Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 13, No. 5, 2014
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Bernard Dubé
  Contributing Editors
David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nancy Snipper
Daniel Charchuk
Lynda Renée
Nick Catalano
Samuel Burd
Farzana Hassan
Betsy L. Chunko
Andrée Lafontaine
  Music Editors
Nancy Snipper
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Chantal Levesque
Denis Beaumont
Emanuel Pordes
  Film Reviews
  Bowling for Columbine
Shanghai Ghetto
Talk to Her
City of God
Magdalene Sisters
Dirty Pretty Things
Barbarian Invasions
Fog of War
Blind Shaft
The Corporation
Station Agent
The Agronomist
Maria Full of Grace
Man Without a Past
In This World
Buffalo Boy
Shake Hands with the Devil
Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar
A Long Walk
An Inconvenient Truth
Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
Banking on Heaven
Chinese Botanist's Daugher
Ben X
La Zona
The Legacy
Irina Palm
4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days
Poor Boys Game
Finn's Girl
Leaving the Fold
The Mourning Forest
Beneath the Rooftops of Paris
Before Tomorrow
Paraiso Travel
Necessities of Life
For a Moment of Freedom
Blood River
By the Will of Genghis Kahn
The Concert
Weaving Girl
Into Eternity
When We Leave
Le Havre
Presumed Guilty
A Separation
Take This Waltz
Beyond The Walls
The Place Beyond the Pines
The Past



So far, A & O film critics Robert J. Lewis and Nancy Snipper have seen the following films. Here are their ratings and comments, always out of 4, reserving 2.5 or more for a noteworthy film, 3.5 for an exceptional film, 4 for a classic.



3.2 -- WHITE SHADOW, Noaz Deshe
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Like diamonds in the rough, there are many facets to Africa: hundreds of languages, cultures and subcultures. First time director Noaz Deshe parachutes the viewer into a Tanzania in the throes of dysfunctionality. We view "things fall apart" through the eyes of Alias, a young African albino who witnesses the butchering of his father: albino limbs fetch large sums of money. Fearing for her son's safety, Alias's mother sends him to a safe house. The next day he is sent out to scavenge in a toxic garbage dump, the items which he hands over to his uncle, who is indebted to local thugs. They murder the uncle and then raze the safe-house and slaughter the albino children. The police arrive but are overwhelmed by the villagers, who, in mob fashion, take the law into their own hands: carnage ensues.
This journey into the heart of darkness is not a politically correct film and will anger many. In the impoverished villages that ring the capital, the only light comes from flickering oil lamps. As the jumpy, hand held camera, like a small animal fearing for its life, darts through the streets, we learn that the lit up faces and the spirit world share the same space, and that we're not just being led through a foreign culture but a dystopia for which there is no cure so long as the villagers remain hostage to magic, superstition and the power of the witch doctor. Alias escapes the massacre but his future -- proxy for Africa's future -- is uncertain. The ever-agile camera, performing flips and somersaults, superbly mirrors Alias's alienated condition: his skin colour that arouses suspicion, and the fear that defines his way of being-in-the-world as he is hunted for his valuable body parts. The somewhat disjointed narration is subsumed by the film's atmospherics and volatile colour schemes and textures, washes and dissolves. At times an impressionistic work,
White Shadow, despite its dark subject and accusation, offers up a strange beauty unlike anything you've ever seen. Berlin born Noaz Deshe deserves the highest marks for his bravery, vision and humanity.

0.3 -- JAUJA, Lisandro Alonso
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] It's only at the 90 minute mark, when the story jumps to the present, that we realize we have been watching either an endless dream sequence or an allegory. When the loose ends are finally tied up into a noose that we're only too happy to slip on, the only thing we're sure about is that we've been subjected to a narcoleptically paced, statically shot film for whom conventional narration is anathema. Of note is the perfectly square screen, suggesting portraiture (stasis) over action. But the portraits, less plot disarray and live-streaming tedium, don't add up to much. Set in colonial Argentina, a Danish captain's 14-year-old daughter goes missing (she has run away with her Spanish lover), and he sets out to find her. We learn of an indigenous chief who has been seen dressed up as a woman, but how this fits into the plot is anyone's guess. Scenes that require seconds - the captain getting dressed in the morning, or staring into a pool of water - are endlessly dragged out as if to allow the audience sufficient time to discover the significance that is their obvious due. Be as it may that the director, Lisando Alonso, has a cult following, Jauja, in equal parts contrived and banal, tells more of the 'sophisticated' film aficionados who raise to eminence works that should be bound and gagged before being condemned to oblivion. This coma-inducing, alt-cinematic experience was wonderfully helped by wooden acting performances and an intelligence-challenged script.

2.0-- LI’L QUINQUIN, Bruno Dumont
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Quinquin is a curious 13-year-old with a hair lip and he wears a hearing aid. But he is a tough boy and even has a girlfriend. Together, with his band of friends, he sets off firecrackers to stir people up. The little coastal northern French town in which they live is pretty boring, save for the fact that people’s bodies start appearing inside the guts and rear ends of cows. The chief inspector with his constant eye and body twitching and his partner are hilariously funny, especially the inspector who is a French Jacques Clouseau comic equal. Peter Sellers was obviously an influence for the actor Bernard Provost who played the role of this crazy detective. The faces of the characters in this film form a gallery of homeliness and small-town peasant weariness. The suicide of a young black boy seems unrelated to the story other than the typical prejudice and small mindedness running rampant in town. This movie was a showcase for Provost’s brilliant comedic talent.

2.5 -- FORCE MAJEURE, Ruben Östlund
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] During a skiing vacation, Tomas, his wife Ebba and their two young children are dining outside at the edge of a steep ski slope when they are overwhelmed by a relatively small but terrifying avalanche. Just before the moment of impact, Tomas grabs his iPod and flees, leaving his wife to save herself and the kids. They all survive. Force Majeure explores the effects of Tomas's reflex pusillanimity on his relationship with his wife and children. But the film also asks if "the truth told with bad intent is worse than any lie you can invent?" Is Tomas's dereliction a private matter? Not once but twice, while entertaining dinner guests, Ebba outs her husband's cowardice. She desperately wants her husband, who is in denial, to own up to his desertion; in her mind, the ends justify the means. The film features fine performances from the leads, a mostly spot-on script with all sorts of delightful little twists and turns, and a small but interesting cast of characters. The ebb and flow of this at times riveting drama is enhanced by timely segues to the ominous Alps and their foreboding remoteness: from below, the camera looks on high at a procession of cable cars disappearing in a cloud of snow. Set against both the majesty and awesome forces of nature, man's smallness is shown to great effect -- a large fact that he disregards at his own peril. Whether intentional or not, embedded in this film, like a body perfectly preserved in ice, is a timely and much needed anti-trekking, anti-extreme skiing-snowboarding message. In the fourth and final act, this mostly compelling film unfortunately trips over its own sanctimony and didacticism: the final scenes are contrived to show that none of us can predict how we'll react in sudden crisis.

2.5 -- BANDE DE FILLES (GIRLHOOD), Céline Sciamma
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] French director Céline Sciamma deftly explores the suspended, in between girl-world of waning innocence and adulthood. The usual themes of getting accepted by a group, wanting to leave home and get a guy are played out in the impoverished outskirts of Paris, but it's the insightful rendering of the girl-girl relationships both in and out of the family that sustain our interest. In a multi-layered performance, Marieme, played by Karidja Touré, meets up with and is eventually accepted by a gang of girls for whom the male generated codes of the hood rub them the wrong way. So they resort to bullying and extortion to treat themselves to a hotel room where for one night only they can be "diamonds in the sky" and invent their own rules and forget about the grim future that awaits them. The foursome is black, but Girlhood is less about race and more about the implications of class and poverty. Sixteen year old Marieme wants to do better than her mother who is a single cleaning lady trying to raise four children. But she doesn't have the grades to get into high school. Living in a tough hood forces her to grow a thick skin. But when she is accused of being a slut for sleeping with her boyfriend, she has to move away; to support herself she agrees to middle drugs. Her choices, and they are limited, take their toll on her self-esteem and relationship with her family. Girlhood is an engaging albeit bumpy film that excels in its sensitive depiction of the confused mind of Marieme who is trying to find a way out, but is weighted down by the stereotypes of hood life and the men who rule it.

2.7 -- THE WORLD OF KANAKO, Tetsuya Nakashima
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] A dreamy December 24th, a snow flake filled sky belies the reality that is Japan. For the remainder of this mind-bludgeoning, concussive film, the scenes erupt as if out of an action comic book. Kanako's first star is the jumpy, jarring, full-metal-jacket syntax. To better grasp the rhythm and narrative thrust of the film, imagine a camera loaded up on amphetamines, ecstasy, the best neurotoxins money can buy and addicted to splattered blood - and then off, in braces, to the races. Ex detective Akikazu is asked by his ex-wife to look for their missing daughter, Kanako, but helmer Nakashima's not so secret mission is to expose the nihilism that has the new Japan in its vice tight grip. In his grunts and savage outbursts, Akikazu, a ticking time bomb of a wreck, concentrates in his character everything that is debased and brutal in the species; he is a runaway beast of a human being that should be locked up in a cage and shipped out of the solar system. Using flashbacks to explain the present, we discover that his sweet and seductive daughter is as twisted as the father -- a diabolical chip off the old block -- and that he is no more sociopathic than everyone else he meets up with. From the school teacher, the country's highest magistrates, to the police commissioner and his minions, everyone is morally bankrupt, and of course blood splattered - meaning hurting. In iConnected Japan, the human breath is served on ice and the heart shut down by a nihilism that is as deep as it is viral. The post viewing challenge is to rid the mind of its horrific imagery and turn the page, which speaks to a well made, perversely affecting film that stays the course from beginning to its non-redemptive end.

2.2 -- EL ARDOR, Pablo Fendrik
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Laugh out loud at this melodramatic Argentine-styled spaghetti western that is supposed to be a serious film. Kai (Gael Garcia Bernal) is an Indian who lives in the jungle and has special powers over a panther that stalks bad guys and eats them, including some bad guys -- a group of hunters who wants to take over the farm of a dad and daughter, and they’ll kill to do it. There’s suspense and some original scenes that replace stick-em-up face-offs with spear throwing acumen thanks to Kai. There is nothing wrong with this entertaining film other than the fact that the serious intensity of the close-up shots are so silly, that one can only conclude that the director’s true talent is one that accidentally and ironically turns terror into comic relief. This is a Fantasia Festival type film.

3.7 -- THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA , Isao Takahata
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Another Studio Ghibli masterful animation about a free-spirited, cheery girl born from a magical bamboo stalk who is parented by two loving peasants. She loves nature and the beauty of life’s creatures. But one day, her father decides it would be best for her if they move to the city where she can learn the fine art of becoming a princess. The animation is classic Ghibli magic, the characters are loveable and the humour is universal, as is the message about mortality, true happiness and nature’s power over all. No ordinary princess, she comes from the moon and that is where she is obliged to return. The film is a celebration of earth’s gifts and the fleeting time we have here.  

3.0 -- GENTE DE BIEN, Franco Lolli
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Gente de Bien is much more than a film that explores Columbia's class system and its self-perpetuating exclusionary protocols. After packing up his things, 10-year-old Eric and his mother catch a Bogotá bus to meet the father, Gabriel, with whom Eric will now live. We never see the mother again. Gabriel lives in a miserable rooming house with a shared kitchen. Eric hates it there. Gabriel's sister is very well off as is his present employer, Maria Isabel, for whom he works as a handyman. These good people shower Gabriel, and now his likable son Eric, with sympathy, compassion and extra money. Maria and her family offer to take in Eric during the Christmas holidays, who very quickly learns to adapt to the good life: a room of his own, expensive playthings, exquisite meals, horseback riding. As an unintended consequence of their largesse, these well intended gente de bien (good people) cause Erik to resent his father, whom he refuses to call father. Splicing together innocuous scenes from daily life -- Gabriel working in the yard while Eric is splashing about in the pool with the rich kids - director Lolli masterfully develops a sense of impending doom, that father and son are on an irreversible collision course. But the unexpected intervenes: Eric is peripheralized by the other kids and decides to leave his Shangri-la and return to his father, whose situation remains the same. The faces of Gabriel and Eric illuminate the screen. Eric, who never smiles at home with his father, radiates happiness in his upgraded setting as only a child can, living in and for the moment. Gabriel is keenly aware that Eric misses his mother and is unhappy, and in a brilliant gesture of understated acting, he uses the tone of his voice to help his son adjust to the harsh realities of his new life: he never yells or scolds him but delivers his words like a calmative. As if by accident, the camera keeps catching Gabriel in his private moments, allowing us to glue onto his cloudy bright eyes and brooding expression as he watches in silence his boy being seduced by the good life that he can't afford. Dependent on the generosity of others while bearing witness to the flight of Eric's love and respect, we come to understand how it is that people from all walks of life learn to know their place. But Gente de Bien is not only about class; it is also a Fathers and Sons film that gracefully, intelligently explores the forces that conspire to fray the ties that bind. That we see and learn nothing of Bogotá or Columbia speaks to Lolli's much larger agenda which he carries off in spades.

2.1 -- INDEBITO, Andreas Segre
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Rebetico is the iconic language and music of the angry, the disenfranchised that came into the world through the Izmir exodus of Greeks coming from Turkey. A hundred years of traditional songs backed by the Oriental roots referred to by plaintif sounds of bouzouki and its kin. Themes of suffering yet pride mix into a melancholic revelation of woes that resonates in the taverns and outdoor nooks and mountains all over Greece. The filmmaker puts in the spotlight Vinico Capossela where he plays with other angst-ridden and sorrowful rebetiko rousers in the streets and indoor places. They replay the music of the past that is thematically relevant today, given Greece’s ongoing struggles. I liked the huge puppet that a woman sings with. She even drinks coffee with it. The film was a pastiche of singers invoking great rebetiko songs whose composers were named in writing when the songs were performed in the film. It was a boring film though that belonged in a class of students studying the history of this great musical form. The problem is the beat is always the same, and it becomes monotonous.

3.0 -- VENTOS DE AGOSTO (AUGUST WINDS), Gabriel Mascaro
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] A fixed camera is on a flat boat gliding slow and easy beneath a cupola of leaf and vine that opens up into a serene expanse of water encircled by a tropical paradise. The dreamy opening completely mesmerizes the viewer, but bikini clad Shirley, who is splashing Coca-Cola over her young body and listening to loud punk music, wishes she were elsewhere. She was sent to northern Brazil to look after her enfeebled grandmother. Not much happens in this languidly paced film. Her boyfriend Jeison fishes and helps Shirley haul coconuts to the market, but like everyone else in the film he rarely smiles and is constantly criticized by his overbearing father. A light skinned meteorologist arrives to monitor the wind and weather changes that are wreaking havoc on the coastline. One day Jeison finds a body washed up on shore, perhaps with a bullet hole in the neck. He has to deal with the corpse the police aren't particularly interested in, and life goes on in a film where time is the unacknowledged event maker. The grandmother has been worn down by time, Shirley and Jeison are trapped in theirs, and time has them all worried about the effects of the weather. Jeison's father orders him to construct a rampart against the waves that are crashing into his yard: seen from afar, the meter high breaker is like a toy gun against an invading army. Under the skilled and sensitive helmership of Gabriel Mascaro, Ventos de Agosto unfolds like a tone poem, an homage to a way of life that only the camera seems to appreciate: nimble bodies scampering up coconut trees into the blue, the sweet thud of the cutlass swishing through a branch, young Shirley attending to her grandmother's wild mass of kinky grey hair, Jeison diving into the water's deep to separate oysters from their mother rock. He's convinced the rocks have lungs, and so are we.

1.9 -- ALLELUIA, Fabrice Du Welz
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] There are enough gaps in the plot to send in an army division. Michel and Gloria -- she works at the morgue -- meet on-line; he seduces her, borrows money and disappears. She tracks him down and discovers he's the female counterpart of a nymphomaniac who profits from his victims, but she is so taken with him she agrees to help him with his con, pretending to be the sister while he seduces rich women. But things go awfully wrong. When she catches her lover copulating, she is overcome by insane jealously and butchers the woman to death in a scene that produces enough blood to bring a smile to even your most jaded Red Cross donor. All of the subsequent episodes are variations on the same theme of hack saw, sharp glass and the ax. This off-off the page cult film begins and ends with its top-notch production values. With a nod to cinematographer Manuel Dacosse (Amer), the innovative, mood altering lighting, the fractured, slash-and-burn close ups, the seamless transition from the normal to the sadistic, the emotional volatility of the two leads superbly rendered by Lola Dueñas and Laurent Lucas argue that style not only trumps story but style is substance. Alleluia, loosely based on a real life story, is a creepy, high suspense drama powered by a surreal script and co-dependency run amok. But it only works if you're friendly to the genre, which I'm not. The enthusiastic applause at the end of the screening spoke loud and clear to my minority view.

2.2 -- XENIA, Panos.H. Koutras
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] It's a shameful pity that the wretched treatment of Albanians and Arabs is an ongoing problem in Greece. These people are without papers and jobs. The xenophobia in the country where democracy was born is disgustingly accepted, and this film chooses to show aspects of this in a weird way through two Albanian brothers, Odysseus and Dany. They get into skirmishes with thugs and homophobics (one of the brothers is gay), and are on the run. The story combines the younger brother's delusional fantasy with his pet rabbit that we find out is really a stuffed one with all kinds of strange events. Dant who is openly gay is a loose canon who convinces his older sibling who has a superb singing voice to do two things. One involves searching for their father who abandoned them (they both end up nearly killing a couple and themselves in doing it), and the second thing is about talent. The older brother is forced to audition in Thessaloniki by the younger brother. Dany wants him to win a Greek competition but only by singing the Paddy Pravo hit song, taught to them by their mother who died two weeks before the two brothers set out to search for their father. This film becomes a delusional nightmare after the first hour. It is utterly silly, though the performance by the two leads who are non-professional actors was excellent. Greece's economic and racial woes were lost in this film that seemed to want to step onto the Broadway stage rather than reveal raw realities the country is presently experiencing.

1.5 -- STEADINESS, Lisa Weber
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Johann and Gertrude, a couple in their golden years, take their two grandkids, Lisa and Lukas on their car trip with them from Austria to the North Cape in Norway. It's supposed to be a tourist region. Lisa, the director, happens to be filming this adventure that is devoid of any excitement for the travelers, as such, proves to be amusing for us, because of its mundanity. It reveals more hotels, car parks, bickering and uneventful scenes than one could imagine. And to think this is how they marked their 47th anniversary. We laugh though because the tiny disagreements they have are entirely typical and all too familiar -- no matter the stage and state of your marriage.

2.5 -- NIGHTCRAWLER, Dan Gilroy
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Lou Bloom is an engaging, oddball thief who stumbles upon a horrible car accident, and the swarm of freelancers looking to shoot and sell their dripping blood and gore videos to the networks competing for viewership. Fascinated by what he has just witnessed, he decides to get his own equipment and in no time he becomes one of the best, and begins blackmailing Nina (Rene Russo) his news desk editor, into providing sexual favours and top dollar for his work. Lou is a strange mixture of nerd, sociopath, sleaze and Dale Carnegie. In night scenes glossed in refrigerated yellow light that reveal the inflamed intestine L.A. has become, Lou, and his dim witted employee Rick, will do anything, including repositioning the mangled bodies of crashes or extreme violence, to get footage. Eye balls aglaze, face perfectly set to capture the laminated night light, Lou, nailed by Jake Gyllenhaal, combines what is cold and calculating in Anton Chigurh (No Country for Old Men) and Hannibal Lector. But what could have been a fascinating character study morphs into an all too predictable tale of depravity that implicates the nightcrawlers no less than the network executives for whom ratings are the only dirty game in town. Cinema verité this is not. In fact it is sometimes so outrageously improbable that it generates considerable humour. However, as a visual experience, the nocturnal action scenes are riveting and the jackhammer soundtrack pounds into submission any humane consideration of what is unfolding, which, I propose, is the unstated aim of entertainment at its unsophisticated best.

1.3 -- LE GRAND HOMME, Sarah Lednor
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Hamilton and Markov are two inseparable soldiers who scout out unknown territory in Afghanistan, but when Markov gets shot, he is forced to return to Paris where reconnects to his young son. Hamilton soon is sent back to Paris which is great, as the two men can renew their friendship without carrying arms or watching each other’s back. However, life is not easy for either of them, and when Markov gets killed in an accident, no one finds out until days later. Hamilton is not into being a guardian for the boy who constantly runs away from the orphanage. Still, life has a way of reuniting souls, and in the end, it seems the three of them are destined to be together. Disconnected scenes and flatness set the dull tone of the film. Jérémie Renier as Hamilton gave a fine performance in this otherwise lacklustre movie.

4.0-- DIFRET, Zeresebay Berhane Mehari
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Hirut, a 14-year-old girl is on her way back home from school when she is abducted by a group of sword toting horsemen in Ethiopia's countryside. The leader of the group wants to claim her as his wife, and as the custom among the village men goes, he rapes and beats her. Hirut manages to escape but not without turning the man's rifle on him. She kills him, and thus begins the nightmarish journey she faces. Coming to her rescue is Addis Ababa lawyer, Meaza Ashenafi, who founded the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, which she also directed. It defends the rights of Ethiopian women who are brutalized on a daily basis. Incredible obstacles caused by the police prevent her from giving Hirut the medical and legal assistance she needs. Meaza eventually sues the Justice Ministry, and in retaliation, the Justice Minister orders the closing down of the women's rights office where she works. Nothing is going well, until that Minister is fired and three months later, the Ministry agrees to hear the case in a court of law. Hirut speaks defending her actions to save her life from the man. Judgment is swift; Hirut is freed. Based on true events, the film, which is produced by Angelina Jolie, embodies the meaning of its title: 'defiance.' Meanza was nominated for the Nobel peace prize in 2003. This movie is a must-see. I hope it wins best film in the Competition category.

2.5 -- DIFRET, Director
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Difret means courage in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. Why bother with seduction when abduction can procure you a wife. A villager has his eyes set on Hirut, a beautiful buxom 14-year-old. On her way home from school, she is abducted by six horsemen and then raped. During an escape attempt, in self-defense, she kills her abductor with his rifle, and according to village tradition is immediately sentenced to death. Meaza, a human rights lawyer, volunteers to defend her. In especially Islamic countries, but also India and Africa, women's rights movements are still in their infancy and many films, at considerable risk to their makers, have dared to expose the culture that conditions men, who are not necessarily evil, to believe that women are born to serve and bear children. This film has in its crosshairs the impassioned opposition between Ethiopia's past and present. Notwithstanding the critical importance of the subject, and the inspirational effect Difret will have on women who will not "give up the fight," the storyline was formulaic and too many of the scenes were more fit for a soap opera consumption than serious viewing. The film's predictability was somewhat offset by sweeping views of the gorgeous Ethiopian highlands, which included authentic scenes of village life as well as a fascinating glimpse of how the males hold court under the banyan tree. If only for its insights into the Ethiopian ethos and the discombobulating incommensurability between traditional village life and Addis Ababa, Difret offers just enough substance to justify its production and attendance.

3.4 -- LE CHALLAT DE TUNIS, Kaouther Ben Hania
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] In 2003, in Tunisia a brave woman goes on a search to find out who the real "Challat" is -- the sicko motorcyclist who slashes women's behinds as they are walking while he's riding his bike. A woman-hating guy name Jael claims responsibility, but we find out he really is not the guy. Nonetheless, he's toted as the hero of the neighbourhood by most men -- even the religious leader. In fact, these slashers pervade and are often praised for what they do in the Middle East. This is a film within a film that is both funny and horrifying as we find out through the director's lens that so many men agree with this violent act. We witness animal cruelty, a video game based on the slasher, and hear the story from two women who were attacked this way. It views as a biopic, but it is not. What a sad state of affairs when we see that a lot of men claim to be the real slasher, and before she can locate the real one, many men are proud to try out for the part for her film.

[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Enjoy it now, Hermosa Juventud (Beautiful Youth), because in economically depressed Spain it's not going to last long. Natalie and Carlos are an exceptionally attractive young couple madly in love, but both are unemployed and living at home. Early in the film, for 600 Euros, they agree to participate in a porno shoot. Then Natalie gets pregnant. This being Catholic Spain they agree to have the child even though Carlos knows he has nothing to offer. What distinguishes this film from the many others on the same subject is its scope. We know that young love will be severely tested; but what we don't realize are how deep and vast are the consequences of the economic crisis on both the moral fabric of Spain and family life. Normally, parents come to the aid of even their grown children, but what if the parents are absent or unemployed? What is the cure for a father's battered self-esteem if he can't support his family, if there is only more of the bleak same on the horizon? One look at their soft faces and you know that Carlos and Natalie are good people: but the former engages in revenge thuggery and the latter turns to shoplifting to make ends meet. Natalie, who barely survives the trials and tribulations of motherhood, decides to leave her family and go to Hamburg to better her life, but she doesn't speak the language and can't find regular work. So what choices are left for a young, attractive woman who is separated from her family? This low budget film benefited from a 100% diegetic sound track, the timely and creative interjection of text messages and emails to bridge time and distance gaps, and excellent acting performances from the two leads, Ingrid García Jonsson and Carlos Rodríguez, and Inma Nieto as Natalie's mother.

2.3 -- GUROV AND ANNA, Rafael Ouelet
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A silly love story of a married professor who becomes infatuated with a young French student he teaches. He is obsessed as well with a short story called "The Lady with the Dog" by Chekhov. Does life imitate art? The girl he loves has a dog, but she isn't married (she is in the story), and though he is not a banker, as the character is in the short story, his passion is similar to the character Chekhov created. Not a winner for me by any means.

1.9 -- THE OWNERS, Adilkhan Yerzhanov
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Trickle-down economics is definitely not working in oil-rich Kazakhstan. The Owners begins in the bleak and ends up in the deepest rung of the bleak multiplied by the exponential of your choice. In this dirty dog eat dog environment, teenaged Yerbol, along with his older brother and younger epileptic sister, are physically intimidated into signing over their only possession: their one room hovel of a house inherited from their mother. Despite having the correct papers, they are up against a totally corrupt, bought off legal system. After his brother is thrown in jail because he refused to sign over the house, and getting beat up himself over a trumped up car debt, Yerbol goes to the court house to complain, and finds himself in the basement of a building whose dumpy corridor resembles a prison: "your case will be heard in two months," utters a slit of a mouth. After witnessing the death of both his brother and sister, Yerbol loses it and takes the law into his own hand, but his abusers, also despairing and dispirited and desperate to be relieved of their self-loathing, make no effort to avoid their fate. The film, with very mixed results, borrows heavily from absurdist/comedic ploys: when the worst is about to hit the rock's bottom, the violators turn on a cheap radio and start dancing to 1950s rock'n'roll. Despite director Yerzhanov's familiarity with Kafka and Becket, there isn't much to recommend a film that often feels like a static theatre production. Noteworthy is the effective tableau lighting that borrows from George La Tour, whose diffuse lighting seems to emanate not from an external source but the innocent victims of Kazakhstan's heartless and brutal interpretation of capitalism. The gorgeous, deep green mountain landscape provides some relief in a film that makes its point with a poison-tipped sledgehammer.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Nira, an Israeli kindergarten teacher discovers through Miri, the nanny of one of the boys she teachers, that the sweet boy is a poet. Yoav is only five, but his mind is wise and his gift to create poems, remarkable. Nira is herself a poet and begins to form a deep connection to Yoav that becomes obsessive. She eventually kidnaps him, after she is granted permission to mind him several days a week while Yoav's father works. Nira loves Yoav's verses but not the fact that he will never amount to his true calling -- unless she takes care of him always. She must set him on his career path and always be with him. Nira is disturbed - or is she really? This film builds the tension and fascination between the two characters with great subtlety and sensitivity. What should one do with a prodigy poet livng in a world where Internet and visuals are the only tools left affect people's emotions?

-2.0 -- CAVALO DINHERIO, Pedro Costa
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] Disconnected scenes conjuring up the fate of Ventura, an oppressed sick man who remembers incidents and his friends stuck in oppressive Portuguese purgatory during the revolution man -- all voices whisper to him in this dark sanatorium in which he is imprisoned -- a maze of walls and metal elevators of barren ugliness. The film is static slow motion misery; the only action in this pretentious piece of incomprehensible silliness and badly lit cinematography is the trembling left hand of Ventura who obviously has Parkinsons. The Lucarno Film Festival is obviously suffering from some kind of neurological affliction as well; it granted Mr. Dinjeiro the 2014 Best Director Award for the film, which sent many people into a deep sleep. Mind you, the snoring added an element of reality while creating a cool sound track to this sleeper of a film.

2.8 -- CHARLIE'S COUNTRY, Rolf de Heer
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Charlie's Country is anything but 'his' country, just as subtlety is not this film's most conspicuous virtue, which nonetheless does not diminish its impact and import. The director, Rolf de Heer (10 Canoes), makes no bones about his agenda: the plight of Australia's Aboriginals, and, by extension, Aboriginals everywhere. The film stars David Gulpilil, who now in his 60s brings a mesmerizing, sun-blistered face to the screen along with a gleaming, bone-thin body that allows him exceptional nimbleness for his age, or when he falls ill in the bush, that same, now emaciated, body is made to look like it has been warmed over by death. The sum of the many subplots in the film -- most of them related to negotiating the poverty and restrictions that living on a government sponsored reserve entail -- reduce to one harsh reality: Charlie and his fellows don't belong anywhere. So one day he decides to return to the bush, which he, but not the director, romanticizes. Like in the now famous Walkabout (1971), this one ends badly: he can't survive, falls ill, and is found just in time and whisked away to Darwin's best hospital where, under the care of the white man, he recovers quickly. Recoursing the ATM machines with dole money that's uploaded onto his debit card, he hooks up with some of the local squatters, abos like himself, and begins drinking heavily. After a violent confrontation with the police, he ends up in prison: the only place where he does rather well -- so why not keep him there the system seems to argue. "The police came to my home and tried to throw me out," he explains to an impassive judge. The film skillfully contextualizes (exculpates) the abos' unhealthy fondness for alcohol, meaning unless you've been there, in the throes of despair, where getting from one moment to the next is the only thing that matters, no one has a right to point a finger at anyone for whom grog or ganga is the difference between life and clinical depression. One of the unsung stars in the film is the cinematography of Ian Jones. Without ever being intrusive or voyeuristic, the camera, like a friendly breeze, stirs up the musty, miserable details of aboriginal life and recasts them in a more comprehensive framework of cause and effect. The land, in theory, belongs to them but is subject to Australian law, and therein lies the rub which rubs them, their culture and traditions, mostly the wrong way. Unhappy with the white man's junk food, they hunt down a buffalo, only to have it and their only vehicle confiscated because the guns weren't properly registered. De Heer refuses to romanticize the Aboriginal, and if much of what we see and hear isn't pretty, Charlie and his fellows manage to retain their dignity through it all even though the rules of the game are fixed against them. This film was definitely not helped by the syrupy, sentimental piano soundtrack that was somewhat offset by the surprise ending that has Charlie agreeing to teach dance to the younger generation. The scene features a madly inspired transcendental music-dance dénouement that tells us more about the nature of hope than the people it sustains.

2.4 -- CHARLIE'S COUNTRY, Rolf de Heer
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A vast territory of land in remote Northern Australia introduces us to Charlie, who like his other Aboriginal community pals have been dispossessed of their home. In fact, their country is their home, but they have none to claim their own. The white police have ensured that their guns and rifles, even their hand-made spears used for hunting are taken away. Charlie retreats to the bush to try to survive, but eventually ends up in the hospital and then jail. He comments over and over again about white man bringing in their junk food, guns, cigarettes, cars and stealing everything from them. The film takes a harsh look at what has happened to Australia's first landowners. Unfortunately, it goes on and on, and belabours the point without any dramatic tension.

3.4-- RÉSISTANCE NATURELLE, Jonathon Nossiter
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] This documentary dares to divulge the unsung heroes of Italy's wine growers who produce wine 100% naturally -- no chemicals used, even sulfates. Stefan Bellottis knows an incredible amount about nature's ways of yielding bounty, and most of the magic happens underground to the unseen eye. He is a radical who disdains the complete intrusion and monopoly of AOC -- Europe's stamp of approval for marketing wine. Stefano is joined by other vintners of the earth whose lush grapes grow in Tuscany and Chianti. These men and women who reveal how fruitful the land is in Emilia-Romagna and Marche -- two famous wine-producing regions -- but because they have been shunned or have left the AOC, their estates become metaphors for freedom and pure health. Thematic archival segments from Italian films are shown of historical and entertainment value -- sporting scenes of oppression, back-to-the-land living and peasant freedom fighters. Why do the powers of control punish those that want what is good for our bodies to flourish -- to live with the wind blowing at our backs, and the sun shining in our faces and in the leaves of unhampered grapes vines devoid of chemical tampering?  

3.8 -- BOYCHOIR , François Girard
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A tapestry of beauty and heartbreak. On the verge of teenage years, Stet seethes with anger and loneliness. He’s lost his mother in a car accident and has a father somewhere who has been out of his life since his mother got pregnant. But being rich, dad does send money. Seth has a gift; his voice is heavenly, and so his principal at school (Debra Winger) arranges for him to audition of the choirmaster of America’s most prestigious boy’s choir. But when the maestro Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) shows up, Seth runs out of the room. However, he does end up being accepted into the school (it’s amazing what a cheque can do as a donation to a school when it’s given by a parent – Seth’s dad, in this case). Rivalry between the lead singer and Seth topple his chances of staying in the school; plus his temper is taking centre stage to his talent. The music is stunning; the is a rare plot treat with many twists of real-life conflicts both inter-personal and professional relationships. This substantially adds meat to the music that otherwise could have overtaken the entire film. Cathy Bates was great in the role of the school’s director. Newcomer, Garrett Wareing has an angelic singing voice, but his acting could do with a little more coaching – not from a choirmaster, but from an acting teacher.

0.4 -- VIOLET, Bas Devos
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Two teens are loitering in a mall when one of them is knifed. Jesse, frozen in panic, does nothing to help his friend Jonas who bleeds to death. Ostensibly, this Belgium film is about Jesse and the victim’s grieving family coping with guilt and loss, but little happens in this pretentious, relentlessly static film. The director plays with light like a child indiscriminately filling his face with candy. From the opening scene, viewer patience is tested (violated) as Devos persistently confuses being different for its own sake with profundity. Unrelated to the plot, scenes dissolve into brilliant washes of colour or fractured prisms of lights. There are long, drawn out close-ups that follow a moping Jesse on his bike or walking along a street before cutting to another inane take. A typical interior shot finds the camera inexplicably paused on a dining room table, the corner of which is sharply lit. One doesn’t know whether to wow or ow. In another scene, the lense finds Jesse’s father’s left hand dangling out the car window holding a cigarette: everything else, the side mirror, the road, the trees are blurred. Pan to an ear-wrecking two minute sequence of Edvard’s Munch’s The Scream transmogrified into music that makes Nine Inch Nails sound like a lullaby. Throughout the film the characters, the streets, the architecture are shot out of focus – to no apparent effect, unless the director, beforehand, decided he wanted to make the point that when art house films flop, they flop big time, or, if you have nothing to say, even the most sophisticated of editing and photo apps count for nothing. What saved this film from a negative integer rating was its relative brevity: only 80 minutes instead of the usual 100.

2.5 -- THE TRIBE, Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy
[reviewed by Robert J. Lewis] Before the film begins, the viewer is advised there will be no dialogue; all the characters are deaf mutes who speak exclusively in sign language.

The first scene of Sergey waiting at a bus stop includes a nearby wrecked car that looks like it has been abandoned for months -- a symbolic introduction to a Ukraine that is on the ropes, where the underclass has no voice. But even without a voice, it doesn't take long for these deaf mute boarding schoolers to make their presence felt and feared; they resemble a pack of wolves more than a tribe as they adhere to a ruthless, military-like pecking order. The worst of them bullies the dorm's weaker members, and pimps two of the young women at a head-light lit, totally surreal wintry truck stop in what are perhaps the film's most memorable scenes as the sex workers are whisked in and out of the back of a delivery truck like livestock being shuttled to and fro the market place. Outside the dorm, on their thieving and mugging missions, the thugs descend on their victims like a voracious swarm before leaving them for near dead. For the first half of the film, the action effectively argues that the tribe's dystopic behaviour is simply a natural response to either a bankrupt, corrupt Ukraine or one that has been undone at the seams by a rapacious Russia. But the film loses both focus and credibility as Sergey morphs into a possessive, degenerate sociopath. The storyline aptly unfolds in sunless late fall and winter. The threadbare sets are consistently dreary and almost every public space is tattooed with graffiti - the language of the disenfranchised. Since sign language is guesswork for most viewers, it's an open question on whether or not some of the talky scenes, which featured furious finger-work and heavy breathing, would have benefited from subtitles. Foreign language films, when shown abroad, aren't any less authentic on that account. The film includes a horrific, in your face back-room abortion scene that should give pause to even the most extreme pro-lifer. First time director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy shows a disciplined eye in respect to mood and visuals but what could have been a good film is undermined by an excess of gratuitous violence and raw sex. That said, this uneven result definitely recommends his next film.

[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] The Uyghurs are Muslims who live in Turkestan where northern China has persecuted, pursued and tortured many dissidents. Five men decide to escape and leave for Pakistan and Afghanistan, but their nightmare really begins in these places. 9/11 happens, and they are caught as patsies in a series of diabolical fiascos. China has put out word that these men are terrorists. The general favours the US and imprisons them, and then the prison in Afghanistan is bombed by the Americans. By now, the American government has put out word that anyone who turns in terrorists will receive over 5000$ (per head). These men along with 17 other Uyghurs who survive the bombing eventually end up spending ten years in Guantanamo's cruelest confinements, including the notorious cement filled Camp 6. Despite Obama's effort to dissolve Cuba's holding hellish prison for would-be terrorists, and the Supreme Court's ruling to release these men, evil political forces prevail, and decisions are overturned. Two American lawyers fight for them over a decade, but the poor men lose hope of ever regaining freedom. Absurdly, one of the problems is, though they are finally deemed innocent, they are held in Guantanamo as no country will take them in -- even after Obama finally gets his way. Bermuda finally does take them in after much behind-the-scenes politicking. Typically, joining the paranoia was Canada, Germany and England who refused to accept them into their borders. Rushan Abbas, an Uyghur living in the US, serves as the translator for these men many months after their arrival in Guantanamo. Like these imprisoned men, she too believed in the USA's justice system, but realism dashes all their naivety. In 2002, she resigns, realizing she can't overcome the 'injustice' system. But three years later, she returns to help the American lawyers spread the news that they will be released if they put in a formal complaint against being wrongly held there. This documentary is incredible, and is brilliantly told through the men themselves and the other heroes who fight for freedom. The geopolitical power kings are dangerous fools, and the fact is, countless unfortunate simple people are caught in the absurdity of lies, made-up legalese semantics, deceptions and falsehoods that Americans and Chinese invent to their advantage -- merciless hounds that act on ignorance rather than truth and knowledge.

0.0-- A STREET IN PALERMO, Emma Dante
[reviewed by Nancy Snipper] A ridiculous film of two women who refuse to move their cars they are driving on a street so the other can get by. One is old, the other a lesbian with her partner in the passenger seat. Everyone gets involved yelling and screaming, and it would seem no one is happy on this street. The ending with everyone running down the street which goes on interminably is so boring, I was rather hoping the two cars would crash into oblivion.


Ratings for 2013 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.

Ratings for 2012 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.

Ratings for 2011 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.

Ratings for 2010 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.

Ratings for 2009 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.

Ratings for 2008 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.

Ratings for 2007 Festival du Nouveau Cinéma.




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