Saturday, October 25, 2014

To Kill a Man (2014)

To Kill a Man (2014)
Director: Alejandro Fernández Almendras
Country: Chile

Jorge is a tranquil, middle-class family man whose neighborhood has become overrun by a fringe class of street thugs. His comparatively fortunate existence makes him the target of their intimidation one night, and a hulking outlaw robs him of his insulin needle. Jorge’s teenage son boldly tries to stand up for his father, which only serves to unleash the bully’s terrorizing reign of threats upon the family. Jorge and his wife, Martha, seek protection from the legal system but are subjected to civic drones and bureaucratic procedure, so they remain vulnerable. As Jorge’s family suffers from fear and humiliating anguish, the situation paints him as a deficient patriarch—until he’s cornered into defending what’s his.

Lines of class and masculinity ignite friction in this rugged thriller, adeptly shot with a discerning eye. Director Alejandro Fernández Almendras elevates raw grit to a new level with a tone that is both elemental and prophetic. Rife with unnerving tension, To Kill a Man is ultimately a surprising exploration of the heavy burden of what it takes to do what the title suggests.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bird People (2014)

Bird People (2014) 
Director: Pascale Ferran
Country: France

In an airport hotel on the outskirts of Paris, a Silicon Valley engineer bruptly chucks his job, breaks things off with his wife, and holes up in his room. As fate draws him and a young French maid together, an audacious second-act surprise suddenly transforms César Award-winning director Pascale Ferran's dark-tinged fairy-tale into something altogether richer, more beguiling, and utterly astonishing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The 50 Year Argument (2014)

The 50 Year Argument (2014)
Directors: Martin Scorsese, David Tedeschi
Country: USA
Runtime:     1h 37mn

The 50 Year Argument is Martin Scorsese's latest film, co-directed with his longtime documentary collaborator David Tedeschi. It charts literary, political and cultural history as per the New York Review of Books, America's leading journal of ideas since 1963. The film weaves rare archive material, interviews and writing by icons such as James Baldwin and Gore Vidal into original verite footage, filmed in the Review's Greenwich Village offices with longtime editor Robert Silvers.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Coming Home (2014)

Coming Home (2014)
Director: Yimou Zhang
Country: China

The ghosts of China's cultural revolution shake their chains and rattle their ivories in Coming Home, a sweet yet suspect romantic drama from director Zhang Yimou, which played out of competition at the Cannes film festival. The first time Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming) comes haunting, he's a bedraggled, desperate fugitive; the second time, he's careworn and rehabilitated. On each occasion, his wife finds herself unable to open the door and let him inside.
Zhang was the leading light of China's "fifth generation" of film-makers, revered for his pungent epics To Live and Raise the Red Lantern, and subsequently brought into the fold to direct the opening and closing ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics. His new film looks at the cultural revolution more in sorrow than anger, installing the spouses' relationship as a metaphor for the country's stumbling attempt to make peace with its past.
When Chen's dissident professor is released from jail, amnesiac Feng Wanyu (Gong Li) fails to recognise him. It is as if she is practising her own form of state censorship, or perhaps the enormity of his presence makes her unable to see him. Years before, the couples' indoctrinated daughter (Zhang Huiwen) had cut her father's face from all the photos in the family album, which means that there is no visual reminder; no proof that the man is who he claims to be. His wife looks right through him, standing forlornly at the station awaiting her husband's return.
Zhang adapts the tale from a novel by Geling Yan, who also provided the blueprint for his previous picture, The Flowers of War. He handles it sensitively, elegantly, and coaxes some affecting performances from Chen and Gong (although the latter does rather overdo the nervous head-bobbing). But the film is also sentimental and faintly evasive, replete with a plaintive piano score that all but twists our arms behind our backs. Zhang dabs on salve and comforts the afflicted. He lets this intimate, bittersweet reconciliation implicitly stand for the nation at large.
Eventually, Yanshi learns that he must approach his wife with caution, as though he's feeding birds in the garden. He pretends to be a kindly neighbour come to read her husband's letters, or a piano tuner making house-calls. The man means well; the woman's starting to thaw. But he should really have dismantled that annoying piano. It won't stop tinkling and it takes up too much space.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Way He Looks (2014)

The Way He Looks (2014)
 Director: Daniel Ribeiro
Country: Brazil

Leonardo is a blind teenager feeling overprotected by all of those around him. Struggling towards a more independent life, he has to overcome the vulnerability orbiting his condition.
At home, his mother won't let him do things by himself, or even be alone. At school, his best friend, Giovana, leaves no room for him to stand up for himself before all the bullying. Besides, he's never been kissed and is pretty confident that no one would consider dating the blind kid.
Seeing no way out, Leonardo considers going on an exchange program, hoping he could start fresh. Things take an unexpected turn when Gabriel, a new student in town, arrives at school, becoming friends with him and Giovana. Leonardo gravitates towards Gabriel, excited to be friends with someone who acts differently from everyone else.
Meanwhile, Giovana has to balance her infatuation with the new kid and the jealousy she feels for sharing her old pal. Glimpsing a possible way to independence in this unfamiliar and yet comforting new friendship, Leonardo changes the way he looks at himself and experiences the blossoming of new and intense feelings towards Gabriel.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Constructors (2013)

Constructors (2013)
Director: Adilkhan Yerzhanov
Country: Kazakhstan

This hour-long film, shot on a shoestring budget, tells a seemingly simple story: three siblings (two teenage brothers and a younger sister) are evicted from their apartment after their mother suffered a stroke. Their last hopes rest on a plot of land outside of the city, to which they have a legitimate claim. Officials arrive in a jeep to tell them that, unless they build a foundation within the next two weeks, the land will be confiscated. With borrowed instruments and stolen material the brothers manage to complete the foundation when another law is issued, requiring a finished house, at least a temporary one, in order to keep the plot. Aliya, the little girl, gets sick and is taken to a hospital; Rauf, the older brother, is beaten up for stealing cement and bricks and is later arrested. The last man standing is Yerbolat, who is willing to finish the roof so that the state will have to provide him with an apartment in exchange for the confiscated land.
The synopsis implies an existential social drama with tragic undertones, but this is not the film’s focus. The siblings’ sad prehistory only becomes clear from three brief verbal attacks that Yerbolat launches against his older brother. First, he accuses him of having mortgaged their apartment and having caused their mother’s stroke. Then, each time when a new loss occurs, Yerbolat adds another accusation – the younger sister’s illness, the theft of construction materials. And yet, when Rauf is about to be arrested, the brothers quietly look at each other for a long time, and their facial expression slowly turns to a shy, warm smile. At this point, Rauf gives Yerbolat final instructions, demonstrating that he will never give up and implying that neither will his younger brother.  
Simple the story may be, but what matters more than the social framework and even psychological finesse  is the cinematic execution. The plot’s unpredictability, combined with a high degree of visual and acoustic control and the relaxed seriousness displayed by the performers, gives The Constructors a rare freshness appreciated by festival audiences around the world. Thirty-something Adilkhan Yerzhanov is an auteur in the truest sense of the word; he wrote the screenplay, directed, and was in charge of cinematography and editing. The film is shot in rich black-and-white. Of particular significance is the picture’s lighting structure during the many night scenes, in which sharp rays from artificial sources aggressively intrude the siblings’ joint space that they are trying to secure and from which they are to be evicted. Darkness offers at least some protection, whereas daylight brutally exposes the incompleteness of their project and their own uprooted state. The film’s inner rhythm is intriguing: its shifts from night to day and back, from dialogue to silence, from raw diegetic sound to haunting music. Some scenes resemble absurd theater, especially when the state officials show up, or when a buffoonish salesman—“Timur Tilman” (his real name)—in a weird quasi-Western outfit advertizes his company’s newest lamps. Other scenes are touching precisely because of the overall laconic tone, conveying the warmth and care that the three siblings feel for each other and the selflessness that they display. Thus, when Rauf and Yerbolat go out on a mission to steal bricks, they put two plastic bottles on sticks and tell their scared little sister that these improvised dolls represent them. When the brothers are about to be detected by guarding neighbors and their dog, Rauf decides to leave his hiding place and confront them, saving his younger brother who had just chastised him in the most brutal manner. Rauf seems to do everything he can to earn, or regain, Yerbolat’s respect and justify his leadership status as the oldest.
While the preposterousness and cruelty of the bureaucratic state and its representatives is obvious, the more intriguing issue is what gives these three forlorn youngsters the strength to go on. One clue might come from the opening—a brief, never explained sequence of historical footage to which little Aliya tells the history of Kazakhstan in two minutes, beginning with the great nomadic nations, through the Mongol occupation, the Soviet period, ending with national independence—and in the kitchen where the three siblings sit in silence, under a shaky lamp reflecting their current unstable circumstances. But this sequence is never commented on or referred to later. Except for Yerbolat’s verbal assaults against his brother, the three usually react to each new stage of the drama with complete, samurai-like silence. Nobody complains, nobody whines. There is a quiet inner drive in them that, if we take the opening sequence literally, originates from their ancestors. Without ever preaching, the young title characters display a stoicism that is vital for their survival and part of their identity, conveyed as an unconditional willingness to ignore or resist adversity and to stick together, regardless of state harassment or occasional filial rivalry.

Despite the young characters’ coolness, Kazakhstan comes across as profoundly inhospitable: a huge country that has neither space, nor concern, for its young. Yet the three, despite tensions and a chain of bad luck aggravated by arbitrary, punitive legislation, quietly continue to build their future. In addition to the historical and mythical allusion in the opening scene, there is a spatial element suggesting the origin of their proud endurance. The siblings create the foundation of their home against the backdrop of a long line of houses covering the horizon. However, when the camera shows the opposite side, the constructors’ background is formed by an array of mighty mountains. At the end, when Yerbolat remains all by himself, there can be no doubt that he will continue to build, because that’s who he is
Peter Rollberg
The George Washington University

Monday, October 06, 2014

Human Capital (2013)

Human Capital (2013)
Director: Paolo Virzì
Country: Italy

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, who won Best Actress in a Narrative Feature Film at the Tribeca Film Festival as Carla and Valeria Golino as Roberta in Paolo Virzì's Human Capital (Il Capitale Umano) give brilliant performances entangled in a web of what is perhaps the most revolting selection of male characters in a film I have seen at least this year. Fabrizio Gifuni plays Giovanni and Fabrizio Bentivoglio is Dino. The respective husbands are corrupt each in their own way. The former a hedge fund finance power player, the latter a middle-class real estate agent who would like to be like the other, corruption and all.

On an evening right before Christmas in Northern Italy, a waiter at a school function is run over on his bicycle riding home in the snow. This hit and run tragedy links a number of people from different social backgrounds as Virzì's delicate and bewildering tale jumps back and forth from a summer past to the fateful winter night.
Copy picture

Two families are tied together by an accident and their children. Serena (Matilde Gioli) and Massimiliano (Guglielmo Pinelli) have very little in common outside of school, and their relationship crumbles. Carla, Massimiliano's mother, is a woman who has great financial privileges and no emotional stability. Her life of manicures, massages and antiques shopping makes her feel increasingly worthless. This is reinforced by her husband, Giovanni, who communicates nothing of importance to her.

In an attempt to add some internal beauty for herself and the community - a small fictional town near Milan - Carla buys a run-down theatre in ruins she wants to renovate, and instead ends up falling into her familiar trap of meaningless seduction. A trenchant scene depicts a meeting of the newly formed theatre board and Virzì has great fun savoring the characters' whopping fixations while they discuss a possible repertoire. Anybody who has ever been to a board meeting will recognise someone here.

Roberta, on the other hand, a psychologist working at the public clinic, decides to be completely ignorant about the crumbling world of her family, especially the dealings of husband Dino, who wants to move up in the world.

Virzì, who told at the Tribeca Film Festival that Human Capital was the first of the dozen films he made which did not classify as comedy, keeps a light touch with his heavy subject matter. The different perspectives are woven into a rich tapestry of the present world. Greed and unconsidered, reckless desires are by no means an Italian phenomenon.

Three perspectives, given one chapter each, illuminate disasters far greater and perhaps much smaller than the accident at hand and tell us about the nature of human capital. How much is a person worth? The script is based on a novel by American author Stephen Amidon which is set in Connecticut. The film takes place in a fictional town near Milan and was shot in Como and surroundings.

Paolo Virzì's study of capitalism in crisis gives the audience all it covets. Voyeurism is taken care of as we peek into the hearts and home of the stylish wealthy. Their life is actually hellish, we discover to our great relief. It is crumbling and causing the literal and metaphorical quakes we all feel. A class lower, the annoying guy with the garish orange watch and the "creative" facial hair and glasses is indeed a dope who doesn't communicate with his pregnant wife. Virzi confirms the worst.

Human Capital is a tale of people trapped in the wheels of money, prestige and unfulfilled longings, disguised as a thriller. Some create the wheels, some spin them and others run in them.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Norte, the End of History (2013)

Norte, the End of History (2013)
Director: Lav Diaz
Country: Philippines

The lives of three people take a turn when one of them commits a crime.
Joaquin (Archie Alemania) is failing miserably at providing for his family when his money lender gets murdered. The crime is pinned on him. Misery and solitude would
transform him in prison.
Left to fend for the family, his wife Eliza (Angeli Bayani) pours all of her strength to battling with despair and eking out a living for their children.
The real perpetrator, Fabian (Sid Lucero), roams free. His disillusionment with his country—its history of revolutions marred by betrayal and crimes unpunished—drives him to the edge of sanity, of humanity.