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last update 2.Nov.08
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Buddha Collapsed out of Shame
dir Hana Makhmalbaf
scr Marziyeh Meshkini
with Nikbakht Noruz, Abbas Alijome, Abdolali Hoseinali
release US April.08 ffdc,
UK 25.Jul.08
07/Iran 1h21


buddha collapsed out of shame Vividly depicting the struggles of life in Afghanistan, 19-year-old filmmaker Makhmalbaf uses a story about young children to explore much bigger issues. The film is scruffy and simple, but packs a powerful punch.

In a formerly Buddhist region of Afghanistan, Baktay (Noruz) is a tiny girl, age 6-ish, who's determined to show her neighbour Abbas (Alijome) that she's just as good as he is. She needs a notebook to attend school, so she heads into town to sell some eggs, and after an elaborate series of trades buys the notebook, but has to use her mum's lipstick as a pencil. Then a group of boys playing Taliban games catch her with the lipstick and imprison her in a cave. Eventually escaping, her struggle continues in the girls' school.

Shot on video with non-actors, the film feels thoroughly authentic. And by viewing the society through children's eyes, the filmmakers can explore some seriously intense themes. And the reality is pretty grim. When the "Taliban" surround Baktay, put her in a grave and raise stones to kill her for showing her hair, the tragedy is almost overpowering. Then they proceed to humiliate Abbas for trying to rescue her, while Baktay discovers a cave-full of other girls, all in paper-bag burkhas, imprisoned for such infractions as chewing gum.

Yes, it's a little heavy handed, but the filmmakers make their points gently, keeping the focus on the kids and the truth that underscores their games. Even when the acting gets a bit stiff, the realism of the situation keeps us gripped. The children are so small, witty and cute that we can't help but be drawn into their world. And we're horrified at the cruelty and bigotry that's part of their everyday life.

The settings are shown with remarkable clarity. The cliff wall dotted with caves, in which both Baktay and Abbas live, also used to house a gigantic Buddha carving, which we see destroyed by Muslims in archive footage. Buildings are in ruins, and the surrounding area is bleak and desolate, but splashed with colourful signs of life. In the middle of this, these children have a tenacious yearning for knowledge, peace and justice. And while the film is hopeful, it's also realistic enough to say that achieving any of these things is going to be a miracle.

PG themes, violence
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OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies
3.5/5     Le Caire, Nid d’Espions
dir Michel Hazanavicius
scr Jean-François Halin, Michel Hazanavicius
with Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Aure Atika, Philippe Lefebvre, Laurent Bateau, Constantin Alexandrov, François Damiens, Youssef Hamid, Saïd Amadis, Claude Brosset, Eric Prat
bejo and dujardin release Fr 19.Apr.06,
US 9.May.08,
UK 7.Nov.08
06/France Gaumont 1h39

See also:
OSS 117: LOST IN RIO (2009)
OSS 117 Like a French Austin Powers, secret agent OSS 117 operates in a wacky parallel universe, poking gleeful fun at James Bond. The film is extremely well-designed, with some terrific acting, but it does stretch the joke a bit thin.

In 1955, Hubert (Dujardin) is a suave French agent assigned to investigate the death of long-time spy pal Jack (Lefebvre) in Cairo, which is overrun with operatives from Britain (Bateau) and Russia (Alexandrov), plus a military-minded imam (Hamid) and a disgruntled princess (Atika). His local contact is the sexy Larmina (Bejo), who bats away his innuendo like an annoying fly. It doesn't help that he's completely oblivious to the local culture. And as he stumbles to the bottom of the mystery, he barely notices that everyone's closing in on him.

The film looks amazing technically, with an impeccable recreation of 1960s-vintage spy movies, from washed-out colours, simplistic locations and rear-screen projection to groovy music and scantily clad girls. Into this, the filmmakers stir more innuendo than seems humanly possible, but it's all delivered in a deadpan way as if Hubert has no idea what he's implying. He certainly has a way with the ladies, but he also remembers his happy days with Jack just a little too fondly. Dujardin plays the character with an enthusiastic glee that's utterly disarming, both to us and to everyone Hubert meets. With his arched eyebrows, ludicrous moustache and a love of both fighting and singing, there's more than a touch of Inspector Clouseau about him.

Where the film rises above mere pastiche is in the period themes it throws around so brazenly. Hubert is openly racist, chauvinist and imperialistic, and these attitudes are played in bone-dry, very silly ways while still making the point. At other times, the dialog runs away in outrageous wordplay, such as the tense conversation in which he duals another man with aphorisms and metaphors. And this winking approach extends to action scenes with obviously rubber knives and breakaway chairs. Yes, all this zaniness starts to get old as the plot becomes increasingly complicated. But it's so consistently hilarious that we can't help but love it.

15 themes, language, some violence
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Slumdog Millionaire
5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Danny Boyle
scr Simon Beaufoy
with Dev Patel, Madhur Mittal, Freida Pinto, Tanay Chheda, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Rubina Ali, Irrfan Khan, Anil Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Mia Inderbitzin, Shruti Seth, Imran Hasnee
patel release US 12.Nov.08,
UK 23.Jan.09
08/UK Pathe-Film4 2h00

28th Shadows Awards

london Film Fest
slumdog millionaire A blast of raw, colourful energy elevates this gritty tale into one of the most enjoyable films of the year. And the fact that it also highlights some striking cultural issues makes it one of the most important as well.

After his success on India's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Jamal (Patel) is grabbed by a tenacious detective (Khan) and interrogated to find out if he was cheating. After all, what could a kid from the slums possibly know? But as they go through the show's questions, they find the answers in Jamal's childhood (played by Chheda as a teen) with his brother Salim (Ismail then Mittal) in a Mumbai slum, then their escape and further adventures with their "third musketeer" Latika (Ali then Pinto), whom Jamal continues to search for after she vanishes.

Beaufoy's script is a clever balancing act between the police station, TV show and Jamal's life at various stages. The nine actors who play the three central characters (as children, teens and young adults) give raw, believable performances, all anchored by Patel's compelling presence. These are vivid characters who have strongly distinct personalities with delicate shadings. Each of them has an inner yearning that we can't help but identify with. Even when Salim chooses a darker path.

Indeed, the story takes quite a few bleak turns, via the grotesquely manipulative orphanage boss Maman and the present-day violence of an urban mob kingpin. Some of these scenes are downright horrific, although Boyle is careful not to indulge in the violence. Rather, he keeps the focus finely on the humanity Jamal works so hard to see. And he also makes sure the film bristles with life through hilarious adventures, frightening scrapes and frantic chase scenes (everyone in the country seems to be after them) through vibrant slums, the dump, along the rails, in the city.

Along the way there are echoes of Trainspotting in the film's pacing and Oliver Twist in the orphans' odyssey, which is seen through the filter of economic injustice: these low-caste people are worth less than dogs in this society. And as the script inventively weaves everything together in the final act, our hearts nearly burst for them. The tension of the closing sequences is nearly overwhelming, and Boyle and his cast manage one of the best endings in memory without ever getting sentimental at all.

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S

slumdog millionaire Gary Walton, Newcastle: 4.5/5 "I was enthralled by this film, even though i knew exactly how it would end it kept me entertained the whole way through. great soundtrack too." (7.Feb.09)
12 themes, language, violence
30.Oct.08 lff
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The Warlords
dir Peter Ho-Sun Chan
scr Xu Lan, Chun Tin-Nam, Aubery Lam, Huang Jian Xin, Jojo Hui, He Jiping, Guo Jun Li, James Yuen
with Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Xu Jinglei, Gu Bao-ming, Guo Xiaodong, Zhou Bo, Wang Yachao
lau, li and kaneshiro release Chn 12.Dec.07,
UK 7.Nov.08, US 2.Apr.10
07/China 2h07

london Film Fest
the warlords This epic retelling of a true story from the Qing dynasty is packed with gripping themes and beautifully played characters. Big and raw, it also feels slightly rambling, perhaps trying to tell too much in one go.

In 1860s China, three very different men take a blood oath to work together to overthrow a vicious rebel army. Pang (Li) is the lone survivor of his own army, Zhao (Lau) leads a feisty group of honourable bandits, and Jiang (Kaneshiro) is a loyal and idealistic outlaw. Despite frequent disagreements about the rules of war, these blood brothers make dangerous alliances and take on impossible battles. And their bond is pushed to the breaking point. Especially when Pang discovers that the woman he loves (Xu) happens to also be Zhao's wife.

The collision of these three personalities is fascinating to watch, as their distinct senses of loyalty and honour are stretched and tested to the breaking point. If they stick together, they have the power to change the course of history, but we can't see how they'll manage to overcome their profoundly different approaches to diplomacy and warfare. Not to mention that nagging love triangle. The three powerhouse actors bring these men to life beautifully.

And of course, they also dive into the action scenes with gusto. This is a meaty movie packed with gritty realism and sumptuous production design that makes the most of the dust and smoke in the blackened-gold landscapes. The brutal battles often resemble Saving Private Ryan's D-Day assault, with body parts flying as emotions run high. The fights are fiercely well-choreographed, most notably a vicious swordfight, which isn't a surprise considering the extensive experience of director Chan and action coordinator Ching Siu-Tung (House of Flying Daggers).

Each sequence in the film contains a remarkable story all its own. Although as the film continues, the sheer number of battles starts to wear us out, as does the increasingly complicated political situation. On the other hand, the moral dilemmas are hugely compelling, reducing these tough men to sobbing wrecks who must make some extremely nasty decisions, especially after one of them makes a deal with the enemy.

15 themes, strong violence
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall