam who accidentally blows up Osama Bin Laden in a training camp in mountainous Pakistan as he is not able to distinguish his arse from his elbow, or the back from the front of a RPG, as he tries to shoot down an American drone plane, or the police markman who cannot distinguish a bear.

In fact, no one comes out well in this film, not even us, the audience, as we laugh our heads off as we see completely incompetent terrorists blowing themselves up, or totally clueless police officers shooting at the wrong man. To those people who object to suicide bombers becoming the subject of a comedy, I say that this is precisely the kind of issue that we need to make fun of, to expose the ridiculousness and stupidity of their actions.

Four Lions is not a flawless film, its rhythm tends to plod on between the gags, and the rawness of a limited resourced home grown production is very much in evidence. The actors are brilliant in conveying the earthiness, language and nuances of working class British Muslim lives in suburbia, down to the depiction of a rapping terrorist.