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last update 7.Jan.04

back to the top AMANDLA! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony
power to the people
dir Lee Hirsch
with Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim, Vusi Mahlasela, Sibongile Khumalo, Thandi Modise, Dolly Rathebe, Sifiso Ntuli, Lindiwe Zulu, Peter Dimba, Sibusiso Nxumalo, Nelson Mandela
release US 19.Feb.03; UK 19.Dec.03 • 02/South Africa 1h48 4 out of 5 stars
As this award-winning documentary beautifully examines the music of the struggle for freedom in South Africa, it also provides one of the most moving and gripping accounts of the country's last 65 years. "Amandla" means power, the cry of a people unjustly imprisoned in their own homeland, and filmmaker Hirsch cleverly keeps his cameras in the faces of musicians, activists and politicians who played a role in the struggle against Apartheid. Combining old footage with new interviews and musical performances, Hirsch gets into the heart and soul of the situation, from the introduction of segregation in 1948 to modern-day attempts to put the years into perspective. And the music is the thing, expressing the passions and longings of a spiritual and emotional people.
  This is an expertly assembled film, catching us by the throat early on with the deeply resonant songs and anecdotes, and then tweaking our minds as well with a detailed look at Apartheid from an inside perspective. While the archival footage is colourful and revealing, including a number of old government films and docs, Hirsch shoots his new material with gorgeously bleached-yet-lush cinematography that adds an artistic tone to the film. He also constantly disarms the political arguments by focussing on the emotional reactions of the various people involved (including a chilling sequence with a group of white ex-cops reminiscing about trying to contain the protesting mobs). Hirsch also makes sure he presents the whole story, talking with terrorists and protestors both black and white. As we trace the years, the film centres on haunting songs of frustration, protest, solidarity, lamentation and begging for understanding from God as to why an entire people group has been forgotten. Not only is this a moving account of musical expression, but it's also a lucid and intensely valuable examination of the chronology of events ... and how a nation survived through desperation, willpower and strong-mindedness. Power to the people indeed. [12 themes, language, violence] 13.Nov.03
happier days for the friedmans
dir Andrew Jarecki
with David Friedman, Jesse Friedman, Arnold Friedman, Elaine Friedman, Seth Friedman, Howard Friedman, John McDermott, Frances Galasso, Abbey Boklan, Debbie Nathan, Peter Panaro, Jack Fallin
release US 30.May.03; UK 9.Apr.04 • 03/US 1h47 4 out of 5 stars
There's a startling genius to this documentary that sucks us in with astonishing footage of a real family disintegrating in the most unthinkable way ... right in front of our eyes. Jarecki somehow got permission from the Friedman family to not only interview them extensively on camera (only two people are missing), but also to use their library of incredibly personal home movies and videos. And the result is much more than just a collection of memories and old footage, it's an examination of a society and judicial system that simply doesn't work. capturing the friedmans
  The Friedmans were prominent members of their Long Island community, Mom and Dad and three sons living the American Dream. Then Dad (Arnold) was arrested for possession of child pornography, and investigators found evidence of widespread sexual abuse of students both by Arnold and one of his sons. Throughout the gruelling case, the Friedmans continue to film their family meetings--now shouting matches. This gives us a fascinating glimpse into their life, and muddles the simplistic story the media was trumpeting to the nation.
  This is a gripping and often macabre film that's impossible to look away from even as it makes us feels like voyeurs watching the destruction of a happy family. It's also astonishing how Jarecki never takes sides, showing us what happens from every angle and letting us draw our own conclusions. The only thing that becomes clear is that most of the people outside the family (cops, lawyers, journalists, relatives) are deeply mistaken about what happened, if anything did. The film is full of bracingly honest self-examination, raw humour and a fascinating vein of hysteria and emotion, but its real power is in the intimate examination of family ties. Through Jarecki's careful filmmaking, each of the Friedmans becomes a compelling, involving character who we watch over the course of some 40 years. The revealing interviews, quirky details and wrap-up epilogue are not only strongly moving, but they leave us wanting to know even more about them all. [15 strong adult themes, language] 3.Jan.04
back to the top GUN-SHY [Schussangst]
hinrichs and wilson
dir Dito Tsintsadze; scr Dirk Kurbjuweit
with Fabian Hinrichs, Lavinia Wilson, Johan Leysen, Lena Stolze, Christoph Waltz, Ingeborg Westphal, Rudolf-W Marnitz
release UK 28.Nov.03 • 03/Germany 1h45 3 out of 5 stars
This slow-moving yet intriguing German drama has a thin vein of offbeat quirkiness running through it that gives it an almost dreamlike David Lynch quality. Lukas (Hinrichs) is a young guy who delivers meals-on-wheels to elderly people around the city. His life is fairly dull and solitary, except for the eccentric old people on his route. Then a young woman named Isabella (Wilson) approaches him on a bus and asks for help. They become friends, but the inexperienced Lukas isn't sure if it's developing into something romantic or not. Still, this friendship encourages him to leave his shell, and he gets to know some of his clients and a neighbour better, then makes a shocking discovery about Isabella and her stepfather, a self-help author who has written a book about conquering fear. When a local cop plants a thought in Lukas' mind, he thinks he sees a solution to his dilemma, but it's not something he even wants to contemplate.
  The film's script and direction slip in the knifepoint and twist it very slowly, making us squirm in our seats as Lukas starts opening his mind to scary new thoughts. And even though we know where the film is headed, the constant parade of wacky side characters throw off the track continually, lulled into a sense of security. Everything is done steadily, from the gliding camera work to the fluid editing style and low-key but natural performances. The film seems almost random, the characters feel slightly hapless ... and then we start to drift into hints of surrealism and a growing concentration on voyeurism. And yet even with the increasingly disturbing atmosphere, the film manages to make touching comments on society's treatment of marginal people--aimless loners like Lukas as well as abandoned retirees desperate to maintain their dignity. There's also a heavy dose of irony in the way the story works itself out. And while it's clever and rather creepy, the final conclusion isn't terribly surprising. [15 themes, language, nudity, sex] 21.Nov.03
back to the top HIS BROTHER [Son Frθre]
Todeschini and Caravaca
dir Patrice Chereau; scr Patrice Chereau, Anne-Louise Trividic
with Bruno Todeschini, Eric Caravaca, Sylvain Jacques, Nathalie Boutefeu, Maurice Garrel, Antoinette Moya, Fred Ulysse, Catherine Ferran, Robinson Stevenin, Thierry Colas, Claudine Benichou, Veronique Iafrate
release France 10.Sep.03; UK 20.Feb.04 • 03/France 1h35 3½ out of 5 stars
After the rawness of Intimacy, Chereau gets well beneath the skin of another relationship, this time two brothers. It's a strong, honest film that captures the pain and closeness of siblings in an unusual way. After being diagnosed with a fatal blood disease, the only person Thomas (Todeschini) wants to see is his estranged brother Luc (Caravaca). Over the next several months, Luc helps Thomas face his illness, but even more than that, the two are forced to examine their relationship and the elusive bond that holds them together despite a strain that's never fully explained, but may be linked to Luc's sexuality. And yet while they find a new way of connecting to each other as brothers, they begin to loose touch with their lovers (Boutefeu and Jacques).
  This is filmed in an up-close, almost Dogme style with natural lighting and handheld camera work. We really get into the minds of these two men, and it's rarely through the dialog. The actors bring a startling physicality to their roles--the skin speaks volumes here. And the hospital settings bring out this theme as well; scenes of the day-to-day medical routine add to the film's overall body-conscience. Chereau fills the screen with tiny details about the characters and situations, telling things that let us into their minds and give us glimpses into the people around them. It's extremely well-shot and cleverly edited out of sequence (with titles that help us keep track). And as the characters begin to contemplate mortality we're surprised to find ourselves right there with them! As a telling examination of the awkwardness of brotherly bonds, this is a fascinating little film. It's sometimes a bit theatrical (the two-man story feels like it must have been adapted from a play, but it actually comes from a novel), and it's sometimes maddeningly elusive. But it's so intimate that it actually has the power to make you look at your own siblings in a new way. [15 themes, language, nudity] 10.Dec.03
back to the top THE LAST KISS [L'Ultimo Bacio] [US title: One Last Kiss]
Mezzogiorno and Accorsi
dir-scr Gabriele Muccino
with Stefano Accorsi, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Stefania Sandrelli, Giorgio Pasotti, Claudio Santamaria, Marco Cocci, Martina Stella, Sabrina Impacciatore, Daniela Piazza, Luigi Diberti, Pierfrancesco Favino, Regina Orioli
release Italy 2.Feb.01; US 16.Aug.02; UK 27.Feb.04 • 01/Italy 1h55 3½ out of 5 stars
remade as THE LAST KISS (2006)
This lively and engaging Italian comedy-drama examines romance from several intriguing angles, getting deep under the skin with vivid characters well-performed by a talented ensemble. Carlo and Giulia (Accorsi and Mezzogiorno) are a young couple at a key point in their relationship, with big decisions to make about their future. Carlo's three best friends aren't much help: Adriano (Pasotti) is overwhelmed with the responsibilities of a 6-month-old child and a nagging wife (Impacciatore), Paolo (Santamaria) can't get over a broken relationship, and Alberto (Cocci) refuses to commit to anything. Meanwhile, Giulia's mother (Sandrelli) is having her own crisis, finally leaving what she has long felt was a dead marriage. Then Carlo meets a sexy 18-year-old (Stella) who tempts him with a way out. But is breaking up that easy to do?
  The underlying message of this film is bracing and powerful, looking at the compromises and realities of relationships in a fresh and honest way. Writer-director Muccino keeps things very energetic, with fluid and complicated camera work capturing people who are bursting with personality. We feel for all of these people, although none of them is terribly sympathetic, mostly because we can't admit that we see ourselves up on the screen ... but we do! Each person's inner turmoil is vividly portrayed in the solid performances, clever direction and a script that keeps its breezy tone even while tackling serious subjects. Carlo's dilemma is clearly the film's central focus, and it's pretty gripping stuff, nicely played by the charming Accorsi. But the film as a whole is a bit too spread out among all the side stories. Each one is quite compelling, which pulls us in too many directions. And for non-Italian-speakers, the film is fairly hard going, as the characters talk incessantly; it's sparky dialog but reading all those subtitles barely lets us look at their faces! Still, there are so many wonderful scenes in this film that it's impossible to dislike ... or ignore. [15 themes, language, sex] 4.Dec.03
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© 2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall