Shadows Film FestArthouse films ’06
Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 17.Jul.06
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The Cave of the Yellow Dog   3.5/5
Like Davaa's The Story of the Weeping Camel, this gentle film has a doc-like feel as it beautifully captures an episode in the life of a nomadic family in rural Mongolia.

Urjindorj and Buyandulam live in hilly terrain with their three children and a flock of sheep, struggling to make ends meet and considering a move to the city. Eldest daughter Nansal finds a stray dog she names Zochor (which means "spot"), but her father doesn't want her to keep him. She hides Zochor among the sheep, but one day the playful pup leads her into trouble, and she meets a wise old woman (Ish) who tells her the legend of a meddling yellow dog, who was also rejected for taking up too much precious time.

This is an effective slice-of-life movie, focussing clearly on the family as it tells a charming story. Davaa elicits remarkably natural performances from her real-life cast, and she keeps the film thoroughly human. The grandeur of the setting is just background here, and the daily dramas of life on the isolated, grassy highlands are presented in a matter-of-fact way, including the fascinating sequence in which they pack up their yurt at the end of the summer.

The characters all spring to life vividly, especially the mischievous and slightly bored kids. The two younger children (a toddler boy and a girl of about 3) seem to always be underfoot, while Nansal (perhaps 6) has chores that include taking the sheep out to graze. Their interaction is thoroughly engaging. And the parents never patronise them at all, involving them in family decision-making and giving each one clear responsibilities.

The filmmakers catch frequent moments that are telling, moving and very funny. It also gets a little tense and scary at times. And there are also sequences that add terrific subtext, such as when the girls are arguing over their imaginary cloud creatures or when they're trying to get their heads around concepts of reincarnation and the value of human life (intriguingly illustrated by the old woman with a needle and rice). This is strikingly filmed with a relaxed, observational tone that lets us experience life in this amazing place with remarkable intimacy.

dir-scr Byambasuren Davaa
with Nansal Batchuluun, Buyandulam D Batchuluun, Urjindorj Batchuluun, Tserenpuntsag Ish, Nansalmaa Batchuluun, Babbayar Batchuluun
zochor and nansal
release UK 30.Jun.06,
US 10.Nov.06
05/Mongolia 1h29

U themes, some grisliness
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C.S.A. The Confederate States of America 3/5
Inventive, sharp and somewhat goofy, this mock documentary asks, "What if the South had won the American Civil War?" And then intriguingly suggests that things wouldn't be so different.

The film's presented as a British documentary on the roots of racism in the CSA, aired for the first time on American TV, complete with ad breaks and a news bulletin. History starts to bend when the UK and France help the South beat the North at Gettysburg, Lincoln is exiled to Canada, and Jefferson Davis becomes President. What follows is more than a century of racial unrest, colonial expansion into South America and isolation from the rest of the world.

While the film has the feel of a sketch comedy programme, it's performed in a completely deadpan style. It's not particularly funny; rather, the satire is pointed and somewhat shocking, throwing around vile racial stereotypes that we prefer to believe we've banished to history. The filmmakers' point is that these attitudes are very much still with us, although we have changed the words. And in the end they reveal that the ghastly products in the adverts actually existed (some still do).

Made up of short segments, it moves briskly in all kinds of film styles--movie clips from various periods, newsreels, TV shows, interviews, stills. It's immaculately produced, and most performances are sharply believable, especially Johnson and Pate as historians who provide talking-head commentary. And the film is dotted with moments of raw brilliance--astutely pointed commentary on America's past and present, up to a trail for the Cops-like reality show Runaway and banal patter on the Slave Shopping Network.

Some of this is rather obvious and corny. They may call it British, but the doc is done in an American style, with silly-accent voiceovers and emotive music. It also forces us to think as it offers new twists on key moments in history such as the fight against the American Indians, Hitler's rise to power, the Cold War, rock 'n' roll and Kennedy's assassination. Virtually no cultural stone is left unturned. And the present day parallels are frighteningly clear.

dir-scr Kevin Willmott
narr Charles Frank
with Evamarii Johnson, Rupert Pate, Larry Peterson, Dan Wildcat, Fernando Arenas, Robert Sokol, Brian Paulette, Arlo Kasper, Kevin McKinney, Will Averill, Mark Robbins, Sean Blake
McKinney as Lincoln release US 15.Feb.06,
UK 4.Aug.06
05/US 1h29
12 themes, language
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I Saw Ben Barka Get Killed   3/5   J'ai Vu Tuer Ben Barka
Cool and stylish, this jazzy noir mystery is worth watching for the strong performances, intriguing story and thoughtful themes. But those unfamiliar with the real events will have trouble making sense of it.

Georges Figon (Berling) is a rogue in early 1960s Paris, an ex-con and ex-TV personality trying to make it as a film producer. His shady friends hook him up with a Moroccan (Kabouche) interested in financing a documentary about his country's decolonisation. So Figon enlists a talented director (Léaud) and writer (Balasko) and agrees to consult with exiled Moroccan politician Mehdi Ben Barka (Abkarian). But things go very wrong when Ben Barka vanishes, and Figon realises he's in over his head.

The film is based on an infamous unsolved disappearance, although this film merges the facts with rather a lot of fiction. Fortunately, Le Péron is a skilled filmmaker, playing with genres as draws us through the story. It opens as Sunset Boulevard, with Figon narrating the film from a pool of his own blood on the floor, then spinning back to tell the story through flashbacks, chunks of illuminating narrative and a final chapter that tries to set things straight.

Along the way we briefly enter the groovy free-spirited '60s, but most of the film is more like a suspicious and paranoid Hitchcockian thriller about a man in the wrong place at all the wrong times. Berling is superb in the central role; Figon pictures himself as a smooth-talking con artist, but we can see his errors of judgment and blatant carelessness at every turn. As the story progresses, it's fascinating to watch him work his way into a fatal corner, although we never have much sympathy for him.

It would also help if we had a clue what was going on, who all these suspicious people are and why they keep doing such erratic things. But the supporting cast is excellent, with standout performances from the otherworldly Léaud and the shrewd Belasko, as well Babe as Figon's loyal, but used, girlfriend.

dir Serge Le Péron
scr Serge Le Péron, Frédérique Moreau, Saïd Smihi
with Charles Berling, Simon Abkarian, Josiane Balasko, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Fabienne Babe, Mathieu Amalric, Azize Kabouche, François Hadji-Lazaro, Jean-Marie Winling, Franck Tiozzo, Rony Kramer, Fayçal Khyari
berling and babe release Fr 2.Nov.05,
UK 20.Oct.06
05/France 1h41

12 themes, violence, some language
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Regular Lovers   3/5 Les Amants Réguliers
Philippe Garrel's artful dramatic epic about youthful idealism is certainly fascinating, even if the long, rambling style makes it difficult to engage with.

In 1968 Paris, the artistic 20-year-old François (Louis Garrel) is in trouble for refusing to do his military service. He instead joins his hash-smoking pals on the barricades of the student rebellion, clashing with police and feeling like they're at one with revolutionaries of France's past. Later holed up in the mansion of a wealthy friend (Lucas), François falls for the sexy Lilie (Hesme). But even though they confess undying love for each other, outside forces and ideas continually pull them apart.

Garrel's direction is extremely clever, and the film is gorgeously shot by William Lubtchanski in a timeless black and white and extremely long takes that make it feel like a classic. With chapter titles like Hopes of Fire and The Splendours of Falling in Love, the film shifts tone constantly from gritty youth drama to all-out war movie to a complex swirl of dandy artists, musical revelry, drugged-out bliss and troubled love.

Garrel Jr's performance anchors the film beautifully, echoing his work on Bertolucci's The Dreamers, a similar story set in the same period but with a very different tone. At one point Hesme looks at the camera and addresses Bertolucci, so this is hardly an accident. It's far darker than most peace-and-love hippy movies--harrowing riots, empty idylls and profound boredom, underscored by the threat of police violence and the possibility that their idealism is totally misplaced.

But the film is far too long to sustain our interest. We drift in and out, catching various moods, trying to sort out the vast cast of characters, examining the issues and admiring the filmmaking artistry. We also notice pointed parallels with modern-day rebels such as anti-globalisation protesters or environmental activists. Garrel seems to be suggesting that this kind of idealism is both an essential rite of passage for young people and also a dead-end street. He does get us thinking. But he also wears us out.

dir Philippe Garrel
scr Philippe Garrel, Arlette Langmann, Marc Cholodenko
with Louis Garrel, Clotilde Hesme, Julien Lucas, Mathieu Genet Eric Rulliat, Nicolas Bridet, Raïssa Mariotti, Caroline Deruas-Garrel Rebecca Convenant, Marie Girardin, Cécile Garcia-Fogel, Marc Barbé
hesme and garrel release Fr 26.Oct.05,
UK 21.Jul.06
05/France 2h58
18 themes, language, drugs
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall