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last update 22.Nov.07
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Chaotic Ana   4/5   Caótica Ana
chaotic ana It's been six years since Basque filmmaker Medem's last narrative feature (Sex and Lucia), and his existential worldview has been sorely missed. This film picks up his powerful themes of identity and circular interconnectedness.

Ana (Vellés) lives in isolated bliss with her German father (Habich) in a cosy cave on Ibiza. Her painting skills catch the eye of a French woman (Rampling), who invites her to attend her communal art school in Madrid. There she meets the lively video artist Linda (Bebe) and discovers her first wave of love with the painter Said (Cazalé). But Said's North African roots spark a wave of impossible memories, so Ana starts working with an American hypnotist (Newman) to figure out what's going on. This takes them to Navajo country and a series of astounding discoveries.

Medem is playing with ideas of corporate memory and reincarnation, as Ana's dreams and visions suggest past lives--an artistic soul with an overpowering connection to certain people and places. She remembers things that are impossible, such as dying in the middle of the Sahara, and takes it seriously when someone tells her, "Ana, you have an abyss inside you!" But is this a film about reincarnation or is it about femininity throughout history, and how women carry the pain inflicted on their gender over the generations?

The film engages us as strongly as it does because of Medem's remarkable visual sensibilities and the extremely personalised acting. Even as they deal with wider metaphysical issues, these are recognisably real people struggling to make sense of the world around them. As a result, the film is packed with emotional moments that are genuinely moving, alongside pointed comments about today's political culture.

And Medem assembles this with his usual beautifully light touch, as he lets ideas swirl around without trying to nail them down. Medem has called this film a feminist fable, but he never preaches at all, instead recounting a journey that crosses time, geography and even more importantly psychological space, all chasing the desire to crush violence and aggression with the healing peace of motherhood. Strong stuff--a bit untouchable perhaps, but pure magic.

dir-scr Julio Medem
with Manuela Vellés, Charlotte Rampling, Bebe, Asier Newman, Nicolas Cazalé, Matthias Habich, Raúl Peña, Lluís Homar, Gerrit Graham, Leslie Charles, Giacomo Gonnella, Antonio Vega
rampling and velles release Sp 24.Aug.07,
US 26.Dec.07,
UK Oct.07 lff
07/Spain Sogecine 1h58

london film fest
18 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Lust, Caution   4/5
lust caution A sweeping wartime epic with a gripping story of love in all the wrong places, this gorgeous film from Ang Lee is indulgent (mainly in its length and the graphic sex), but it's also achingly beautiful.

In 1938 Hong Kong, new university student Wong (Tang) is invited by a friend (Chu) to join a theatre group led by the charismatic Kuang (Wang). The cast uses their politically charged plays against Chinese people who collaborate with Japanese invaders. Then in the summer they launch a plan in which Wong goes undercover to befriend a woman (Chen) married to the notorious collaborator and cautious womaniser Yee (Leung). The mission is going well when things are interrupted. Three years later in occupied 1941 Shanghai, the plot relaunches. And the stakes are rather a lot higher now.

Lee takes his time unfurling the story, with a lengthy prologue set near the end of the story, then jumping back four years to piece together how these peoples' lives became so intertwined. Scenes are played out with conversations, telling glances and not much else, then there's a truly frightening murder that's badly botched by the amateur resistance. It's not until much later that the relationship between Wong and Yee finally explodes into something steamy and deeply twisted.

Finally the film's languid set-up pays off as the sexual and political intrigue boil over into something forcefully involving. And Tang is superb as a conflicted woman who knows who she wants, is forced to become someone unreal, then watches helplessly as her heart follows her body into the wrong relationship. It's a tricky role, and Tang underplays it beautifully, especially in her wordless interaction with her superb leading men, Leung and Wang.

Of course, Lee catches tiny, telling details as well as the grand scope of this turbulent period in China's history. The production design is lush and seductive, and the expressive sex is so revealing that we realise this is exactly what was missing from Lee's last film, Brokeback Mountain. Besides the stirring romantic plot, the film comes to life in its depiction of freedom fighters and militarists on both sides--each with a firm belief who's right, but also a few haunting doubts.

dir Ang Lee
scr Wang Hui-Ling, James Schamus
with Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Tang Wei, Joan Chen, Wang Leehom, Tou Chung Hua, Chu Jr Ying, Johnson Yuen, Ko Yu Lien, Kao Ying Hsuan, Chin Ka Lok, Song Ru Hui, Anupam Kher
tang and leung
release US 28.Sep.07,
Chn 1.Nov.07,
UK 4.Jan.08
07/China Focus 2h38

london film fest
18 themes, violence, language, sexuality
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Thieves   3/5   Ladrones
silent light With a moody, insinuating style, Spanish filmmaker Marques tells an intriguing tale of identity and connection. In the end, it gets rather confusing and emotional, and we don't know quite enough about these characters to care.

After spending his childhood in an orphanage, Alex (Ballesta) is trying to find his mother and start a new life. Before she went to prison, his mother (Ballesteros) taught him to be an expert pickpocket, and he quickly resumes the vocation. Then one day he crosses the line when he spots middle-class university student Sara (Valverde) clumsily trying to shoplift. The two eventually develop an uneasy friendship and romance that's strained by the huge chasm between their two worlds. And Alex also has to dodge some ruthless thugs who are on his tail.

Marques takes a bold directorial approach, with long tracking shots, elegant editing and a slick, seductive approach that uses tiny glances, telling details and lots of glass and mirrors. This visually poetic tone gets us into Alex's mind--we understand his perceptions and recognise his mistakes. Ballesta plays him with an uneasy sympathy, as a likeable guy who doesn't really want to be liked. And it's engaging to watch Valverde play Sara as a woman who tries to avoid his grip, but can't.

But the screenplay isn't content with focussing on Alex's quest for his mother and his awkward relationship with Sara, both of which would have been plenty for one film. It layers in an intriguing course in how to be a pickpocket. The scenes with Alex and Sara tentatively trying to develop a way to work together are fascinating and delicate. And a Body Heat-style break-in sequence is pretty steamy.

But then there's another layer that creeps in now and then, as two violent brutes stalk Alex from every dark doorway. We're never quite sure who they are or what they have against him, besides trying to add an unnecessary sense of foreboding, tragedy, justice, irony, whatever. And as this story element gives way to fear, anger and some very heavy emotions, it's just too vague for us to really connect with. Even so, the film signals Marques as a director to watch.

dir Jaime Marques
scr Jaime Marques, Juan Ibáñez
with Juan José Ballesta, María Valverde, Patrick Bauchau, María Ballesteros, Carlos Kaniowsky, Erik Probanza
valverde and ballesta
release Sp 22.Jun.07,
UK Oct.07 lff
07/Spain 1h41

london film fest
15 themes, violence
5.Oct.07 lff
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Saturn in Opposition   4/5   Saturno Contro
the last mistress After a couple of stylistic sideroads (Facing Windows, Sacred Heart), Ozpetek returns to the ensemble style of his earlier work, including two of his Ignorant Fairies stars. The result is a sensitive and provocatively moving examination of an assembled family.

Newcomer Paolo (Tommaso) is a bit nervous about entering a vivid group of people who have created a make-shift urban family. There's Antonio and Angelica (Accorsi and Buy), who are married with children; the gay couple Lorenzo and Davide (Argentero and Favino); Davide's ex (Fantastichini); the sardonic Neval (Yilmaz) and her cop husband (Timi); and the drugged-up Roberta (Angiolini). But their casual-sparky life is about to be disrupted by a sudden tragedy, plus the revelation of Antonio's affair with a florist (Ferrari).

Ozpetek is excellent at getting under the skin of his characters, highlighting the tenuous links that hold them together and the even more surprising connections that emerge between them. While the ensemble cast here is perhaps a bit sprawling, each person is bracingly well-defined and given a vivid internal life by the especially strong cast. As a result, we can identify readily with each person's reaction to what happens, as their easy group is strained to the breaking point.

The film is awash with rapid-fire conversations that are lively and realistic, racing from topic to topic in a way that's often funny, and sometimes scary or sad. These people are intimately involved in each others' lives, but they've never been forced to consider their relationships seriously until now. And their innocent nosiness gives way to deep concern or disdain. While the presence of outsiders--Paolo and, most importantly, Lorenzo's father and stepmother (Diberti and Savino)--adds another telling wrinkle.

As a whole, the film is perhaps a bit too ambitious, trying to capture the complex scope of relationships: lust and passion, love and trust, jealousy and betrayal, tragedy and grief. But it's also consistently intriguing and involving, and extremely resonant emotionally. Ozpetek films it elegantly, with sensitivity but no sentimentality. And there's a lovely sense of redemption at the end. For a few of the characters at least.

dir Ferzan Ozpetek
scr Ferzan Ozpetek, Gianni Romoli
with Pierfrancesco Favino, Margherita Buy, Stefano Accorsi, Ambra Angiolini, Serra Yilmaz, Michelangelo Tommaso, Luca Argentero, Filippo Timi, Ennio Fantastichini, Isabella Ferrari, Luigi Diberti, Lunetta Savino
buy and accorsi release It 23.Feb.07,
UK Oct.07 lff
07/Italy 1h50

london film fest
15 themes, language, drugs
11.Oct.07 lff
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall