Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 13.Jul.05
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Arakimentari   3.5/5
This fascinating documentary examines 63-year-old Araki, the Japanese photographer who causes scandal with his graphic, stylised images of nearly naked women who are bound and vulnerable. But he also creates work that soars emotionally, capturing humanity and nature with unusual depth. Like Mapplethorpe, he combines a virtuoso eye for beauty with a controversial approach to sex.
  So it comes as a slight shock to find him so likeable, lively and hilariously witty. He's also bold, pushy and surprisingly sweet. He clearly loves the women he photographs, adoring their physicality and treating them with utmost respect while flirting shamelessly. This insight into his character is surprising since it undermines the disturbing aspect of his extreme images, forcing us to look at them in a new way (that is, not as photos that strip women of control). And then there are the other pics--flowers, street scenes, fashion--all of them are simply gorgeous. Most moving are the Sentimental Journey and Winter Journey series depicting his life with wife Yoko, from courtship to marriage to her untimely death. And the "heat-developed" images commemorating the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima is absolutely stunning.
  Araki is genuinely enthusiastic about every kind of photography imaginable. And this attitude is infections. Araki comes across as this film's hilariously comical protagonist, and director Klose makes sure we understand just how prolific Araki has been, with both thrilling rapid-paced montages and luxuriant explorations of every type of photography. He even makes the connection with shunga (ancient erotic etchings that prominently feature men, which Araki almost never does).
  For Araki, photography is the art of capturing a single, forced instant that condenses everything around it. And when put together they form a line that describes life. Klose's film goes into censorship and even covers Araki's arrest, and the interviewees grapple with the entire porn-art issue. Which seems to be a subject Araki can't be bothered to worry about. Klose brilliantly captures Araki's spirit, both through his personality and his work. This is the portrait of a life-loving artist. And as filmmaker Kitano says, "I don't think he suffers much."
dir Travis Klose
with Nobuyoshi Araki, Björk, Takeshi Kitano, Richard Kern, Yoshiko Kamikura, Shino, Komari, Daido Moriyama, Hisako Motoo
araki and a subject release US 21.Jan.05,
UK 5.Aug.05
04/US 1h17
Audience award:
18 themes, explicit nudity, language
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The Jealous God  3/5
With an even more retro sensibility than Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven, Woodcock recreates the feeling of a 1960s morality tale, right down to the ad campaign. Watching it is like sitting in on a rainy Saturday night with a comforting melodrama on the telly.
  West Yorkshire schoolteacher Vincent (Merrells) is a 30-year-old whose devoutly Catholic mother (Warren) still hopes he'll become a priest. But now he's falling for the new, non-Catholic librarian, Laura (Carty). Vincent's older brothers (Dunn and Ilkley) are both married to converted protestants (Welch and Gabriele). But this is worse: although Vincent is prepared to go against his religion in the name of love, there's a barrier to their romance that even he can't ignore. And Vincent has another problem even closer to home.
  Based on a book by John Blaine (Room at the Top), the story is filmed in a straightforward style with as few frills as possible. Woodcock immaculately recreates 60s-style filmmaking, right down to a prudish tone that avoids actually mentioning any shocking issues by name and pans to the wallpaper when things get remotely steamy. The camera work is like a TV show--lots of moody close-ups and almost no stylistic flourishes besides a gritty recreation of the period. It's extremely effective--like travelling back in time, but with the added resonance of modern actors who combine knowing sensitivity with the overwrought drama.
  Merrells is extremely likeable; we're willing to take his side even when he makes stupid decisions. Although it does seem odd that everyone accuses him of being icily intellectual and emotionless when he's quite clearly the most soulful person in the story. Other performances are more uneven--slightly too wrenching to connect with 21st century audiences, but with moments of real passion. Of the supporting cast, Warren is the most constantly surprising, adding an undercurrent of aching authenticity to an over-the-top, nagging mum. All of this swelling sentiment is a bit silly at times, and the religious conflict seems almost quaint from today's multi-faith perspective, but there's a strongly personal story in here, and the way it's told is remarkably inventive.
dir-scr Steven Woodcock
with Jason Merrells, Mairead Carty, Denise Welch, Marcia Warren, Andrew Dunn, Pamela Cundell, William Ilkley, Judy Flynn, Robert Duncan, Pia Gabriele, Roy Walker, Chloe Newsome
merrells and carty
release UK 9.Sep.05
05/UK North Country 1h35
12 themes, language
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Pleasant Days   2.5/5 Szép Napok
Young filmmaker Mundruczo brings a disconcerting dual personality to this slice of miserable life in Hungary (the title is ironic, duh!). The tone bounces back and forth from a gently loping, charmingly offbeat character study to a much more seedy trudge into the dark recesses of society and the human mind.
  Just out of prison, Peter (Polgar) goes to stay with his sister Marika (Weber), who's just had a baby. Or has she? Actually, before he says hello, Peter witnesses another young woman, Maja (Toth), giving birth on the floor of Marika's laundrette, then selling the baby to her. Now Peter is obsessed with Maja, which is going to be a problem since she's the mistress of his jealous chop-shop boss (Horvath).
  The premise is fascinating, with one woman pretending not to be pregnant while another tries to pass off the infant as her own, while relational chaos swirls around both of them. And Peter's arrival adds bizarre wrinkles, since his relationship with his sister is far too close--she washes his clothes, then him, then they engage in a bit of naked, soapy wrestling! These introductory scenes are played out with warmth and personality that resonates, even if it's rather relentlessly arty. Mundruczo films in a washed-out, floaty style reminiscent of Harris Savides' stunning cinematographic work with Gus Van Sant (Gerry, Elephant, Last Days). It's visually lyrical, adding dark beauty to these low-life slackers. Alongside this is the physicality of a porn movie--the sex-obsessed characters are frequently naked, teasing, playing, but never actually making love.
  Unfortunately, the more we see into their souls, the more hideous they become; the cheeky surfaces dissolve into selfish conniving. Loneliness and desperation drive them to do the cruellest things to each other. Men are brutes, women are manipulative, no one has purpose or dignity. It's increasingly impossible to feel sympathy for any of them. And eventually, the script drives the characters into seriously reprehensible actions that strip them of any last vestiges of humanity. Fascinating and well-made, but far too harrowingly empty.
dir Kornél Mundruczó
scr Kornél Mundruczó, Viktória Petrányi, Sándor Zsótér
with Tamás Polgár, Orsi Tóth, Kata Wéber, Lajos Ottó Horváth, András Réthelyi, Károly Kuna, Anna Szandtner, Kolos Oroszi, Claudia Tilly, Erika Molnár, Balázs Dévai, Magdolna Kovács
polgar release UK 22.Jul.05
03/Hungary 1h25

Silver Leopard Award:
18 themes, language, nudity, violence
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Secret Things   2.5/5 Choses Secrčtes
There's an intriguing tone to this clever French drama that draws us in as the story develops. Unfortunately, a wildly pretentious style and almost offensively misogynistic tone completely puts us off again.
  Sandrine (Seyvecou) works as a barmaid in a gentlemen's club, admiring the skills of star stripper Nathalie (Revel). After they're both sacked, Nathalie educates Sandrine in the ways of teasing and tormenting men ... in public. Then they both get jobs at a big corporation and set specific goals for their sex games--to seduce their way up the ladder to the playboy heir (Deville) at the top. But they're not certainly ready for what they find.
  For a tale of manipulation and sexual politics centring on two female characters, this film is shockingly chauvinistic. Brisseau clearly loves getting his actresses to sensuously writhe naked, preferably together. His plot appears to be a Liaisons Dangereuses-like tale of a woman's power to get what she wants. But Brisseau simply can't conceal his (or society's) objectification of women; the central duo are at the mercy of their emotions and the men around them, claiming that "love is the enemy, love can wait", but clearly only looking for a man to protect them. And the plot keeps them as vulnerable as possible.
  Seyvecou and Revel are very good in fairly difficult roles, and Mirmont is excellent as a married man Sandrine targets. Deville is a strong presence in his more stereotypical role as the evil, callous womaniser, but he struggles when things turn arch and rather preposterous at the end. The characters are all intriguing and involving, but Brisseau seems determined to make them into either unlikeable villains or pathetic tragic figures.
  Brisseau's filmmaking style is artful and clever--both the writing and direction--so it's a pity when he begins to wallow in corny moralising and operatic excesses. By the time the film rambles to its conclusion at the ludicrous wedding "reception", we feel like we've been dragged through one of his voyeuristic fantasies. And all of his anti-male posturing doesn't fool us one bit.
dir-scr Jean-Claude Brisseau
with Sabrina Seyvecou, Coralie Revel, Fabrice Deville, Roger Mirmont, Blandine Bury, Olivier Soler, Viviane Théophildčs, Dorothée Picard, Lisa Hérédia, Jean-Claude Brisseau, Arnaud Goujon, Ličs Kidji
seyvecou and revel release France 16.Oct.02, US 2.Jan.04, UK 22.Jul.05
02/Fr 1h55
18 themes, language, nudity, violence
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© 2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall