people learn early if not later in life that life isn't
fair, either due to circumstance of one's birth or particular
life situation. Far too often decency, diligence and industry
are not rewarded.
director Belén Funes, without ever trying to make the
point, creates a no-nonsense but endearing portrait of
a young woman who deserves better.
in her early 20s, with unconventional winning looks, is
the daughter of a thief just out of prison. She has to
keep a close eye on her 7-year old brother with a disability,
and with state assistance she looks after her baby, all
the while taking on odd jobs and looking for permanent
stable employment. The father of the child, just returned
from farm work in southern France to Barcelona, is no
longer interested in her, so Sara's plate is full.
to spot-on editing, the busy-body that is Sara as she
flits from one responsibility to the next (feeding child,
looking after brother, trying to reconcile with father,
applying for work, dealing with MIA husband) swells into
a mood of quiet desperation that lulls the viewer into
empathizing with her on-going messy life situations that
tie her down all the while feeling that she deserves much
better, in part because she refuses to play the victimization
role of Sara, nimbly, inventively played by Greta Fernandez,
has star-is-born written all over her performance. She
shines like a diamond such that we feel let down in scenes
that don't include her.
film reminds us that much of the good of the world issues
from ordinary people who decide to make the best of circumstances
not of their choosing. The
Thief's Daughter abounds in grace notes that redounds
to both the director and her team who make the most of
limited resources and extract convincing performances
from mostly unknown actors.
opens in the near future, 2025, but in Ukraine, the
future is overwhelmed, swallowed up and buried by the
past; a not so subtle reference to Russia's illegal invasion
and expropriation of Crimea and the costly resistance
without exception, every forlorn scene is shot with an
inert camera -- grim portraits of the devastation unleashed
by war and untold hardships endured. In the opening scene,
from high up looking down, in colours that are saturated
to their warping point, we observe three men digging a
grave. The intended, a captured sniper, is still alive
when his mouth is stuffed with bullets before he is clubbed
and dumped into the hole and buried.
to an interior scene, a man brings in a pair of frozen
stiff pants that were hanging outside, begins to iron
them, and then burns the iron into his thigh before going
berserk and smashing up his meagre living quarters.
the degraded steel mill engulfed in fumes, a platform
worker, despairing of the present and future, leaps into
the foundry's fiery furnace. The next day, on a huge video
screen, an American CEO announces to the workers that
the mill is temporarily closing due to modernization,
but the locals know that US steel can't compete with Ukraine's
lower local production costs.
another scene, body bags are unfolded for autopsies. In
a voice as lifeless as the corpses, the condition of the
bodies is described in minute detail before they are carted
away, many of them ending up in unmarked mass graves.
if all of this isn't sufficiently miserable and depressing,
it's winter and all the roads have turned into mud and
everything mechanical breaks down; once thriving cities
and towns are now toxic wastelands where nothing grows.
a water delivery episode that will appeal to closet anthropophagists,
in a harsh rocky outcropping, a trucker, extending a long
hose, fills a deserted metal dumpster with water after
which he sets fire to the wood beneath it. He waits for
the water to warm up, strips down and climbs into a deliciously
the penultimate frames, a couple, hardened by war and
prolonged despair but desperate to find traces of their
humanity, copulate in the back of a sealed container,
their animal lovemaking easily more dignified than what
their humankind have done to their country. When the latched
door opens, there is an explosion of light. The man explains
that for years he wanted to die but now realizes he must
in its unrelenting grimness and despair, is not only an
indictment of Russian aggression and a world that stood
by and watched, but of all wars and the anguish and loss
they leave in their wake. It's also a poignant reminder
that the 6 o'clock news doesn't tell us what we really
ought to know.
teens awakening to self-consciousness and their budding
sexuality is a rite of passage fraught with both consequences
and phantom fears. Beginning with the new millennium,
coming out and/or coming of age has been a favourite theme
of cinema, especially since the LGBTQ movement found its
voice. Leonie Krippendorff's Cocoon
does the genre proud.
summer weather in Berlin is hot and sticky and 14-year-old
Nora, her older sister Jule and friend Aylin are dressed
skimpy to beat the heat. The three-some are precociously
splashing about in pool when Nora accidently touches another
girl and discovers that she likes it. Shortly thereafter
she has her first period during a mixed gym class. But
it's the new girl in the neighbourhood, Romy, who helps
her overcome her embarrassment.
played by Lena Urzendowsky, gives an extraordinarily nuanced
performance that has reward written all over it. Her feelings,
her facial expressions that refract her inner turbulence
and fondest dreams reads like a personal diary of one's
most private confessions. Under Krippendorff's inventive
helmership, the give and take between Nora's fluctuating
emotional state and the external world (at poolside, the
bedroom Nora shares with her sister, the symbolic presence
of a caterpillar, the extravagant vegetation) are flawlessly
the film the sensuality is almost palpable, as if the
camera contains a beating heart and desires seeking to
be fulfilled. Like a gentle caress, at every opportunity
the up-close and tactile lens celebrates the warmth of
summer and supremacy of the flesh.
tracking of Nora's metamorphosis from cocoon to butterfly
seamlessly unfolds in the new Germany with its immigrant
population. In schools that are multicultural, students
share the same challenges and feelings about the world
that is changing about them. The manner in which young
Germans, Turks and Arabs relate bodes well for the country's
future, despite the decline in family values. Nora and
Jule's mother who is still very (too) young and attractive,
has a drinking problem and is mostly absent, leaving the
two sisters to look after themselves. In fact the role
of parents is an after-thought throughout the film. No
surprise that Nora and her relationship with Romy are
running along two separate tracks; and life goes on, just
as we wish Cocoon
would have gone on longer.
the 1960s, Serbia prided itself in providing institutions
that looked after its mentally challenged population,
mindful that in man's early history newborns with defects
were routinely put to death.
unfolds in a real life institution.
girls, Marija and Dragana form a close bond, in part because
their wrists bare the scars of their cutting and suicide
attempts. When they meet Robert, a mute, they cannot resist
his handsome features and angelic face. The pained expression
that shows in his gait and pours out of his large sad
eyes beg to be cared for, but the care-givers, for the
most part, aren't there for their patients, on top of
which they aren't so much as unfeeling but incompetent
or unqualified, seemingly incapable of the smallest empathy.
dooms the girls' friendship. Dragana announces she is
pregnant, a dagger in the heart of her rival that turns
out to be wishful thinking. But then Marija is found out
to be pregnant and is whisked away for an abortion. So
much for patient rights. Meanwhile, Robert, like someone
subjected to a Pavlovian experiment, is introduced to
Bianca in order to wean him off Marija. The three of them
will eventually meet in a better place, which throws a
backwards light on an institution that talks big but delivers
small. It seems that special needs people aren't supposed
to fall in love, or exhibit normal human emotions, and
are presumably helped when they are denied their humanity.
shot with a hand-held camera, Oasis has a documentary
feeling to it because the location is real and the actors
are playing themselves. Its two hour running time would
have been more effective pared down to 90 minutes.
TOOTH, Liang Ming
the wisdom tooth pain metaphor isn't likely to receive
the blessings of this year's Poet Laureate, the film Wisdom
Tooth certainly doesn't suffer on its account.
its entire length, the film sustains interest as a mood
piece and character study of a young Chinese girl whose
relationships with those closest to her and her work environment
are deliberately obscure.
exciting interest in any storyline, one of cinema's most
oft used techniques is suspense created by withholding
critical information: its first effect is to both unsettle
and engage the viewer. Ambiguity and ambivalence are the
staples of Wisdom
Tooth, whose storyline -- the difficulty of Chinese
border town workers obtaining visas to Korea -- is secondary
to the film's seductive atmospherics.
we meet teenage Guxi, she is sponging the back of Guliang,
who we learn only much later is her brother, or maybe
half-brother. But in point of fact we're never quite sure
if they are lovers, are platonically in love, or simply
unusually close siblings. After losing his fishing income
consequent to an oil spill the government tried to suppress,
Guliang reluctantly begins to work for Jian, the town's
shady power broker, who just happens to own the hotel
where the undocumented Guxi works. In the meanwhile, Guxi
begins a friendship with the boss' classy, sexually charged
daughter Quingchang, but we're not sure how sincere it
is, just as we're not sure about the underlying motiviation
when we discover that Guliang is romantically involved
with Quingchang. But when Guxi discovers the affair, she
cannot contain her jealousy over her brother's apparent
betrayal but perhaps also Quinchang's.
artifice or compromise, Winter Tooth is a tangled
skein of sexual politics and convoluted relationships.
But however vague and unresolved are the story's overlapping
subplots, Guxi's volatile emotional state -- her small
pleasures, her disappointments, her explosiveness -- is
the glue that keeps the film's many disparate elements
in orbit. . From one scene to the next, we're not sure
how Guxi is going to react when her circumstance changes,
which is typical of adolescents trying to find their way
in a mostly uncaring world.
director, Liang Ming, takes full advantage of location,
the contrasting indoor and outdoor environments. The latter
has a monochrome wintery, edgy feel to it while the indoor
hotel/bedroom/restaurant scenes are wanton and hot and
bursting with steamy colours.
Tooth, in consideration of its multifaceted physical,
political and psychological components, is a tough film
to pull off. It speaks to a director in full control of
her materials and vision. Her next root canal promises
to be even better.
CITY, Luong Dinh Dung
Luong Dinh Dung's Drowsy
City, there's no chance of drowsing off.
film opens with a knife slicing open a chicken's throat,
after which the slicer drains the blood into a slop-pail
which stands in an island of grime and bird feathers.
The camera pans to the film's nameless, taciturn anti-hero,
known simply by what he does: slaughterman. He kills chickens
for a living. Before slitting their throats, he pours
boiling water over them to facilitate the removal of the
aspect of slaughterman's life is peculiar: his manner
of preparing the chickens for his clients; when not working
he soaks his body in a small tub (ersatz return to the
womb, innocence) and he's a peeping Tom, which gets him
in trouble after he's caught in the act of witnessing
his thug neighbours abuse and hold a prostitute against
her will. When he's caught, they subject him to all sorts
of indignities, and for laughs, they force him to jump
up and down like a chicken.
as in vengeance, is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. There
isn't a film culture in the world that doesn't have its
revenge genre. Drowsy City offers an unusual
perspective on that theme. When the prostitute announces
she is pregnant, the thugs begin kicking her in the stomach,
hoping to induce a miscarriage. Slaughterman, as is his
wont, is spying on the somewhat unsophisticated medical
procedure, and resolves to do something about it. So he
dissolves a package of powerful sleeping pills into the
meal he's preparing for the thugs, and when they are under,
he ties them up and subjects them to the horrors normally
reserved for his chickens.
and animal rights warriors are likely to take exception
to the graphic executions and flow of blood. However,
consequent to the incontinent blood letting, there will
always be a disaffected vegetarian or two who suddenly
develops a liking for the Colonel's (Sanders) favourite
to director Dung who understands that character development
would constitute a major distraction in a film that doesn't
pretend to be anything other than gross entertainment.
Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was one of the
first books that laid bare the repression and systemic
horrors experienced under Soviet Communism.
Ostrochoveky's Servants offers a bleak harrowing,
albeit static account of the inhumanity and constricting
contagion of fear generated in that anomalous era. The
story unfolds in Slovakia (Bratislava), in the late 1970s.
in black and white, Servant's sombre atmospherics
are introduced in the first scene. A bumpy camera follows
a car along a deserted, frozen road; the trunk is opened
and a body is removed.
the interior of the seminary where most of the film is
shot, two friends, Juraj and Michael are among a group
of students studying to become priests. While religion
was officially banned under Communism, the Soviets allowed
the seminary to operate under a "Pacem In Terris" agreement,
but under strict control. The priest's first duty was
not to God but the State.
day, the head priest is summoned by the security chief,
Frantisek, who advises him that someone is secretly transmitting
information to the West, and that if he doesn't apprehend
the culprit(s), the seminary will be closed. The directive
obliges both the priest and subversive students to consider
their calling and conscience.
film is shot in 4 x 3, a size that favours portraiture,
of faces and the era. Most of the action is comprised
of whispers and nods, and clipped dialogue. In this film,
the eyes speak and see. The regimentation within the seminary
and the State are superbly captured by inventive camera
positions, including from the dome looking down. The tension
is almost palpable as the parallel lines of refectory's
austere benches and tables toe the line of the rigid architectural
lines of the seminary. Where there is light, and there's
not much of it throughout the film, it's dark and inky,
and spreads like a pestilence to the effect that the world
inside the seminary resembles a prison.
at once subdued and explicit, is a precious document and
witness to the ugly truths of a repressive system that
could not have prevailed indefinitely, so contrary were
its foundational principles to man's essential nature.
IS NOT A BURIAL, IT'S A RESURRECTION, Lemohang
film praised by all the major reviewing journals tends
to sweep up in its coatails even more positive reviews,
and however unconsciously, persuades even well-meaning
reviewers to overrule their better judgment.
the first sclerotic half hour of This Is Not a Burial,
It's a Resurrection, I couldn't help wondering if
this wasn't a student film assigment made on a shoestring
budget. Clocking in at 140 minute film I would have sent
it back, by jet, to the cutting (hacksaw) table. On a
scale between zero and ten, the camera work was unfailingly
negative integer; the sets, although true to life, were
uninteresting, and the voiceover, representing the influence
of myth in the daily life of a small, isolated village
in South Africa that time seems to have left behind, wasn't
convincing. It must be said, however, that perhaps too
much was lost in translation: for every 100 spoken words
of the African language, about 30 appeared in English,
and in subtitles that far too often disappeared into the
the still alert, ancient woman of the village, has lost
everyone she has loved: her parents, her husband, her
children and her grandchilden; and she wants to join them.
But the district council wants to displace the entire
village to make room for a dam, which will flood the entire
area including the sacred burial ground. The old, who
are believers, Christians, will not tolerate the desecration
of their loved ones' spirit world while the young are
more amenable to change.
a socio-political drama, the film works best when focussed
on the very real conflict between progress and tradition,
while acknowledging the natural advantage of the former.
The village church was constructed in the 1850s. All the
male members of the tribe had to contribute the iron from
their spears for the construction of the bell. By inference,
the representatives (proselytizers) of a foreign religion
managed to convince the hunters to trade in not only what
was precious in their weaponry but their many gods for
the one Christian god. What will they have to give up
this time? Or what are you left with if you have to give
the paucity of pleasures the film offers up are some of
the locations and individual life stories spun out of
the warp and woof of the local mythology. But the unecessarily
long film is jagged and far too short short on connective
ON, Yoon Dan-Bi
learn either experientially or anecdotally that the three
main sources of major life-stress are death of a loved
one, poverty and moving.
Yoon Dan-bi's very impressive Moving On, a down-on-its-luck
Korean family must learn how to deal with all three stresses
as the family (a divorced father and his two children)
moves its meager belongings to the ailing grandfather's
home because the father has lost his job and now sells
shoes from his truck.
most affected are the children, despite the father putting
on a happy face and show of calm in the midst of the turbulence.
As one would expect, of the two children, 15-year old,
emotionally volatile Okju, and not her much younger brother
Dongju, is more vulnerable to the sudden changes in the
family's fortunes. Unlike her brother, she cannot forgive
her mother for leaving her father and apparently withdrawing
her love from her children. Okju, played by Choi Jung-un,
steals every scene she appears in.
the many ups and down, disappointments and hardships,
the family unit, that now includes a recently divorced,
sympathetic aunt refuses to break down.
the film, a curious but unobtrusive camera joins the family
in its daily activities as it strives to normalize life.
We observe how each family member, in his or her own way,
volunteers to look after the grandfather whose health
is rapidly failing; and the empathetic manner the father
and aunt administer to Okju's emotional tantrums, and
how the simple preparing and sharing of a meal can be
a joyful experience.
sum of these moving parts play like an homage to the importance
of family in the face of adversity. From scenes that delight,
to tug on the heart strings, Moving On, in the
accumulation of its details, pitch-perfect script and
natural performances, is a small gem of a film that speaks
large to matters of universal concern.
his debut as a director, Dan-bi is already a candidate
to join Korea's distinguished pantheon of film makers.
love, or relationships that end in body but not mind,
are the source of much unhappiness in life. What both
works and doesn't quite work in Christian Petzold’s
is the fine acting and the extraordinary burden carried
by the film’s metaphors and symbols.
Undine is a museum tour guide in Berlin: her specialty
is architecture. Leading
groups of tourists around immaculately designed architectural
miniatures (maquettes), Undine, paying attention to the
smallest detail, rather brilliantly describes Berlin's
post-war massive restoration and reconstruction projects.
Meanwhile, in her private life, everything she comes in
contact with breaks down: a huge aquarium is knocked over
and spills its tonnage; her boyfriend's underwater diving
gear malfunctions, she drops a precious gift, and she
is at the epicenter of several relationship breakdowns.
We learn right away that something isn't quite right:
when Johannes announces he is leaving her, she explains
that she'll have to kill him. Shortly thereafter, she
begins a consuming, lovey-dovey affair with Christoph,
a frogman repairman, but this relationship is suddenly
in jeopardy when Undine passes her ex on the street. Christoph
senses the betrayal and leaves her, but like Undine, he
is an emotional prisoner of the past and can't let her
If the director Christian Petzold expects his audience
to find a message via the reconstruction/restoration metaphor,
he is probably asking too much, at least of this reviewer.
Whether in architecture or relationships, we know the
past perfect cannot be perfectly replicated in the present.
And the elaborate underwater scenes and symbolism complicate
rather than explicate what motivates the bizarre decisions
and behaviour of the protagonists. But their unusual choices
are part of the films small charm. Undine’s
contours are sufficiently off-center to fully engage the
viewer even while leaving him vaguely unsatisfied at the
end. Whether the film lingers in the mind long enough
to grow one's understanding of the ups and downs of relationships
remains to be seen.
IS NO EVIL, Mohammad Rasoulof
Of practical necessity, many Iranian films employ symbolism
or muted storylines to criticize the regime: in Baran
(Majid Majidi, 2001) a young girl, to support her family,
dresses up as a boy to find work on a construction site.
is No Evil takes a very different turn: it non-judgmentally
interrogates the people who go along with, do not take
a stand against the regime.
film is divided into four separate vignettes, each dealing
with the oft used death penalty. We never learn what the
condemned have done to merit the ultimate punishment.
Instead, we follow the lives of four individuals who are
either directly or indirectly party to the executions.
In Part I, an edgy camera follows a day in the life of
Heshmet: negotiating Tehran's torridly slow traffic and
unceasing noise, shopping with his wife for weekly groceries,
picking up his young daughter at school, looking after
his infirm mother. Heshmet is an easy going man, a calming
influence on his wife and extended family, a model of
domesticity. At 3 am, he is woken up by the alarm, he
drives to work, slips into his uniform, prepares himself
a snack, and then at the appointed hour he flicks the
switch: five bodies are dropped at the end of a rope.
As they twitch and shudder so do we. The camera pans to
the urine leaking out of their lifeless bodies.
remaining three vignettes, in similar fashion, refract
Iran's unconflicted relationship with the death penalty
and those (mostly soldiers who must serve in order to
qualify for a passport) who flick the switch.
asks the toughest of questions where there are no easy
answers. Are the designated executioners simply doing
their job, correctly deciding not to risk putting themselves
and family on the wrong side of the regime, or are they
150 minute film offers few pleasures but at the midway
point (the 7th inning stretch), in rural Iran, the wide
angle lensing provides for spectacular scenery and dreamy