Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
< < M O R E | M O R E > >

More mainstream art films have their own pages.
Other offbeat films are at: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | SHORT FILMS
last update 1.Aug.04

back to the top FEAR AND TREMBLING [Stupeur et Tremblements]
testud doesn't blend in
dir-scr Alain Corneau
with Sylvie Testud, Kaori Tsuji, Yasunari Kondo, Taro Suwa, Bison Katayama, Sokyu Fujita, Gen Shimaoka, Heileigh Gomes, Eri Sakai
release France 12.Mar.03, UK 27.Aug.04 Canal+ 03/France 1h47 4/5
This film has a subtly brilliant premise that it allows to expand and develop through a witty and sharp screenplay, superb performances and a willingness to really explore cross-cultural issues. Amelie (Testud) was born in Japan, but moved "home" to Belgium at age 5 with her family. After university, she returns to the land of her birth and a job in a Tokyo financial firm. But starting at the bottom is a lot trickier in Eastern Asia than in Western Europe! And even with a friend in the company (Kondo), Amelie struggles to navigate the hierarchy from her beautiful but cold boss Mari (Tsuji) to Mari's demanding superior (Suwa) to his laughing-madman boss (Katayama) to the astute company president (Haneda).
  Writer-director Corneau captures the culture clash without soft-pedalling it for the audience. This is tricky, inexplicable stuff--Amelie is on her own, swimming with what appear to be sharks and trying to rationalise her lifelong hopes and dreams with what's really happening to her. And Testud creates such a remarkable, wonderful character that we stick right with her when things get seriously rough. With her pixie-like face, freckles and sandy-red hair, Amelie couldn't look any less Japanese, even though she speaks the language like a native. Meanwhile, the sleek Tsuji, bulldog-like Suwa and rotund Katayama add fascinating textures and meanings in their scenes.
  This visual contrast is extremely clever, and Corneau and his cast make the most of it. There's lots of screaming and bowing and scraping, as well as a fair amount of fear and trembling; and the result on screen is often hilarious, then surprisingly touching. The relationships between the characters are complicated--impossible to predict or to fully understand as they intriguingly mix east-west patterns of behaviour, engaging us through the authentic characters. It's a delightfully entertaining film that actually manages to get under the surface and examine meaningful issues. It's also slightly reminiscent of two other films: a French film about another cheeky woman named Amelie, and Sophia Coppola's more melancholy examination of the same cultural territory, Lost in Translation. [12 themes, brief nudity] 13.Jul.04
back to the top HERO
leung and cheung
dir Zhang Yimou scr Li Feng, Zhang Yimou, Wang Bin
with Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, Zhang Ziyi, Chen Daoming, Donnie Yen
release China 24.Oct.02, US 20.Aug.04, UK 24.Sep.04 02/China 1h39 4.5/5
This staggeringly beautiful film somehow manages to tell its intricate story in just over 90 minutes, although it packs in so much action and emotion that you feel like you've seen an epic.
  Set a thousand years ago when China was divided into smaller kingdoms, it's about a lone fighter with no name (Li), who everyone calls "Nameless", who approaches the throne of the paranoid King of Qin (Chen) to tell how he has vanquished the king's three enemies--the assassin Sky (Yen) and the murderous lovers Broken Sword and Flying Snow (Leung and Cheung). But something in the story piques the king's curiosity, and as he begins to ask questions, Nameless is forced to admit that he's bent the truth a bit.
  Director Zhang and cinematographer Chris Doyle tell this story in an outrageous visual language; each sequence employs a specific colour--red, blue, white, green--with costumes, sets and even natural scenery blending in an otherworldly but also strikingly down-to-earth way. The numerous fight sequences, on the other hand, are not remotely down to earth! They're in the Crouching Tiger style: floating, soaring, thrusting, intelligent, in tune with the elements, deeply poetic. And of course all of this is in service to the story and characters, giving us insight into the people and their passions, their sense of duty and sacrifice, their longing for peace in their land.
  It's a finely detailed, deeply involving story. Each character comes vividly to life through each version of events as we see them from various sides (and indeed in various colours). And the cast's introspective, subtle performances work beautifully with the film's graceful sense of movement and the fiercely relentless fighting styles. Several scenes linger long in the memory--Cheung and Zhang's autumnal battle in the woods, Li and Leung's floating fight above a mountain lake, Li and Daoming's evocative clash amid falling curtains. And there are also scenes with casts of thousands, as well as intimate moments of brainy conversation and detailed interaction, all building to a breathless conclusion that unveils the film's message in a powerfully meaningful way. In a word: Gorgeous. [12 themes, violence, innuendo] 29.Jul.04
back to the top RED LIGHTS [Feux Rouges]
bouquet and darroussin
dir Cedric Kahn scr Cedric Kahn, Laurence Ferreira Barbosa, Gilles Marchand
with Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Carole Bouquet, Vincent Deniard, Charline Paul, Jean-Pierre Gos, Sava Lolov, Eric Moreau, Igor Skreblin, Mylene Demongeot
release France 3.Mar.04, UK 24.Sep.04 Canal+ 04/France 1h45 4/5
This surprising and disturbing French thriller works as both a detailed examination of urban marriage and a creepy road movie. Director-cowriter Kahn approaches his films with such unflinching honesty that he really gets into our heads!
  Antoine and Helene (Darroussin and Bouquet) are a frazzled couple who, on the hottest day of the year, are driving to the opposite end of the country to collect their two kids from summer camp. Tensions are high and patience is short. Antoine keeps stopping for shots of whiskey, and during one break Helene abandons him, leaving a note to say she's taking the train. What follows is a wrenching odyssey as Antoine tries to catch up with Helene's train, then has a scary encounter with a stranger (Deniard). But even this doesn't prepare him for what he discovers next.
  Kahn captures a sense of modern chaos so perfectly that we never doubt this couple--they love each other and yet can't stand to be near each other, simply because life has become so unbearably stressful. Delays, traffic jams and other urban annoyances combine to push them to the brink ... and then the (somewhat contrived) events that follow push them right over the edge, where they finally approach a sense of perspective.
  Darroussin and Bouquet are excellent--we can identify with both of them, laughing in recognition while seeing details that give us insight into these people, their reactions and potential actions as well. As their relationship is strained to the breaking point, we really feel their sense of cynicism, paranoia and fear. And then the writers exploit that with a chilling plot twist that seems to come out of nowhere to jolt us awake (like Catherine Breillat's A Ma Soeur or Gaspar Noe's Irreversible). What follows is astonishingly gripping and moving, especially an extended scene in which Antoine uses the phone to sort out what has turned into a fiercely unsettling mystery. This is a film about rash decisions and sudden events that can change life in an instant--for good or bad. Or maybe bringing good from bad. [15 adult themes, language, violence] 15.Jul.04
back to the top SOMEONE LIKE HODDER [En Som Hodder]
brygmann and johansen
dir Henrik Ruben Genz scr Bo Hr Hansen
with Frederik Christian Johansen, Lars Brygmann, Birthe Neumann, Trine Appel, Anders Lund Kjeldsen, Maurice Blinkenberg, Cecilie Egemose Osterby, Anette Stovelbaek, Pede Lambert, Al Agami, Mette Horn, Joy-Maria Frederiksen
release Denmark 31.Jan.03, UK 6.Aug.04 03/Denmark 1h20 3.5/5
This witty, dry Danish film is almost like a younger-sweeter Donnie Darko with its surreal examination of fate and purpose. Hodder (Johansen) is a cheeky boy living with his widowed father (Brygmann) and blissfully unaware that he's the butt of all the jokes at school. Which is something, since his classmates and teacher (Neumann) are all rather loopy in their own right. When a little fairy (Stovelbaek) tells Hodder that it's his destiny to save the world, he's naturally overwhelmed by the enormity of the task. But soon his good-natured fearlessness combines with his rather large imagination as he starts to formulate a plan of action.
  Telling the story completely from Hodder's point of view keeps the tone fairly light, even when it's dealing with rather significant issues. The characters are all vividly well written and played by the cast--each is a bundle of idiosyncrasies, and we're not sure if this is how they really are or how Hodder sees them. But it doesn't matter at all when it's this enjoyable ... and telling. Meanwhile, Hodder's escalating quest is nicely paralleled against the more down-to-earth issues he's facing at home and school: serious things that really get under our skin, because we can see how important they are, even if Hodder can't.
  The film is also full of revealing little details--small adventures and characters who are annoying, wacky, charming, surprising. We are completely drawn in to the way Hodder seems so oblivious to the cruelty all around him, returning love and compassion for all the spite he is given; the way Hodder gets a little crush on virtually every woman he meets is both sparky and sweet, as is his banter with the fairy ("You've been chosen to save the world!" she says, to which Hodder replies, "Can you come back next week?"). He's a naive innocent, and yet also bravely willing to go against the grain. And in winning over the people around him, he gets us too. [PG some innuendo] 26.Jul.04
back to the top THE TRIUMPH OF LOVE
sorvino and rodan
dir Clare Peploe scr Clare Peploe, Marilyn Goldin, Bernardo Bertolucci
with Mira Sorvino, Ben Kingsley, Fiona Shaw, Jay Rodan, Rachael Stirling, Ignazio Oliva, Luis Molteni, Carlo Antonione, Carlo Marcoccia
release US 17.Apr.02, UK 8.Oct.04 02/UK 1h48 2.5/5
Based on an 18th century French play and filmed in Italy, this gender-bending romp is enjoyably witty, even if it feels rather long and pointless. The Princess (Sorvino) has grown up under a cloud; her parents killed the king and stole the crown. And when she catches sight of the rightful heir Agis (Rodan) emerging naked from a pond, she falls madly in love and vows to set things right. But Agis has been raised by his philosopher uncle (Kingsley) and spinster inventor aunt (Shaw) to hate the princess. So she concocts an elaborate cross-dressing scheme to befriend and seduce Agis, his aunt and his uncle.
  Despite the intricate convolutions and sharp dialog, the plot isn't terribly surprising or meaningful; it's a romantic comedy after all, so we know how it'll end. But the script is witty enough to keep us watching. Sorvino plays it with a charming twinkle in her eye that helps her get away with her vaguely unconvincing transformation into a man. She has real chemistry with her three romantic leads--essential for the film to work on any level! Kingsley takes the broad approach, mugging shamelessly as the thinker who dismisses love as irrelevant then falls head over heels. Shaw is wonderfully hilarious as always, combining camp desperation with endearing romanticism. And Rodan is fine as the pretty boy who must confront things he never knew about the world--romance and treachery, to name two.
  Peploe (aka Mrs Bertolucci) directs the film in a relaxed style that actually makes the period setting and costumes feel incidental (no mean feat!), while focussing on the characters. With its limited cast and singular setting, it feels like a play, and Peploe draws on that idea intriguingly. Unfortunately, once the premise is established, the script goes through several cycles that feel repetitive--we've got it, can we move on? There's also very little subtext, besides a couple of weak nods at the Age of Enlightenment. As a result, the film drags badly in the second half, despite the increasing complications of the plot and the expanding charm of the cast. [PG adult themes and situations] 12.Jul.04
back to the top Send Shadows your reviews!

< < M O R E | M O R E > >

2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall