Shadows Film FestArthouse films ’06
Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 4.Dec.06
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British filmmaker Broomfield shifts into dramatic features with this doc-style drama based on real events. It's a strikingly well-made film, highlighting a serious issue in a powerfully resonant way.

Ai Qin is a single mother in Fujian, China, who decides to go work in England to support her parents and young son back home. Leaving them behind is painful, but that's nothing compared to the gruelling six-month journey by land, illegally crossing the Channel inside a secret compartment in a lorry. Once in Britain, her exhausting work includes meat-packing, harvesting apples and spring onions, and cockling on the north coast. All while dodging and fighting the authorities, her minder (Zhan), a cruel landlord (Gallagher) and xenophobic members of the British public.

The title is the term the immigrants use for white people, and it also refers to the way these people are almost invisible in society. Broomfield starts with a stunning recreation of a notorious news event when 23 Chinese workers drowned while digging for cockles in 2004. From here he focuses on Ai Qin, travelling back to China to tell her story in detail. The strikingly beautiful fly-on-the-wall filming style catches the snap of real interaction, helped hugely by authentic performances.

Ai Qin is especially good; her raw, natural acting really grabs hold in the intensely emotional scenes. We can feel her aching homesickness, her horror at the hopelessness of her situation and small moments of joy and camaraderie she discovers along the way. This method of filmmaking echoes Michael Winterbottom's excellent In This World but adds a much deeper emotional resonance that turns the issue of human trafficking into an evocative, personally relevant story.

Along the way, Broomfield drops in details, facts and figures, either in dialog or subtitles, so we know exactly what's going on, how much money these people are earning, who's to blame and exactly why they're trapped with nowhere to turn. In this sense, their abuse at the hands of narrow-minded thugs is even more brutal. And even as Broomfield provocatively makes the political point, the film's haunting strength is in its personal story, which will forever change the way we see economic refugees.

dir Nick Broomfield
scr Nick Broomfield, Jez Lewis
with Ai Qin Lin, Zhan Yu, Zhe Wei, Man Qin Wei, Shaun Gallagher, Wen Buo Zhai, Yong Aing Zhai, Devi Zhu
ai qin release UK 12.Jan.07
06/UK C4 1h36

15 themes, language, violence
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Orchestra Seats   3/5   Fauteuils d’Orchestre • aka: Avenue Montaigne
Silly, sweet and sentimental, this French comedy is thoroughly engaging as it swirls together several stories about artists in Paris struggling against various obstacles to get where they want to be.

Inspired by her grandmother (Flon), who always worked as close to luxury as possible, Jessica (De France) gets a job as a waitress in a Champs-Élysées cafe opposite a concert hall, a theatre and an art gallery. Soon she's nosing her way into peoples' lives in all three places. Actress Catherine (Lemercier) is desperate to get an A-list job with a visiting American director (Pollack). Pianist Jean-François (Dupontel) wants out of the limelight, despite protests from his wife (Morante). And art collector Jacques (Brasseur) is selling off the family collection, to the dismay of his son Fred (Thompson).

The idea is that the closer to the glamour of showbiz you get--the front row orchestra seats, as it were--the further away you want to be. These intertwining stories are told in such a breezily entertaining way that we can't help but enjoy ourselves. Snappy dialog, vivid characters and strong performances abound, with a little romance thrown in for good measure. Although the courtship scenes between Jessica and Fred strain too obviously to echo Godard's untouchable classic Breathless, while Jessica's meddlesome sprite is perhaps a bit too close to Amelie for coincidence.

There's plenty to enjoy here, even though the film feels utterly fluffy and superficial. All of the characters get amusingly on each others' nerves, everyone has stage fright in one way or another, and there's a blissfully simplistic message about finding passion and energy wherever you can. The acting is perhaps a little broad and silly, although we can't help but like all of the characters--even the grouchy ones are endearing. And in the end the filmmakers can't resist laying on the emotion as thickly as possible. But you've got to admit it works. And sometimes this kind of undemanding fun is all you need from the cinema.

dir Danièle Thompson
scr Christopher Thompson, Danièle Thompson
with Cécile De France, Valérie Lemercier, Albert Dupontel, Claude Brasseur, Christopher Thompson, Dani, Sydney Pollack, Laura Morante, Suzanne Flon, Annelise Hesme, François Rollin, Françoise Lépine
thompson and de france release Fr 15.Feb.06,
US 16.Feb.07,
UK 23.Feb.07
06/France Studio Canal 1h45
12 themes, language
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9th Company   3.5/5
Referred to as Russia's Full Metal Jacket or Apocalypse Now, this is actually a much more straightforward war epic, focussing on a group of young soldiers in an extremely nasty war. It's impressively filmed on a vast scale, but never gets personal enough to involve us.

It's 1988, nine years into the Soviet war with Afghanistan, and a group of young men in Siberia are sent to serve at the front for two years. At boot camp in Uzbekistan, they're pushed to the limit by their drill sergeant (Porechenkov). In Afghanistan, they're under the command of a growling tough-guy commander (played by director Bondarchuk), facing an invisible enemy that doesn't seem to be doing much. But once the fighting starts, it's relentless and brutal. And they begin to wonder if any of them will make it home alive.

As a director, Bondarchuk keeps things very big indeed, with skies full of helicopters, impressive special effects and a cast of thousands. The film looks massive--a believable recreation of an all-out military conflict. And he also does a great job focussing in on a small number of characters so we have something to hook into as the story progresses. Four young soldiers emerge from the pack--the thuggish Lyutaev (Smolyaninov), lover-boy Vorobey (Chadov), artistic Gioconda (Kryukov) and round-faced Stas (Mikhalkov).

Their journey is portrayed with energy and emotion, from excited anticipation to the gritty realities of life on an isolated mountainside to the horrors of battle. But despite strong performances, the script never gets inside their heads--we watch their experiences from the outside only. And Bondarchuk continually adds swelling music and patriotic touches that may be meant ironically but add to the film's overpowering flood of testosterone.

It's still hugely entertaining, with a continual stream of amazing sequences, including an astonishing plane crash and a terrifying trip through a minefield. The first battle scene arrives a full 90 minutes in, and it's seriously nightmarish. From here on, it's gruelling and completely wrenching as it vividly portrays the pointlessnes of such carnage. And even if it never quite gets beneath the skin, it's a serious cinematic achievement.

dir Fyodor Bondarchuk
scr Yuri Korotkov
with Artur Smolyaninov, Aleksei Chadov, Konstantin Kryukov, Artyom Mikhalkov, Fyodor Bondarchuk, Mikhail Porechenkov, Irina Rakhmanova, Ivan Kokorin, Mikhail Evlanov, Dmitri Mukhamadeyev, Aleksandr Bashirov, Marat Gudiyev
kryukov, chadov and smolyaninov release Rus 29.Sep.05, UK 16.Feb.06
05/Russia 2h10

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Scott Walker: 30 Century Man   3.5/5
This stylish documentary cleverly examines one of the most influential artists of the past 40 years, telling his personal story and vividly showing his impact on the industry.

Scott Engel changed his name to Walker in the 1960s, as he shot to heartthrob status as a member of the Walker Brothers with hits like "Make It Easy on Yourself" and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore". Then at the peak of their fame, they split up. Scott went on to record a series of increasingly experimental albums that profoundly influenced such musicians as Bowie, Cocker, Sting, Almond and Albarn. And he continues to shake the industry with his refusal to play by pop music's rules.

Filmmaker Kijak opens with a sequence that likens Walker to Orpheus, a mystery man who disappears and continually reinvents himself over the decades. And the interview footage with him is intimate and revealing on several levels. Combined with comments from artists who have worked with him (including coproducer Walsh and manager Bicknell) and been inspired by him, the film paints a remarkably strong portrait of the man and his music. It also puts even his most difficult experimental recordings into a telling context--including footage of Walker in the studio with echoey wooden boxes and resonant slabs of meat.

The film's style astutely catches the edgy invention of Walker's music through slick, fluid editing, although many musical tracks are accompanied by cheesy graphic representations (like those swirly Media Player visualisations). But there's a constant stream of wit, from Walker's realistic self-image to Almond's hilarious rant about an album he loathed. And it's made even more engaging through the use of old footage shot both on stage and off.

Walker's career has been an astonishing journey, completely unpredictable as it has encompassed things like Jacques Brel covers, a Julian Cope compilation and an avant-garde movie soundtrack. The film's most striking section is when Kijak examines track-by-track how Walker's songs have influenced the most popular musicians in the business. We realise that, whether we know it or not, his music has been a part of our lives all along.

dir Stephen Kijak
with Scott Walker, Peter Walsh, Ed Bicknell, David Bowie, Jarvis Cocker, Brian Eno, Marc Almond, Damon Albarn, Sting, Lulu, Alison Goldfrapp, Ute Lemper, Gavin Friday
walker release UK 27.Apr.07
06/UK 1h31

PG themes, innuendo
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