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|SHADOWS ARTHOUSE FILMS ’04
On this page: I'M NOT SCARED | INTIMATE STRANGERS
THE MANSON FAMILY | MEMORIES OF MURDER | PING PONG
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|I’M NOT SCARED [Io Non Ho Paura]
This film has such a vivid visual style that we are immediately transported to the parched Italian summer, with its golden fields, brilliant blue skies and brightly coloured clothing. Director Salvatores skilfully captures the muscular physicality of the time and place--these little boys are feisty and energetic. And the film gets under the skin too, as they discover who they can trust and who has their best interests at heart. This is extremely clever filmmaking--writing, directing, production design that's perhaps a bit too slick, in a Miramax/Chocolat sort of way. But it mixes elements of mystery thrillers, adventure fantasies and ghost stories to take us deep into this 10-year-old's mind.
Performances are all spot-on, from the excellent (and novice) child cast to solid supporting adults like Sanchez-Gijon (A Walk in the Clouds) and Abbrescia as Michele's parents, Careccia as his friend's eerily offbeat older brother, and especially Abatantuono (who was also in Salvatores' Mediterraneo) as a stranger who's both mischievous and terrifying. All of this combines to create one of the sweetest scary movies in recent memory! Watching Michele learn both positive and negative realities about the world around him is fascinating; and it's deeply moving to see him discover truths about himself. There's almost a fairy tale quality to the overall film--comforting and frightening at the same time, leading up to a fateful act of either bravery or foolishness. Or maybe both. [15 suspense, violence, language] 3.Jun.04
|INTIMATE STRANGERS [Confidences Trop Intimes]
This is one of those films that delights in playing with the audience, dropping little clues here, red herrings there, while unpeeling each person slowly before our eyes. Like the characters themselves, we are constantly surprised by every fact we discover about them. Misunderstandings and cloudy motives obscure the truth--if it's there at all--and we soon realise that no one is remotely as innocent as they seem. All of this is brilliantly played by the cast, especially the wide-eyed Luchini and the offhandedly sexy Bonnaire, who generate chemistry even when we believe nothing will happen between them. Or perhaps it will.
Leconte directs it expertly, establishing the lurid tone at the beginning and carrying a darkly shadowed colour code through the film right to the gleaming finale. Each set is full of clues about the characters that live and/or work there, and Leconte delights in giving us detailed glimpses into their lives, slowly widening the story until we have the whole picture at the very end. The result is a film that gets increasingly both sexy and scary, simply because we're never sure what will happen next, all while we develop a firm bond with characters who, like us, are simply trying to make sense of their lives, stay alive, and find someone to both trust and love. Superb! [15 themes, language, innuendo] 8.Jun.04
R E A D E R R E V I E W S
IndigoJen, Los Angeles: "I saw it on the strength of your review, and loved it; thanks! I enjoyed the 'Is he, or isn't she?' ambiguity, and the ending that hinted of what might happen, without a big happily-ever-after Hollywood finish." (10.Sep.04)
|THE MANSON FAMILY
The story is told as a journalist (Day) pieces together a stack of footage into a 1996 TV documentary about Charles Manson (Games). He's got both old and new interviews with Manson's "family" members, as well as extensive home movies of the cult's sex-and-drugs lifestyle in the 1960s. What emerges is a story of drug-addled power and passion, in which a bunch of free-loving young people become increasingly paranoid until they lose the ability to see outsiders as human beings, so brutally killing them is the natural next step.
There's a raw honesty here, and a legitimate attempt to get under the skin of the whole story that makes the film worth watching. The narrative drive as these happy young people drift into extreme darkness is quite compelling, and Pitman is very good as the focal character Tex. But the raw imagery is extremely hard-going, and VanBebber's attempt to draw parallels with modern-day tattooed and pierced freaks doesn't work at all. The quality of the acting doesn't help either; performing documentary-like scenes is very difficult, and this cast simply isn't up to it. They carry the dramatic scenes with earthy energy, but in the interviews they feel like actors, which makes the whole film feel stilted and contrived.
What does work is the way VanBebber mixes film genres in a thoroughly involving way--scratchy old footage, dimly lit video, free-flowing home movies and standard thriller sequences are combined like a 1960s exploitation movie, complete with extensive nudity and gore. Despite the wobbly acting, the film looks great. But there's a much deeper problem: This is a true story about real people! The gleeful tone of the horrific murder scenes is in extremely bad taste, even if the villains are actually victims as well. [18 strong themes, violence, language, sex, nudity, drugs] 2.Jun.04
|MEMORIES OF MURDER
It's 1986 in small-town Korea, before forensic methods were in standard practice. Detective Park (Song Kang-ho) is struggling to solve a series of gruesome murders using instinct and brute force, rounding up the usual suspects and then terrorising them with his thuggish partner Cho (Kim Rwe-ha). Then Detective Seo (Kim Sang-kyung) arrives from Seoul with his modern, analytic approach. Soon Park and Seo are at each others' throats, clashing as they hunt down the increasingly vicious killer. But desperation has a way of blurring the differences between them.
Since this really happened, the plot refreshingly refuses to fit standard movie structures, and Bong that never tries to graft it onto that tried (and tired) Hollywood formula. Instead he digs deep into these two very different detectives--they are the story, not the killer or victims! He fills the movie with attitude and wit, as well as sudden bursts of action, fear and comedy. The result is bracingly powerful--entertaining, thrilling, funny and startlingly moving. The film is also impressively well-made, with beautiful and inventive cinematography, a clever sound mix and an evocative score.
Meanwhile, performances are superb; both leading men take us into their characters' inner lives through quiet actions and reactions, while the script fleshes them out in other ways. These are men who don't want mystery or even evidence; they just need resolution! We also get to know several other officers--their superiors and inferiors in the chaotic police station--as well as a string of suspects who grow increasingly desperate to prove their innocence as the cops get increasingly frantic to wring out a confession. Or kill them trying. This is one of the finest police thrillers in years, and further proof that Asia is making some of the best films on the planet at the moment. [15 themes, grisliness, violence, language] 6.Jul.04
The film has an energetic visual style that really makes the most of its characters and settings, as well as the cutthroat action on the ping-pong tables. These are serious athletes, and the game is played with life-or-death vigour, discipline and inner resolve! The film is very cleverly structured to draw this out while also maintaining a comical tone and a vivid sense of character that keeps us thoroughly gripped. Kubozuka and Arata beautifully portray friends who grow apart as they grew up; Peco's increasingly instense force of will is a remarkable contrast to Smile's nice guy with no killer instinct.
There are even echoes here of Amadeus, as characters struggle against the idea that some people are simply born with superior gifts, while others work all their lives and never amount to anything. And the side characters have an unusual depth as well, from Peco's Sharon Stone-wannabe granny, who runs a ping-pong dojo, to Smile's coach Butterfly Joe, who's haunted by his past. The film could have perhaps used a bit of romantic entanglement to heat things up, but it intriguingly hints at issues of sexuality here and there while centring on the friendship between Peco and Smile. And it's in this friendship that the film finds its voice--and a surprisingly strong message as well. [12 some language] 15.Jun.04
© 2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall