Shadows @ Film FestsShadows: Arthouse Films ’03

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last update 4.Sep.03

back to the top BLIND SHAFT
Wang B, Wang S and Yi)
dir-scr Li Yang
with Yi Lixiang, Wang Shuangbao, Wang Baoqiang, An Jing, Bao Zhenjiang, Sun Wei, Zhao Junzhi, Wang Yining, Lu Zhenqi, Zhang Lulu, Li Yan, Zhao Hong
release release UK Nov.03 • 03/China 1h32 4 out of 5 stars
Writer-director Li basically shot himself in the foot with this remarkable film debut. It's a gripping and deeply sardonic thriller unlike anything we've seen from China before. And of course, since it criticises the society, it was banned in the country ... and Li was told he'll never make a film there again. The story follows conmen Song (Yi) and Tang (Wang Shuangbao), who have a particularly brutal system for making money from owners of illegal coalmines in rural China. After sending most of the money from their last sting back home to their families, they live it up with hookers in the city before selecting their next mark, a 16-year-old boy (Wang Baoqiang). But as they find a new mine and start their game again, Song starts having second thoughts. For increasingly compelling reasons.
  Gritty and funny, this film beautifully captures the desperation in a world where capitalism has gone mad and people are forced to do whatever they can to survive. This is certainly not just a Chinese story! And its edgy vitality really comes to life through Li's documentary filming style. Song and Tang's scam is brilliant and hideous at the same time, preying fatally on those even more helpless than themselves to get something from those who have more power. Li and his superb cast convey this as much through the silences as through the lively dialog. There's a deranged sort of morality at work here ("We'll get him laid today, then tomorrow we kill him"), but in a world gone this nuts it's hardly surprising. Scenes in the coalmines are claustrophobic and extremely tense, and as the story starts to build to the climax, we sense an ironic twist might be on its way. And so it is, but with a revelatory payoff. This is strong, brave filmmaking ... and it makes us look forward to whatever Li does next, either in China or outside it. [15 themes, language, violence, some nudity] 12.Aug.03
back to the top CRIMSON GOLD
dir Jafar Panahi; scr Abbas Kiarostami
with Hossain Emadeddin, Kamyar Sheisi, Pourang Nakhael, Azita Rayeji, Shahram Vaziri
release UK 12.Sep.03; US 16.Jan.04 • 03/Iran 1h37 3½ out of 5 stars
There's an energetic cynicism here that makes this quite different from most recent Iranian films--funnier, harsher, bleaker. And it's so well-made that it can't be ignored, even though the episodic structure makes it somewhat alienating. It's a series of scenes from the life of a war veteran named Hussein (Emadeddin), a petty thief by day and a pizza delivery man by night. The problem is that as he delivers pizza to Teheran's rich residents it only highlights his own dead-end life. Especially when he meets an obscenely rich young man (Nakhael) who lives in opulent decadence overlooking the city. And when he wants to buy some nice jewellery for his fiancee (Rayeji), sister of his best friend (Sheisi), he encounters a snobbish jeweller (Vaziri) who makes a fatal mistake.
  The story is told out of sequence; we begin with the final showdown between Hussein and the jeweller and then jump back to the beginning to watch the catalog of insults and indignities leading up to it. Panahi (The Circle) directs with his now-trademark style--long, complicated takes that increasingly give us the larger picture and draw their energy and spark from the naturalistic cast members. The film is punctuated with scenes of both overwhelming emotion and sharp irony. There are all kinds of things going on here, mostly just alluded to in an offhanded way that keeps us paying close attention--the power-mad police, the history of war, the vast disparity and prejudice between the haves and have-nots. As the film progresses all of this seems unrelated and fragmented; we can sense Hussein's growing humiliation and frustration, and yet his ultimate actions (which we know from the opening scene) seem extreme to say the least. And more than a little misguided. But then, that's probably the point--that this deep degradation must express itself somewhere. Read this way, the film is powerfully cautionary ... and it has a lot to say to our own society if we're willing to listen. [12 themes, language, violence] 6.Aug.03
back to the top INTERSTELLA 5555
the guitarist
dir Kazuhisa Takenouchi; scr Thomas Bangalter, Cedric Hervet, Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo
music Daft Punk featuring Romanthony, Todd Edwards, DJ Sneak
release UK 24.Oct.03 • 03/Japan 1h07 3½ out of 5 stars
This collaboration between the French musical duo Daft Punk (Bangalter and De Homem-Christo) and the Manga veteran Leiji Matsumoti carries the tagline The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem. Basically it's an animated sci-fi music video to accompany Daft Punk's entire Discovery album, but even though there's no dialog, the film has a strong narrative that draws us in remarkably.
  It opens on a distant planet where the blue-skinned residents are bopping to the sounds of their top band when an alien ship enters the atmosphere and kidnaps the musicians, taking them across the universe to Earth, where a sinister musical promoter named Darkwood brainwashes them, dyes their skin to more palatable earth-tones, and takes them to the top of the world's charts as the Crescendolls. But a hero from their homeworld, who happens to be a big fan, launches a desperate rescue operation that seems doomed from the start.
the hero   Drawing on the styles of Japanese anime and American 1970s TV cartoons (Josie and the Pussycats springs to mind), blended with imagery from Star Wars and 2001, the film looks fantastic. Just when it starts looking cheap and cheerful there's a whizzy sequence that takes our breath away. The characters are retro Barbie-dolls set against complicated and sumptuously coloured backgrounds, and yet they come to life with an emotional resonance that catches us off guard. Even without dialogue or subtle detail, we still feel for these people as they long to find a way home ... and have to deal with more imminent danger on Earth. Meanwhile, the story strikes a well-aimed--and slightly heavy-handed--blow against record company greed and manufactured pop. Sometimes the music seems almost anachronistic (and a bit too chirpy to underscore something like a solitary funeral), but it carries us through beautifully, paving the way for a seriously big climax and then a startlingly optimistic conclusion (followed by a witty coda). This is the kind of offbeat film that's pure joy to watch on a big screen ... and it'll be a favourite addition to the DVD collection as well. [PG themes, violence] 7.Aug.03
back to the top MADAME SATA
ramos puts up a fight
dir-scr Karim Ainouz • scr Karim Ainouz, Marcelo Gomes, Sérgio Machado
with Lazaro Ramos, Marcelia Cartaxo, Flavio Bauraqui, Felipe Marques, Emiliano Queiroz, Renata Sorrah, Giovana Barbosa, Ricardo Blat, Guilherme Piva, Marcelo Valle, Floriano Peixoto, Gero Camilo
release Brazil 8.Nov.02; US 9.Jul.03; UK 5.Sep.03 • 02/Brazil 1h45 4 out of 5 stars
This gritty tale from 1930s Rio de Janeiro tells the real story of Madame Satã, Queen of Carnival from the '40s to until his death in 1976. But before all that, João Francisco (Ramos) lives in the city's slums with a makeshift family--single-mum "wife" Laurita (Cartaxo) and "brother" Tabu (Bauraqui). They're the toast of the scruffy nightclub society, seducing whoever they want and just being themselves, which for João and Tabu is some accomplishment: They're gay black men ... although very different types, with João's fiery macho temper clashing with Tabu's effeminate campness. Their constant struggles for money and equality are punctuated by jail terms. And as life gets more difficult, João turns to performing as the sexually ambiguous Madame Satã, borrowing the name from Cecil B DeMille's 1930 film Madam Satan.
  Writer-director Ainouz creates a remarkable atmosphere--dark and sweaty, with a disarming style of cinematography and editing that makes it feel almost like a fantasy. It looks fantastic! There's a knowing, witty playfulness that keeps us gripped, even when we're not quite sure what's going on or who's whom; Ramos and Bauraqui are both excellent, but they look so much alike that it's somewhat confusing. The film gets well beneath the skin of characters who are unable to either trust or love each other. More problematic is the film's failure to really explain why João becomes Satã. His obsession with a nightclub performer (Sorrah) seems at odds with the rest of his macho personality, and when he takes the stage in his seductive costumes, we never know why. Is it a reaction against injustice? A deep desire to be loved? This is a rather large gap in a film that's telling the back-story behind one of Brazil's cultural icons! But it's still worth seeing for the unsentimental and yet very emotional examination of this specific place and time. [themes, language, sex, drugs, violence] 20.Aug.03
back to the top OLGA’S CHIGNON [Le Chignon d’Olga]
botefeu and benhamdine
dir-scr Jerome Bonnell
with Hubert Benhamdine, Nathalie Boutefeu, Serge Riaboukine, Florence Loiret, Delphine Rollin, Jean-Michel Portal Valerie Stroh, Bernard Blancan, Clotilde Hesme, Antoine Goldet, Marc Citti, Judith Remy
release France 28.Aug.02, UK 12.Sep.03 • 02/France 1h36 2½ out of 5 stars
First, let's clear up the title: A chignon is a bun, as in at the back of Olga's head. And no, I have no idea why it's the name of this meandering, gentle French romance. A year after their mother died, teens Julien and Emma (Benhamdine and Loiret) are finally starting to get on with life, as is their dad Gilles (Riaboukine). Julien has a crush on a shopgirl named Olga (Rollin), who he's far too shy to approach. His childhood buddy is Alice (Boutefeu), and they talk together about everything, including Alice's troubles with her lowlife boyfriend (Portal). Meanwhile, Emma and Gilles are also tentatively opening their hearts to love in rather surprising places.
  There's a natural wry humour that makes this watchable, even though it's essentially yet another oblique and talky French film with a deeply unoriginal teen movie plot (John Hughes should sue!). We know exactly where it's going from the beginning, and yet the characters are intriguing enough that we go along for the emotional ride. Performances are realistic and engaging, while Bonnell writes and directs with an honest minimalism that makes the film feel formless and organic ... even though it's actually quite carefully plotted. There are some comical moments that liven things up, as well as quite a few clips from Charlie Chaplin movies that make us wish we were watching those films instead. Besides the derivative plot, Bonnell loses the focus between Julien's central tale and Gilles' and Emma's side stories; he should've either concentrated on Julien or made it into a more balanced multi-strand piece. And for a film in which the characters talk and think about little besides sex, it's odd that Bonnell goes so shy when he gets to key details and scenes that would offer some sort of logical pay-off. A charming film, but also rather annoying. [15 themes, language] 3.Sep.03
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© 2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall