Shadows Film FestArthouse films ’06
Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 1.Nov.06
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Days of Glory   4/5   Indigénes
This film focuses on a terrible aspect of human history, something that has echoed throughout history, wherever good people have been exploited and unceremoniously ignored. And this particular story from wartime France carries its own emotional punch.

The story centres on a group of North Africans fighting to liberate France from Nazi occupation. Saïd (Debbouze) is a poor, illiterate Algerian who ends up as an assistant to the sergeant (Blancan). Abdelkader (Bouajila) is a natural leader who hopes to rise in the ranks of French officers. Messaoud (Zem) is a gifted marksman who falls for a woman (Eltvedt) in Marseilles. Yassir and Larbi (Naceri and Bouab) are brothers who, when they reach wintry France, can't understand why anyone would live somewhere so cold. They're all on a collision course with the Nazis in Alsace.

This fairly straightforward war epic has a steady flow as it follows these men from their training in Morocco to a trial battle in Italy and then on through France to a final face-off in a nearly deserted Alsatian village. There are similarities to Saving Private Ryan; the Italian assault echoes Normandy, the numbers decrease steadily, chaotic battles spring up around every corner, and there's even a modern day epilogue.

But filmmaker Bouchareb has a much lighter touch than Steven Spielberg, never pushing the point or falling back on sentiment. That doesn't mean he avoids spectacle. The battle sequences are remarkably grand, as well as grounded and gritty. The cinematography is bright and dusty. The performances are natural and earthy, and full of steely resolve mixed with open-faced emotion.

It's also a strikingly important story of devout Muslims fighting patriotically for their motherland, even though they were essentially used as cannon fodder. The country they fought for, in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity, continually treated them as second-rate soldiers despite their bravery and tenacity in battle. They're refused leave, their mail is stopped, they don't even get the same food as the native Europeans. So it's hardly surprising that their situation is made worse by self-loathing and infighting.

dir Rachid Bouchareb
scr Rachid Bouchareb, Olivier Lorelle
with Jamel Debbouze, Sami Bouajila, Roschdy Zem, Samy Naceri, Assaad Bouab, Bernard Blancan, Mathieu Simonet, Aurelie Eltvedt, Melanie Laurent, Benoit Giros, Antoine Chappey, Thomas Langmann
bouajila and debbouze
release Fr 27.Sep.06,
US 15.Dec.06,
UK 30.Mar.07
06/France Studio Canal 2h08

London Film Fest

See also:
15 themes, violence, language
31.Oct.06 lff
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The Masseur   3/5   Masahista
Sensual and strongly evocative, this slow-building drama feels somewhat fragmented in structure, but eventually grabs hold of us with its intense sense of human emotion and yearning. It's also nicely shot on a very low budget.

Iliac (Martin) is a young guy working in a massage house in Manila. Which is of course actually a brothel. His first customer this evening is Alfredo (Paule), and over the next few hours they'll share a bit of their inner selves while talking during the massage--plus the extras. Around them small dramas are happening in the surrounding cubicles. And this is all intercut with Iliac's subsequent trip home to help his mother (Jose) bury his father, who has died after a long illness.

Positioning these two events against each other creates a challenging and involving slice of life, as we see Iliac in both his family responsibilities and his professional work life. And clearly there's something not quite right about a society in which these are his only options. While the director struggles to make much of a connection between the two strands, there's an urgent truth to each of them separately. Both focus on physicality in very different ways, and achieve an earthy sensuality that's often raw and emotional.

Performances are strong enough, open and honest, sometimes beautifully introspective. Where the filmmaker struggles is in drawing a meaningful connection between the massage and the funeral; there's clearly some sort of epiphany going on, but it never quite comes together. And hovering on the edge of the story, Iliac's girlfriend (Luna) comes across as a shrewish harridan, which adds nothing to the film at all.

This is no-budget filmmaking, shot on video in an awkward but artful way. And it captures universal truths about human resilience, especially as we get to know Iliac's fellow masseurs, all of whom clearly have similar backgrounds and would rather be working somewhere else. There's a strong camaraderie between them, they all have meltdown moments with their clients, and as the camera drifts around the massage house, it captures some provocative realities about Filipino culture that are echoed all over the world.

dir Brillante Mendoza
scr Boots Agbayani Pastor
with Coco Martin, Jacklyn Jose, Allan Paule, Katherine Luna, Paolo Rivero, Kristoffer King, Ru Miranda
martin release Ph 19.Oct.05,
UK Oct.06 lff
05/Philippines 1h20

London Film Fest
15 themes, language, sexuality
24.Oct06 lff
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Reprise   3/5  
Witty and intriguing, but perhaps a bit too self-aware, this is like a Norwegian Amelie, examining fate and life choices. Of course, being Scandinavian, it's a rather more gloomy approach to the topic. But the characters are sparky enough to keep us engaged.

Phillip and Erik (Lie and Klouman-Hoiner) are aspiring 23-year-old writers who submit their first books for publication at the same time. Phillip's is accepted, then six months later he's had a nervous breakdown from the stress of his success. Released from hospital, there's now a strain between them. So they start over. Erik begins to write again, while Phillip tries to rekindle his romance with Kari (Winge) by taking her back to Paris, like he did before. But can lightning strike twice in the same place?

The film has a lively tone that mixes the plot with a novelistic approach, as a narrator keeps interrupting things to offer what-if sideroads, hilariously illustrated on screen. Back in the main narrative, we glimpse the characters' thoughts through flickering flashbacks. Some of this feels a little talky, like they're reading us the story rather than letting us watch it. But it's complex enough to draw us in, even if the relentless cleverness makes it difficult to connect with.

The acting is effortless and real, nicely scruffy around the edges and full of telling glances and feuds that are played out in tiny gestures. There are also some beautifully tender sequences between Phillip and Erik as they struggle to find the easy groove they used to have. The scenes between Lie and Winge in Paris are also intriguingly pointed.

These moments of real connection are never allowed to flower, because Trier always has another smart gimmick up his sleeve. A lot of this is hilarious (such as Erik's riotous chat show appearance), while other scenes are merely pretentious, giving the film a distant tone despite the moments of pure emotion. But the central message, that only some wounds actually heal, resonates powerfully. And it's made with enough skill that we'll be watching what Trier does next.

dir Joachim Trier
dir Joachim Trier, Eskil Vogt
with Anders Danielsen Lie, Espen Klouman-Hoiner, Viktoria Winge, Pal Stokka, Henrik Elvestad, Odd Magnus Williamson, Christian Rubeck, Henrik Mestad, Rebekka Karijord, Sigmund Saeverud, Thorbjorn Harr, Silje Hagen
Klouman-H¯iner and Lie
release Nor 8.Sep.06,
UK 7.Sep.07,
US 16.May.08
06/Norway 1h45
London Film Fest
15 themes, language, sexuality
24.Oct.06 lff
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Them   3.5/5   Ils
Loosely based on true events, this conceptual horror movie has a terrific slow-burning intensity as it torments its central characters (and the audience). Although it waits a bit too long to play its trump card.

Clementine and Lucas (Bonamy and Cohen) are a French couple living in a rambling old house near Bucharest. Clementine is a language teacher while Lucas is trying to stay focussed enough to write a book. One evening strange things start happening--noises, lights, someone driving their car around the grounds. As they go to investigate, they realise there's a small group of people terrorising them. And they just won't give up, chasing them through the house, into the woods and in the maze of tunnels beneath the estate.

Filmmakers Moreau and Palud kick off the film with the requisite jolt, so we know something evil is lurking. They then get on with establishing the central characters, taking the time to gently establish personalities and routines. We get to know them so we can identify with their reactions when things turn scary. The approach is reminiscent of Alexandre Aja's Haute Tension as it builds to horrific freak-out scenes and continually cranks up the dramatic suspense, dribbling concrete details to us slowly.

And with its finely focussed camera work, it also feels somewhat like The Blair Witch Project, since we remain right with Clementine and Lucas, seeing only what they see. This claustrophobic desperation is sharply maintained and nicely played by Bonamy and Cohen, who are engaging and believable. Although it means there are large sections of the film in which nothing meaningful happens. Without knowing what's terrorising them, the film only has a limited sense of menace.

The writer-directors cleverly recreate a 1970s visual style with their grainy wide-screen cinematography and characters and settings that seem eerily timeless (the on-screen caption places the story in 2002). They also add moments of jagged humour and lots of moments in which characters do those silly things horror movie characters always do. In the end, it's quietly terrifying, grim and nasty, jarring us with witty imagery and filmmaking bravado. Although the final punch of meaning would have made the entire film scarier if we'd known it up front.

dir-scr David Moreau, Xavier Palud
with Olivia Bonamy, Michael Cohen, Adriana Moca, Maria Roman, Camelia Maxim, Alexandru Boghiu, Horia Ioan, Emanuel Stefanuc, Stefan Cornic, George Iulian
cohen and bonamy release Fr 19.Jul.06,
UK 26.Jan.07
06/France Studio Canal 1h17


15 themes, violence
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