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last update 22.Jan.08
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A Comedy of Power   4/5   L’Ivresse du Pouvoir
a comedy of power This seventh collaboration between Chabrol and Huppert is another subtle thriller--cool and easy (and somewhat dull) on the surface, but packed with churning moral dilemmas and impending danger.

With a reputation for ruthlessness, Judge Jeanne Charmant-Killman (Huppert) is investigating corruption in a state-sponsored mega-corporation. The CEO (Berléand) is the first to be arrested, and she quickly widens the net to other bosses (Bruel, Balmer and Duclos). But her husband Philippe (Renucci) is starting to get fed up with her obsession with work, especially when death threats start. Even her boss (Vernier) wants her to step back. And this leaves her with only two people she trusts: her nephew (Thomas Chabrol) and her new associate (Canto).

Chabrol's quietly assured filmmaking is the key here; the camera prowls through the settings with cat-like grace. It's utterly seductive, as the details draw us slowly into a maze of political manoeuvrings and challenges. Every moment is packed with sardonic humour alongside grinding tension. And every moment is carried beautifully by Huppert, casually deploying her blood-red gloves and calmly taking control. It's a terrific bit of under-acting, as every facial twitch tells us something.

There's also the striking contrast between Jeanne's professional and personal lives. At the office, she holds all the cards, but at home she's vulnerable. Her icy distance doesn't work here, so she resorts to offhanded humour, relaxed and funny, and yet still disconnected. And what makes the film really come to life is the way it examines the slippery moral slope from bending the rules a little to becoming a true criminal. Government corruption isn't necessarily a matter of pure evil; it's good people taking the wrong road.

But this weighty theme is carried with a light touch, effortlessly gripping our attention. Impatient audiences will find the film impossibly slow, but the action is in the tiniest details, underscored with genuine suspense. Jeanne is bucking a very old system that she surely can't beat, can she? These people truly believe they're above the law. But perhaps she's just as good at reorganising and tenaciously carrying on as they are.

dir Claude Chabrol
scr Odile Barski, Claude Chabrol
with Isabelle Huppert, François Berléand, Patrick Bruel, Robin Renucci, Thomas Chabrol, Marilyne Canto, Jean-François Balmer, Philippe Duclos, Pierre Vernier, Jacques Boudet, Yves Verhoeven, Roger Dumas
huppert and renucci release Fr 22.Feb.06,
UK 14.Dec.07,
US 5.Jan.07
06/France 1h45

PG themes, language
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Glue   3.5/5   Historia Adolescente en Medio de Nada
glue With an improvised script and artful camera work, Argentine filmmaker Dos Santos tells an unusual coming-of-age story that's a little bleak and vague, but also beautifully observed.

Lucas (Pérez) is a scrawny 16-year-old whose best friend, the school hunk Nacho (Viale), gives him some credibility. Together they plot ways to meet girls, befriending the eager Andrea (Efron) along the way. She's attracted to Nacho, obviously, but is surprised to find Lucas more interesting. Meanwhile, Lucas is struggling to find himself. His mother (Llinás) has recently thrown his cheating father out, and Lucas is afraid he might actually be more attracted to Nacho than Andrea. A night of glue-sniffing probably won't clarify things.

Through introspective filmmaking, Dos Santos vividly captures the uncertainties, frustration and desperation of adolescence. And by allowing the cast to create scenes as they go, the film feels fully alive, even as it swirls around some scenes wihtout fully showing us what's going on. The cast is impeccable: Pérez with his big, expressive eyes and gawky build; Viale with his assured physicality and sporting prowess, which hides his insecurities; and Efron with her tentative body language and scene-lighting smile.

The subjective camera work puts us into the minds of these three teens, letting their wit undercut the film's gloomy tone. Lucas and Andrea have tricky family situations, which seem calamitous from a teen perspective, and both get the chance to narrate, adding their internal voices to the potent situations. Meanwhile, the camaraderie between these three teens transcends their personal issues, which makes the film feel far more truthful than most teen movies that rely on conflict to drive the plot.

On the other hand, there's not really much plot here. And we never quite understand how the characters cope with their experiences. In many ways, this makes the film feel even more genuine; at the end they're still teens on their journey of self-discovery. Lucas may still lust after Nacho, but he also discovers that he rather likes kissing girls, and that he may have a future as a geeky rock star. It's a beautifully made slice of life, and maybe that's enough for now.

dir-scr Alexis Dos Santos
with Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Inés Efron, Nahuel Viale, Verónica Llinás, Héctor Díaz, Florencia Braier
viale and perez
release Arg 9.Sep.07 baff,
UK 28.Jan.08 dvd
07/Argentina 1h50

london film fest london l&g film fest
18 themes, strong language, violence, sexuality
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Half Moon   3.5/5  
half moon The intriguing magical-realism that infuses this Iranian film makes it a little difficult for Western audiences. But the comedy, drama and adventure along the road are thoroughly engaging.

Mamo (Ghaffari), a Kurdish musical celebrity in Iran, has received permission to travel to Iraqi Kurdistan to perform a concert. So he gets his loyal friend Kako (Rashitian) to drive a bus loaded with his 10 musical sons, stopping along the way to pick up famed singer Hesho (Tehrani) who, like all Iranian women, is banned from singing solo in front of men. But there are signs in the sky that problems are brewing and, indeed, border crossings, checkpoints and roadblocks bring no end of difficulty. Especially if they find Hesho's hiding place.

From the electric atmosphere of the opening cockfighting den to elegiac images of imagined/impending death, this film talks to us on an almost subliminal level. Even though it style feels alien, the emotions and reactions are instantly recognisable. Kako's fast-talking deal-making is something we've all encountered (and probably aspire to), and Mamo's feelings toward his life, career and mortality are bracingly honest. And the whole film reflects this in a collision of cultures and worlds--neighbour and neighbour, east and west, old and new.

There's also rather a lot of earthy black humour as our busload of heroes hilariously skirts around the laws that have been imposed on them as a people group without a country, divided across four countries by borders that have no meaning for them. The film's most magical sequence sees Mamo walking into a hidden town for banished women singers, a splash of colour in an otherwise dusty landscape. And other imagery constantly catches the eye, from icy snowcaps to precariously perched villages.

To foreigners, the story may feel meandering and long, like an allegory we can't quite decode. Everything is clearly symbolic, including frequent death metaphors, and the plot is packed with surprises that are wry and comical as well as heavy and sad. Mamo's purpose for this trip is to play the music of his people in free Kurdistan after the fall of Saddam Hussein. But of course, freedom is actually a state of mind.

dir-scr Bahman Ghobadi
with Ismail Ghaffari, Allah-Morad Rashtian, Hedieh Tehrani, Golshifteh Farahani, Hassan Poorshirazi, Sadiq Behzadpoor, Mohamad Nahid, Kambiz Arshi, Reza Haj Khosravi, Bahram Zarei, Farzin Saboni, Ali Ashraf Rezai
release UK 4.Jan.08
07/Iran 1h54

PG themes, some violence
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Mataharis   4/5  
mataharis Sharply drawn characters bring this multi-strand relationship drama to life, examining strong themes in ways we can identify with.

Three women work for a private detective agency, and all have twisted personal lives. Carmen (González) has fallen into a disconnected life with her husband (Fernández), then sees possibilities through the eyes of a client (de la Torre). Eva (Nimri) starts thinking her husband (Ulloa) might be having an affair, so begins investigating during her time off. And Inés (Vásquez) has been hired to spy on union organiser Manuel (Martín), but finds herself in a crisis of conscience when she falls for him. They all have potentially life-changing decisions to make. And jobs to do.

Director-cowriter Bollaín takes an intriguingly feminine approach to macho society, focussing on three working women and their personal and professional entanglements with men. What emerges is an engaging and offhanded examination of urban life and its constant ethical pressures. The key joke, of course, is that the men will never notice these Spanish Charlie's Angels spying on them, because they barely notice any women at all.

The film's tone is warm and realistic, never wallowing in melodrama even as the story gets serious. The cast members deliver relaxed performances that draw us in to each person's colourful quirks. Everyone is hiding something and, whether large or small, the deceptions bend their relationships. There are some gorgeous touches in each storyline, from Carmen's quiet chatter to her plants, because her husband ignores her, to Inés' inner turmoil at changing sides in the middle of a debate.

Besides being good fun, the film is loaded with small insights. Is one person's snooping any better than another person's secrecy? Is it easier, and cheaper, to talk through a problem with your partner? Is the "why" more important than whatever they might have done? The fact is that everyone has secrets, daily conflicts of interest and difficult decisions to make. Getting through a difficult patch is never going to be easy, but it's at least worth working on. And no one should have to put up with being ignored. A lovely, thoughtful little film.

dir Icíar Bollaín
scr Icíar Bollaín, Tatiana Rodríguez
with Najwa Nimri, María Vázquez, Nuria González, Tristán Ulloa, Diego Martín, Adolfo Fernández, Antonio de la Torre, Fernando Cayo, Manuel Morón, Mabel Rivera, Javier Lorenzo, Marilyn Torres
nimri and vazquez release Sp 28.Sep.07,
UK Oct.07 lff
07/Spain Sogecine 1h40

london film fest
15 themes, language
30.Oct.07 lff
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall