Shadows Film FestArthouse films ’06
Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 3.Apr.06
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Anthony Zimmer 4/5
There's no way a Hollywood filmmaker could make this French thriller any slicker or edgier, but that won't stop them from trying. It's an especially well-made Hitchcock-style odyssey that really keeps us guessing where it's going.

François (Attal) is a nice guy trying to escape his lonely life when he's chatted up on a train by the sexy Chiara (Marceau), who invites him to share her suite at a Cannes hotel. But Chiara is only using him to confound a tenacious detective (Frey) searching for her boyfriend Anthony Zimmer, a money launderer who's had plastic surgery to conceal his identity. Soon the cops and a Russian villain (Olbrychski) are convinced that François is Zimmer. And he's running for his life.

First-time filmmaker Salle keeps things cracking from start to finish, continually subverting our expectations as poor François is transformed from a mild-mannered translator into France's most-wanted. This wronged-man scenario works because Attal is terrific as a normal guy we can identify with, Marceau is especially adept at playing an icy femme fatale, and Salle approaches the action with energy and inventiveness, using the Côte d'Azur setting for maximum impact.

Salle clearly knows his Hitchcock, and he blends the master's key elements (including Frederic Talgorn's Hermann-like score) with a modern story. This polished and seductive style keeps the audience on its toes; it's that breathlessly enjoyable film in which we never tire of trying to second-guess the characters, figure out the central mystery or worry about how this ill-matched couple can get together in the end. But we're just as hooked on the film as François is on Chiara.

Of course, none of the plotting matters, because it's just a lot of mindless fun. There's no real subtext here--no clever examination of identity or attraction or justice. The entire point is to throw us into a "what would I do" predicament involving guns, girls, secrets and surprising solutions. So the fact that Salle makes it so effortlessly engaging is pretty amazing really. He's definitely a filmmaker to watch. And, frankly, I'd love to watch this one again.

dir-scr Jérôme Salle
with Sophie Marceau, Yvan Attal, Sami Frey, Gilles Lellouche, Daniel Olbrychski, Samir Guesmi, Dimitri Rataud, Alban Casterman, Olivier Chenevat, Nicky Marbot, Christophe Odent, Luc Chavy
attal and marceau
release Fr 27.Apr.05
05/France Canal+ 1h30
15 themes, language, violence
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Eleven Men Out   3.5/5   Strákarnir Okkar
Icelandic filmmaker Douglas addresses rather serious issues with warmth and humour in this engaging football comedy, which doesn't actually show much football action.

Ottar (Haraldsson) is the star player of Iceland's top soccer club, and his sudden decision to out himself in a magazine comes as a shock. The team managers, including his bigot father (Skúlason), sack him immediately. His beauty queen ex (Thórarinsdóttir) is unprepared for the revelation, and their teen son (Ernst) doesn't cope with the news very well. Ottar joins a friend's more gay-friendly team, and discovers that he's not alone. Now the new gay team is climbing toward the championship match. Against Ottar's old team.

The touchy nature of this film is hard to escape. Not only has Iceland never before produced a narrative gay film, but only one professional football star in the entire world has ever admitted he's gay (and he committed suicide). This is a fiercely macho world in which sexuality is never questioned. And Douglas' gentle approach is perfect, diffusing the tension and allowing his characters to really examine the themes without it becoming a Serious Issue Movie.

Haraldsson is charmingly oblivious in the central role. Ottar's completely unconcerned about the terrible splash he's made, and he's not very good at sparing his son's feeling, or in helping him make it through a very difficult time. On the other hand, it's clear that he does care deeply about the people around him, even if they're sexist and intolerant. Although even these attitudes are shown as blind ignorance rather than actual misogyny or homophobia.

The gentle rhythms of the film are engaging and often hilarious. The script and performances are full of raw humour that cuts deeply into universal attitudes. It's not a wild and outrageously camp comedy; it's subtle, witty and warmly human from start to finish. Douglas and his cast never shy away from difficult scenes while making their important points, but they also never get bogged down in the subject matter.

dir Róbert I Douglas
scr Róbert I Douglas, Jón Atli Jónason
with Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, Lilja Nótt Thórarinsdóttir, Arnaldur Ernst, Helgi Björnsson, Sigurthur Skúlason, Thorsteinn Bachmann, Jón Atli Jónason, Björk Jakobsdóttir, Hilmar Jonsson, Stefán Jónsson, Pétur Einarsson, Damon Younger
Ernst, Haraldsson and Thórarinsdóttir release Ice 2.Sep.05,
UK Apr.06 llgff,
US 16.Nov.07
05/Iceland 1h26
london l&g fest
15 themes, language, nudity
3.Apr.06 llgff
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The Promise   3/5
There's a sumptuous sense of imagination at work in this film that carries us through its twisty story. While an emotional resonance keeps us involved even as it gets extremely nonsensical.

As a young girl, the feisty Qingcheng (Cheung) promises a goddess (Chen Hong) that in exchange for wealth and comfort she'll lose everyone she loves. Years later she's a seductive princess pursued by three men: the fierce General Guangming (Sanada), his handsome nemesis Wuhuan (Tse) and the general's slave Kunlun (Jang), who's actually an ingenious warrior in his own right and can run so fast that time flows backwards. What ensues is a series of battles and rescues, mystical discoveries and miraculous survivals. Plus a magical cloak worn by Wuhuan's freaky henchman Snow Wolf (Liu).

The plot has a freewheeling sense of adventure that feels made up as it goes along. Characters suddenly appear, inexplicable events turn the story in new directions, action sequences have no connection with anything, and random sideroads exist so the director can indulge in some bizarre imagery, such as when Kunlun flies the princess like a kite.

All of this is fascinating and entertaining, although it leaves us annoyed at the lack of focus, not to mention some severely ropey effects. But as things progress, there's a subtle refining of the characters from goofy costume horses into quietly engaging figures in an epic fantasy romance. We begin to like these people, which makes us care how they get out of their predicament. Even though we know the solution will probably feel like a cheap screenwriter's trick. In a story infused with the supernatural, literally anything can happen at any time.

So when it does actually come together emotionally in the end, we are completely gripped. Despite all the daft chaos that's gone before, Chen knows it's the strong thrust of the relationships that will carry us into the climactic moments. And this is his biggest surprise, because by this point we've completely given up on the film ever making sense on any level. So it's a bit unexpected to discover a tear in the eye and feel a gentle punch to the gut.

dir-scr Chen Kaige
with Cecilia Cheung, Jang Dong-Kun, Hiroyuki Sanada, Nicholas Tse, Liu Ye, Chen Hong, Cheng Qian
tse and cheung
release Chn 15.Dec.05, US 5.May.06
05/China 2h08
12 themes, violence, sexuality
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The Young Lieutenant   3/5   Le Petit Lieutenant
This intriguingly low-key French cop movie is notable for the way it refuses to act like a Hollywood cop movie. The everyday drudgery with which it presents its startling story is actually rather involving.

Antoine (Lespert) is a rookie who puts in for a Paris job because he thinks it'll be much more exciting than his small coastal town. His wife (Allaux) is not amused, and refuses to move with him. In Paris, his new chief is Caroline (Baye), who's also new to the job, having just emerged from rehab. She takes Antoine under her wing as they investigate a case involving the Russian mafia and a murdered immigrant, which does indeed get exciting for Antoine. And also life-threatening.

What makes this film notable is the matter-of-fact approach director-cowriter Beauvois takes to the material. He presents these detectives as normal, flawed people just trying to get by in their jobs, dealing with bureaucracy, family issues and outside pressures. The cases they investigate may seem like the stuff of action movies, but here they're just run-of-the-mill arrests and gun battles, with the police and the criminals quietly fighting each other for survival.

The cast makes the most of this tone, injecting an everyman quality to each role. Baye is, of course, wonderful in her role, packing every scene with subtext and intrigue--she's a bundle of emotion, obsession and guilt. Lespert is also superb; we see the story through his eyes, and vividly understand his desire to pursue an exhilarating career rather than a safe home-life, even if it might be fatal. He and his colleagues are all cops because the movies made it look like a thrilling job, while the grim reality isn't quite dull enough to put them off.

Sure, making a thriller this way is rather dull. But Beauvois injects a few colourful editing choices and dramatic events that heighten the film's otherwise real-life banality. And by focussing on the people rather than the cases, he's made a film that's hard to get out of our heads.

dir Xavier Beauvois
scr Xavier Beauvois, Guillaume Breaud, Jean-Eric Troubat
with Jalil Lespert, Nathalie Baye, Roschdy Zem, Antoine Chappey, Jacques Perrin, Xavier Beauvois, Bérangère Allaux, Bruce Myers, Patrick Chauvel, Wieslaw Puzio, Annick Le Goff, Arthur Smykiewicz
baye and lespert release Fr 16.Nov.05
US 8.Sep.06
05/France Canal+ 1h40

15 themes, language, violence
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall