Shadows Film FestArthouse films ’06
Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 29.Oct.06
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Esma’s Secret   3.5/5   Grbavica
Strikingly personal and honest, this involving drama from Sarajevo paints a vivid portrait of the extended aftermath of a terrible war through the personal story of one woman.

Esma (Karanovic) takes a job as a nightclub waitress to make ends meet. She lives in the Grbavica district, a sea of Soviet-style blocks, with her 12-year-old daughter Sara (Mijovic), who's already a surly, fiercely independent teen. Sara needs proof that her father was a shaheed, a Bosnian war martyr, to get a free place on an upcoming school trip, but Esma instead seeks the cash to pay for it. Clearly there's an untold story here. And it's probably also behind Esma's reluctance to start a relationship with a man (Lucev) from work.

Crisply shot and edited, the film captures a terrific sense of life in Bosnia in the years following their horrific conflict. These people live a standard European lifestyle, but they're so weighed down by their recent history that even when they try to look forward, the ramifications keep coming back to colour their lives. Esma is a bright woman trying to face the future optimistically; she wants her daughter to grow up without the echoes of the past, but it's increasingly impossible to protect her, especially since her paternity is so linked to the war.

Karanovic's performance is a marvel of subtlety and nuance; she beautifully catches Esma's hopefulness and her frustration at the reality around her. We can see her profound disappointment in her society--she hates the dregs of violence that are ruining her country, dragging everyone down. Her scenes in the support group for war widows are fascinating. And as Sara, Mijovic astutely captures the intensity of puberty and self-image issues.

The story takes a couple of slightly pushy twists involving brutal mafiosos and kids with guns. But even these things are realistic in a nation that's only now confronting the legacy of warfare that, besides the emotional and physical wounds, is also causing pain for future generations. And it's fairly amazing that writer-director Zbanic manages to find a strong but subtle glimmer of hope in the end.

dir-scr Jasmila Zbanic
with Mirjana Karanovic, Luna Mijovic, Leon Lucev, Jasna Ornela Beri, Kenan Catic, Dejan Acimovic, Bogdan Diklic, Emir Hadzihafisbegovic, Ermin Bravo,Semka Sokolovic-Bertok, Maike Höhne, Jasna Zalica
mijovic and karanovic release Bos 1.Mar.06,
UK 15.Dec.06,
US 16.Feb.07
06/Bosnia 1h31

Golden Bear: BERLINALE
London Film Fest
15 themes, language, violence
28.Oct.06 lff
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The Lives of the Saints   2.5/5
Gritty and raw, there's a strong story inside this somewhat pretentious London crime drama. But the film's eye-catching style seems more important to the filmmakers than convincing characters or performances.

In North London, Roadrunner (Broni) is a guy who can't stop moving, running errands for the vicious crime boss Karva (Cosmo). One day he stumbles across a young boy (MacLintock) in the park who offers him ultimate happiness: to stop running. He's clearly some sort of angel, and soon Karva's stepson Othello (Leon) gets hold of him and starts winning every bet he places. The child also has a profound affect on a secretive priest (Warren) and a bereaved cafe owner (Kearney). But it's Othello's buddy (Webb) who has the most earth-shaking ambition.

There's a terrific idea here, and a nice blending of urban attitude and magical realism. And the central concept is extremely provocative: What would you do if you could have the future you're afraid to even wish for? Could anything make you give it up? The script doesn't lay these themes on too thickly, and the filmmakers approach it with a nicely restless tone that catches the rhythms of life and plays on the entire creepy child movie genre.

But the characters are just never real enough for us to believe in. Everyone is extremely broad, overdoing the London crime posture. It feels strained and too broad. While Leon looks great on screen, his cocky Othello is both unlikeable and unlikely. MacLintock does little besides bat his enormous, teary eyes at the camera. Cosmo and Warren give perfectly solid performances, but their characters' storylines are fumbled in the editing.

The film looks intriguing, of course. With ace photographer Rankin involved, the images are strikingly centred on the characters' faces, coolly conveying the moods and emotions. As everyone in the community clamours to see the "angel", there's a terrific sense of yearning among the characters, all of whom want something to help make their miserable lives something special. So it's a pity that the film is more style and flash than actual quality, sacrificing believability and coherent storytelling for quirkiness.

dir Rankin, Chris Cottam
scr Tony Grisoni
with David Leon, James Cosmo, Marc Warren, Sam MacLintock, Bronson Webb, Daon Broni, Emma Pierson, Gillian Kearney, Paddy Fletcher, James Holmes, Peter Rnic, Stella Quilley
leon and maclontock release UK 26.Jan.07
06/UK 1h41

London Film Fest
15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
27.Oct.06 lff
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Old Joy   3.5/5
Thoughtful and delicate, this understated drama gets under the skin as it examines the sense of dissatisfaction that pervades modern life. Essentially a two-man show, it quietly positions our feelings of aimlessness alongside the political mess around us.

In Portland, Oregon, Kurt (Oldham) calls his old friend Mark (London) and suggests a camping trip. Mark's wife (Smith) is heavily pregnant and only reluctantly lets him go. As they drive, hike, camp and visit isolated hot springs, they talk haltingly about their lives and their feelings. Eventually, they begin to open up, admitting that they miss the crazy days of their youth and the fact that their busy lives don't let them connect anymore.

As it progresses we begin to wonder if there will be a sense of narrative at all. In many ways it feels like a play with two guys talking about not much of anything and avoiding the real conversation they want to have. Most of their meandering dialog is unconnected and superficial; the meaty discussion is on the radio, where analysts are grappling with chaotic global politics. Of course, Mark and Kurt switch that off.

The performances are so laid back that we aren't surprised when one or the other drops off to sleep mid-sentence. These are recognisable men trying to reconnect with each other and with the world. Oldham and Smith deliver their dialog in naturally, talking about families, work, hobbies, nothing very interesting. They even bore each other. And yet in the subtext we can see the old spark of friendship. It's remarkable acting from the inside out.

Director-cowriter Reichardt's mellow tone is both beautiful and a little exhausting. She's looking at disaffection and alienation--sorrow that's actually "worn-out joy". The film is full of images of normal America--not Hollywood's picture of it--shot in long, languorous takes that cleverly frame people against nature. These men have reached adulthood, but the world is still a mess, and life is so serious that having fun together seems like a waste of time. Even if the film is almost too quiet for words, it still carries a strong punch.

dir Kelly Reichardt
scr Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
with Daniel London, Will Oldham, Tanya Smith, Robin Rosenberg, Keri Moran, Matt McCormick, Darren Prolsen, Autumn Campbell, Steve Doughton, Jillian Wieseneck
oldham and london release US 20.Sep.06,
UK 26.Jan.07
06/US 1h16

London Film Fest
15 themes, language
19.Oct.06 lff
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A Soap   3.5/5   En Soap
This workshopped Danish drama draws on its vivid characters to tell a story that's full of surprises. It's also a little repetitive and episodic, but then what else would you expect from a movie with a name like this?

Charlotte (Dyrholm) unceremoniously dumps her boyfriend of four years, Kristian (Thiel), by moving into another flat while he's away. Her new neighbour is Veronica (Dencik), a cross-dresser who's not sure what to make of Charlotte's sardonic, dry wit. Their friendship is a rocky one, as Charlotte's constant outbursts alienate Veronica, who's also deeply depressed due to her strained relationship with her mother (Steentoft) and the agonising wait for a letter authorising her trans-gender surgery. Clearly, these two women share some common ground, and they also have a spark of mutual appreciation.

With odd bits of narration and chapter titles like Sweet Music and Dark Clouds, the film has an almost fantasy tone, as if we're not meant to take it seriously. But while there are several silly and ironic touches, this is a sensitive story of two lost souls who touch each other profoundly. As the story progresses through a series of favours and repayments, arguments and reconciliations, we wonder if they'll ever be on even ground. Especially when Kristian tries to come back.

Dyrholm intriguingly makes Charlotte into a deeply unlikeable person; she's fascinating and compelling, but she refuses to face the truth about anything, and lives in a cold, grey world of her own creation. By contrast, Dencik's Veronica is vibrant and caring, struggling to face the truth about herself and those around her. The awkward friendship between them is unexpected and tender, and beautifully played by both actors.

Meanwhile, director-cowriter Christensen plays with colours and textures, keeping the story gentle and understated. There's a running joke about both women being addicted to a corny TV soap opera, which of course echoes their own lives. But the film's willingness to face some difficult issues gives it a strong resonance that makes it well worth watching.

di Pernille Fischer Christensen
scr Kim Fupz Aakeson, Pernille Fischer Christensen
with Trine Dyrholm, David Dencik, Frank Thiel, Elsebeth Steentoft, Christian Tafdrup, Pauli Ryberg, Jakob Ulrik Lohmann, Claes Bang, Joan Bentsen, Tom Hale, Camilla Søeberg, Laura Kamis Wrang
dyrholm and dencik release Den 7.Apr.06,
UK Oct.06 lff
06/Denmark Nimbus 1h44

London Film Fest
15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
25.Oct.06 lff
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall