Shadows Film FestArthouse films 06
Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 3.Jun.06
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Election   3.5/5
Johnny To's Triad drama may feel a little aloof and dry, not to mention confusing, but there's a solid resonance within the story, and a fascinating examination of tradition versus modernism.
  "The uncles", the Triad leaders, are debating who should be their new chairman: the steady-handed, old-school Lok (Yam) or the innovative tough-guy Big D (Leung). Both have campaigned for the job, but after Lok wins the vote the question is who will get their hands on the century-old baton. While the young henchmen (Koo, Nick Cheung and Tung) go after the baton, Big D considers starting a rival gang and igniting all-out war. And a tenacious cop (Chiang) figures out a way to lock them all up. For a while at least.
  All of this is artfully directed with an underlying tenseness that's brilliantly highlighted by Lo Tayu's insistent, rhythmic guitar score. Scenes of veteran gangsters sitting around tables talking about the old ways are reminiscent of The Sopranos in their matter-of-fact style and darkly funny banter. It's a relatively simple plot fleshed out by extremely complex characters. Although for all their intriguing depth, we never quite understand the demons that drive them.
  Performances are very strong, especially in scenes of raw emotion or hidden ferocity. Yam gets the most intriguing role here; virtually everything Lok does is unexpected, right to the chilling final sequence. And while Leung is very good, Big D emerges as essentially a one-note loose cannon. But we're intrigued enough to want to know his history, especially his past with Lok. Meanwhile, the young men are equally fascinating, and frustratingly vague.
  The story unfurls through a bewildering succession of scenes in backrooms, hospitals, police cells, city streets, empty countryside and even a few elegantly interwoven flashbacks to the ancient ceermonies at which their society was formed. As the themes of brotherhood, unity and loyalty emerge, we are drawn into this community in which fraternity should be more important than money. But in the end we wonder if progress has indeed taken its toll.
dir Johnny To
scr Yau Nai Hoi, Yip Tin Shing
with Simon Yam, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Louis Koo, Nick Cheung, Lam Ka Tung, Cheung Siu-Fai, David Chiang, Maggie Shiu, Chung Wong, Wong Tin Lam, Tam Ping Man, Lam Suet
leung release Chn 20.Oct.05,
UK 9.Jun.06
05/China Celluloid Dreams 1h35

18 themes, violence, language
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The Notorious Bettie Page   3.5/5
For this story of the most notorious pin-up of the 1950s, director-cowriter Harron takes a surprisingly warm and artful approach. Where you expect controversy, you instead see the story through Bettie Page's own matter-of-fact eyes.
  The film has a swirling structure that follows Bettie (Mol) through her home-life in Nashville to modelling for photographers in New York (Bauer, Taylor and Harris) and Miami (Paulson). Her uncanny ease in front of the camera is matched in everything she faces. She's completely nonplussed about striking just about any pose imaginable, in any state of undress. Or fetish wear. Through it all she maintains an innocent smile and an attitude of wholesomeness that's completely disarming.
  Shot in period-style black and white with splashes of colour, the movie is thoroughly cheery and innocent. Even Bettie's most outrageous images are given a playful context, and Mol gets the attitude exactly right: this is a thoughtful, intelligent young woman who effortlessly conveys a virginal charm. She enjoys being all woman, and even when she embraces her childhood religion, she's completely unapologetic about her stardom. The sprawling cast around her also have their moments to shine.
  This relaxed approach also captures the humour and wholesomeness of the period. Sure, Bettie was involved in what was at the time considered seedy porn, but today we see stuff much more appalling on roadside billboards. Harron doesn't shy away from the darker segments of Bettie's life--abuse as a child, a bad marriage, failed career ambitions. But none of this is used to explain who she became. This light-handed storytelling is thoroughly refreshing, although it's also a little vague.
  But it's great to see a film that refuses to play by biopic rules, wringing maximum drama out of someone's life while wedging it into a Hollywood structure. Harron keeps it loose and free, drawing on Mol's remarkable performance to both observe and mirror Bettie's distinct perspective. Even nude modelling and fetishism are shown in a way that's both good-natured and honestly life-affirming. And it tells us much more about our own hang-ups than we want to admit.
dir Mary Harron
scr Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner
with Gretchen Mol, Lili Taylor, Chris Bauer, Jared Harris, Sarah Paulson, Jonathan Woodward, Cara Seymour, David Strathairn, Matt McGrath, Austin Pendleton, Alicia Sable, Norman Reedus
mol strikes a pose release US 14.Apr.06,
UK 4.Aug.06
05/US HBO Films 1h31
18 strong themes, nudity, language
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Both a hilarious comedy and a sharp examination of a restrictive society, Panahi's latest film is also his most engaging. And it was, of course, banned at home in Iran.
  In Iran since 1979, football matches are for men only, unless you're a foreigner. Here, a young football-obsessed girl (Shahi) dresses as a boy to sneak into Teheran's stadium for a World Cup qualifying match. But she's nabbed by the cops and held just outside the stadium with other female transgressors. But these girls are sharper than their country-boy captors. And they drive the guards mad with requests, coherent arguments and hilariously rude teasing. "Stop snickering," one blurts out helplessly.
  Using a non-professional cast and obviously filming on an actual match day, Panahi expertly captures the raw atmosphere. For what's essentially a comedy, these are surprisingly complex characters who are vivid and sparky. Even the "oppressors" are merely doing their jobs--young men in their required army service counting the days until they're out. Even when they're bad we find it hard to dislike them.
  The simple plot is loaded with terrific sequences. Most amusing is when one girl (Sadeghi) convinces the dopiest guard (Kheyrabadi) to let her use the toilet, which is a bit of a trick when there's no ladies room. And the van ride to the police station, during the game's final minutes, is priceless. Through it all, the girls torment the guards relentlessly. There's a sense that everyone knows this prohibition is wrong, so the fact that the girls are smarter and understand football better is particularly galling to the soldiers.
  Panahi loads the movie with personal touches--character quirks, witty banter, telling details, sudden emotion. The edgy camera work catches the setting perfectly; we hear the roaring crowd but can't actually see the match, just like the girls. This is busy and buzzy filmmaking, quick-paced and never bogged down in the extremely serious issue. Panahi focuses on the enjoyable story and lets the message come through loud and clear without even a hint of preaching. As a result it's both hugely entertaining and deeply important.
dir Jafar Panahi
scr Jafar Panahi, Shadmehr Rastin
with Sima Mobarak Shahi, Safar Samandar, Shayesteh Irani, M Kheyrabadi, Ida Sadeghi, Golnaz Farmani, Mahnaz Zabihi, Nazanin Sedighzadeh, M Kheymeh Kabood, MR Gharadaghi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Reza Farhadi
let us in now! release UK 9.Jun.06
06/Iran Celluloid Dreams 1h28
Silver Bear winner:
PG themes, some language
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Shanghai Dreams   3.5/5
Skilfully filmed but fairly dull, this drama paints a remarkable portrait of life in China's factory towns in the 1980s. It's both bleak and strangely hopeful.
  It's 1983 in Guiyang, an industrial city built in the 1960s, where Zemin (Yan) works in a factory and is actively seeking a way to take his wife (Tang) and children (Gao and Wang Xiaofan) back to Shanghai after 20 years in the sticks. The daughter, Qinghong, is 15 and may be falling for a local guy (Li), which would foil her strict father's plan. In fact, boys are a major problem for Qinghong and her best friend (Wang Xueyang), especially after they sneak out to a local disco.
  The story is gripping and very real, with strong characters and gorgeous cinematography that captures both the beauty and banality of life in this kind of manufactured community. The actors inhabit the roles, and we're drawn strongly into Qinghong's dilemmas--seemingly impossible situations that sometimes represent typical teen angst and at other times are truly horrifying. But a gently honest tone keeps the dialog and interaction real, with a lot of sharp humour and telling insight.
  Serious filmgoers will be thoroughly engaged by this story, as writer-director Wang refuses to heighten the action or interaction. On the other hand, the film remains cool and aloof, never quite catching us emotionally, even though what happens is genuinely powerful. The family dynamic is compelling and raw, and yet the characters (besides the very vocal Zemin) are so internalised that we never quite come to grips with them.
  This is subtle and often very quiet filmmaking with a hidden edge to it. The filmmaking is artful and elegant, the period detail is stunning, the story and characters are vivid and telling. And yet, despite frequent blasts of wit, the story is grim, harrowing and somewhat tedious. In some ways it's yet another film that says, "Life was miserable in this time and place." And in other ways it lifts the lid on Mao's supposedly perfect social order and reveals that human experience is the same everywhere, really.
dir-scr Wang Xiaoshuai
with Gao Yuanyuan, Li Bin, Yan Anlian, Tang Yang, Wang Xueyang, Qin Hao, Wang Xiaofan, Dai Wenyan, Lin Yuan, Sun Qingchang, You Fangming, Huang Juan
li and gao
release Chn 3.Jun.05,
UK 8.Sep.06
05/China 1h59

12 strong themes, language, nudity
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2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall