Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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More mainstream art films have their own pages.
last update 2.Mar.04

back to the top ALL TOMORROW’S PARTIES
leaving camp prosperity
dir-scr Yu Lik-Wai
with Cho Yong-Won, Diao Yi-Nan, Zhao Wei-Wei, Na Ren        
release UK 2,Apr.04 • 03/China 1h36 2.5/5
This surreal futuristic drama from China is so dreamlike that it both fascinates and alienates in equal measure. Set in 2050 after some sort of apocalyptic revolution, there's a fanatical religious sect running the continent with the same ruthless control as the Maoists. The story centres on brothers Zhuai and Mian (Diao and Zhao) and single mother Xuelan (Cho), who are all sent to Camp Prosperity for "reeducation" so they will think like everyone else. When the sect is suddenly toppled these three people, along with Xuelan's young son, are thrown out into the wasteland of what's left of Asia. As they migrate to a deserted city, they try to rediscover freedom to the point where Zhuai and Xuelan find a vacant flat to live in as a normal couple. If only.
  Writer-director Yu captures the desolated Chinese landscape beautifully--the film's washed-out/shadowy look is reminiscent of 1970s sci-fi classics like Mad Max, THX-1138 and A Boy and His Dog. He also cleverly builds the eerie atmosphere with a real sense of disorientation and longing for both order and compassion. But this muted, low-key approach also makes it hard for us to go along with it, as do otherworldly sequences and a maddeningly loose approach to narrative and characterisation. Who people are or what's going on is anyone's guess! Sure, the long takes, underwritten script and subtle approach are elegant and clever, but there's so little for us to grasp that we just drift along bewildered by what's on-screen. It only springs to life during brief moments of humour or romance, such as when Zhuai and Xuelan playfully sniff each others' perfume in a sweet and sexy mating dance, or a fantasy sequence involving a room full of screaming girls. And ultimately it's well worth seeing for its glimpse of hope in the hearts of the very last dregs of human society. [15 themes, language, violence, imagery] 12.Feb.04
teen fighters
dir Kinji Fukasaku, Kenta Fukasaku • scr Kenta Fukasaku
with Tatsuya Fujiwara, Ai Maeda, Shugo Oshinari, Takeuchi Riki, Ayana Sakai, Haruka Suenaga, Yuma Ishigaki, Miyuki Kanbe, Masaya Kikawada, Aki Maeda, Sonny Chiba, Beat Takeshi
release Japan 5.Jul.03, UK 23.Aug.04 dvd • 03/Japan 2h13 1/5
See also: BATTLE ROYALE (2000)
This follow-up to the 2000 mega-hit is even more muddled than the original, failing to set up a convincing premise and struggling to balance the action with all the violence, emotion and sermonising. It's also painfully long!
  Three years later, Japanese society is descending into even deeper chaos with a group of teen terrorists declaring all-out war against the adults who devised the Battle Royale system to weed out kids by forcing them to fight to the death. So the government replies by passing a BRII law, and now a classroom of 15-year-olds is forced to go after the terrorists! There are lots of little hitches, such as the fact that the teens are paired together so if one dies, the other is instantly killed by his or her murderous neck-cuff. Of course, once they get to the remote island hideout of the terrorist leader (Fujiwara, survivor of the first film), these kids switch sides and an all-out bloodbath ensues.
  Part 1 was bad enough, but this film has even less logical coherence or thematic resonance. It's also nearly pornographically preachy, laying the anti-American sentiment on so thickly that it completely undermines the film's rather provocative message. There's a thoroughly immature attempt on the part of the filmmakers to overlay America's War on Terrorism into the story. But it completely undermines the message. Technically, there are some scenes that look fantastic, while others are shockingly amateurish. Perhaps this shows what was filmed by Japanese moviemaster Kinji, who died during production; his son Kenta finished the film. Or maybe it was ill-conceived from the get-go. The vicious slaughter pauses awkwardly for moments of contrived weepiness and straight-to-camera lectures. The acting is pretty terrible throughout, most notably wild overplaying by the teacher (Riki) overseeing the "game". Some of the teens fare a bit better, but not many. This film is an assault to the senses, which is a pity because the themes are worth discussing. But after seeing this film you won't want to! [18 strong violence and gore, language] 17.Feb.04
back to the top BON VOYAGE
ledoyen and derangere
dir Jean-Paul Rappeneau • scr Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Patrick Modiano
with Isabelle Adjani, Gregori Derangere, Gerard Depardieu, Virginie Ledoyen, Yvan Attal, Peter Coyote, Jean-Marc Stehle, Aurore Clement, Edith Scob, Xavier De Guillebon, Michel Vuillermoz, Nicolas Vaude
release France 16.Apr.03, US 19.Mar.04, UK 14.May.04 • 03/France 1h54 3½ out of 5 stars
Impeccably recreating 1940s France with artistry and insight, this film boasts superb acting and direction that bring the story and characters to vivid life, taking a breezy yet astute look at one of the country's most difficult periods. The only problem is that there's so much here that it's almost impossible to take it in.
  Viviane (Adjani) is a famous actress in 1940 Paris, with a stream of admirers including her long-time friend Frederic (Derangere). She's used to men doing extraordinary things for her, but when she asks Frederic for help, he ends up in jail for his efforts. As the Germans invade the country, he escapes and catches up with Viviane in Bordeaux, where she's cleverly taken up with a government minister (Depardieu). Frederic also encounters a another escapee (Attal) and young activist (Ledoyen) who's trying to help a professor (Stehle) smuggle a military secret out of the country before the Germans get it. Both Viviane and Frederic have to juggle all these elements, avoid a tenacious journalist (Coyote) who's obviously hiding something, and decide who they'll end up with.
  Rappeneau (Cyrano de Bergerac) has such an amazing attention to detail that everything springs to life beautifully-- sets and scenery, characters and action scenes. It's expert filmmaking full of terrific suspense, romance, humour and melodrama, structured like a classic farce with coincidences everywhere and moments of pure comedy and surprising emotion. Derangere is excellent at the centre, the innocent man caught in a whirlwind of chaos as he tries to clear his name and get the girl (but which girl?), while the wonderful Adjani and Ledoyen swirl around him--one a vain drama queen and the other an intense idealist. The bustling structure keeps us gripped, even though there's too much going on, brushing quickly past historical events and relying on our knowledge of the situation to understand what's happening on the larger scale. The humour is also a little too knowing--I'm sure the film is far funnier for French audiences! But it's so well-made that we can't help but love it. [12 themes, violence] 10.Feb.04
back to the top THE RETURN
father and sons
dir Andrei Zvyagintsev • scr Vladimir Moiseyenko, Aleksandr Novototsky
with Vladimir Garin, Ivan Dobronravov, Konstantin Lavronenko, Natalya Vdovina, Galina Petrova
release US 6.Feb.04; UK 25.Jun.04 • 03/Russia 1h55 4 out of 5 stars
Constantly surprising and filled with beautiful images and performances, this remarkable Russian drama wins us over completely before it starts tightening the screws to make us squirm in our seats. Andrei and Ivan (Garin and Dobronravov) are teen brothers in the throes of adolescence when their long-lost father (Lavronenko) suddenly reappears after a 12-year absence. Their mother and grandmother (Vdovina and Petrova) seem to take it in stride, but the boys don't know what to make of this outsider who for them has only existed in ancient family photos. When he suggests a fishing trip, they hesitantly jump at the chance to get to know him. Once on the road, they discover he's no better at being a dad than they are at being sons. The older, more pliable Andrei adapts to this new reality fairly quickly, but the more nervous, thoughtful Ivan resists this stranger's attempts to enter his life. It all comes to a peak when they end up camping on an isolated island.
  Mikhail Krichman's cinematography is absolutely stunning, and Zvyagintsev directs the film cleverly, drawing us into the story through the tentative boys' very distinct personalities. Throughout their odyssey, these three very different men circle each other trying to find a chink in the armour. The acting is never obvious or strained, gently opening up the characters for us (but not necessarily for each other). The late Garin is excellent as the more open, eager-to-please Andrei, while Lavronenko's performance has just the right mixture of charisma and mystery. But Dobronravov owns the film as the surly, demanding, emotional Ivan, which admittedly is the film's most colourful role. Along with Ivan, we know Dad's up to something and that tragedy may strike at any minute. But the facts are eerily enigmatic and untouchable. In this way, Zvyagintsev gets us right into the story; we feel a sense of foreboding along with the boys, but we're so entranced by this mysterious man that we willingly dive in. And the result is devastatingly powerful! Remarkable, challenging filmmaking. [15 themes, violence, language] 4.Mar.04
Winner: Golden Lion, 2003 Venice Film Festival
ha and seo
dir-scr Kim Ki-duk
with Oh Young-soo, Kim Jong-ho, Seo Jae-kyeong, Ha Yeo-jin, Kim Young-min, Ji Dae-han, Kim Ki-duk, Park Ji-a
release Korea 19.Sep.03, UK 14.May.04 • 03/Korea 1h43 4 out of 5 stars
Korean filmmaker Kim (Bad Guy) is back with another involving and skilfully filmed examination of human nature. The film's five chapters take place in different seasons over the course of a man's life. In a tiny hermitage floating on a springtime mountain lake, an old master (Oh) guides a very young boy (Kim Jong-ho) gently into a deeper understanding of the life around him--demonstrating cause and effect, turning cruelty into empathy, encouraging independent exploration. Over the course of about 50 years, we also see the boy as a teen (Seo) struggling with his lust for a young woman (Ha) who's come to the hermitage to convalesce one summer, as a 30-year-old (Kim Young-min) trying to find either redemption or oblivion, as a mature man (writer-director Kim Ki-duk) in the icy winter seeking a new beginning.
  Even without any knowledge of Buddhist symbolism, this is a striking film to watch, full of evocative imagery and provocative themes. From the complex use of animals and plants to the geographic setting and astonishing floating set, this is masterful filmmaking on every level, complete with performances that are almost frighteningly believable. Most of the film is virtually silent, like Kim's eerie thriller The Isle (2000), which was also set in a floating cabin. But there's no need for dialog when the characters are interacting so meaningfully with each other and with nature, captured with breathtaking cinematography that seems to effortlessly show both the grandeur of the landscape and the inner soul of the characters. Some scenes are hilarious, while others are sexy, sweet, frightening or shocking. But it all means something, and even if we aren't equipped to decode the symbolism, it still speaks eloquently. This is a magical, engaging story that's never dull for a second. Like the old master, Kim is subtly teaching us about fortitude, forgiveness, penitence, selflessness and balance in such a way that we're hardly aware he's doing it. Beautiful. [15 themes, sex, some violence] 1.Mar.04
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© 2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall