Saturday, June 30, 2012


Director: Malgorzata Szumowska
Country: France | Poland | Germany

Runtime: 1 hour, 35 minutes

The most provocative film at this year's Toronto and Berlin Film Festivals, Elles stars Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche as Anne, a well-off Parisian journalist investigating the lives of two student prostitutes for a magazine article. What begins as a routine assignment, though, quickly turns personal, as Anne is drawn into the lives of these fiercely independent young women and forced to confront her own physical needs and desires. ~ elles-movie.com

A writer is given a new perspective on her life by two women she initially imagines could not be more different than her in this drama from filmmaker Malgoska Szumowska. Anne is a wife and mother who maintains a busy schedule looking after her youngest son, who is obsessed with video games, her teenage son, who spends much of his time stoned on marijuana, and her aging father whose health is failing. Anne's husband is too preoccupied with his own career to worry about the household chores, and she has to juggle it all while keeping up with her work as a journalist. Anne is researching a magazine piece about prostitutes, and she's been conducting extensive interviews with Alicja and Charlotte, both of whom are attractive, well-adjusted women in their early twenties who have turned to sex work to support themselves. As Anne develops a greater understanding of Alicja and Charlotte's lives and work, she sees a contrast in the way the younger women have chosen a trade that, despite its reputation, affords them freedom while Anne's personal and professional life have become something of a trap. ~ Mark Deming, Allrovi

When Pigs Have Wings (2011)

When Pigs Have Wings (2011)
Director: Sylvain Estibal
Country: France | Germany | Belgium 

After a storm, Jaafar, a Palestinian fisherman in Gaza, began by chance in his nets a pig fell off a cargo ship. Determined to get rid of the unclean animal, however, he decided to try to sell it to improve his miserable existence. The poor Jafaar then embarks on a fantastic trade and many unsavory ...
In this tragi-comedy, all the little people of Gaza, wedged between the absolute poverty on a daily basis, the constraints of Israeli military and the diktat of the bearded flying, is represented by the poor fisherman whose sole concern is to survive daily and, for that, everything is ready. Jaafar, a permanent mockery of himself, even in times of tragedy, the story evolves in a biting humor ... and let us hope that if we can agree, despite all the differences, across individual, we can agree ultimately on a collective scale.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Farsan [Balls] (2010)

Farsan [Balls] (2010)
Director: Josef Fares
Country: Sweden
Length: 94 min

 Lebanese-Swedish director Josef Fares gives his real-life father a star-making turn in this charming tale with light comedic overtones about family life among Middle Eastern immigrants living in Scandinavia. The gregarious Aziz, portrayed by the expressive Jan Fares, is a widower looking for love with the help of his co-workers at a rinky-dink bike shop, while his son and daughter-in-law promise to make him a grandfather. He doesn't realize that they can't conceive naturally, however, so they're faking the pregnancy and planning to adopt. Members of the supporting cast - particularly Aziz's colleague Jorgen, played by Torkel Petersson - contribute some wickedly silly moments, but the film really belongs to the two Fares fellows, director and dad, whose off-screen bond makes the on-screen sentimentality shine that much brighter.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Code Blue (2011)

Code Blue (2011)
Director: Urszula Antoniak
Country: Netherlands
Runtime: 1 hour, 17 minutes

 In the shadowy margin between life and death lies the hospital where Marian, an ascetic nurse in her 40s, dedicates herself to the gravely ill and the dying by giving them what is often their last contact with the warmth of a living body. Sometimes she even helps her patients out of their misery by sending them to the soothing order of death. For her, death is a moment of ultimate intimacy. Outside the hospital, Marian lives a solitary life. Occasionally, her suppressed feelings rise and make her drift away from her daily routine: one day, she meets a stranger in the bus, instinctively follows him and fantasizes about him. When Marian sees the man again she gets involuntarily linked to him in an act of shared voyeurism. The sudden act of intimacy between them first repels then fascinates, transfixes and frightens her. Faced with the fragility of her newfound emotions, Marian realizes that she must give in to her human needs, even if this intimacy comes with a price... ~ Filmaffinity

Marian - a middle aged nurse and a secret poisoner - lives in two worlds. Our world, where she is a nurse, a colleague, a sister. When declared sick or dying, some of us are sent to her world - Planet Hospital. Marian is one of the white-uniformed, efficient distributors of help. Death is a taboo in our world. But not in hers. Marian starts to work in a new hospital and moves into her new apartment in a high rise building on the outskirts of the city. Proceeds with her killing routine like a well oiled mechanism. One night she watches a rape from the window of her apartment. She is not the only one to do so. A man living in the same building sees the rape too. More so, he sees Marian watching. What she has seen and the fact that she was seen start to disturb her life. Marian and the stranger engage in a dance of avoidance. Until now she hasn’t shared anything with humans but intimacy of death. Now she has to share a secret with a stranger - her neighbor. Outside world, our life, has invaded her life. To disturb her. To conquer her, death herself. ~ Festival-cannes

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Róza (2011)

Róza (2011)
Director: Wojciech Smarzowski
Country: Poland
Runtime: 90 min


In summer 1945 Tadeusz Mazur, an officer of the Armia Krajowa and veteran of the Warsaw uprising, whose wife was raped and murdered by the Germans, moves to Masuria, a region in former German East Prussia, which became part of Poland as a result of the Potsdam Agreement after World War II. He visits Róża, a widow of a German Wehrmacht soldier whose death Tadeusz had witnessed, to hand over her husband’s possessions. Róża invites Tadeusz to stay at her farm so that he can protect her against marauders (she has experienced a brutal rape in the lawless atmosphere of postwar Masuria). From this partnership of purpose, slowly respect and love arises - a "frowned-upon relationship" attracting the "unwelcome attention of the new Polish nationalists as well as the notorious Soviet NKVD".

While Róża is regarded a German by the new Polish authorities, thus facing her expulsion, Tadeusz wants her to declare her Polish nationality as many Masurians did in a "humiliating nationality verification procedure"

As director Wojciech Smarzowski calls it, the Masurians "fell victim to two instances of renationalisation and were later destroyed".


Variety has called the movie "almost unbearably brutal yet hauntingly romantic" and commended "Genre-savvy helmer Smarzowski's gritty mise-en-scene augments the force of the narrative, putting into visual terms its themes of ill-fated love and a nation doomed by nationalism. What in other hands might have played as costume melodrama focused on the victimized title character here takes the perspective of the loner hero, as Smarzowski gives the pic the hallmarks of a latter-day Western."

The Krakow Post reviewed the movie as "from a moral point of view Róża is a Western crammed with violence but filmed without complacency. Smarzowski ironically referred to himself as the “third Cohen brother” in a recent interview, and there may be a kernel of truth in this, at least in his commitment to injecting a dose of realism into movie genres that have never been fully developed in Polish cinema".


Grand Prix, Warsaw Film Festival 2011
Polish Film Awards: Best Film, Best Directing, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Script, Best Sound and the Audience Award.
Critics’ Award National Film Festival in Gdynia 2011
Special Jury Prize of the 23rd Polish Film Festival in America for Artistic Excellence and Importance

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The Salesman (2011)

The Salesman (2011)
Director: Sébastien Pilote
Country: Canada
Duration: 107 min.

 The perennial car salesman of the month, Marcel Lévesque takes great satisfaction in the ritual of persuasion. But in the small working-class town where the local paper mill's impending closure is immobilizing the economy, Marcel must come to terms with the changing times.

 The Salesman is the feature debut from writer director Sébastien Pilote. It premiered in the World Cinema Competition section of the 2011 Sundance International Film Festival.

A slow moving but immensely affecting character study about a man who has dedicated his entire life to perfecting the skills of his work. Marcel Lévesque (Gilbert Sicotte, in easily one of the top ten performances of 2011) is a car salesman, and a very good one. As the film begins, life appears good for Marcel, he's the top performer at his small-town dealership, where he has consistently been awarded the salesman-of-the-month trophy for as long as anyone can remember. He's also dedicated and friendly, well liked at work and in the community, and he has a close relationship with his loving daughter (Nathalie Cavezzali) and grand-son. However, this one seemingly endless Northern Quebec winter, Marcel is forced to face some difficult circumstances that are far beyond his control.

Right from the start, Pilote paints a vivid scene, capturing in perfect detail the sights and sounds of the long Canadian winter. A setting which I'm remarkably familiar with, even though I speak a different language and live 5,000 km away (to put into perspective, that's a distance further than Paris to Baghdad), the experience is the same. With the help of cinematographer Michel La Veaux, Pilote crafts some of the most evocative and immersive images I have ever seen in a Canadian film. The icy landscapes, snow covered vehicles, heavy machinery, and even a dead moose on the side of the highway are all expertly framed and composed with a sensibility not often seen this side of the Atlantic.

At the heart of this film is Gilbert Sicotte's exceptional performance. A veteran actor I know little about, but here he delivers a complex and carefully nuanced portrayal, nailing every little character quirk and always carrying an outward aura of confident charm. This is a guy for whom selling is not only a job but a way of life. At 67, he shrugs off any suggestion of retirement, and he still carries a pocket recorder so that he can learn from his mistakes, leaving it on even while spending time with his family. Even though the town's last big employer, the local paper mill, has now been shuttered for several months, and the entire community is starting to become visibly affected, Marcel carries on with the singular goal of clearing the lot in time for next year's models.

The screenplay is also quite strong overall, dealing with some heavy issues (religion, consumerism, the global economy) and handling them all with a neutral perspective; and although the story is centered on Marcel, the director takes the time to present a full and intimate portrait of the lifestyle and culture in the town where the film takes place, from the main street to the hockey rink to the community hall to the gates of the paper mill where the locked out workers huddle. All of the little pieces of this corner of the world are neatly crafted and also all very real. The only miscue is one critical plot development is telegraphed well in advance, and while it remains incredibly powerful, I think it was a bit too obvious to see where things were headed.

I don't know what it is, but there is a massive amount of great new talent coming out of Quebec lately. Add Sébastien Pilote to the growing list of young directors from there to keep your eyes on. For this is a marvelous debut that may not be the most crowd pleasing, star studded, or stylish, but it is certainly the most powerful Canadian film of the past year.

Friday, June 08, 2012

The Fifth Seal (1976)

The Fifth Seal (1976)
Director: Zoltán Fábri
Duration: 111 min.

The Fifth Seal is a Hungarian film directed by Zoltán Fábri, based on a novel of the same name by Ferenc Sánta.  It won the Golden Prize at the 1977 Moscow International Film Festival.

Set in Budapest in 1944 towards the end of the Second World War, it tells the story of a group of friends, Miklós (Lajos Öze) a watchmaker, László (László Márkus) a book seller, János (Sándor Horváth) a carpenter, and Béla (Ferenc Bencze) a barkeep.  They hang out in the dim light of Béla's establishment, drinking, smoking and telling tales.  One day a fifth man (István Dégi) joins their table and unbeknownst to them all, an innocent hypothetical question will change their lives forever.

It's a slow moving picture, taking its time, perhaps a little too long with dialog to establish the characters and their familiarity with one another.  But the acting is very natural and realistic, and it soon becomes evident that these are just regular Joes having fun, living their lives, trying not to draw any attention to themselves, while living under a fascist dictatorship; and despite whatever cultural background you are from, its difficult not to relate to these guys in some way.   

The underlying question that the film deals with is a philosophical one.  Given the choice, would you rather be reincarnated as a vicious and evil tyrant who commits terrible acts, or a good and noble slave who suffers through life?  A choice that these four men ultimately face when they are arrested, imprisoned, and tortured for no apparent reason; and one that makes the viewer ponder about themselves and humanity as a whole.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Haru's Journey (2010)

Haru's Journey (2010)
 Director: Masahiro Kobayashi
 Country: Japan
 Runtime: 134 min

Haru's Journey provides an insider's look at Japanese culture through its themes of acceptance, endurance and familial commitment. It tells the story of elderly fisherman Tadao and his granddaughter Haru, who live in a small fishing village in Hokkaido. When Haru's job disappears, she wants to take her stubborn grandfather to live in Tokyo where she will find more opportunities. But Tadao refuses to go to the capital, sparking a search for another family member who will share his life. Thus begins a road movie driven by family dynamics, as the two set out for Japan's main island, Honshu, to see if one of Tadao's siblings will look after him. First stop is his even more cantankerous older brother, Shiego, and their testy exchange reveals there's more to Tadao's selfishness than just old age. By contrast, selfless Haru takes on responsibility for the pair's dwindling finances so their pilgrimage can continue... Written by Palm Springs Internation Film Festival

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Rafa (2012)

Rafa (2012)
Director & Writer: João Salaviza
Country: Portugal
Runtime: 25min

 Golden Bear ("Best Short Film") at Berlinale Shorts Competition'2012

 Rafa is thirteen and lives with his mother, sister and his little nephew in a tiny flat in one of the suburbs just south of Lisbon on the other side of the big bridge. One morning, his mother isn’t there. She didn’t return after spending another night with that man. Worried, Rafa sets off to find her...

Friday, June 01, 2012

Michael (2011)

Michael (2011)
 Director: Markus Schleinzer
 Country: Austria
 Runtime: 1 hour, 36 minutes

 A respectable man hides a monstrous secret in this harrowing drama from Austrian filmmaker Markus Schleinzer. Michael is a seemingly average man in his mid-thirties who works for an insurance firm. He is good at his job, is friendly with his co-workers, gets along well with his siblings, and has a tidy home in the suburbs. But Michael is also a sexual predator obsessed with young boys, and he hides a ten-year-old child, Wolfgang, in his cellar as his slave. He frequently tells Wolfgang that his parents don't want him back, and while he takes good care of the boy, he also forces the child to have sex with him whenever he wishes. Michael follows the title character's double life over the course of five months, as he presents the image of an ordinary man to the world during the day and gives free reign to his ugliest desires at night. Michael was an official selection at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Allrovi