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last update 11.Apr.09
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Fig Trees
4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir-scr John Greyson
with Zackie Achmat, Tim McCaskell, Van Abrahams, David Wall, Deborah Overes, Ian Funk, Ezra Perlman, Denise Williams, Jesse Nishita, Justin Bacchus, Ashton Williams, Richard Fung
wall and mccaskell release Ger Feb.09 bff,
UK Mar.09 llgff
09/Canada 1h49

berlin film fest
london l&g film fest
fig trees Clearly a companion piece to 1993's ZERO PATIENCE, Greyson invokes a kaleidoscopic vision of Aids and sexuality using music and humour to make a potent statement. This film isn't hugely accessible, but is a daringly audacious work of art.

The film is an examination of Aids activism, specifically the pioneering work of Tim McCaskell in Canada and Zackie Achmat in South Africa. Both are seen on screen as well as played by actors (Wall and Abrahams), with opera as a motif (cue the Maria Callas clip from Philadelphia) and Gertrude Stein's Four Saints in Three Acts as the centrepiece. In addition to extensive film scenes, there's also a satirical pop music element, as the film counts down the top Aids songs.

Greyson keeps so many things flying through several split-screens that we're rarely sure where to look. The effect is both bewildering and magical, as key details and literally hundreds of images flood our consciousness. Much of the film is laugh-out-loud hilarious, while other scenes are wrenchingly emotional. One powerful chapter of the film is devoted to the important voices that have been snuffed out by Aids.

Besides a collision of images and ideas, this film is also a razor sharp expression of righteous anger over the greed of pharmaceutical companies and government inaction that have resulted in the loss of literally millions of lives. For example, Bono's Red campaign has made more money for corporate sponsors than for Aids relief, but at least he stepped into the gap where politicians should have been. Meanwhile, governments have encouraged the spread of this disease through discriminatory policies and outright violence. Greyson is unafraid to name villains like Thabo Mbeki, as well as heroes from the Bills (Clinton and Gates) to Nelson Mandela.

This is breathtakingly inventive cinema, both lyrically beautiful and passionately outraged. It's actually a little too clever, with so many brilliant elements that it's impossible to take it all in through a single viewing. But it sticks in the head, as stirring images swirl around and will return to mind days, weeks and even months after you've seen it. And it's easily one of the important movies made this (or indeed any) year.

15 themes, language, nudity
9.Feb.09 bff
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Greek Pete
dir-scr Andrew Haig
with Peter Pittaros, Lewis Davis, Tristan Davies, Liam Thompson, Barry Robinson, Robert Day, Craig Wilson, Steve Turner, Rachel Whitbread, Richard Rossetti, Glen Anderson
pittaros release Mar.09 llgff
09/UK 1h19

london l&g film fest
greek pete Shot like a doc but clearly dramatised, this British film about a rentboy is colourfully entertaining, and it definitely has its moments. But it also becomes preachy as it goes on, and struggles to keep its central character engaging.

Pete (Pittaros) is a 24-year-old escort in London trying to raise money to improve his life. He lives with his boyfriend Kai (Lewis), a fellow escort who doesn't find it so easy to separate sex and love. Their life is a blur of clients, drugs and clubs, and Pete thinks he has finally arrived at the pinnacle of his career when he's flown to America to participate in the Escort of the Year competition. But is he really happy?

Throughout the film, everyone talks about how smart Pete is, even though there's no evidence of this. In his conversations to camera and with those around him, he says nothing remotely revealing about himself, and never makes any insightful observations about the world he lives in. He talks about everything in a plainly matter-of-fact way, which does set him apart because the rest of his friends are fairly inarticulate.

But this lack of introspection makes the film feel thin and a bit pointless, especially when it starts getting heavy handed about the "high cost" of his career choice. The way the camera lingers on him suggests Paul Morrissey's Flesh, but while Pittaros is very photogenic and has a certain scruffy charm, he lacks the raw masculinity of Joe Dallesandro. And in his shallow approach to life, he's impossible to like.

Technically the film is quite inventive, as director Haig shows skill with camera placement. But several scenes give away the fact that it's either staged reality or complete play-acting, such as conversations with reaction shots and one clip in which Pete actually lets slip that he's playing a fictional character. In addition, the film is edited roughly, with scenes randomly scattered through the film in such a way that it never quite builds any momentum. This also means that the emotional plot, when it kicks in, doesn't ring true. But as an offhanded examination of a seedy side of society, the film definitely has value.

18 themes, language, strong sexuality, drugs
5.Mar.09 llgff
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Modern Life
3/5   La Vie Moderne
dir Raymond Depardon
with Paul Argaud, Germaine Challaye, Marcel Challaye, Abel Jean Roy, Daniel Jean Roy, Gilberte Jean Roy, Marcel Privat, Raymond Privat, Alain Rouvière, Cécile Rouvière, Amandine Valla, Michel Valla
marcel and germaine challaye release Fr 29.Oct.08,
US Feb.09 piff,
UK 3.Apr.09
08/France 1h28

London Film Fest
modern life As part of his Country Profiles series, Depardon continues to explore the fading world of the rural farmer. And while this film feels utterly obscure and random, it also serves as an intriguing document. And it'll take you somewhere you've probably never been.

With no commentary or probing questions, Depardon takes his camera through the hilly French countryside talking to farmers. The running theme is how they are facing up to the modern world, which is changing their way of life. Many of the people we meet are in their 70s or 80s, including the 88-year-old Marcel Privat, who's having to reduce the size of his flock of sheep because he can't quite keep up with them. There are also younger couples like Amandine and Michel, struggling to start a goat farm and to maintain faith in the future.

Depardon's approach is slow and relaxed. He points his camera at his subjects and asks general questions, then shows their replies without editing. This often means that we get rambling non-answers and long moments of silence, but even these scenes let us see something of the personalities, from the hopes and dreams to the deep frustrations. We also get a vivid picture of the generation gap, which seems to be growing by the day as the younger family members can't work to the higher standards of their parents.

It's fascinating to see these people living in essentially the same way that their ancestors lived thousands of years ago. And Depardon films it all with skill and insight over four seasons, dropping in clips from his documentaries about these same farmers made over the past 20 years. But by taking such a dry, passive approach, he creates a film that is, literally, a document for us to look into and then put back on the shelf. Only a few of these people emerge with what might be called engaging or lively; most are quietly awkward and inarticulate. And if we can't really identify with them, there's nothing about any of their stories that's particularly moving. But as a record, it's an extremely important film.

PG themes, language
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dir Joel Conroy
scr Joel Conroy, Lauren Davies
narr Cillian Murphy
with Kelly Slater, Kevin Naughton, Gabe Davies, Richard Fitzgerald, Chris Malloy, Dan Malloy, Keith Malloy, Easky Britton, Drew Kampion, Craig Peterson, Andrew Hill, Rabbit Kekai
release Ire/UK 3.Apr.09
08/Ireland 1h20
waveriders This intriguing doc, which traces the history of surfing back to Ireland and looks at the current popularity of Irish waves, is packed with enough stunning footage to make it worth watching. But it's only for surfing fans, really.

Most people have no idea that Ireland has a strong surfing connection, not only with the history of the sport (George Freeth, the father of modern surfing, was half Irish and half Hawaiian) but also because of the more recent discovery of some seriously big waves off Ireland's coast, which are being ridden using the latest technology in wetsuits and jet-ski tow-ins. The filmmakers have interviewed a wide range of surfers and experts, including champion Kelly Slater, who calls Ireland "a cold paradise".

The movie is extremely well-made, opening of course with a U2 track (Silver and Gold) and filling the screen with gorgeous images of riders on violent waves under cloudy skies. This is not your average surfing movie; there isn't a palm tree in sight on the severe Atlantic cliffs. But along the way we do get a fairly comprehensive history of the sport as it developed in Hawaii and moved to California. And we also get a remarkable inside glimpse at "soul surfing", looking for great waves wherever they may be.

The footage is terrific, with breathtaking surf action that catches the artistry of the sport rather than just the athleticism. The film centres on the spiritual journey of surfers inspired by the idea of exploration, so of course they are seeking out unexpected and often inaccessible places. Filmmaker Conroy assembles this material beautifully, using superb graphics along with the eye-catching footage.

Many of these scenes are frankly awesome, as surfers ride waves that are so mammoth that they boggle the mind. Their dedication to this lifestyle is fascinating to watch, but in the end the film is basically made for the fans. Besides making the Irish connection, it doesn't tell us anything that more accessible docs like RIDING GIANTS haven't already said. Us nonsurfers feel like outsiders watching this, not quite sure why these men and women are so obsessed with a cold, angry sea, but wishing we could get out there with them.

PG themes, some language
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