Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The four Times

The four Times (2010)
Director:Michelangelo Frammartino
Runtime:88 min

A story of anarchic goats, lively spiritual celebrations and reincarnation, Michaelangelo Frammartino’s “Le Quattro Volte” (which won the Europa Cinemas Label in Cannes’s Directors’ Fortnight) has a heavy philosophical load. Nevertheless, this painstakingly constructed, quasi-documentary about a shepherd and the flock where he’s eventually reborn maintains an unexpectedly playful sensibility on its own terms.

The story of sorts takes place in the quaint area of Italy’s Calabria province, where the elderly shepherd (Giuseppe Fuda) goes about his quiet existence while his impending death looms. Frammartino slowly brings us into the world, following the shepherd on his routine until his death somewhere around the end of the first act.

Then, a revelation: The director positions a camera overlooking the goats’ holding pen and watches a series of increasingly strange events gradually develop. The result is one of the most fascinating long takes ever put on screen. Patient viewers will be rewarded with a slapstick punchline as the goats run wild across the town, eventually invading their shepherd’s home as he breathes his final breath. When he finally does die, the lunacy comes down to Earth as fast as it arrived.

But things quickly turn cosmic. The shepherd’s body is placed in a tomb, the movie cuts to black, the sound of a heartbeat slips onto the soundtrack and suddenly a shot of sheep birth fills the frame. The not-so-subtle reincarnation, however, leads to a stream of subtle moments. Baby sheep wander around the farm and play together as if they were a pack of preschoolers. They then embark on a lengthy voyage through the wilderness that culminates with one of them getting separated from the pack. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, or at least just go “aww” a few times, because “Le Quattro Volte” is cinema at its most primal, yet simultaneously contains a wealth of ideas.

Frammartino keeps the material engaging simply by aiming the camera at his subjects and letting the material organically emerge—rather than enforcing the supernatural element with overstatement. The final equation has a Zen quality to it, as Frammartino cycles through a quartet of mini-stories that find new characters in increasingly unlikely places: First man, then sheep, followed by the dead of winter and eventually a Good Friday celebration. In the closing sequence, a rising fume becomes the real star of the show. Given its grandiose dimensions, it speaks to Frammartino’s humility that he allows the entire concept to go up in smoke and let the visuals complete the cycle of life. ..

by Eric Kohn

Sunday, June 26, 2011

We're All Christs (2006)

We're All Christs (2006)
Director:Marek Koterski
Country: Poland
Runtime: 105 min

ward-winning Polish director Marek Koterski takes an unflinching look at the pathological effects of severe alcoholism on familial relationships in the no-holds-barred drama We're All Christs (Wszyscy jestes'my Chrystusami). The story concerns Adas (played at ages 33 and 55 by Andrzej Chyra, and Marek Kondrat, respectively), a father caught in the web of alcohol addiction passed down from the generations before him. The disease once threatened to destroy his own relationship with his young son. Now, after admitting his own problem and experiencing therapy and rehabilitation, Adas takes the first steps toward a challenging reconnection with his family and attempts to rebuild long-decimated bonds. As a lapsed Roman Catholic, he begins to turn toward the faith that he shunned as a youth, and recognizes the necessity of turning away from the evil, abusive legacy of his father on earth and toward his Heavenly Father as a far-superior alternative. In the end, his Catholicization will partially entail turning to Christ as a role model by assuming responsibility for his own earthly burdens (and thus, taking up his cross).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Man Who Quit Smoking (1972)

The Man Who Quit Smoking (1972)
Director:Tage Danielsson
Runtime:104 min

Young Dante Alighieri inherits 17 million of his father the sausage maker on one condition - he has to give up smoking in 14 days. But the days go on and he simply can't quit. He hires a detective agency to physically stop him. He has an uncle, who inherits the money if Dante fails, and the uncle tries to keep him smoking. Written by Mattias Thuresson

Monday, June 20, 2011


Director:Margarethe von Trotta
Country: Germany
Runtime: 106

Aside from the obvious power of Barbara Sukowa's central performance, much of what is best in Margarethe von Trotta's "Vision" lies just beneath the surface. Entirely of a piece with the writer-director's various feminist-angled dramas, historical and otherwise, the film exalts the diverse accomplishments of the 12th-century Benedictine nun Hildegard von Bingen in a manner that is deeply serious but not austere in the Dreyer or Bresson mold. The very nature of the subject will limit commercial options to the rarefied art realm, theatrically and otherwise.

Outwardly, the picture examines what it took for a nun to dramatically expand her range of interests and activities into such realms as holistic medicine, scientific inquiry, music and drama, in addition to being sanctioned for expressing her "visions" of the Lord's word, at a time when women of the cloth were not even allowed to preach. If secular as well as religious sainthood were possible, von Trotta would surely advance her film as a nomination brief in both categories.

Often angering the brothers at the Disibodenberg cloister by disputing their authority, Hildegard (Sukowa, in her fifth film with the director) does whatever it takes to get her way. This is a woman with a very special feel for how the levers of power work within the church hierarchy and, in quietly suggesting that she may have resorted to such grand subterfuges as feigning illness and near-death to achieve her ends, von Trotta would seem to be indicating, and endorsing, the "by any manipulation necessary" approach that her heroine -- and, by extension, any woman -- was obliged to employ.

Cheekily beginning with a brief prologue showing how the end-of-the-world predictions of certain fin de millennium Christians proved unreliable, this episodic presentation of the life of a woman who lived 81 years jumps from her being "given to God as a gift" to the order at a young age to, 30 years later, being elected magistra. Setting herself apart from sisterly docility by her thirst for the wisdom of the ancients, interest in being at one with nature, and disdain for the locally popular sport of self-flagellation, Hildegard really puts the abbot's rosary in knots by announcing that she receives messages from God via clarifying visions.

Forced to present her case before a distinctly unsympathetic panel, the fearless and articulate Hildegard prevails by appealing to the pope himself. This emboldens her to further outrageous behavior, such as, in the wake of one novitiate's shocking pregnancy, breaking away to establish her own cloister so her nuns can live apart from male contact.

Her great love and, eventually, Achilles heel turns out to be her young protege. The lovely, teenage Richardis (Hannah Herzsprung) is like an unbroken colt at first, sprinting around and spinning about in a way that makes you think the other nuns will, at any second, break into a chorus of "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" But Richardis eventually becomes Hildegard's closest confidante and imagined successor, just as Hildegard was for the magistra who raised her. When, after many years, Richardis is posted elsewhere, a fierce battle and eventual trauma ensue. Hildegard's late life story stirringly shows the breaking of yet one more barrier to women's usefulness in the church.

For all her admiration for her subject's bravery and intellectual adventurousness, von Trotta remains uncommitted when it comes to buying her religious utterances. Hildegard's verbalizations of her visions mostly consist of doctrinal embroidery, insights into what God must have meant when He did this or that, and the film neither endorses nor rejects, flatters nor mocks the human vessel that articulates them. Ultimately, this is the story of a woman who, temporarily, forced the church to be a little less sexist, even as she used her wiles with more powerful men to overcome the men with immediate power over her. Sukowa embodies her character's imposition of will with complete conviction, just as she does Hildegard's imposing intellect and bottomless devotion. Heino Ferch warmly plays her lifelong supporter among the monks, while Herzsprung is radiant as the daughter figure.

One moderate distraction is the production's pristine look. After a generation or more of films dedicated to how filthy olden times really were, "Vision" almost has the appearance of a 1950s period production, with each robe and veil appearing freshly cleaned and every monastery chamber looking as though it were scrubbed that very morning, all shown off via unnaturally bright lighting. Chris Heyne's active score combines styles and orchestration motifs to reasonably good effect. (Variety)

Mistérios de Lisboa (2010)

Mistérios de Lisboa (2010)
Director:Raoul Ruiz
Country: Portugal
Runtime: 255

Raúl Ruiz is one of the great cinematic self-perpetuators, like Louis Feuillade and Jacques Rivette—a film like this gathers a motion and a rhythm that makes it feel like it could on and on, self-generating new stories and new characters ad infinitum. Based on the novel by Camilo Castelo Branco (whose writing has been the source for Oliveira’s similarly fatalistic romance,Doomed Love), Mysteries of Lisbon is, to paraphrase a line from one of its many characters used to describe a disastrous relationship he had, a game that turns into a bourgeois romantic drama, to which I would add, that turns into a game. It starts—as all stories must?—with an orphaned boy questioning his parentage and falling into a fever, and out of that starting point the film evolves less as a story than a cartography of characters crossing points in space and time. On paper it is indeed all melodrama: identities revealed, lives saved in the past coming back to haunt the saviors, secret connections, loves turns to hatreds. But as traced by Ruiz’ oscillating tracking shots, which arc back and forth across rooms, pleating our view onto itself, folding time and space and people, the 19th century soap opera is transformed into an oneric submergence into ill-wrought fate, stories-within-stories, the nesting of all things, and the mysterious system which, quivering with ironic mirth and melancholy, holds everyone in place. This elegantly languorous, epic film (four and a half hours long), carries with it a paradoxical sense of infinite expansion outward, with each new character, each new place a new story, a new irony, a new connection backwards and a suggestion thrown forwards, yet this expansion seems to exist within a closed system. If this closure is not the film itself, which must end, than it is some other, secret measure of control that binds the interlocking orbits of people and their passions in space and time and does not allow them to escape. Perhaps the Mysteries are both expanding and elastic? Certainly a model for the universe, if that’s the case. As for the bourgeois drama, everyone’s fable-like unsurprise at the strange motions, histories, and identities of those characters around them opens their simple emotions to a greater cosmic plane, as if they have an awareness they have to live both in the elastic, restricted world (of their society, of a normal dramatic film) and one that has mysterious, expanding mind of its own. (Daniel Kasman @mubi)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Aurora (2010)

Aurora (2010)
Director:Cristi Puiu
Runtime:181 min

An apartment kitchen: a man and a woman discuss Little Red Riding Hood, their voices hushed, mindful of waking the little girl sleeping next room. Waste land on the city outskirts: behind a line of abandoned trailers, the man silently watches what seems to be a family. The same city, the same man: driving through traffic with two hand-made firing pins for a hunting rifle. The man is 42 years old, his name - Viorel. Troubled by obscure thoughts, he drives across the city to a destination known only to him.

Friday, June 17, 2011

St. George Shoots the Dragon

St. George Shoots the Dragon(2009)
Director: Srdjan Dragojević
Country: Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria
Runtime: 120 min

The movie starts with a battle against the Turks during the First Balkan War in 1912 and ends with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and the crucial Battle of Cer, the first allied victory in WW1. It is largely set in and around a small village by the Sava river at Serbia's border with Austria-Hungary.
The village is divided between able-bodied men that are potential army recruits and the many invalid veterans from the previous Balkan wars, and there is bitter animosity between the two groups, which don't intermingle much with each other even though they live in the same village.
The central theme of the movie is a love triangle between the village gendarme Đorđe, his wife Katarina and the young war cripple Gavrilo who once had a love affair with Katarina before he went to war and lost his arm in battle, and with the arm partly also his lust for life. Even though Katarina in the meantime married Đorđe, she still has affection for Gavrilo, which is a source of friction between them two.
On the onset of World War I, all able-bodied men in the village are recruited for combat. Left in the village are only women, children and invalids from previous Balkan wars. Rumours start circulating that the invalids in the village are trying to take advantage of the situation by making their moves on the women in the village - the wives and sisters of the recruited men. These rumours reach the villagers at the frontlines, and in order to prevent mutiny the army staff decides to recruit the invalids as well and send them to the front line.

St. George Shoots the Dragon (Serbian Свети Георгије убива аждаху) is an Serbian WW1 war drama. The movie premiere was slated for March 11, 2009. The movie's director is Srđan Dragojević and the screenplay writer is Dušan Kovačević. With a budget of around €5 million, it was one of the most expensive Serbian movie productions to date. Some of the funds have been donated by the governments of Serbia (€1.55 million) and Republika Srpska (€750,000) who deemed the movie to be of national importance. Kovačević script had already been made into a theater play that was staged to great success in Belgrade's Atelje 212 and Novi Sad's Serbian National Theatre.

Made in Hungária (2009)

Made in Hungária (2009)
Gergely Fonyo
Runtime:109 min

Following a brief expatriation to America, a Hungarian teen returns to his homeland and establishes himself as a white-hot rock star, in this biopic of Eastern European pop idol Miklos "Miki" Fenyo. The drama opens in the spring of 1963, with the Fenyo family preparing for a return to Budapest after nearly a half-decade away. Caught up in the throes of adolescence and obsessed with American pop culture, singer-guitarist Miki dreams of establishing himself as the Jerry Lee Lewis of Hungary. Yet complications best the family upon its return to Budapest: without a job, Mr. Fenyo draws the suspicion of various extremist political elements (and begins to lose his once-stellar reputation), while Miki's onetime friends treat him as an outcast and his old girlfriend, Vera (Tunde Kiss) reveals that she has a new beau. Never one to be daunted, Miki enters a talent competition and vows to restore his father's reputation, win back his love, and regain the respect of his friends, while establishing his own professional identity as a recording star. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Susa (2010)

Susa (2010)
Director: Rusudan Pirveli
Country: Georgia
Runtime: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Susa is a twelve-year-old boy growing up in a shabby neighborhood in post-Soviet Georgia. Susa's mother works for a gang of bootleggers who make and sell illegal home-brewed vodka, and Susa has been drafted into serving as a delivery boy. Susa's work is hard, his hours are long and he regularly visits the ugliest and most dangerous parts of the city. The one thing that gives Susa hope is his mother's frequent promises that some day his father will return, and he'll put the family back on a solid footing. To Susa's surprise, one day his father does come back, but the man he meets is a frail, emotionally devastated character who can't do much for himself, let alone his wife and son. Susa soon realizes he can only count on himself, but the youngster wonders how long he can deal with such a bleak existence.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Drei (2010)

Drei (2010)
Director:Tom Tykwer
Country: Germany
Runtime: 118

Three is already being described as a “relationship-movie”, about love, morals and the sexes in a late-modernist German society at the mercy of its mixed feelings, or if you prefer the official synopsis part:

“A love story Hanna and Simon, a couple in their early forties, live together in Berlin. Unknown to each other they both become acquainted with Adam – and fall in love with him. When Hanna becomes pregnant, their whistle is blown – and the question arises: Who is the father?”

My Afternoons with Margueritte (2010)

My Afternoons with Margueritte (2010)
Director: Jean Becker
Runtime:82 min

Based on the novel by Marie-Sabine Roger tells the story of Germain Chazes (Gérard Depardieu), a man of 110kg, which distrusts the words and lives in a caravan in the back garden of his mother. He spends his time between coffee and the public park and is considered by most to be a happy idiot. But one day, Margueritte (Gisèle Casadesus), a very cultured alone makes you discover the world of books and words. Your relationship with others and with itself will change. (PRO)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Making Plans for Lena

Making Plans for Lena(2009)
Director:Christophe Honoré
Country: France
Runtime: 104 min

When a young, independent-minded woman decides to go home for the holidays you know you’re in for festering family resentment served up cold. When the woman in question is a bourgeois Parisian, add a dash of ennui, alienation and random acts of madness.

Christophe Honore provides all this and more in his latest feature, Making Plans for Lena, which sees Chiara Mastroianni thrown to the mercy of her pervasive mother, ailing father, petulant sister, blasé brother and former partner. Neither comedy nor tragedy, Honore’s latest feature is a slow-paced, handsome family psychodrama which is just about held together by a robust female cast.

Well received at home in France where it opened on September 2 (marking a record for an Honore film with almost 400,000 admissions to date), this could play to Honore’s small but loyal art house fan base internationally, where it will inevitably be compared to Arnaud Desplechin’s 2008 hit A Christmas Tale (both star Mastroianni).

As with Tale, Making Plans for Lena also gathers up disparate members of a vigorous clan and tosses them like so many ingredients into a potage of simmering affections and recriminations. A harried Lena, eyeballs rolling in panic, is first seen rushing pell-mell through a crowded Parisian train station where she has managed to mislay one of her children. Tracking him down, she finds him nursing an injured bird, which she reluctantly agrees to take with them to Brittany in her handbag. By the time they arrive at the bucolic family home, the bird has suffocated, an ill omen for a family gathering if ever there was one. What’s more, we’ve been signalled that Lena, though well meaning, is achingly unable to keep her world under control.

Lena has recently chucked in her job and husband in a bid for independence: she’s in love with freedom but at a loss as to how to be happy. One by one, her siblings and parents dish out unsolicited advice, and matters are further complicated by the arrival of her ex-husband, invited to the gathering by her mother. You can understand their frustration with Lena. She’s indecisive, she throws fickle tantrums, packs her bags to go and then comes back for more, and takes offence at the slightest comeback.

Honore picks up the action later in a wintry Paris to follow up on the emotional fallout of the Breton weekend.

Mastroianni brings a taut, restrained energy to her role. She’s joined by a breezy Marie Christine Barrault as the meddling matriarch and Marina Fois as her jaded pregnant sister. But the male characters - Lena’s ex-husband, her brother, brother-in-law and her new love interest - are mere outlines, roughly blocked out and endowed with little emotional depth.

Honore’s direction and Laurent Brunet’s photography are deft enough. But this is not a particularly rambunctious gathering. For the most part, characters speak in ambivalent half tones, leaving much unsaid, much to be surmised. Indeed, it feels like a cop out when the director fills in the gaps by resorting to not one, but two Breton folktales, including a 15-minute setpiece complete with colourfully costumed characters and wailing music. Both fables involve women who pact with the devil, overplay their hands and who suffer dire consequences. By the film’s end, it’s clear that for Lena at least, one can’t make a deal with the comfortable bourgeois world without paying a price in personal freedom as well.


Monday, June 06, 2011

Kaboom (2010)

Kaboom (2010)
Director:Gregg Araki
Country: USA
Runtime: 86

Gregg Araki’s “Kaboom” is the winner of the first Queer Palm at the Cannes Film Festival 2010.
Completely bonkers in the best possible way, it adheres to the shock-the-rubes spirit of Araki's early comedies but is executed with far more skill.
It features a set of unbelievably beautiful college students (played by Thomas Dekker, Haley Bennett, Chris Zylka, and Juno Temple, among others) who are drawn into a science-fiction cyber-thriller.

The film begins as a wacky, self-aware teen sex comedy, then gets progressively crazier and crazier as Araki pushes as many elements as he can well past the point of absurdity (including but in no way limited to: conspiracy theories, mysterious eschatological cults, men in animal masks, a long-haired hippy called Messiah, and lots and lots of bi-curious sexcapades).

It's a deliriously anarchist cinematic cherry-bomb, executed by Araki with a level of control that is simply staggering for this type of material. He knows exactly what he's doing, and on its own terms, Kaboom is something very close to perfect." ---IndieWire

Hadewijch (2009)

Hadewijch (2009)
Director:Bruno Dumont
Runtime: 102 minutes

Shocked by the blind, ecstatic faith of Hadewijch, a young novice, the mother superior sends her packing from the convent. Hadewijch once again becomes Céline, 20, the daughter of a French minister. Her passionate love of God, her rage and her encounter with Yassine and Nassir lead her, between grace and madness, off along dangerous paths...

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Surviving Life (Theory and Practice) 2010

Surviving Life (Theory and Practice) 2010

Director:Jan Svankmajer
Country: Czech Republic
Runtime: 104

One morning I was woken up by a dream and I said to myself:

It looked like the opening scene of a film.
So I wrote the other scenes.
- Jan Svankmajer
Eugene, an aging man, leads a double life: one real - the waking life he spends in the company of his wife of many years, Milana - and the other in his dreams, his sleeping hours being devoted to a recurring evolving dream of a beautiful young woman, Evgenia. Seeking to perpetuate his dream life, he goes to see a psychoanalyst, who attempts to provide an ongoing interpretation of his experiences. On the wall there are portraits of Freud and Jung, which become animated, alternately applauding, disapproving or fighting over her interpretations.

The latest film from practising surrealist animator Jan Svankmajer is a mix of cut-out animation from photographs and live action segments, combining real actors with their animated photographs, against black and white backdrops of photographed Czech buildings. This stylistic approach which, Svankmajer jokes during the films introduction, was due to lack of funds and saved on catering, provides freedom for imaginative collages, and humorous nods in the direction of some of surrealism's familiar practitioners (Dalí, Ernst, Buñuel). Drawn directly from Svankmajer's own dreams, the film is a complex, multilayered story about aging, love, sex, childhood, trauma and dreams, steeped in Freudian and Jungian analysis and injected with a healthy dose of perversity. As Eugene labors in different versions of reality, Svankmajer's own deeply curious take on reality manifests in all its surrealist splendo
- Rottentomatoes