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last update 8.Nov.07
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The Edge of Heaven   5/5   Auf der Anderen Seite SHADOWS MUST SEE MUST-SEE
the edge of heaven With this elegantly assembled drama, Akin emerges as one of the finest filmmakers working today. The considerable storytelling skills of his film Head-on (2004) flower into something truly magical.

Ali (Kurtiz) is a feisty Turk living near his university professor son Nejat (Davrak) in Bremen. In his loneliness, Ali hires an outrageous Turkish hooker, Yeter (Köse), to live with him. When Yeter dies suddenly, Nejat heads to Istanbul to find her long-lost daughter Ayten (Yesilçay), then decides to stay there. Meanwhile, the rabble-rousing Ayten has fled Turkey and is looking for her mother in Bremen. She meets Lotte (Ziolkowska), a bright student who falls for her, then follows her to Istanbul when she's deported. When Lotte dies suddenly, her mother (Schygulla) goes to Istanbul to get some answers.

Akin announces both of the fatalities in chapter titles long before they happen, lending a sense of imminent doom that immediately grabs hold. From here he deepens and widens the story, quietly pulling us into the lives of the various characters as their paths cross and twist together. By the end, we are completely bound up with them in their journeys toward an intimate kind of redemption.

The actors expertly play these six intriguing people through a range of associations and missed connections that are funny and romantic, earthy and sad. At the centre is the duality of cultures, as the film slides between Germany and Turkey with remarkable ease, and dialog shifts from German to Turkish to English. The various stories parallel and overlap each other tellingly, intertwining and pulling apart as the characters have no idea exactly how closely connected they all are.

Akin's visual style is both moody and fluid, catching the emotional layers of each scene without sentimentalising anything. The darker story threads are quietly haunting, and as it flows together the film is punctuated by scenes of aching beauty, wrenching sadness and surprising grace. Akin shows remarkable patience in setting up scenes and letting them play out properly, which gives maximum impact because it makes joy and tragedy feel like parts of everyday life--both tearing us apart and bringing us together. This is simply exquisite filmmaking.

dir-scr Fatih Akin
with Baki Davrak, Nurgül Yesilçay, Patrycia Ziolkowska, Hanna Schygulla, Nursel Köse, Tuncel Kurtiz, Lars Rudolph, Erkan Cam, Iorgay Tanulku, Elcim Erdgiu, Nurten Gumer, Asuman Altimay
Yesilçay and Ziolkowska release Ger 27.Sep.07,
UK 22.Feb.08,
US 21.May.08
07/Germany Corazón 2h02

27th Shadows Awards

Best Screenplay:
london film fest
15 themes, language, sexuality
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Empties   4/5   Vratné Lahve
empties A jagged sense of humour makes this warm Czech comedy thoroughly entertaining as it follows a cantankerous man into his retirement, kicking and screaming all the way.

At age 65, literature professor Josef (Zdenek Sverák) is finally fed up with his rude students, so he decides to leave the classroom. But rather than spend his days home with his wife Eliska (Kolárová), he takes a job first as a bicycle courier and then as the guy who collects empty bottles for recycling at the supermarket. Soon he's involved in everyone's life, taking groceries to the shut-ins, flirting with the young women and indulging in a bit of matchmaking on the side. Eliska is sure something else is up.

Josef is such a vivid character that he nearly overpowers this film's otherwise gentle and relaxed tone. He never stops pushing the boundaries around him, fantasising about his "headmistress" (Boudová) and finding partners for his overly religious daughter (Vilhelmová), foul-mouthed former colleague (Machácek) and tight-lipped new one (Landovsky). He also arranges a lavish gift for Eliska that turns into a wild adventure, which allows the filmmaker to shift the background from the bustling grey city to the beautiful Czech countryside.

But the best thing about Josef (and about Sverák's performance) is the way he keeps the film from tipping over into sentimentality. Because just when things start to get cute, he pops up with another rude observation. And it's not just him: when Josef, stuck at home, asks Eliska how she can watch so much bad daytime TV, she fires back, "Have you ever done the ironing?" This is an astute observation on how as we age the spirit is still more than willing but the flesh is weak. And how relationships, vocations and ambitions change over time.

Jan Sverák directs Zdenek's script without ever forcing a joke. It unfolds with the natural rhythms of everyday life, and feels both warmer and more hilarious as a result. It's a lovely slice of life with a spiky sting in its tail, and it's well worth looking out for on the festival circuit.

dir Jan Sverák
scr Zdenek Sverák
with Zdenek Sverák, Daniela Kolárová, Tatiana Vilhelmová, Jirí Machácek, Pavel Landovsky, Jan Budar, Jan Vlasák, Miroslav Táborsky, Nela Boudová, Alena Vránová, Ondrej Vetchy, Vera Tichánková
sverak release Cz 8.Mar.07,
UK Oct.07 lff
07/Czech 1h40

london film fest
12 themes, language, innuendo
31.Oct.07 lff
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I Do   3.5/5   Pręte-moi ta Main
i do It may be predictable and slight, but this French romantic comedy is thoroughly engaging, with unruly characters who keep us laughing.

At 43, Luis (Chabat) hasn't really grown up. He may have a high-flying career as a perfume designer, but he still behaves as a little boy around his imperious diva mother (Lafont) and five busy-body sisters. Since they won't stop pestering him to get married, he hires Emma (Gainsbourg), the sister of his best friend (Oestermann), to play his fiancée and then dump him at the altar to generate further sympathy from his family. But things of course don't go remotely as planned.

Essentially this is a film about confronting the truth regardless of what happens. It's not a particularly original theme, and it's played out in a fairly obvious way, but at least the characters are spirited and witty, with jagged relationships and some hilarious scenes along the way. The whole thing continually threatens to tip over into farce--and a few scenes are indeed over the top--but the script and performances keep us both charmed and gripped.

Chabat and Gainsbourg are terrific in the central roles. As a formulaic romcom, we know exactly how it must end, but they're an odd enough couple to keep the sparks flying. They nicely play two people who need help, but won't admit it. He's basically a fastidious man-child who doesn't want any responsibility; she's radiant and effortlessly adept at every situation but lacking what she really wants. The best thing about the film is how long it takes for them to find some chemistry.

Director Lartigau keeps it lively and sunny, setting up each cockamamie plan and then nicely underplaying the ensuing chaos. There are several extremely corny coincidences in the script, and a few contrived wrinkles that try to throw us off the scent, but a formula is a formula. At least the plot narrowly avoids the race-to-the-airport finale. In fact, the last act is sharply played, with some genuinely sweet touches that leave us with a big smile on our faces.

dir Eric Lartigau
scr Laurent Zeitoun, Philippe Mechelen, Laurent Tirard, Grégoire Vigneron, Alain Chabat
with Alain Chabat, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Bernadette Lafont, Grégoire Oestermann, Véronique Barrault, Marie-Armelle Deguy, Katia Lewkowicz, Louise Monot, Luce Mouchel, Wladimir Yordanoff, Aisa Maiga, Tatiana Gousseff
chabat and gainsbourg release Fr 1.Nov.06,
UK 2.Nov.07
06/France StudioCanal 1h33

london film fest
15 themes, language
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I Just Didn’t Do It   4/5  
i just didn't do it After a full decade, Suo follows up his 1996 gem Shall We Dance with this detailed drama about an innocent man caught in Japan's legal system. Throughout the overlong running time, Suo keeps us gripped with a witty, insightful approach.

Teppei Kaneko (Kase) is a 26-year-old on his way to a job interview when he's shoved onto a crowded train. Next thing he knows, he's accused of groping the 15-year-old schoolgirl (Yagyu) squashed against him, and no one will listen to his side of the story. In this system, someone who claims innocence is in for a much rougher experience someone who admits guilt. And Teppei will need the support of a friend (Yamamoto), his mother (Motai) and a couple of fair-minded lawyers (Seto and Yakusho) to get through this ordeal.

The film opens by quoting Blackstone, "Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer", and then proceeds to demonstrate that Japan's judiciary practices the opposite. But rather than rant about it, Suo simply tells an utterly riveting story with real style, using humour and suspense in equal doses, plus subtly brilliant camera work. Although far too long, this is masterful filming that focuses on the human face of the story while quietly making a provocative, important point without a hint of preachy manipulation.

Each actor is a marvel of understatement, saying as much through thoughtful pauses as they do with their words. Which wouldn't be so remarkable if we weren't talking about a legal drama! But this reliance on the internal, personal aspect of the story makes it even more absorbing, often as intense as Hitchcock's wrong-man thrillers, while breaking the tension with real-life humour and impeccable timing.

Kase plays Teppei with a wonderful sense of befuddlement; we can identify with his sense of perplexed outrage as a man caught in a spiral that defies logic. His journey is filled with mundane details that really bring the story to life, plus side characters that add layers of comedy, gravity and even some mystery to the story. By the end, this enthralling odyssey forces us to examine our opinions of justice and honour--between friends, family and our society.

dir-scr Masayuki Suo
with Ryo Kase, Kohji Yamamoto, Masako Motai, Asaka Seto, Koji Yakusho, Nao Omori, Miyu Yagyu, Ken Mitsuishi, Ranran Suzuki, Yu Tokui, Yosuke Ishii, Hirotaro Honda
kase release Jap 20.Jan.07,
US Oct.07 nyff,
UK Oct.07 lff
06/Japan 2h23

london film fest
12 themes, language
26.Oct.07 lff
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall