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More mainstream art films have their own pages.
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last update 12.Nov.03

back to the top BUDDY
Broch and Hennie festival
dir Morten Tyldum; scr Lars Gudmestad
with Nicolai Cleve Broch, Aksel Hennie, Anders Baasmo Kristiansen, Pia Tjelta, Janne Formoe, Henrik Giaever, Havard Bakke, Anna Bache-Wiig, Kim Haugen, Eivind Sander, Christian Skolmen, Cecilie Aspenes
release Norway 29.Aug.03; UK Nov.03 lff 03/Norway 1h44 2 out of 5 stars
This charming and warm Norwegian romantic comedy doesn't beak any new ground, but it's watchable and fun, in a toothless sort of way. Kristoffer and Geir (Broch and Hennie) are best buddies living on their own for the first time, sharing a flat with Stig Inge (Kristiansen), who's afraid to leave the neighbourhood but enjoys participating in Kristoffer and Geir's antics when he can. And they're up to all sorts of Jackass-lite stunts that keep their friends entertained. Then Kristoffer's girlfriend (Formoe) decides she wants to get more serious, and it's crisis time! Not only this, but a woman from Geir's past (Bache-Wiig) reappears, along with a sexy new housemate (Tjelta). And just when Kristoffer and Geir start thinking maybe they need to get serious about life, a TV executive sees their home videotapes and decides to make them big stars. But this causes a whole new set of problems.
  The plot is engaging and involving, even if the film has no edge to it. Events and issues are dealt with simply, sometimes after a bit of melodrama, and the characters are all extremely nice--even the love rivals (Sander and Skolmen) are more hapless than anything. Broch is excellent at the film's centre--sexy and charismatic enough to carry the movie on his shoulders. While Hennie gets the more emotional scenes and underplays them very nicely indeed. The script is carefully constructed, complete with contrived events that set things up for the big emotional/farcical final act. Yes, it has a standard rom-com structure, introducing a serious conflict about an hour in that sends all characters scurrying into their respective corners in a huff, while we wait to see how they'll sort out the mess. The result isn't terribly surprising, but it is skilfully filmed and played, and the general sweetness and warmth overcomes the overwrought melodrama to win us over in the end. [themes, language] 5.Nov.03 lff
back to the top CARANDIRU
payback time for zico festival
dir Hector Babenco; scr Victor Navas, Fernando Bonassi, Hector Babenco
with Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos, Antonio Grassi, Rodrigo Santoro, Gero Camilo, Ailton Graca, Caio Blat, Wagner Moura, Milhem Cortaz, Walter Breda, Ricardo Blat, Milton Goncalves, Robson Nunes, Dionisio Neto, Lazaro Ramos, Ivan de Almeida, Andre Ceccato, Maria Luisa Mendonca, Aida Leiner, Julia Ianina, Vanessa Gerbelli
release Brazil 11.Apr.03; UK 16.Apr.04; US 14.May.04 Columbia 03/Brazil 2h28 4 out of 5 stars
Based on a true account of life in Sao Paulo's notorious Carandiru Detention Centre, this gripping and sprawling film is quite unlike any prison drama we've ever seen--funny, endearing and deeply disturbing. Carandiru housed some 7000 prisoners, more than double its capacity, and the warden (Grassi) knew there were simply too many inmates to enforce any harsh discipline. So a carefully balanced society was allowed to grow, observed daily by the prison doctor (Vasconcelos). Over the course of the film we meet a large number of prisoners through his eyes, seeing their stories in flashback as we begin to understand how their interrelationships with fellow inmates keep Carandiru ticking along smoothly ... for the most part. Then in 1992 a fight escalates into an all-out siege, with tragic results.
carandiru   Essentially, this is a Short Cuts-style multistrand drama featuring a series of interlocking stories and strongly engaging characters. Babenco's direction is so assured that he manages to make the film both horrifically gritty and seriously warm-hearted at the same time, with humour and real emotion running alongside the violence and suspense. The various areas of the prison are like different stages of hell, and yet the cast is so staggeringly good that we become fully invested in these men (and some of their women outside), seeing beyond their crimes to the people they really are. Aids, drug use and brutality are rampant, but more devastating is a contagious sense of unspoken guilt that hits the characters at all kinds of levels, but never where we expect. The film is shot (by ace cinematographer Walter Carvalho) in a colourful, cluttered 1970s style that's so intentionally cheesy and offhanded that it draws us in brilliantly. And in between the viciousness, we get complex stories of real affection--romantic (Camilo and Santoro), brotherly (Blat and Moura), loyal friendship (Breda and Blat) and twisted marriage (Graca, Mendonca and Leiner). As the energy in the prison boils over in the end, Babenco makes a pointed and chilling comment on who the real murderers are here. This is powerfully gripping, extremely entertaining and vitally important filmmaking. And it has implications far beyond Sao Paulo. [18 strong adult themes, violence and gore, drugs, language] 6.Nov.03 lff
back to the top GOOD BYE DRAGON INN
the projectionist 18th llgff festival
dir-scr Tsai Ming-Liang
with Lee Kang-Sheng, Chen Shiang-Chyi, Mitamura Kiyonobu, Miao Tien, Shi Chun, Yang Kuei-Mei, Chen Chao-Jung, Lee Yi-Cheng
release UK Nov.03 lff, US 17.Sep.04 03/Taiwan 1h22 2 out of 5 stars
This odd art film is an ode to the long-gone days of the cinema in Taiwan, told in an experimental style that's both fascinating and infuriating. We're at the vast Fu-Ho Grand Cinema, where violent Chinese sword epics seem to play on an endless reel while a very sparse audience watches. One young guy seems annoyed by everything around him--others eating loudly, smelly feet, people who sit too close in an empty theatre. Then he goes off to the toilets and into the back hallways to cruise aimlessly for a while. Others watch silently, barely containing their emotions or boredom. Meanwhile, the ticket lady limps around the corridors, taking food to the projectionist, cleaning the bathrooms and generally keeping an eye on what's going on. But at the end of the night it turns out that the cinema is closed. So was this the last night? Or were these ghosts trying to cling to something that's disappeared?
  It doesn't really matter what the answer is, because the film does capture an ethereal sense of nostalgic longing for faded glory. You can tell that the dumpy cinema was once an imposing movie palace, even though it's now leaky and disgusting. Writer-director Tsai shoots in extremely long, static takes that go on several minutes after you expect a cut. This is usually quite maddening, as nothing happens on screen at all for extended stretches of time. (It could be cut down into a fantastic 15-minute short!) Even though there are only about 10 words of dialog in the entire film, it's dotted with wry humour and even a little suspense, as people encounter each other in the dark while grisly action flashes across the screen. There's a warm and meandering feeling to the film ... although it will be completely lost on non-cinephiles, who'll find this unbearably dull! And if the point is that the general public doesn't go to the movies anymore, maybe it's because this is the kind of ponderous film they'll have to endure if they do! [adult themes and situations, violence] 5.Nov.03 lff
back to the top VALENTIN
maura and noya festival
dir-scr Alejandro Agresti
with Rodrigo Noya, Carmen Maura, Mex Urtizberea, Alejandro Agresti, Julieta Cardinali, Jean Pierre Noher, Carlos Roffe, Stefano Di Gregorio, Lorenzo Quinteros, Marina Glezer, Fabian Vena, Juan Cruz Bordeu
release UK 27.Feb.04, US 7.May.04 03/Argentina 1h26 4 out of 5 stars
Warm and funny, this engaging Argentine drama has an almost fable-like quality that disarms us completely. It's the early 1960s and the precocious, cross-eyed 8-year-old Valentin (Noya) desperately wants to be an astronaut, perhaps because his life on earth hasn't been too happy. When his mother walked out, his fast-talking father (Agresti) left him to live with his feisty grandmother (Maura). Life is a daily adventure for the incredibly curious and thoughtful Valentin! And family is almost as big an obsession as space, so he sets about building one from a neighbour (Urtizberea) and his father's latest girlfriend (Cardinali), with whom he confides just a bit too freely. He's also got an uncle (Noher) who lives a long way away, and a best friend (Di Gregorio) whose parents are almost perfect, but what he really wants is a parent of his own!
  The film is narrated by Valentin in a winningly cheeky style that remains firmly 8 years old, but gives us a glimpse into the workings of his curious mind. It's a very clever screenplay that somehow manages to be both hilariously funny and surprisingly poignant at the same time. Meanwhile, Agresti's lively and warm visual style also somehow conveys a raw honesty that continually catches us off guard with its astute observations and vivid characterisations. There's a sad melancholy running under the film--it's never depressing, but it doesn't shy away from the dark side of things. Valentin's voyage of discovery takes on real meaning as it progresses ... and as he discovers difficult truths about the people around him, he happily expands his worldview to fit everything together. All of the characters are a bit off centre, and each is played so brilliantly that you can't imagine another cast (and you dread the inevitable American remake). It's rare to find a film that's so sharp and sweet at the same time. This is one to look out for. [12 themes, language] 5.Nov.03 lff

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
David Haviland, London: 4 out of 5 stars "Valentin is a precocious 8-year-old boy who like another famous 8 year old, Lisa Simpson, is wise beyond his years. In a moment of sincerity and innocence, he screams 'Why do all grown ups lie all the time?' -- the theme of this funny, charming film. Valentin is played by the irresistibly cute Rodrigo Noya, and resembles a cross between Etre et Avoir's Jojo and The Wonder Years' Paul Pfeiffer. The film is a celebration of innocence, a film which argues that no parent has a more important role in life than the care of their children. Its also a celebration of women, and a reminder that men's perceptions of women are not intuitive, but are taught. Every man in Valentin's life passes on his own prejudices; his primitive uncle argues, 'It's not just the breasts, a woman is more than that,' while his doleful piano teacher explains, 'Women are a necessary evil.' At the end of the film Valentin tells us he has decided to become a writer: 'At least I had enough for one story, even if it is a little one.' It is a little story, but like the boy, it is a delight." (20.Jan.04)
back to the top INFERNAL AFFAIRS
lau and leung
dir Andrew Lau, Alan Mak; scr Felix Chong, Alan Mak
with Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Lam Ka, Chapman To, Ting Yip Ng, Elva Hsiao, Kelly Chen, Sammi Cheng, Edison Chen, Shawn Yue
release HK 12.Dec.02; UK 27.Feb.04; US 20.Aug.04 02/Hong Kong 1h38 4 out of 5 stars
With its intricate story, a whizzy filmmaking style and terrific performances, this Hong Kong thriller grabs hold and lever lets go from the kinetic opening scenes to the bitter end. Ming and Yan (Lau and Leung) met in police academy, where Ming excelled as a cop and Yan was expelled due to his rebellious spirit. But that's just how it looks. Ming is actually a mole for the crime boss Sam (Tsang), while Yan's wash-out was all for show; Superintendent Wong (Wong) hand-picked him to go deep undercover within the mob. Now 10 years later Sam and Wong are facing off, knowing each has infiltrated the other's ranks, but neither knows who's the mole in his inner circle. And Ming and Yan have no idea that they're actually chasing each other. Basically, whoever of these four men slips up first is dead.
  Directors Lau and Mak hold this delicate balance brilliantly right to the end of the film. As the audience, we're the only ones who know, but even that's misleading, as ethical questions blur the lines between right and wrong. Shot like a 1970s cop thriller, the film has a spiky feel to it that keeps us both intrigued and off-balance (indeed, the opening sequence is almost impossible to follow, although it comes into sharp focus later). Action scenes are unbearably tense, balanced by a wonderful depth in each character. Wong and Tsang, and especially Lau and Leung, bring out a beautiful emotional resonance that seems almost incidental--pangs of conscience, moments of regret and thorny relationships with various women, not to mention their colleagues. All of these side characters continually surprise us with their actions and reactions. This is one of those rare films that works as a dark drama, energetic action movie and telling story of our morally muddled times. See it now, before the inevitable American remake. [15 themes, violence, language] 10.Nov.03
R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
David Haviland, London: 4 out of 5 stars "This is a psychological thriller with little violence and no martial arts. Instead we study the complex characters, and the difficult choices they face. Ming and Yan (Lau and Leung) are both essentially good men, but each is haunted by his past, and increasingly confused about his own identity. The plot is consistently surprising and inevitable, a product of fine writing and a fertile premise. Visually the film is both gritty and stylised, with its noirish colour-drained cinematography reminiscent of Se7en. The score dramatically increases the tension, veering from pounding electronica to opera. And the cast demonstrate fully why they are regarded as the cream of Hong Kongs acting talent. Infernal Affairs is the most exciting policier in years, and an instant classic of the genre. An enormous hit in its native Hong Kong, this has already spawned a prequel, with a sequel on the way. Brad Pitt has snapped up the rights to remake all three, with he and Tom Cruise mooted as the leads. Hopefully, like The Ring, the remake will encourage people to seek out the original, as its a lean, gripping thriller that deserves the widest possible audience." (29.Jan.04)
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall