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DISTANT | THE BASQUE BALL | LIFE KILLS ME

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last update 1.Nov.03

back to the top AT FIVE IN THE AFTERNOON
amiri and rezaie festival
dir Samira Makhmalbaf; scr Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Samira Makhmalbaf
with Agheleh Rezaie, Abdolgani Yousefrazi, Razi Mohebi, Marzieh Amiri
release UK 16.Apr.04 03/Iran 1h46 3 out of 5 stars
REVIEW BY RICH CLINE
Iranian filmmaker Samira Makhmalbaf (daughter of Mohsen) is developing quite a body of work, with The Apple, Blackboards, a fine segment from 11'09"01 and now this beautiful drama set in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. The story centres on Nogreh (Rezaie), a young woman flexing her newfound independence by attending school against the wishes of her conservative father (Yousefrazi). As she discovers the joy of learning and thinking, she decides she'd like to be her country's next president! Meanwhile, her brother has gone missing, leaving her sister-in-law (Amiri) alone to care for their sickly infant son. And a returning refugee (Mohebi) starts charming Nogreh with his cheeky humour and love of poetry while indulging in her decision to run for office.
  Besides being one of those fascinating stories that takes you somewhere you'll probably never go, this film is involving and moving, full of sharp wit and profound meaning. There are strong statements about religion and politics that emerge naturally through the narrative and cut through traditions and history without feeling harsh or pushy. The cast is so good the film often feels like a documentary, and Makhmalbaf has a fantastic eye for striking imagery, such as the broken plane the family takes refuge in. The bombed-out palace guarded by Western soldiers is ready for the new "president"! A group of women head into the street, their blue burkhas making them appear like water flooding into a desert. And as travellers head toward the next village it looks like the sand literally swallows them up. The title refers to the Spanish poem about finding time for dreams and ambitions after the work day is finished; the film captures a country on the cusp of its future--juggling religious traditions, set-in-stone fanaticism, the need for new ideas, a hope for the future ... and the awful truth that while people will persevere, this generation's hope might already be dead. [U adult themes] 28.Oct.03
back to the top JOY OF MADNESS
samira (right) hits the street festival
dir Hana Makhmalbaf
with Samira Makhmalbaf, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Marziyeh Meshkini, Agheleh Rezaie, Haji Rahmadin, Bibigol Asef, Sima Asef, Razi Mohebi, Azizola Vakil, Kaveh Moeinfar, Agheleh Farahmand
release UK 16.Jul.04 03/Iran 1h13 4 out of 5 stars
REVIEW BY RICH CLINE
"The wise know not the joy of madness." In this amazing documentary, the latest member of Iran's filmmaking dynasty, 14-year-old Hana, follows her 22-year-old sister Samira around the streets of Kabul while she's casting her film At Five in the Afternoon. Not only is it fascinating to go behind the scenes, but we also learn important things about Afghan society. Their father Mohsen (also a filmmaker, and cowriter of Samira's film) is with them as they interview people on the streets and literally talk to anyone they meet, sounding them out, auditioning them and generally trying to convince them to be in their movie. People are incredibly resistant to speak to strangers (something forbidden under the Taliban)--they worry that these foreigners will take advantage of them as they try to rebuild their lives after the end of Taliban rule and the crippling American bombing campaign that knocked them back into the Stone Age.
  But this isn't a political film. It's a straightforward fly-on-the-wall doc with no narration or commentary, merely following the production crew as they try to set up the feature. Hana follows the incredibly forceful Samira through three casting sessions as she tries to find an old man to play the father, a young woman for the lead and an infant for a key role. All three of these strands are full of starts and stops, mistrust and questions, reticence and paranoia (the old man thinks it must be a porno film; the parents of the infant become convinced the filmmakers plan to kill their baby on screen). This is earthy and very lively filmmaking, expertly shot and edited, capturing the look and feel of Kabul with energetic precision. Watching Samira at work is amazing--not only does she have a ludicrously daunting task ahead of her, but she tackles the job tenaciously, refusing to take excuses from people ... to the point of asking a woman to postpone her wedding! Not only is this a terrific companion piece to At Five in the Afternoon, it's also a gripping and revealing film all its own. Perhaps even more so than the dramatic feature it documents. [PG themes] 29.Oct.03 lff
back to the top DISTANT [Uzak]
toprak festival
dir-scr Nuri Bilge Ceylan
with Muzaffer Ozdemir, Mehmet Emin Toprak, Zuhal Gencer Erkaya, Nazan Kirilmis, Feridun Koc, Fatma Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan
release Turkey 20.Dec.02; US 27.Feb.04; UK 28.May.04 02/Turkey 1h49 4 out of 5 stars
REVIEW BY RICH CLINE
This double Cannes-winner is a lovely examination of human interaction that never goes quite where you think it will, mixing comedy and drama for a kind of bittersweet Turkish Odd Couple. Mahmut (Ozdemir) is an Istanbul photographer who is extremely set in his ways after his divorce from Nazan (Erkaya), who's just about to move to Canada with her new husband. He has his job down to a quiet routine that has just the right amount of space for a mistress (Kirilmis). Then life is disrupted by his childhood friend Yusuf (Toprak) arriving from their remote hometown to find work. Yusuf is idealistic and unrealistic, completely unprepared for the big city. And he's also not nearly tidy enough for the fastidious Mahmut, who we watch quietly bristling at each "insult". But Yusuf needs him, so what can he do about it?
  The film is virtually wordless as we watch the characters dealing with each other, often spying or prowling through private things. There's a gentle but sharp humour at work here; their lifelong friendship only barely covers over a general mistrust. And the actors are brilliant at capturing this both individually and together (they shared the Best Actor award at Cannes; Toprak posthumously, as he was killed in a car crash just after the film's release). Meanwhile, director Ceylan catches a side of Turkey we rarely see on screen, namely the icy beauty of winter in Istanbul contrasted against the decaying empire. The film looks fantastic, and makes excellent use of settings both indoors and out to get into the minds of these increasingly internalised characters. It's fascinating to watch them strain against each other in the kindest ways possible, hiding their annoyance as well as personal obsessions that would give them common ground if they could only share them! The growing distance between them is the film's theme. And on a very bad day for Mahmut it finally boils over with surprising results. Simply beautiful filmmaking. [adult themes and situations, language] 30.Oct.03 lff
back to the top THE BASQUE BALL: SKIN AGAINST STONE
[La Pelota Vasca: La Piel Contra la Piedra Euskal Pilota: Larrua Harriaren Kontra]
play ball festival
dir Julio Medem
with Imanol Zubero Beaskoetxea, Txetxo Bengoetxea, Mikel Erentxun, Inaki Gabilondo, Felipe Gonzalez, Juan Jose Ibarretxe, Maite Juliana Iturre, Ramon Saizarbitoria, Arantxa Urretabizkia
release Spain 3.Oct.03; UK 7.May.04 03/Spain 1h55 3 out of 5 stars
REVIEW BY RICH CLINE
Spanish filmmaker Medem (Sex & Lucia) delves incredibly deeply into the situation of the Basque people in Spain and France, most notably the political scene in Spain and the ongoing ETA violence. It'd be hard to imagine a more comprehensive look into this issue, since Medem interviewed nearly 100 people and puts them on screen in rapid succession to talk about every conceivable aspect of politics, history, art and ethnicity. These interviews are all conducted in important locations and interwoven with gorgeous cinematography of the landscapes and culture, as well as historical footage and clips from films that have dramatised historic events (Medem doesn't dramatise anything specifically for this film). The title refers to the local sports, flinging balls back and forth with increasing energy. And the result is pretty mind-boggling--flooding us with information and opinions about the last remaining aboriginal group in Europe.
  This gold-mine of material is beautifully edited, and even the interviews are shot with Medem's ethereal beauty. As the film gets deeper into the political aspect of the conflict, it all gets fairly bewildering--and also very universal, as this could easily be Northern Ireland, the West Bank or anywhere people feel oppressed for their ethnicity. There are amazingly powerful statements about how political correctness has made the situation worse--mostly the profoundly unhelpful "if you're not for me you're against me" (aka, Bushista) position. These are vivid lessons we need to hear now ... all over the world. This is quite clearly the definitive film document on the subject--balanced and open-minded in its approach, letting all sides have their say, and intriguingly juxtaposing conflicting views against each other without comment. The problem with the film is that it's so long and detailed that those of us outside the region will have a hard time following it. Perhaps we need a pared-down 30-minute version we can take in! But at this length, it acutely shows us the complexity and force of opinions on all sides. [15 themes, violence] 27.Oct.03 lff
back to the top LIFE KILLS ME
bouajila and lespert festival
dir Jean-Pierre Sinapi; scr Jean-Pierre Sinapi, Daniel Tonachella
with Sami Bouajila, Jalil Lespert, Sylvie Testud, Simon Bakinde, Mohamed Benguettaf, Roger Ibanez, Teco Celio, Marc Andreoni, Francois Sinapi, Djemel Barek, Xavier De Guillebon, Lucien Longueville
release France 18.Jun.03; UK Oct.03 lff Canal+ 02/France 1h29 3 out of 5 stars
REVIEW BY RICH CLINE
Sinapi (Nationale 7) returns with another strongly natural and moving drama about people on the fringe of society, this time French-Arabs. Paul Smail (Bouajila) has a university degree but is trapped in a job as a pizza delivery boy, facing prejudice at every job interview and feeling increasingly unable to move ahead. He turns to boxing to express his violent inner urges. Meanwhile Paul's little brother Daniel (Lespert) is obsessed with two things: body building and his big brother. But when Paul expresses concerns about Daniel's unhealthy obsession with pumping up, Daniel deflects it and claims to be fine. Similarly, their worried dad (Benguettaf) refuses to admit his own illness. Meanwhile, Paul meets Myriam (Testud) and starts a tentative romance.
  There's an authenticity here that makes up for the rather slight narrative. Paul and Daniel are vivid characters we can identify with, and their camaraderie and rivalry are so real we wince at some of their interaction. Bouajila and Lespert have terrific sibling chemistry, and bring sharp individual touches to their characters--Paul's dark frustrations and Daniel's sunny carelessness. With all the boxing and body building, this is a very masculine and physical film, nicely balanced by the brightly cheery Testud and an underlying literacy (Paul and Myriam are both passionate about books). The sad truth is that both brothers are indulging in their obsessions as a compensation for social problems--they feel rejected by society, forced into menial or downright humiliating jobs by people's deeply held racist views. As a result of Sinapi's natural tone, when the story takes a couple of sad and emotional turns, we feel like we've been punched in the guts. There's an emotional resonance that rings very true, and Sinapi captures both the joy and sadness beautifully, even if it feels a little melodramatic in the end. [adult themes and situations, language] 27.Oct.03
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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