Shadows @ Film FestsShadows: Arthouse Films ’03

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More mainstream art films have their own pages.
Even more offbeat films are at the SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL.
last update 14.Oct.03

back to the top IN THE CITY [En la Ciudad]
watling and fernandez festival
dir Cesc Gay; scr Cesc Gay, Tomas Aragay
with Monica Lopez, Eduard Fernandez, Maria Pujalte, Alex Brendemuhl, Leonor Watling, Jordi Sanchez, Chisco Amado, Carmen Pla, Vicenta N'Dongo, Miranda Makaroff, Aurea Marquez
release Spain 31.Oct.03; UK Oct.03 lff • 03/Spain 1h40 3˝ out of 5 stars
There's a beautiful simplicity to this urban drama that examines the darker side of romance in Barcelona. None of the relationships in this film are simple; everything is in the subtext. Monica (Lopez) is increasingly frustrated by--and distracted from--her happy home life with her adoring husband (Amado) and their young daughter. Mario (Fernandez) suspects his wife (N'Dongo) is having an affair, and he has no idea what to do about it besides flirting with a sexy barmaid (Watling). Sofia (Pujalte) talks a lot about her rampant sex life, but no one's quite sure if they believe her. Recently divorced teacher Tomas (Brendemuhl) is having a fling with a 16-year-old student (Makaroff), afraid to tell anyone about it.
  Being a small Spanish film without recognisable stars, it's not easy to keep a dozen characters separate, but even though it sometimes drags a bit, director-cowriter Cesc Gay keeps things wonderfully clear. The focus is squarely on the people, not any plot mechanics, and the result is a deeply internalised drama about the unspoken awkwardness in all relationships. It's clear who's sleeping with whom, although most of the "action" is kept off screen; the children are merely a presence in the edge of the frame, and some key characters never appear at all. Yet everything combines to get us inside the minds of this group of friends who are seemingly successful and happy and yet have nagging questions about their lives ... and worries about their futures. The music is a bit bland, and the "How well do we really know each other?" theme isn't exactly revolutionary. But the cast is raw and natural, just like the filmmaking style, playing on small details and hinting that we get into these situations ourselves. As Gay says, "It's a little, sad movie," but it's also full of subdued hope. There may not be such a thing as a perfect relationship, but love may also be lurking right where we hope it is. [adult themes and situations] 9.Oct.03 lff
asano and boonyasak festival
dir Pen-Ek Ratanaruang; scr Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, Prabda Yoon
with Tadanobu Asano, Sinitta Boonyasak, Yutaka Matsushige, Riki Takeuchi, Takashi Miike, Yoji Tanaka, Sakichi Sato, Laila Boonyasak, Thiti Rhumorn, Junko Nakazawa, Akiko Anraku, Nortioshi Urano
release Thailand 8.Aug.03; UK 23.Jul.04 • 03/Thailand 1h52 4 out of 5 stars
Serene and cool, this is definitely not for audiences that want something fast-paced and frenetic, although it's full of black humour, clever plotting and wonderful characters. It's also quite possibly cinematographer Christopher Doyle's most beautiful work, which is saying a lot! Kenji (Asano) is a young Japanese man working in a Bangkok library; his life is so dull and obsessively ordered that he's constantly contemplating methods of suicide. Or is he? Or is boredom even the reason? Then one day while poised to leap off a bridge, he sees a girl (Laila Boonyasak) die in front of him, while her sister Noi (Sinitta) also watches. Kenji and Noi are both stunned by the event, for very different reasons, and eventually escape together to Noi's ramshackle country home. Noi is getting ready to move to Osaka, Kenji's home, and while she gets ready to leave they slowly begin to soften toward each other ... as their pasts converge on them with a vengeance.
  Basically this is an opposites-attract love story, but it's filmed in an otherworldly way, with surprises and fantasies that throw us off course. Red herrings and sudden revelations abound, but the central emotional storyline holds firmly as we get to know two people who have virtually nothing in common (they use English to communicate) yet need each other. Small flashes of humour and violence wake us up from the film's quiet, dreamlike sleepiness. And it looks absolutely amazing, from Ratanaruang's inventive direction to Doyle's astonishing photography, and even some gorgeous special effects. This is a carefully balanced film in which even the gruesome violence has an emotional punch; every scene is intricately staged, specifically edited and played with lovely subtlety by the cast. This is a pinnacle for the talented Asano, who's been making a strong showing lately in films from Miike's Ichi the Killer to Kitano's Zatoichi; and Miike even has a clever role as a tenacious yakuza hitman. All of this combines to paint an exquisite picture of people seemingly at the end of their lives, trying to deal with overwhelming guilt and regret and find even a tiny reason to move forward. [15 themes, language, violence] 17.Oct.03 lff
rodney with oasis festival
dir-scr George Hickenlooper
with Rodney Bingenheimer, David Bowie, Cher, Alice Cooper, Kim Fowley, Deborah Harry, Joan Jett, Davy Jones, Courtney Love, Chris Martin, Brooke Shields, Nancy Sinatra
release US 26.Mar.04, UK 11.Feb.05 • 03/US 1h34 3˝ out of 5 stars
Hickenlooper's documentary examines the odd life and career of Rodney Bingenheimer, champion of the cutting edge ("an awful phrase"). It's a fascinating look at an important music geek who's remained obscure even though he's responsible for the careers of everyone from X, Blondie and Joan Jett to No Doubt, Oasis and Coldplay. The film narrates his story from the day in the mid-60s when his mother dropped him off in Hollywood and he worked his way into the centre of the Sunset Strip celebrity scene. In the 70s he brought punk to America, opening a British nightclub that became the home of the in-crowd. And since the 80s his show on KROQ radio has introduced America to more bands and musicians than you can count--simply because he heard a record he liked and gave it airplay. And yet Rodney lives in a humble apartment (surrounded by priceless memorabilia) and has never profited from his links to fame.
  The film works best when Hickenlooper digs into Rodney's mystique. Why did Robert Plant once say that Rodney had slept with more women than he had? Why has he been such a close friend to artists like Elvis, Hendrix, Lennon, Bowie, Jagger, the Gallaghers and on and on? Sinatra says it's his spirit. Cher thinks it's because he's genuine, without ulterior motives. Rodney feels that it's because he just looks after people. And indeed, his main reward seems to be the joy he gets from helping others. This also seems to be the reason why he has remained so unaffected after such a fast-paced, glitzy life! Hickenlooper compiles a wealth of home movies, archive photos, extensive interviews and backstage video clips. Rodney was always in the background in record album photos and rock movies, and musicians are aware of the debts they owe him. Where Hickenlooper struggles is in trying to get into the mind of the man; there's too much about his lonely life now, and a sequence in which he takes a kind of spiritual pilgrimage to Britain seems invasive and unnecessary. While footage of Rodney's father and stepmother is apparently only included to show that disaffection runs in the family! In the end, it turns sad and melancholic as Hickenlooper pushes the point further, showing how, as the music industry becomes more ruthless, Rodney is being marginalized by the people who owe him their fortune. It's a good point ... but what a harsh way to end an insightful look a man who's whole life is fuelled by love of music. [themes, language] 10.Oct.03 lff rodney with bowie
R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
Al Rodriguez, Orange County: "Man, that was depressing. His mom abandoned him, his father doesn't seem interested in his life, the woman he loves has another boyfriend, and then his 'best friend' goes and documents all of this (and more!) for the world to see. And then what's really tragic, is that it's like Rodney doesn't realize how depressing his life is, but after seeing this film, he's gonna want to drop some acid to numb the pain. I know I did. But since I don't really drop acid, I had chocolate cake." (28.Mar.04)
back to the top MY HOUSE IN UMBRIA
cooper and smith
dir Richard Loncraine; scr Hugh Whitemore
with Maggie Smith, Chris Cooper, Timothy Spall, Benno Furmann, Ronnie Barker, Emmy Clarke, Giancarlo Giannini, Libero De Rienzo
release US 25.May.03 TV; UK 26.Nov.04 • HBO UK/03 1h43 2 out of 5 stars
Maggie Smith won an Emmy for this made-for-cable movie, which gets a cinema release in the UK despite its underwhelming quality. She plays Emily Delahunty, an English romance novelist living in Italy who's injured in a terrorist attack on a train. The three other survivors retreat to her country home to convalesce: a handsome young German (Furmann), a dotty British general (Barker) and the traumatised young Aimee (Clarke) who has lost her parents. As they begin healing, Aimee's uncle (Cooper) arrives from America to collect her. But Emily's busy imagination makes her nervous about letting Aimee go. Meanwhile, the local police inspector (Giannini) is trying to get to the bottom of the bombing.
  With its sunny photography and Olde Worlde sensibility, this feels like a period film; everyone wears colour-matched Merchant-Ivory clothing and drives vintage cars, and yet it's set in the present day. This odd mixture begins to tip the film into artificial silliness long before the plot weaknesses kick in. That said, the performances are good in a muted sort of way. Smith lets her expressive face fill in the gaps in the trite, overly sweet screenplay; Emily is a colourful and funny character who could have been a revelation in a film with even a bit of edge to it. Cooper seems to be almost sleepwalking through the role, which kind of works for his enigmatic character. Spall is the best thing here as Emily's Man Friday, but even he's much more subdued than usual. The other characters barely register at all. The main problem is that this was filmed as a TV movie, with photography that's never expansive enough for a big screen; and there aren't any visual details, which is a big problem in a film set in an apparently picturesque location with supposedly sumptuous food and evidently quirky characters. This and the overly sentimental story leave the film thin and uninvolving. On television it may work beautifully, but it never begins to fill a cinema. [12 themes, innuendo] 9.Oct.03
back to the top TOUCHING THE VOID
mackey as simpson festival
dir Kevin Macdonald
with Joe Simpson, Simon Yates, Richard Hawking, Brendan Mackey, Nicholas Aaron, Ollie Ryall, Dave Cuthbertson, Rory Gregory
release UK 12.Dec.03; US 23.Jan.04 • 03/UK 1h46 4 out of 5 stars
Seriously blurring the line between documentary and dramatic filmmaking, this true story is absolutely gripping as the three men involved tell their story to camera, illustrated by a full-scale dramatic recreation with spectacular cinematography of one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world (but then I'm biased--I grew up in the Ecuadorian Andes!). The tale is part of mountaineering lore: In May 1985 British climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates decided to tackle the "unclimbable" Siula Grande in Peru using the Alpine method of climbing--basically, two men with a rope between them. After struggling their way through merciless conditions they reach the summit triumphantly, but the descent is even trickier, and when Simpson breaks his leg high on the mountain they have some very, very difficult decisions to make.
  This is an account of tenacity and survival beyond all reason. The fact that these men are still alive is a miracle itself, but the odyssey they go through makes truly amazing cinema! The film is narrated to camera by Simpson, Yates and Hawking (a hiker who walked with them to the base camp and then waited ... and waited); the drama is re-enacted with actors Mackey, Aaron and Ryall, as well as climbers Cuthbertson and Gregory, on location at Siula Grande and in the Alps. The literally cliffhanging adventure is filmed brilliantly like a full-on action movie compete with special effects and up-close photography that puts us right there on the icy mountain with the climbers, as the firsthand commentary puts us into their minds. While Macdonald goes rather too far trying to create Simpson's delirium on screen (we get it already!), he directs the film beautifully, capturing the intricacies of the men's faces and of the Andes themselves. It's no mean feat to make a mountain range into one of the main characters in the story, but Macdonald does it, combined with Simpson's extremely vivid storytelling (the film is adapted from his eponymous book). And the cinematography is magnificently jaw-dropping! It makes you hope there's an Imax version in the works. Not to mention a making-of doc about this film. [15 themes, language, grisliness] 9.Oct.03 lff

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
David Haviland, London: 5 out of 5 stars "Oscar winner Kevin MacDonald describes his film as a ‘drama documentary’, as it mixes dramatised action with interviews with the participants. This approach is incredibly effective, as the knowledge that we’re watching a true story greatly heightens the tension of scenes that would quicken the pulse in any popcorn action film. The cinematography is breathtaking, conveying the beauty and menace of the mountains and going some way to explaining why daredevils take such risks. The story starts slowly, but once they’re up the mountain the human drama is utterly compelling, and full of fascinating insights. Joe was raised a Catholic, but realises he is a true atheist when he doesn’t even contemplate prayer. Other moments seem to reveal the very limits of human capabilities, both in the heroes’ incredible physical feats and their mundane self-interest, such as when Simon confesses to wishing Joe dead after he breaks his leg and becomes a burden. An incredible story expertly told, and a film that few are likely to forget." (30.Dec.03)
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© 2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall