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last update 8.Oct.03

back to the top THE CHIMERA OF HEROES [La Quimera de los Héroes]
rossi and his team festival
dir Daniel Rosenfeld; scr Daniel Rosenfeld, Eugenia Capizzano, Edgardo Cozarinsky
with Eduardo Julio Rossi and the members of the Aborigen Fundación Rugby Club
release UK Oct.03 lff • 02/Argentina 1h10 4 out of 5 stars
There's enough strong subtext in this Argentine documentary to make it feel like a feature, especially as it touches on powerful issues along the way. It's not just about the chimera, or illusion, of heroism. Eduardo Rossi is a chubby former rugby player who now coaches Latin America's only aboriginal team in the remote Toba village of Formosa. As he prepares his team for a match against the country's national squad, we catch glimpses of Rossi's life, including his past as a right-wing nationalist. The remarkable fact is that he's now fighting for the dignity of people he once hated! And it's more than a little ironic that he's partly funding his efforts by compiling a museum for the residents of Formosa ... of World War II memorabilia. His latest acquisition is a Sherman tank to go with his 100-plus Axis and Allied helmets and the Soviet army truck he drives the team around in.
  Rossi is a larger-than-life character, living quietly with his masseuse wife and proud to be the first white man accepted among the Toba. He inventively encourages his players as they practice their game in mud and dust, diving into the river afterwards instead of hitting the locker room (which they don't have anyway). He's a real bulldog of a man, relentlessly pushing them and at the same time making them proud of who they are and who they can be. And he refuses to put up with the institutional racism he encounters everywhere. Rosenfeld films all this with a steady stare--stately camera work, slow pans and beautiful details in both the sweeping landscapes and the close-up faces. The sound mix is also intriguing, often providing a tonal counterpoint to the images on screen. But the film's real strength is in its dramatic arc and the way it speaks volumes about a gritty humanitarianism that puts Europe and North America to shame. [themes, language] 6.Oct.03 lff
back to the top GOOD MORNING, NIGHT [Buongiorno, Notte]
lo cascio festival
dir-scr Marco Bellocchio
with Maya Sansa, Luigi Lo Cascio, Roberto Herlitzka, Piergiorgio Bellocchio, Giovanni Calcagno
release Italy 5.Sep.03; UK 19.Nov.04, US 11.Nov.05 • 03/Italy 1h46 3 out of 5 stars
The title comes from an Emily Dickinson poem about the struggle between choosing right and wrong, and this is a seriously involving film that gets us in the mind of a radical activist. The story is based on the kidnapping of Italian political party head Aldo Moro at the hands of the notorious Red Brigade in 1978. The film centres on Chiara (Sansa), living in a flat and pretending to be the wife of a colleague (Bellocchio) while Moro (Herlitzka) and two other operatives (Lo Cascio and Calcagno) are hidden in a secret cell behind a bookcase. The whole nation, including the Pope, gets involved in calling for Moro's release. Meanwhile, the Brigade's demands get less and less defined as they try Moro and condemn him to death, sparking a severe crisis of conscience for Chiara.
  Beautifully filmed in a 1970s style, the film looks fantastic, and writer-director Bellocchio gets well into the minds of all of the characters, each of whom is subtly played with attention to telling detail. We vividly see Brigade members struggling in individual ways with the task before them, while Herlitzka provides an intriguing counterpoint as the eerily calm condemned man in his cell. There's a Hitchcock thing going on as well, with Chiara's near-innocence contrasted starkly with those around her, while the harsh realities of her actions get more dangerous by the moment. And Bellocchio cleverly weaves images and sounds, as well as news footage and old movie clips to make it all seem frighteningly authentic. So it's a pity when the story gets bogged down in arty navel-gazing in the final act; there are several cinematic devices that fog the film's earlier clarity. This hints at deeper meaning without revealing anything. And the film never recovers, as it becomes a sort of attack on Italian politics and religion rather than the much more resonant examination of terrorism and idealism that drew us in. [15 themes, language] 6.Oct.03 lff
back to the top THE HONEYMOONERS
byrne and mitchell festival
dir-scr Karl Golden
with Jonathan Byrne, Alex Reid, Justine Mitchell, Conor Mullen
release UK 30.Apr.04 • 03/Ireland 1h35 2˝ out of 5 stars
This offbeat and contrived Irish film has elements of a caper movie, plus characters who are intriguing enough to keep us engaged. Two people in Dublin are having very bad days: David (Byrne) has just shown up at the church for his wedding to find his bride (Mitchell) has changed her mind; on her birthday Claire (Reid) both gets herself fired and realises her boyfriend (Mullen) is never going to leave his wife. These two run into each other and end up on an odyssey to the remote Donegal coast, where they have to break through each others' bitterness to even be civil. Let alone deal with the loopy neighbours and the furious ex-partners.
  Writer-director Golden shows considerable skill behind the camera, using digital photography to great effect and eliciting fine performances from his cast of relative unknowns. The characters are terrific, and watching these two desolate, stranded people find each other is very nice indeed. Even the supporting roles are very well-played (although the wacky Donegal locals are a bit over-the-top). It's just a pity that the story and dialog are so unnatural and unoriginal. There are so many plot contrivances that we lose count--seemingly random events all conspire to put the characters exactly where the filmmaker wants them, no matter how unlikely these things are to happen in real life. It requires a serious suspension of the natural order of things for the story to progress the way it does, from getting them into their predicament to getting them together, including their encounters with others. The artificial devices pile on top of one another at a mind-boggling pace, setting up each sight gag, romantic moment, misunderstanding and meaningful encounter. But amid all this, there's the lovely thawing of two fragile souls--a bittersweet drama trapped inside a silly comedy. [15 themes, language] 8.Oct.03 lff
back to the top KITCHEN STORIES [Salmer fra Kjřkkenet]
kitchen stories festival
dir Bent Hamer; scr Jorgen Bergmark, Bent Hamer
with Tomas Norstrom, Joachim Calmeyer, Bjorn Floberg, Reine Brynolfsson, Sverre Anker Ousdal, Trond Braenne, Leif Andree, Gard B Eidsvold, Lennart Jahkel
release Norway 17.Jan.03; UK 2.Jan.04; US 20.Feb.04 • 03/Norway 1h32 3˝ out of 5 stars
This seriously offbeat Norwegian film really gets under our skin with its inventive examination of solitude and friendship. Folke (Norstrom) is a Swede working for the Home Research Institute on a late 1940s project to create the perfect kitchen (Ikea anyone?). After finalising their data on Norwegian housewives, they turn their attention to single men, and Folke is assigned to watch Isak (Calmeyer), a stuck-in-his-ways hermit in an isolated village. Folke lives in a tiny caravan trailer outside, then spends his days on a stilt-chair in the corner of Isak's kitchen, documenting his every move. The two aren't supposed to interact at all, but their respective loneliness wears them down and soon they become close friends, threatening both Isak's jealous neighbour (Floberg) and Folke's job, if his boss (Brynolfsson) finds out.
  There's an almost wordless charm to this gentle film as these two men slowly thaw out, spying on each other and offering peace tokens like tobacco and coffee like some missionary in a remote jungle tribe. Yes, it's hilariously absurd as it traces the little battles between the characters, all of which establish the various liaisons and rivalries. Clever performances and witty direction make this work. And inspired production design helps as well, with a careful eye for colour and post-war motifs that are both modern and kitsch. Meanwhile, the story has a subtext--Sweden was a neutral observer in WW2, which strained Swedish-Norwegian relations. Details add both humour and meaning, like the fact that at the time Sweden was still driving on the left side of the road. And as Isak and Folke discover that they can never understand someone by merely observing them, the film takes on a more universal emotional resonance. It may be slowly paced and rather pleased with its cleverness, but it's also a thoroughly engaging film with characters we like more and more as we get to know them. [PG themes, language] 3.Oct.03
back to the top ZATOICHI
takeshi festival
dir-scr Takeshi Kitano
with Beat Takeshi, Tadanobu Asano, Guadalcanal Taka, Yuko Daike, Daigoro Tachibana,Ittoku Kishibe, Saburo Ishikura, Michiyo Ogusu, Akira Emoto, Yui Natsukawa, The Stripes
release Japan 6.Sep.03; UK 19.Mar.04; US 4.Jun.04 • 03/Japan 1h56 3˝ out of 5 stars
Some 30 films have been made since 1962 about the blind swordsman Zatoichi, and it proves to be a terrific new step for actor-director Kitano, who usually specialises in modern crime (such as Boiling Point and Hanna-Bi). Here he plays Zatoichi himself, a grey-haired blind masseur wandering the streets of 19th century Japan catching people off guard with his expert sword skills. In this story he stumbles into the middle of a massive gang war in which two mob bosses (Ishikura and Kishibe) laywaste to the competition with the help of the efficient ronin Hattori (Asano). Meanwhile two children, who a decade earlier escaped one of their bloody assaults, are now grown up, disguised as geishas (Tachibana and Daike) and out for revenge. They team up with Zatoichi and a bumbling local (Taka)--a rather motley bunch!--to take on the bad guys.
  Filming in the style of a 1960s Japanese samurai epic, Kitano gets the look and feel just right, augmenting the fight scenes with computer effects that heighten the grisliness (and blood spray). Colours and emotions are muted, as is the film's pace, while the characters are vivid and intriguing. And often very funny! Kitano adds very witty touches, from hilarious sight gags and slapstick to choreographing onscreen action with the background music (including a muddy tap dance that, much later, becomes a full-on musical showstopper!). But this is a story about deceptive appearances, and it works beautifully, giving us flashback histories and clever insight into each character. All of this adds up to a layered and moving action movie. Kitano is very good in the title role of the mythical hero everyone underestimates; and as a writer-director he builds the film skilfully to the climactic showdown between Zatoichi and Hattori, then continues on to tie up the story's hidden loose ends. It's perhaps a bit choppy and slowly paced for modern audiences more used to mindless Michael Bay-style action. But give it a chance--it'll win you over. [18 themes, violence, innuendo, language] 3.Oct.03
R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
Al Rodriguez, Orange County: "If you like good ol' fashioned bloody samurai fighting - you'll like Zatoichi. Also, if you like toe tappin' Broadway show-stopping dancing - you'll like this one too!" (2.Aug.04)
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© 2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall