Shadows Film FestArthouse films ’06
Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 5.May.06
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The Devil and Daniel Johnston   4/5
You wouldn't expect to be this gripped by a documentary about a "Beatle-loving manic depressive Christian" artist. But filmmaker Feuerzeig has crafted a brilliant examination of creativity and inner demons.
  Daniel Johnston was always a quirky, artistic kid, and his life has been a rollercoaster of genius musical talent, idiosyncratic drawings and mental illness. Over the years his art has attracted a huge fan-base (including Kurt Cobain and Simpsons creator Matt Groening), and his family and friends have steadfastly stood by him during stretches in mental hospitals, or when he's simply disappeared due to drug use. All the way, he's continued to create astonishing work that's more than a little reminiscent of Bob Dylan.
  Feuerzeig has a wealth of material at his disposal to tell this remarkable story. Most entertaining are short films Daniel made about his family, especially the ones in which he played his mother Mabel. We get to know the real Mabel and her husband Bill, who are emotionally worn out by Daniel's difficult life, and yet they're also clearly prepared to support him as long as they can. We also meet his brother and two sisters and many friends and colleagues, all of whom provide insight into this intriguing man.
  And the film shows us plenty of Daniel himself, from performance footage to personal conversations. Assembled together the film has an intensely strong narrative pull--we travel through his life as if it's our own ordeal. What emerges is one of the finest glimpses at the realities of manic depression ever put on film, from the highs of artistic creation to the lows of deep misery and terror (the story of his plane crash is absolutely horrific).
  Daniel's deep religious beliefs are tellingly powerful--God and the devil are very real to him. Sometimes this is quite comical, such as when we witness his ongoing obsessions with Casper the Friendly Ghost, Captain America and Mountain Dew. But most of the time it's much more chilling and emotional. And one of the most haunting films you'll see all year.
dir-scr Jeff Feuerzeig
with Daniel Johnston, Bill Johnston, Mabel Johnston, Jeff Tartakov, Louis Black, Kathy McCarty, David Thornberry, Dick Johnston, Margie Johnston, Sally Johnston-Reid, Gibby Haynes, Matt Groening
daniel johnston release US 31.Mar.06,
UK 5.May.06
05/US 1h49
12 themes, language
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Dumplings 4/5
If you're looking for a film with that elusive "ick!" factor, you'll be hard-pressed to find one this unsettling. It's also both strikingly good-looking and wickedly funny, with some provocative subtext.
  In Hong Kong, Aunt Mei (Ling) offers youthfulness on the black market; her dim sum are renowned for their ability to turn back the ageing clock after all the creams and cosmetics have failed. Her newest customer is Mrs Li (Yeung), a former actress desperate to hold on to her husband (Leung), who has an eye for younger women. Mrs Li would rather not know what Mei's secret ingredient is. And when she finds out, she must decide if it's worth sacrificing her soul to look young again.
  Chan is clearly having fun here, as he combines bright and cheery scenes of Mei preparing her dumplings with a creepy horror-style musical score. He uses this jarring juxtaposition throughout the story in various ways, combining with Chris Doyle's drop-dead gorgeous cinematography to make a film that looks and feels like a classic fairy tale--sweet and horrible at the same time. The premise has a mythical element that comes from ancient Chinese medicine, connecting with us on the same level as both rhino-horn aphrodisiacs and collagen lip injections.
  It's both a grippingly nasty little thriller and a sharp satire of current attitudes toward getting old. Everyone in this film is clinging to youth in one way or another, and the cast play it with a layered edginess that mixes black comedy with introspective thoughtfulness. Which also allows Chan to touch on related societal issues like economic inequality, incest and abortion, the superficial obsessions of the idle rich, and the shallowness of a world that values looks above everything else.
  A brilliantly unhinged combination of grisly yuckiness, misplaced sexuality and jet-black humour keeps us laughing and squirming from start to finish. It taps so strongly into our instinctual quest for youth and beauty that we can't help but identify with the characters and their desperation. Even if we know we'd never go quite that far. Oh no, not us.
dir Fruit Chan
scr Lilian Lee
with Bai Ling, Miriam Yeung, Tony Ka-Fai Leung, Pauline Lau, Meme, Miki Yeung, Wong Fung-Chuk, Wu Wai-Man, Fung Yuen Keung, Ho Chak-Man, Yau Ko Yiu, Peter Wong
ling and yeung
release UK 16.Jun.06
04/China 1h31


18 themes, grisliness, sexuality
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50 Ways of Saying Fabulous   2.5/5
There's a nostalgic quality to this coming-of-age film that gorgeously captures youthful imagination and curiosity. The film is uneven in both script and performances, but there's plenty to enjoy along the way.
  Billy (Patterson) is a chubby 12-year-old whose alter ego Lana is the heroine of a sci-fi fantasy life alongside leading man Brad, as played by Billy's same-aged tomboy cousin Lou (Beattie). There's not much else to do in their dry, drought-parched rural New Zealand town, and their tight bond is about to be tested by several things, including their burgeoning adolescence. For Billy, the triggers are the arrival of another class outcast (Collins), who takes a serious shine to him, as well as a sexy farmhand (Dorman), who doesn't.
  The most important thing about this film is the way it honestly and provocatively examines prepubescent sexuality. Billy has no idea why he's attracted to these two boys--he just knows that he is. With his camp behaviour and his refusal to join the town rugby team, everyone calls him a "poofter"--but no one seems to know what the word means. Meanwhile, Lou is fighting her own development, which is making her look (and feel) girly.
  Patterson and Beattie are the strong points here, giving easy performances that capture the clumsy energy and visceral yearning. Mason is also effective as the town bully, picking on Billy simply because he can. The strained, stiff Collins is less successful; his awkwardness works at the beginning, but doesn't convince as the character's progresses from shy nerd to obsessive stalker. Which leaves the film's climax feeling extremely flat.
  Writer-director Main cleverly catches the 1970s tone with his use of saturated orange and brown imagery, bold costumes and an offbeat period score. And the sci-fi fantasy scenes are hilariously over-the-top, perfectly conveying a sense of childhood imagination. This gives the film a gentle timelessness that's nicely laced with hilarious observation (Billy is, quite simply, a textbook poofter) and a strongly understated message about understanding and accepting yourself. So it's a shame that it doesn't quite come together in the end.
dir-scr Stewart Main
with Andrew Patterson, Harriet Beattie, Jay Collins, Michael Dorman, Georgia McNeil, George Mason, Rima Te Wiata, Michelle O'Brien, Ben Short, Stephanie McKellar, Ross McKellar, Kevin Wymer
patterson and dorman
release UK Apr.06 llgff,
US 2.Jun.06
05/New Zealand 1h30


london l&g film fest

15 themes, language, sexuality
12.Apr.06 llgff
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Heading South   3.5/5   Vers le Sud
Tender and emotive, this layered and complex drama not only captures a specific time and place but also addresses global themes in a strikingly original way.
  It's the late 1970s in Haiti, during the horrific "Baby Doc" Duvalier regime. People are disappearing, life is cheap and prospects aren't very good for anyone who's not on the inside. But tourism is booming in the resorts around Port au Prince, where three lonely Western women (Rampling, Young and Portal) and several local boys (Cesar, Diaz, Cassis and more) are finding companionship and purpose. And maybe even love.
  The story works on several levels--as a drama about women seeking romance, as a historical observation of Caribbean culture and as a statement about socio-political realities. These elements are tightly woven together into a remarkably involving narrative that paints a visceral picture. The boys' physicality contrasts with the women's soulfulness to vividly depict the yawning divine between north and south. And yet it's not as if anyone's being exploited; they're all giving and taking in equal measure.
  This balanced approach is what makes the film essential viewing. As are the potent performances from the entire cast. Rampling and Young are especially good in the central roles as women fighting for the affections of a young man (the excellent Cesar), oblivious that he has his own issues.
  Director-cowriter Cantet (Time Out) captures this collision of sand, sea and skin with remarkable clarity. It's shot in a gorgeously sun-bleached 1970s style (partly in Haiti, although political troubles there forced them to complete the film in the Dominican Republic). The tone is gentle and expectant, with a sensual island rhythm.
  Even with the obvious metaphors, Cantet never moralises. Although he does indulge in a few carefully measured monologues to convey a sense of people who leave their old lives behind when they enter a holiday resort. There's a sense that, for all their connections, these people don't really understand themselves or each other. And the conclusion is a bittersweet blend of discovery and tragedy. Haunting, simple and vitally important.
dir Laurent Cantet
scr Laurent Cantet, Robin Campillo
with Charlotte Rampling, Karen Young, Louise Portal, Ménothy Cesar, Lys Ambroise, Jackenson Pierre Olmo Diaz, Michelet Cassis, Guiteau Nestant Anotte Saint Ford, Violette Vincent, Marie-Laurence Hérard, Kettline Amy
rampling and cesar release Fr 25.Jan.06, UK/US 7.Jul.06
05/France 1h45
Mastroianni Award:


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