|Shadows: Arthouse Films ’03
INTERSTELLA 5555 | MADAME SATA | OLGA'S CHIGNON
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
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
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.
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
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
|OLGA’S CHIGNON [Le Chignon d’Olga]
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
See also the SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL.
© 2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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