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last update 29.May.08
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The Aerial
4/5   La Antena
dir-scr Esteban Sapir
with Rafael Ferro, Julieta Cardinali, Sol Moreno, Alejandro Urdapilleta, Florencia Raggi, Valeria Bertuccelli, Ricardo Merkin, Carlos Piñeiro, Raúl Hochman, Jonathan Sandor, Gustavo Pastorini
raggi and urdapilleta
release Arg 19.Apr.07,
US 25.May.07 siff,
UK 16.May.08
07/Argentina 1h30

la antena Cheeky humour combines with potent politics in this imaginative, quirky Argentine concoction. It may be in black and white with no dialog, but it's one of the most inventive films you'll ever see.

In a mythical city, Mr TV (Urdapilleta) has consolidated power by stealing the voices from the people, who can only communicate through interactive subtitles. Now he's planning to take the words as well, with the help of his big star The Voice (Raggi), a faceless woman who can still sing. What he doesn't know is that she has an eyeless son (Bertuccelli) who has inherited her skill. And that he and Ana (Moreno) are teaming up with Ana's divorced parents (Cardinali and Ferro) to thwart Mr TV's evil plan.

This fable is vividly told with clever monochrome cinematography, expressive performances and witty production values that are packed with playful references to everything from Méliès' Voyage to the Moon to Gilliam's Brazil, with strong echoes of Guy Maddin. Every character is a bundle of surprises, each with their own limitations and special abilities. And along with the cheeky subtitles, there are constant symbols on-screen, such as the ubiquitous spiral logo of the TV corporation (now what could that be echoing?).

While the central totalitarianism allegory can be read on many levels, the film is also a fairly raucous adventure following this rag-tag group of unlikely heroes as they try to thwart Mr TV's evil plan. The actors almost function as puppets for writer-director Sapir, who puts them into outrageous, digitally enhanced costumes, make-up and sets. And yet the actors manage to inject real energy and emotion into their roles, as well as constantly hilarious touches.

The invention on display here seems to know no bounds, as each scene is packed with tiny, telling details. Yes, it's all rather scruffy and bizarre, but the solid characterisations and resonant themes make it thoroughly engaging, and even haunting afterwards. The idea that a society's voice can be silenced is terrifying, and it's even scarier to think of complete thought-control. And yet both of these things are actually happening through political correctness and manipulative TV reporting. As this film reaffirms, having a voice means both freedom and chaos. And we can't afford to lose either.

PG themes, violence, innuendo
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Memories of Matsuko
dir-scr Tetsuya Nakashima
with Miki Nakatani, Eita, Yusuke Iseya, Asuka Kurosawa, Teruyuki Kagawa, Mikako Ichikawa, Akira Emoto, Gori, Shinji Takeda, YosiYosi Arakawa, Hitori Gekidan, Kankuro Kudo
roman release Jap 27.May.06,
US Jul.07 nyaff,
UK 13.Jun.08
06/Japan 2h10

Opening film:
memories of matsuko Lively and almost overpoweringly colourful, this intimate Japanese epic traces a life with remarkable humanity. Its scope makes it feel like a hip, iPod-generation Citizen Kane, examining the value of one person's existence.

Shou (Eita) is a 20-year-old slacker living in Tokyo who finds out that he had a crazy hermit aunt, Matsuko (Nakatani), living nearby and that she's been murdered. While the cops look for the killer, Shou tries to find out who she was, meeting people who knew her over the years and piecing together a series of violent boyfriends and colourful confidants through her years as a schoolteacher, nightclub "hostess", Yakuza wife, hairdresser and jailbird. And the more he learns, the more Shou realises that this was actually an extraordinary woman.

Writer-director Nakashima soaks the film in the images and moods of pop culture, contrasting the vibrancy of youth with the more sober (or not so sober) realities of middle age, and realising that everyone shares a common fear of the future. From the 1930s Technicolor-style credits, the film is a riot of colour, music, themes and big ideas, with characters who are all bursting with personality. As we move through Matsuko's life, scenes are silly, scary, sexy, tragic and even musical.

We're completely gripped by Matsuko's visceral reactions to what happens around her (singing whenever she's happy, pulling a goofy face when she's frightened), and her skills at reinventing herself every time her life seems to be over. And Nakatani plays her with a remarkable range of emotions as a woman misjudged, betrayed and ill-treated, and yet she's a gritty survivor.

For such a flurry of colour, this is a surprisingly sophisticated movie, with complex characters and situations adding depth to the lush visuals and busy production style. By immersing us in Matsuko's experience, we begin to understand why a woman might be drawn to a violent man--but this is never preachy or issue-oriented, it's emotional and real. And so are the undercurrents of guilt, redemption and raw tenacity. Yes, it's overlong, indulgent and chaotic, but it's also gorgeous comment on how the measure of a life transcends how someone lives or dies.

18 themes, language, violence, grisliness
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4.5/5   MUST must see SEE
dir Sergei Bodrov
scr Arif Aliyev, Sergei Bodrov
with Tadanobu Asano, Sun Honglei, Khulan Chuluun, Amadu Mamadakov, Aliya, Odnyam Odsuren, Bayertsetseg Erdenebat, Ba Sen, Bu Ren, Ba Te, Ying Bai, Sun Ben Hon
asano release UK/US 6.Jun.08
07/Kazakstan X-Filme 2h00

mongol The grand scale of this 12th century epic makes it thoroughly enveloping, as it traces the rise of the man who would become Genghis Khan. But even better than the gigantic production values are the engaging characters.

Temudjin (Odsuren then Asano) is a strong-willed 9-year-old whose life is thrown into chaos when his clan-leader father (Sen) is murdered. As the khan apparent, Temudjin must go into hiding from his rival Targutai (Mamadakov). And over the following decades, he's repeatedly sold into slavery, collecting loyal friends with each escape. These include his feisty wife Borte (Chuluun) and his blood brother Jamukha (Sun). But Temudjin and Jamukha are too independent to work together, and after each raises a mighty army it's inevitable that they will have to face off in battle.

Russian filmmaker Bodrov strikes a terrifically entertaining balance between the huge spectacle and intimate drama. The vast landscapes fill the big screen in all their dusty, icy glory, as Bodrov stages epic battle scenes that make The Lord of the Rings look almost quaint. Meanwhile, Temudjin's internal journey has a thoughtfulness that we rarely see in a film of this size. This is due to the combination of a rich script and Asano's cleverly layered performance as a fierce, principled man haunted by internal demons.

And the side characters are just as appealing, most notably Chuluun who, in her first acting role, injects so much wit and energy that the film almost feels dry when she's not in the frame. And Sun is just as edgy and complicated as Temudjin's loyal friend and tenacious nemesis. This unlikely trio of actors--Japanese, Mongolian and Chinese--are simply brilliant together, as their differing physicality adds to the film's vivid texture.

As the story progresses, the screen is filled with astonishingly nasty raids, vicious fights and more swords, spears and arrows that you could ever count. Many sequences carry an almost mythical tone, from big battlefields to steely stand-offs to quiet drama. These are people who exist by sheer force of will, and when Temudjin says he's willing to kill half of Mongolia's population to teach them respect for the law, we know he's not exaggerating. And we look forward to Bodrov and company tackling the next chapter of his life.

15 strong violence, language, sexuality
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dir Mårlind/Stein
scr Måns Mårlind
with Eric Ericson, Eva Röse, Jonas Karlsson, Sasha Becker, Oscar Akermo, Adam Lundgren, Niclas Larsson, Christian Hollbrink, Sofia Hvittfeldt, Jacqueline Ramel, Karl Norrhäll, Matias Padin Varela
ericson release Swe 20.Jan.06,
UK 19.May.08 dvd
05/Sweden 1h40
storm Stylish and fast-paced, this is a Sweden blending of The Matrix and Resident Evil, with a bit of psychotherapy thrown in. Alas, if the central character had been more sympathetic, it might have the emotional kick it's clearly straining for.

DD (Ericson) is a slacker journalist in Stockholm who has an encounter with the frightened Lova (Röse), who's running from a strange man (Karlsson) and his gang of bald thugs. She turns up at DD's flat later, and soon he embarks on a quest that centres around a white cube Lova gives him, plus a videogame based on the Storm comic books. But there's more to it, as DD travels to his hometown in the country and starts reliving childhood memories, all while Lova and the mystery man struggle to influence his decisions.

Big ideas swirl throughout this film, from parallel-world motifs to repressed internal emotions DD is forced to face up to while he tries to figure out how to accomplish his quest. But all of the vivid effects work and heavy symbolism is a bit much, especially since we figure out the general direction this is heading quite quickly. We could never predict the ultimate gyrations of the plot, some of which is genuinely surprising, but when the final shoes start to drop (and there are a few of them), we don't really care much, because nothing in the script has properly prepared us for the information that's being revealed.

Even so, directors Mårlind and Stein keep the film dark and foreboding from the start, while stirring in a lot of quirky humour and dialog that's sharp and witty. The more we see into DD's inner turmoil, the less shifty and creepy he looks. But Eriscon's gripping performance isn't enough to keep us engaged when the screenplay is so fragmented, hip and cool that it neglects to create a character we care about. As a result, the film feels pretentious and shallow, almost as cocky and annoying as DD is. And the emotional resonance at the end isn't quite enough to win us over.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall