Shadows Film FestArthouse films ’06
Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 9.Sep.06
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The Caiman   3.5/5   Il Caimano
Italian filmmaker Moretti has always combined humour and drama in intriguing ways, and here he also stirs political commentary into the mix. It's a fascinating film about moviemaking and government corruption, but it requires a fairly thorough understanding of Italian politics.

Filmmaker Bruno Bonomo (Orlando) is finally resurrecting his career after a string of B-movie hits ended with the catastrophic Cataracts, starring his wife Paola (Buy) as an action hero. But plans to make a big period epic about Columbus are falling apart. So he turns to a script by a young screenwriter (Trinca) about the dodgy business dealings of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. With his marriage on the rocks and no one willing to fund such a controversial project, the movie becomes Bruno's last gasp for self-respect.

Along with the surprisingly tender drama about a middle-aged man struggling with the collapse of his career and his marriage, Moretti takes a breezy, entertaining look at the filmmaking process, playfully exploring each stage of production while making pointed jabs at Berlusconi, who the script calls the Caiman (a type of alligator). It's a bravely straightforward, although perhaps too-detailed, look at a notorious figure who owns much of Italy's media and ran the government as a business for five years (then lost his parliamentary majority just weeks after this film was released in Italy).

Moretti draws clever and knowingly subtle parallels between these three story elements--family drama, filmmaking comedy, political exposé--but they never quite gel into a single narrative. It's like watching three movies that have been chopped together. All of this is involving and fascinating, with lively characters who are very well played by the entire cast, but with all the jumping back and forth between them, nothing feels thoroughly developed.

There are terrific scenes throughout the film--comical, political, dramatic and satirical. Everyone in the story acknowledges that Berlusconi is a crook, but nobody's prepared to help Bruno put this common knowledge on film. At least in this theme the film takes on a vital relevance that all of us can understand.

dir Nanni Moretti
scr Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, Federica Pontremoli
with Silvio Orlando, Margherita Buy, Jasmine Trinca, Luisa De Santis, Michele Placido, Nanni Moretti, Elio De Capitani, Giuliano Montaldo, Tatti Sanguinetti, Jerzy Stuhr, Giancarlo Basili, Cecilia Dazzi
orlando release It 24.Mar.06,
UK 6.Apr.07
06/Italy 1h52
London Film Fest
12 themes, language, violence
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Pan’s Labyrinth   4.5/5   El Laberinto del Fauno SHADOWS MUST SEE MUST-SEE
Del Toro makes amazing children's movies for grown-ups (see The Devil's Backbone); this spellbinding story parallels a young girl's fantastical odyssey with the grim realities of war.

In rebel-filled 1944 Spain, Ofelia (Baquero) travels with her mother (Gil) to an isolated hideout, where her stern stepfather (López) captains a military outpost, searching the woods for insurgents. With her mother heavily pregnant, Ofelia explores the surroundings, discovering an ancient stone labyrinth. Inside she encounters the creepy faun Pan (Jones), who tells her she's a long-lost princess and can regain her throne if she accomplishes three dangerous tasks. Meanwhile, she realises that her stepfather's housekeeper Mercedes (Verdú) is helping the rebels.

The dual story threads merge seamlessly in del Toro's elegant style--with warm, lamp-lit colours, deeply shaded characters and a forest whistling with restless leaves. It's a Grimm's fairy tale version of Alice in Wonderland, and it hardly matters whether Ofelia is really having magical experiences or if she's found a particularly useful escape mechanism when she needs it most.

Guillermo Navarro's cinematography is sumptuous and inviting. And the images are edited with a liquidity that invites us into even the scariest sequences, from the military grisliness to a massive, mud-dwelling frog or an eyeless man (Jones again) at a delicious-looking banquet. This is all the stuff of childhood imagination, except that the war isn't actually a game.

Baquero has a remarkable ability to fully capture her character's inner life as she explores unexpected places, tells her unborn brother imaginative tales and finds solace and trustworthiness only with her mother and Mercedes. Both Gil and Verdú are excellent, as is López in a rare hard-edged role.

This definitely isn't a movie for young children. The violence and terror sometimes feel over-the-top, with bugs, guns, needles and a gut-churning beating. But perhaps this shock of authenticity is important, as it highlights the fact that no matter how freaky the underworld gets, it's never as horrific as real life can be. And as the story moves toward it's heart-stopping climax, what the film has to say about imagination and fantasy becomes achingly resonant.

dir-scr Guillermo del Toro
with Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú, Ariadna Gil, Doug Jones, Álex Angulo, Federico Luppi, Roger Casamajor, Manolo Solo, Eusebio Lazaro, Paco Vidal, César Vea
jones and baquero release Sp 13.Oct.06,
UK 24.Nov.06,
US 29.Dec.06
06/Spain Warner 1h59

26th Shadows Awards

15 themes, strong violence, language
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Rabbit on the Moon   4/5   Conejo en la Luna
With a willingness to boldly tell it like it is, this edgy and riveting political thriller digs deeply into corruption while telling an intensely personal story. It's powerful, harrowing and startlingly important.

As Mexican and UK officials engage in illicit dealings, a Mexico City artist Antonio (Bichir) innocently buys land from a dodgy salesman called Chubby (Cobos). But Chubby's involved in a political assassination, and the Mexican secret police, in search of a scapegoat, exploit the link to Antonio. A friend helps him flee to London, but his British wife Julie (Pilkington) and infant daughter are secretly imprisoned by the chief investigator (Ochoa). Meanwhile, Antonio is trying to find help in London, not realising that Julie's ex (Kotz) is actually an MI5 agent.

Writer-director Suárez kicks off the film at full speed with a bewildering array of politicians, thugs and innocent bystanders thrown into a stew of corruption, torture, murder and fear. It's thoroughly terrifying to contemplate how we'd react in the same situations. This is a story of everyday people unwittingly caught up in a massive conspiracy from which there seems to be no escape. The people in power can do whatever they like, while those who elected them are defenceless.

There's an edgy, relentless urgency to the filmmaking style that refuses to play it safe. Even a few badly contrived plot points can't undermine the film's bold story and unflinching themes. It helps that the script is extremely realistic, with actors who deliver raw, gritty performances. It's also especially well edited, cutting between the various story threads to keep us utterly gripped to each element of the plot. (The title refers to one of Antonio's paintings.)

Reminiscent of Traffic or Syriana, this film touches on all aspects of government corruption, dodgy arms deals, drug money, black market babies, secret prisons and the mistreatment of political prisoners. It also bravely challenges our belief that these things can't possibly happen in a "civilised society", even if it's the UK's legal system that ultimately comes to the rescue. Despite its flaws, this is an important, courageous movie.

dir-scr Jorge Ramírez Suárez
with Bruno Bichir, Lorraine Pilkington, Jesús Ochoa, Adam Kotz, Álvaro Guerrero, Rodrigo Murray, Emma Cunniffe, Reece Dinsdale, Carlos Cobos, Ricardo Blume, Adalberto Parra, Rodrigo Vazquez
bichir and pilkington release Mex 2.Oct.04,
US 7.Nov.04 AFIfest,
UK 6.Oct.06
04/Mexico 1h52
18 themes, violence, language, drugs, sexuality
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Zidane A 21st Century Portrait   3.5/5   Un Portrait du XXIe Siècle
Less a documentary than an impressionistic painting, this mesmerising film takes an unusual look at football, centring on one player over the course of one match. It's beautifully filmed and cleverly edited, and it casts the sport--and the man--in a whole new light.

The match in question is Real Madrid vs Villareal on 23 April 2005, but the camera sticks right with Zidane, isolating details both visually and in the sound mix. We're only tangentially aware of the score, and we have no idea what else is happening on the pitch beyond occasional glimpses of the TV coverage. During half time we take a brief look at what else was happening around the world on that specific day.

Sure, just watching a man walk, run, glower and occasionally kick a soccer ball for 90 minutes is a little dull. But the film is so lyrical and intriguing that we wish we could watch every match this way. We may miss the grand drama, but this film allows us to experience the roar of the stadium crowd in an all-new way. And as we watch one of the world's top players, we get as close as we ever will to feeling what it must be like to be out there.

Darius Khondji's cinematography is wonderfully textured and visceral, catching the smallest details--a drop of sweat, a twitching finger--from every angle. While Mogwai's musical score adds a wonderfully moody undercurrent. There's no voiceover, just some indistinct Spanish commentary and a few subtitles featuring Zidane's reminiscences.

The film's not really about football at all; it's an intriguingly simple and powerfully focussed portrait of a man doing his job. As it progresses we don't necessarily feel like we know Zidane any better, but we do begin to understand a sense of the attitude and inner fire required to be a sportsman at this level. Especially when there's a hugely crowd-pleasing goal. Or a private joke shared between two men while thousands of people look on. Or a long, lonely walk off the pitch.

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S

Errol, London: 2/5 "This is, in effect, a modern remake of Hellmut Costard’s curious underground film Fussball wie noch nie, thirty-six years after the fact, with the great footballer of the modern age replacing George Best. There are, of course, significant differences between the two films in terms of scale and ambition. Costard trained 6 primitive 16mm cameras on Best, whilst Zidane had 17 cameras mixing super 35mm and high-definition following his every move during Real Madrid’s home fixture against Villarreal in April 2005. However, whilst exponentially bigger in scale, ambition and technical expertise, like most remakes the film appears to be an overblown imitation of the original. Significantly, Costard was fascinated by the image and physical appeal of Best, rather than football. The makers of Zidane, Turner Prize winner Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, evidently see football as a vehicle for art and their protagonist as representative." (29.Sep.06)

dir Douglas Gordon, Philippe Parreno
with Zinédine Zidane, David Beckham, Roberto Carlos, Borja Fernandez, Raúl González, Josico Moreno, Paco Pavón, Quique Alvarez, José Mari, Armando Sá, Gonzalo Rodríguez, Marcos Senna
release Fr 24.May.06,
UK 29.Sep.06
06/France Universal 1h32
PG football action, some language
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall