Shadows Film FestArthouse films ’06
Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 8.Oct.06
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Anger Me   3/5
Kenneth Anger is certainly a meaty documentary subject, and this film takes a linear, straightforward approach, illustrating his tale with a wealth of clips and stills. But without outside observations or context, it feels both insular and simplistic.

Born in Santa Monica in 1930, Anger started making movies as a teen, and even then they were avant-garde concoctions that played with themes of spirituality and sexuality. Over the years, he has worked with cinema pioneers like Cocteau, Genet, Fellini and Pasolini, while pioneering cinematic techniques all his own. For example, by using pop music as the score for his 1964 biker film Scorpio Rising, he essentially invented the music video. And by remaining resolutely outside the Hollywood system, he's stayed infuriatingly (and refreshingly) enigmatic.

The core of this film is Anger's extended to-camera monologue about his life, from his work as a child opposite Mickey Rooney in the 1935 A Midsummer Night's Dream to drinking coffee with DW Griffith on Hollywood Boulevard, a long friendship with Alfred Kinsey, 12 years at Cinémathèque Française, following Aleister Crowley's ghost to Italy, and experiences in Britain with the likes of Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page.

He discusses his family, his famous acquaintances, pagan beliefs and artistic influences, and he describes in fascinating detail many decisions he made around each of his films. What we never get, though, is an insight into his own mind--what makes him tick, what he's like to work with, what he likes, period. It's a strangely cool portrait of his life from his perspective, but without any self-examination at all. What's missing are interviews with the people who have known him and worked with him. These are the things that might let us see past his skin.

It's still fascinating; many of his films are difficult to find, especially on the big screen, so the wealth of clips is wonderful. As is his simple explanation of how he created the Hollywood Babylon bestsellers (part 3 is apparently caught up in legal wrangles). But even here we'd love to have a little more depth. What we get is a leisurely stroll through his career along with a kaleidoscopic collection of eye-catching images. It's fascinating, but not nearly enough.

dir Elio Gelmini
scr Carlo Vitali
with Kenneth Anger, Jonas Melkas, Jericho Kantor
Anger in Fireworks (1947) release UK 27.May.07
06/Italy 1h12
London Film Fest
15 themes, disturbing imagery
3.Oct.06 lff
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The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael 2/5
This slow-building thriller starts out as an intriguing, insightful look at peer pressure and ends up as a hyper-violent drama with heavy echoes of A Clockwork Orange. As it progresses, it gets increasingly difficult to watch, which is perhaps the point.

In a coastal English town, Robert (Spencer) is a gifted cellist with an artistic sensibility. The other teens pick on him, and his choice of friends is worrying his mother (Manville). His best mate Joe (Winsley) has dropped out of school and now deals drugs around town. Robert spends much of his time loitering and smoking hash with Joe and their friend Ben (Mnene). Then Larry (Dyer) arrives, just out of jail, and encourages Robert to try ecstasy and coke. And things go violently downhill from there.

Filmmaker Clay tells this story in a moody, evocative style, with a classical score and static takes that feel as meandering as the teens themselves. There are three story threads--Robert and his friends, his mother and her peers, and the local celebrity chef (Howe) and his wife (Wilson). All three intertwine intriguingly at first, then more predictably as things progress.

The main problem is that Clay can't resist overstating his case, with jarring musical chords to remind us that it's Terribly Important. We get it quickly: this gifted kid is throwing his life away. But structure requires Robert to progress from occasional hash to a drug-induced personality shift in barely 24 hours. And when we arrive at the unthinkably awful climax, the film abandons subtlety and insight to scream its message full blast.

As a result, it feels fake and pretentious. Only Dyer brings the crack of real life to his performance; every one else seems stiff and awkward by comparison. The TV soap-style dialog doesn't help. Nor do some contrived story details (adults don't ask the other kids when a girl goes missing, they just roam through town calling her name). And by avoiding humour or irony, Clay practically bludgeons us with the urgency of it all. So we feel like we've been assaulted too.

dir Thomas Clay
scr Thomas Clay, Joseph Lang
with Dan Spencer, Danny Dyer, Lesley Manville, Ryan Winsley, Charles Mnene, Michael Howe, Miranda Wilson, Stuart Laing, Rob Dixon, Ami Instone, Dean Robinson, Matt Rogers
dyer and friends release UK 20.Oct.06
06/UK 1h36
18 strong language, violence, nudity
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The Lives of Others   4/5   Das Leben der Anderen
Riveting and deeply provocative, this tale of life in repressive East Berlin not only expertly captures a specific point in history, but also offers a bracing examination of human nature.

In November 1984, Stasi Captain Wiesler (Mühe) is assigned to keep an eye on playwright Dreyman (Koch), whose friends include various political activists (Bauer, Brenner and Kleinert) and whose actress girlfriend Christa-Maria (Gedeck) is the object of affection for a government minister (Thieme). Wiesler also develops a crush on Christa-Maria, and does his job with ruthless efficiency, looking for a way to trap Dreyman, spying on his every move. But when Dreyman actually gets involved in something subversive, Wiesler has a difficult decision to make.

Writer-director Henckel von Donnersmarck gets the tone just right, capturing on screen the paranoia and tensions of East Germany in the 1980s, when everyone was suspected of sedition, careers could be ruined by a misspoken word, and people disappeared into secret prisons for months at a time. Filming in real locations and basing the script on composite characters and situations, he plunges us right into this environment. And we really do feel the tightening in our chests as the story progresses.

The cast create their characters effortlessly. Each person in this story is a complex bundle of hopes and fears, love and loyalty balanced with the willingness to do the unthinkable in order to survive. Mühe's muted performance is remarkably involving, while it's Koch and Gedeck who draw us into the story emotionally. And all of the characters add an intriguing dark irony to the film, making the most of witty, incisive dialog and layered interaction.

Technically, the film is beautiful--with textured cinematography, telling editing and a haunting score by Gabriel Yared. It's also intensely gripping as the story twists every more tightly around characters we really grow to care about. This is a powerful examination of the human soul, and it's all the more shocking since we can identify so vividly with all three central characters. And the story's concluding series of codas have a powerful final kick.

dir-scr Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
with Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Thieme, Hans-Uwe Bauer, Matthias Brenner, Volkmar Kleinert, Herbert Knaup, Charly Hübner, Hinnerk Schönemann, Marie Gruber
koch and gedeck
release Ger 23.Mar.06,
US 9.Feb.07,
UK 13.Apr.07
06/Germany 2h17
London Film Fest
15 themes, language, sexuality
2.Oct.06 lff
R E A D E R   R E V I E W S

Russell Drury, Cambridge: 4/5 "As with many sub-titled films, you may need patience with it at the start. But you are rewarded with a story that develops brilliantly with the characters, most notably with Wiesler. A man with such a cold ruthlessness at the start, he wouldn’t look out of place as a Bond villain. His icy stare gradually warms as the film progresses towards its climax, which in turn is heart-breaking and finally heart-warming. It is also a reminder that in times of conflict, just because somebody is employed by the other side, does not mean they are evil – they can have the potential to be your greatest ally." (17.Jul.07)
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London to Brighton   4/5
With a harrowing story straight from the headlines, writer-director Williams creates a gripping, engaging character-based drama that marks him as a filmmaker to watch. And the subject matter makes this film strikingly important.

Kelly (Stanley) is a teenage prostitute who's given a startling assignment by her pimp Derek (Harris). By the end of the evening she'll be on the run with 11-year-old Joanne (Groome), both of them battered and terrified, to get help from Kelly's friend in Brighton. But Derek and his sidekick (Constance) are on their trail, spurred on by a ruthless thug (Spruell) determined to get even for something that happened to his father (Morton).

The story details are filled in through vivid flashbacks, but the powerful thing about this film is that fact that they really don't matter. What works so well is the odyssey these two young women take--their desperate journey, utter helplessness and inner resourcefulness. Even though their lives seem aimless and hopeless, they maintain an inner strength and focus that keeps us absorbed in their story.

It definitely helps that the writing and directing are so raw and natural, catching rhythms of language as well as the urgency that's squeezing everyone. Williams shoots it mostly in close-up, which adds to the intensity. And the cast all play it naturally, with a brave emotional transparency that balances the brutish machismo. These are people we can readily identify with even though we can never fully understand the world they live in.

We know from the start that we're dealing with people who simply won't listen to reason (or to their conscience); nothing is fair here, and there are no guarantees that anything will work out with any sense of justice or redemption. Human life isn't hugely valuable here, and these are people on the fringe who wouldn't be missed if they disappeared. Yet while it feels bleak and hopeless--and overwhelmingly violent and threatening--it's also strangely warm and moving as well. It also boldly highlights a horrific side of so-called civilised society that we prefer to pretend doesn't exist. And for that alone, this film deserves to be seen.

dir-scr Paul Andrew Williams
with Lorraine Stanley, Georgia Groome, Johnny Harris, Sam Spruell, Alexander Morton, Nathan Constance, Claudie Blakley, Jamie Kenna, David Keeling, Jack Deam, Chloe Bale, Tim Matthews
stanley and groome release UK 1.Dec.06
06/UK Vertigo 1h25
18 themes, language, violence
7.Oct.06 Raindance
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall