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|SHADOWS ARTHOUSE FILMS 04
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MARIA FULL OF GRACE | TRIPLE AGENT | UP AGAINST THEM ALL
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Michael (Thomsen) is the good son heading to Afghanistan as part of the peacekeeping force; Jannik (Kaas) is the black sheep of the family just released from prison. When Michael's helicopter is shot down (an astonishing scene!), Jannik develops a sense of responsibility for Michael's wife Sarah (Nielsen) and their two daughters (Werner and Logstrup). But while Jannik is finally coming of age, Michael is enduring a horrific imprisonment. And when he comes home, he doesn't like the closeness he sees between his wife and his brother.
The story isn't particularly original (Pearl Harbor, anyone?), and it relies on a few to many plot contrivances, but the characters are so vivid that their internal journeys become the focus, and this makes the film come remarkably to life. Even though it's pretty harrowing at times! The central acting trio is terrific--Nielsen's desperate attempt to keep her family together, Thomsen's sense of duty and survival whatever the cost, Kaas' slowly blossoming maturity. There's an authentic sense of the relationships between each of them that is never contrived at all, even when Michael becomes more than a little terrifying.
Meanwhile, Bier directs the film with a lush, moody style that looks amazing. Handheld camera work and a gift for capturing tiny details on screen add depth to the story and help us feel the emotions pouring out of each character. The tenderness and anguish are both raw and very real, and the agonizing brutality in a few scenes is so awful that we can hardly bear to watch. Bier and her cast perfectly capture a society in which people simply do not talk about what's really going on inside (Mejding and Hojfeldt as the brothers' parents are especially sharp in this respect). And as a result the film is evocative, disturbing and ultimately cathartic. [15 strong themes, language, violence] 21.Oct.04 lff
|IN YOUR HANDS [Forbrydelser]
Anna (Jorgensen) is a newly trained priest who gets a job in a women's prison, where everything seems fairly low-key. An ex-junkie (Richter) volunteers to assist her, then tells her about a new inmate, Kate (Dyrholm), who she believes has a miraculous gift of healing. Kate is also noticed by the prison counsellor Henrik (Kopernikus), who's tempted to begin an illicit relationship. And then she comments that Anna is pregnant, which can't be possible since Anna and her husband (Ranthe) have been trying for years.
Like most Dogme films, the purely unadorned filmmaking style makes it feel like we're watching a documentary. The performances are intimate and extremely authentic, with bursts of intense emotion and lots of internal struggling, especially as the story takes a few nasty turns for each character. As a result, we are drawn in emotionally to each person's agonising dilemma, and as their brains begin to spin for a solution, so do ours. The fascinating wrinkle here is the faith each person has in God, the people around them and the system they live in.
It's rare to see a film that deals so provocatively and so deeply with this idea. Religion is such a taboo subject in films that when someone actually grapples with complex spiritual questions on screen it feels almost alien. But Olesen and Aakeson tackle it head-on, really digging into the psychology of their characters to figure out how each would react in each situation. And the result is powerfully moving and insightful, mostly because none of them seem to do what we would do in the same situation! This is thoughtful, gripping, introspective filmmaking with a strong sense of character and story. [15 themes, language, nudity] 20.Oct.04 lff
|MARIA FULL OF GRACE
Maria (Moreno) is a 17-year-old fed up with her soulless job in the flower plantation in her Colombian town. Her family is furious when she quits, because her salary is supporting them all. And they don't even know she's pregnant by a boy (Guerrero) she doesn't love! While at her most desperate, she takes a job as a mule smuggling cocaine to New York. Her friend Blanca (Vega) tags along, and she also befriends fellow-mule Lucy (Lopez). But things don't go as planned when their plane touches down in the States.
There's a raw authenticity that gets to the heart of the situation without exploiting it. Although his filmmaking style catches the natural light and colour of life in the Andes (actually filmed in Ecuador), Marston is dealing with an almost mythical scenario--we've all heard these stories. But he shows it as such an everyday, matter-of-fact event that it's seriously chilling to watch. Especially through Maria's tough-but-terrified eyes.
And first-timer Moreno is excellent, creating an intriguing and complex woman trapped in a dull nightmare and willing to risk everything to escape. Vega's Blanca is a startlingly believable listless follower, while Lopez's Lucy is a fascinating bundle of fear and hope. And along the way they meet all kinds of intriguing people--helpful, sceptical, callous and very dangerous.
As the tension gets increasingly unbearable, we're pretty sure it'll end in disappointment and/or tragedy for one or more of these young women--a realisation that reminds us we're watching a movie. It's a little contrived, trying to encapsulate every conceivable outcome into one film rather than maintain the integrity of the story. But that doesn't make it any less gripping or moving. And by maintaining a constant glimmer of hope, Marston makes the film both engaging and vitally important. [15 themes, language, drugs, violence] 21.Oct.04 lff
Fyodor and Arsinoe (Renko and Didaskalou) are an unusual couple in 1936 Paris. She's Greek and he's a loyal White Russian, fighting against the Soviets, communists and Europe's rising fascists. Or is he really a double, or maybe triple, agent? No one knows for sure, least of all his wife! But even friends (Clais and Manukov) and neighbours (Langlet and Salinger) harbour strong opinions and suspicions of subterfuge, especially as the political situation gets increasingly unstable.
Rohmer is a technical expert; his films always look gorgeous, and this is no exception. A shadowy and mysterious production style brings the period to life in an evocative way that draws us into the complex plot, while intriguing faces hint at all kinds of trickery. The performances are subtle and enigmatic, which makes them all somewhat cold and aloof. No matter how good the actors are (and they're excellent), it's hard to engage with someone when you don't really trust them. And in this film, no one trusts anyone.
But Rohmer chooses to tell the story only through dialog augmented with newsreel clips. This is long-winded, hugely complex dialog that dissects art and politics and the blurring lines between them. Sociologically, this was a very confusing time in Europe, so it's not easy to make sense of all the factions and ideologies. Meanwhile Rohmer only barely hints at the spy-espionage plot, leaving the action maddeningly off-screen while everyone talks endlessly about this viewpoint or that sinister figure.
The dialog is fatiguing and far too cerebral, lurching from episode to episode over a span of four years. And the characters all talk with one voice; despite the differing opinions, it sounds like people reading from the same book, not interacting on a human level. We just want to stop them and ask, "Can you please explain--who are you talking about? Or better yet: Show me!" [U adult themes] 19.Oct.04
|UP AGAINST THEM ALL [Contra Todos]
Teodoro (Lopes) lives with his daughter Claudia (Lourenco) and his second wife Soninha (Cavalli), both of whom are vaguely aware that he's a small-time crime boss. But they don't know that he's trying to straighten out his life with religion and a new woman (Meola). Life in this neighbourhood is an energetic jumble of sexual desire, revenge killings and dangerous dealings. And when people start dying around them, these people struggle to find something to hold onto.
It's in defying expectations that writer-director Moreira succeeds here. The story is extremely lurid, packed with illicit activity. Sex with whoever is nearby becomes an act of rebellion against the impending death that looms around every corner. In other words, very few people in this neighbourhood ever live to a ripe old age. And it's shot on digital video in a handheld, adrenaline-fuelled style, as if Moreira and crew were dodging bullets as they worked! He slightly cheats us with the narrative, leaving out key story elements until a concluding collage of missing scenes that fill in all the holes. But even this makes the film more earthy and urgent.
The cast is extremely natural as well--everyone's a bundle of desire and vitality, looking for something specific and unafraid to go for it no matter what the consequences might be. Dangerous behaviour, random violence, moments of joy and intimacy, attempts to improve their lot in life--these are the things that fuel their passions. Every character has a palpable dark side, and it's what gives them the chance to survive. It's the loss of hope that dooms them. This is an observational and sometimes meandering film that never even begins to offer explanations or solutions. But it's a powerful document of a corner of the world we've created. [18 themes, language, violence, sex, nudity, drugs] 22.Oct.04 lff
© 2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall