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|SHADOWS ARTHOUSE FILMS ’04|
On this page: CAFE LUMIERE | D.E.B.S
A HOLE IN MY HEART | MY MOTHER | 9 SONGS
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Yoko (Hitito) has been teaching Japanese in Taiwan, and now returns home with the news that she's pregnant by one of her students. Her father and stepmother (Kobayashi and Yo) take some time to react to this rather shocking news. And to ease herself back into local life, Yoko visits all her favourite cafes and spends time with her friend Hajime (Asano), who helps her research a Chinese composer from the 1930s who once lived in Japan.
The camera lingers quietly in each the scene, with extended static shots of people going about their daily business. Even the more confrontational scenes are shot from odd angles, usually behind the characters so we can't see their faces. All of this echoes Ozu's style, except that he was astonishingly gifted at taking us into the characters' inner life even while remaining aloof. Hou never quite manages this, and only really allows the remarkable Asano to show some emotional resonance; Hajime is clearly besotted with Yoko, but doesn't dare say so, especially once he finds out that she's with child.
All of the characters have unexpressed thoughts and opinions--Yoko's parents must feel strongly about her news, but even when they finally confront her, their shock centres on how the baby's father is a member of an umbrella-manufacturing family rather than that she has no intention of marrying him. This too is Ozu-like, and this is the strongest aspect of the film--micro-details of Japanese culture that are actually universally relevant. Li Ping-Bing's camera work and the film's sound mixing are sharp and vivid, and there's a nice sense of how people have to work very hard to be so matter-of-fact about extraordinary things that happen in their lives. But the film is so elusive and unknowable that it will only appeal to fans of cinematic poetry. [U themes] 4.Nov.04 lff
D.E.B.S. are an international spy force of undercover schoolgirls (complete with miniskirts, white shirts and ties). Star spy Amy (Foster) is working with her team (Ritchie, Goode and Aoki) to track down ruthless diamond thief Lucy (Brewster) and her henchman Scud (Simpson). Amy has just broken up with her Homeland Security spy boyfriend (Stults), and when she finally comes face-to-face with Lucy she's surprised when romantic sparks ignite. If this is true love, it couldn't be much more forbidden.
Basically this is a lesbian-tinged parody of Charlie's Angels, which seems pointless since (1) Charlie's Angels is a parody all its own and (2) this is so toothless that it's actually less raucous than the film it's spoofing. And it's this timidity that leaves it feeling like either a cable-TV pilot or a children's movie you could never take children to see.
That said, it is rather funny, featuring silly gadgets, ludicrous action and a witty mix of high school and espionage genres. The score samples tunes back to the 1970s, and even pokes fun at movies that overuse pop songs (with the girls screaming to talk above the music). The skimpy outfits are pure male fantasy, but the film's themes amusingly subvert them as lesbian wish-fulfilment. And there's some extremely funny dialog (Scud to Lucy: "Get over your little schemes to destroy the world; you've got a date tonight with a beautiful Russian assassin!")
As D.E.B. bosses, Taylor does her usual hilarious shtick, while Duncan's appearance is inexplicable. Foster and Brewster are terrific, even though their romance is never convincing. The other performances are clever as well, but they're all in child-movie style with overreactions to everything then a raised eyebrow to imply something vaguely rude. It's the awkward blending of fluffy silliness and implied raciness that undermines this thin movie. [12 themes, innuendo, language, some violence] 2.Nov.04 lff
|A HOLE IN MY HEART [Ett Hål i Mitt Hjärta]|
Eric (Almroth) is a lonely late-teen living in a squalid flat with his low-life father Rickard (Flinck), who makes amateur porn films in the sitting room. Today Rickard's making a movie with regular actor Geko (Marjanovic) and newcomer Tess (Brading), who has dreamed of being in porn since age 12. But Tess has no idea what the day will hold. Meanwhile, Eric hides in his room, sharing his philosophical musings with anyone who will listen.
Moodysson directs this guerrilla-style, with hand-held camera work, crashing edits and a garish sound mix that literally jolts us. Clips of anatomical close-ups, surgical procedures and play-acting with Barbie dolls are intercut with the story. And there's also a heavy overtone of reality TV--both action and dialog feel completely improvised, and all brand names are blurred, as are faces of passers-by during a brief trip outside the flat.
The performances are so real that we feel uncomfortable watching them, especially as things get increasingly stressed. There are moments that break this intensity, most notably when Tess tries to befriend/seduce Eric--their disjointed conversations are lively and hilariously real. And the dialog between Eric and his father is also striking for its heavy subtext. And it all takes on new meaning as we learn more about Eric and, especially, Rickard.
Assembled out of order, the film ricochets from witty to insightful to vulgar to horrific. Eric's musings over his pet earthworms are both funny and scary ("Someday they'll turn into butterflies, just like me"). Scenes of Tess and Geko preparing for filming (pumping up, shaving, putting on make-up and costumes) are sweet and sad. Their loss of control after too much alcohol, drugs and food is hideously disgusting. The sex itself is a kind of drug--mindless oblivion from an awful life, and the only time they can escape to still, idyllic fantasy. There is definitely something important in this film, but it's probably too argumentative and experimental for many people to get it. [18 strong themes, nudity, language, sex, violence, drugs] 4.Nov.04 lff
|MY MOTHER [Ma Mère]|
Pierre (Garrel) goes home to stay with his parents (Huppert and Duclos) in Gran Canaria for a summer on the beach. His father is called away on business, and Pierre soon discovers that his mum is a wild party girl on the island, carousing with her friends (de Caunnes and Priess), who both take a shine to Pierre and introduce him to their debauched ways. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Everyone in this film is completely obsessed with sex, and not in a lovey-dovey kind of way. There's a sinister undercurrent of hidden desires, violent tendencies and forbidden longings that eventually express themselves in unnerving ways that leave us shaken and sometimes horrified. Honore films it all in an extremely internalised style that gets us into Pierre's mind, even while it remains teasingly elusive. The central thing here is of course the Oedipal relationship between him and his mother, and the tension comes from wondering where it's going.
Garrel (The Dreamers) gives a brave and open performance as a young man struggling with deeply disturbing aspects of his own sexuality. And Huppert is brilliantly risky as usual, layering a real sense of mischief and inner torture. The scenes between them, and with others, are relentlessly physical and fraught with sexual tension. Mother and son both know they need to get away from each other. And even though we know what might happen, we're certainly not prepared for the twists the story takes.
This is a bold and difficult film, examining intensely personal issues and letting us in as voyeurs, watching a group of people wrestle with their personal demons. It's extremely strong filmmaking--we understand the gravity of it all, and we also know that the characters are experiencing mind-boggling emotional reactions to what's happening. Our reaction, on the other hand, is in the gut. [18 strong themes, language, sex, nudity, violence] 4.Nov.04 lff
Matt and Lisa (O'Brien and Stilley) meet at the Brixton Academy concert hall in south London, and their affair runs from September to December through a series of concerts, a holiday and lots of sex. Then Lisa returns home to America, and Matt heads to Antarctica to do some research and offer a loose narration on their brief romance.
In the film's one moment of insight, Matt observes a rather strained similarity between Antarctica and two people in a bed: "It's claustrophobia and agoraphobia in the same place." Otherwise, the film is a jumble of handheld video, cutting between music gigs, the bedroom and the Antarctic snowscape. Technically, it's superb; Marcel Zyskind's camera work and Stuart Wilson's sound are both brilliant. The bedroom scenes are shot with no extra light--warm and shadowy at the same time, adding a layer of intensity that simply isn't in the text.
And this is the problem: Absolutely nothing is made of the characters or their relationship. Yes, we get a sense of their physical closeness, but the various sex scenes tell us nothing about who these people are, why they're together, or why Lisa decides to leave. So while their intimacy is obviously real, it's also meaningless. Even the one profession of love feels empty. If it's just a passing fling, why should we care? Or watch?
Also, Winterbottom directs it as a purely male fantasy. Lisa is always naked, and seems to exist only to pleasure Matt in various ways, even when they role-play in two simplistic bondage sequences. This leaves Lisa's character especially empty, and it doesn't help that first-time actress Stilley isn't quite capable of adding much nuance. O'Brien fares better, simply because he shows his personality and emotion more overtly and confidently. But for all the fuss about the explicit sex, the film is soulless and dull. There's more passion in the music than between the characters. [18 themes, sex, nudity, language, drugs] 9.Nov.04
© 2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall