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last update 30.Sep.03

wournos' final interview
dir Nick Broomfield, Joan Churchill
with Aileen Wuornos, Nick Broomfield, Steve Glazer, Dawn Botkins, Danny Caldwell, Dennis Allen, Michelle Shovan, Diane Wuornos, Jeb Bush
release UK 21.Nov.03; US 9.Jan.04 HBO 03/UK 1h29 3 out of 5 stars
See also: MONSTER
Broomfield's 1992 documentary Aileen: The Selling of a Serial Killer was so controversial that he was called to give evidence at Aileen Wournos' appeal. So he decided to make a follow-up. The earlier film focussed on how the people involved in Wuornos' arrest and trial (from friends and family to the arresting officers) profited through selling her story to the media. It painted Wuornos as a victim of society. And it's intriguing to watch Broomfield revisit this outspoken, contradictory character a decade later. After a startling appeals hearing and interview in which it becomes clear that Wuornos is trying to speed her execution, not avoid it, Broomfield digs into her past and finds a woman who has indeed been abused and marginalized since birth. So it's hardly surprising that she's the paranoid, mad, untrustworthy figure we see now.
  The film is punctuated with key conversations with Wuornos from the appeal hearing to the day before her execution--each sets a different tone, and each features a moment when we witness her tipping over into raving lunacy. But underneath the wide-eyed ranting, a truth emerges that even Broomfield's slightly heavy-handed filming style can't water down. Wuornos wasn't innocent, but she also wasn't a serial killer by any definition; whether the seven killings were in self-defence, cold-blooded murder or a combination of the two is irrelevant. This is a woman who never had a chance in life. It's never suggested that she should have been released, but no one ever bothered to properly look into the irregularities in her case ... or in her personality. And since this was a capital case that bull-headed charge to execution is extremely disturbing. As usual, Broomfield centres the film on his own quest for the truth, and he never quite gets to the bottom of Wuornos' stories. But with his filmmaking partner Churchill, he does manage to create a scarily revealing look at the whole capital punishment industry, which has never been shown to deter crime (on the contrary!). This is a chilling, extremely insightful documentary--not so much for what it tells us about Aileen Wuornos as for what it says about our society. It also sets up Patty Jenkins' upcoming dramatic feature Monster (with Charlize Theron as Wuornos) for much deeper scrutiny. And rightly so. [15 themes, language] 26.Sep.03
back to the top BODYSONG
the love-in
dir-scr Simon Pummell
music Jonny Greenwood
release UK 5.Dec.03 FilmFour 03/UK 1h23 4 out of 5 stars
There's a breathtaking simplicity to this arty collage of a film that defies description as it traces humanness and humanity using found footage, almost all of it documentary clips. The sheer scope of the research and archival work here is mind-boggling; and the filmmakers have documented the source of each clip on an astonishing website ( The film begins with conception and traces every aspect of life through birth, development, procreation and death, then cycles back to examine religion, violence, art and a hope for the future. The images are astonishing mostly because they're all authentic--ancient film snippets, home movies, newsreel footage, medical and educational clips. And until the final segment, it's all silent, accompanied only by the evocative music of Greenwood (Radiohead).
  While it may sound indulgent or one-dimensional, the film has raw power in the imagery that forces us to think in intriguing new ways about ourselves and the people around us. Birthing scenarios come in every colour and position imaginable (and then some). Short glimpses of Nazi children are mixed in with toddlers from East, West and Africa. The sex segment combines grainy turn-of-the-century porn with contemporary love-in events and courtship rituals from around the world. Gruesome war imagery includes familiar scenes (from Vietnam and Tiananmen Square, for example) plus things we could never imagine. And the final clips of people who dream of making the world a better place has a real kick to it. The startling achievement is to show so vividly the vast diversity of the human experience ... and also the amazing commonality. This is a very adult film that should be required viewing for every 18-year-old. And if the stronger, more controversial images disturb you, it's about time to face the fact that all of this is what makes us alive. [18 strong physicality, themes, sex, violence] 4.Sep.03
back to the top OSAMA
women protest against the taliban festival
dir-scr Siddiq Barmak
with Marina Golbahari, Zubaida Sahar, Mohammad Arif Herati, Mohammad Nadre Khwaja, Hamida Refah, Gul Rahaman Ghorbandi
release release US 30.Jan.04, UK 13.Feb.04 03/Afghanistan 1h22 3 out of 5 stars
Winner of two awards at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, this gripping and powerful film tells a story from a deeply isolated place and time: when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan. It's about a woman and her 12-year-old daughter (Sahar and Golbahari) moving through the streets of their desolated town trying to find ways to feed themselves and the woman's mother (Refah). The men in the family have all been killed in various wars, and under Taliban rule a woman is persona non grata--unable to travel on her own. So the mother convinces her daughter to cut her hair and dress as a boy named Osama so they can go to work in their village. But soon the Taliban come through collecting boys for religious education, and "Osama" is taken along, protected by her friend Espandi (Herati) but always under the threat of discovery.
  "I wish God hadn't created women," the mother sighs in the film's opening scenes, which document a female protest that's brutally squashed by Taliban forces. Through this film, writer-director Barmak takes us deep into his home culture to experience the fear and tragedy firsthand. The script and camerawork are clever and extremely accomplished, giving us an intimate view of the characters and situations, while disarmingly natural performances make it feel almost like a documentary! This is a chilling examination of the imprisonment of women under fanatical Muslim rule as they are locked up in their burkhas, jail cells and harems. Not to mention being deprived of education and even basic freedoms. But more universally, this is a look at extremism gone mad, and here we in the West can learn a thing or two about a manipulative system that leads to deception and a rejection of even the most basic human rights. If we think this doesn't happen in our countries we are living in blind ignorance! While the film is extremely involving and believable, it's also a little too forcefully didactic; the story is often horrific, emotional and somewhat preachy. Yet there's such truth here that it can't be ignored. [12 some strong themes] 30.Sep.03
back to the top TAKING SIDES
dir Istvan Szabo; scr Ronald Harwood
with Harvey Keitel, Stellan Skarsgard, Moritz Bleibtreu, Birgit Minichmayr, Ulrich Tukur, Oleg Tabakov, Hanns Zischler, Armin Rohde, August Zirner, Daniel White, Thomas Thieme, R Lee Ermey
release US 5.Sep.03; UK 21.Nov.03 Canal+ 02/Germany 1h43 2 out of 5 stars
Acclaimed Hungarian director Szabo brings out the strong story in this adaptation of Harwood's play, based on true events from post-WWII Berlin. Yet while it's full of important issues, the film is a bit too stilted to really grab us. It's 1946 and Major Steve Arnold (Keitel) is ordered to prove that world-famous conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler (Skarsgard) was an integral part of the Nazi war machine. But this is no easy job, since Furtwangler's entire orchestra vouches for his anti-Hitler sentiments. Still, Arnold goes after him with every bit of evidence he has, relying on the help of his Jewish-German-American assistant (Bleibtreu) and his secretary (Minichmayr), both of whom have many more reservations about the case.
  Widened out of the interrogation room visually but not thematically, this is a claustrophobic film that goes from one confrontation to the next as incredibly strong words are exchanged, important ideas are batted back and forth and the actors go for the jugular. Keitel is in bulldog mode, greedily chewing scenery while Skarsgard, Bleibtreu and especially Minichmayr take a subtler, more emotional approach. The contrast is more than a little jarring, especially in the heated exchanges, which are too loud and abrasive to draw us in, and much too academic for this film to sustain. Still, the literate script cleverly weaves the various testimonies into a fascinating story that doesn't give clear answers and yet tells us everything we need to know about Furtwangler, and Szabo fills the film with telling details that add context without insulting our intelligence. Alas, the low budget shows, as does an oddly old-school style of over-lighting the sets, making everything look extremely stagey, even though the settings are fascinating--outside it's desolation and rubble while inside are empty and expansive rooms and hallways crossed shafts of golden light. Horrific (and heavy-handed) concentration camp footage is juxtaposed nicely with some truly creepy army training films, but awkward disparities fill the movie as a whole and badly weaken the overstated message. This is a shame since the issues are so relevant today. [15 themes, language, grisliness] 9.Sep.03
back to the top WAITING FOR HAPPINESS [Heremakono]
diakite and mohamed
dir-scr Abderrahmane Sissako
with Khatra Ould Abder Kader, Mohamed Mahmoud Ould Mohamed, Maata Ould Mohamed Abeid, Nana Diakite, Makanfing Dabo Fatimetou Mint Ahmeda, Nema Mint Choueikh, Santha Leng
release UK 24.Oct.03 02/Mauritania 1h36 3 out of 5 stars
This lyrical, enigmatic West African film captures the details of its place and time beautifully. It's a slice of life in Nouadhibou, a coastal town where the Sahara meets the Atlantic, and where travellers await transportation to the promised land. The young Abdallah (Mohamed) arrives to spend some time with his mother (Ahmeda) before heading off for Europe. He doesn't speak the local dialect so he just observes people around him. The buzzing focal point of the village seems to be young orphan Khatra (Kader), an energetic boy working with an aging electrician (Abeid) who helps Abdallah learn some of the language while wiring up homes with light. We also meet Abdallah's seductive neighbour (Diakite), a traditional music teacher (Choueikh) and another young man (Dabo) who seems to foreshadow the fate in store for Abdallah.
  All of this is observed by writer-director Sissako in minimalist style; this is a skilfully shot film, with startling images and a gentle pace that frequently comes to a full stop just to capture the rhythms of life in an earthbound purgatory where everyone's merely waiting for the next step. The vague, atmospheric style is mesmerising (and maybe sleep-inducing!), with constantly blowing sand and expanses of sea and desert stretching so far that it feels like a distant planet! Meanwhile the characters are vivid and fascinating, full of running jokes and clever sight gags. The small scenes tell us exactly what this life must be like--street vendors, a doctor's office, a karaoke bar, carefully orchestrated encounters between men and women and, most tellingly, an almost subliminal obsession with Western culture. While the film feels random and meandering, strong themes echo from start to finish, mostly concerning the quietly shifting sands of tradition and culture, as well as the emotional cost of leaving home for an unknown, possibly hopeless future. Images of ships wrecked and rusting off the shore and on sandbars are powerfully foreboding. And while the film as a whole is probably full of symbolism we can never understand, it still takes us with real artistry to a profoundly meaningful place. [U adult themes] 10.Sep.03
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall