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On this page: DELTA | FUNUKE

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last update 8.May.09
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dir Kornél Mundruczó
scr Yvette Biro, Kornél Mundruczó
with Félix Lajkó, Orsolya Tóth, Lili Monori, Sándor Gáspár, Martin Wuttke
lajko and toth release Hun 11.Sep.08,
US Apr.09 sfiff,
UK 8.May.09
08/Hungary 1h32


London L&G Film Fest
delta Muted and very dark, this isn't an easy film to like, as it continually evades our glance, telling the story as if out of the corner of an eye. But it's a startlingly gripping tale, beautifully shot and edited.

Mihail (Lajko) is a young man who returns to his hometown in an isolated Danube delta and sets about building a home on the river near his late father's cabin. His mother (Monori) is happy to see him and introduces him to Fauna (Toth), the sister he's never met. But his new stepdad (Gaspar) is immediately suspicious and stirs local mistrust until everyone is sure brother and sister are up to no good, shacking up together down on the river.

The man-vs-nature theme is extremely strong from the beginning, as the camera positions the characters against the elements. The film has a rough, earthy, rain-soaked tone similar to There Will Be Blood, and just like that film, we're pretty sure this one isn't going to end happily. It also clearly shows the influence of Hungarian filmmaking guru Bela Tarr (an advisor on this film) with its long tracking shots and virtually wordless scenes. Meanwhile, director Mundruczo keeps the imagery lush and textured, with deep colours and heavy shadows.

All of this echoes the suppressed emotions in this community, which is so small that everyone is involved in each others' lives. Most of the neighbours rally round to help Mihail and Fauna as they build a house on stilts in the middle of the river. But in this place, we can understand why it might be unsettling for a brother and sister to cohabitate, as well as why their mother doesn't really mind. At the same time, the stepdad's jealousy is much darker stuff, and even as it is expressed in startlingly nasty ways, we know much worse is to come.

Through all of this, Mundruczo's direction is insinuating and subtle, carefully catching important perspectives while also keeping us at arm's length, like outsiders. Through our eyes, these people look oddly primitive, living in such close contact with their surroundings, eating and often interacting in ways that seem eerily animalistic. So of course we would never want to cross them. No wonder this has been called Hungary's Deliverance.

18 themes, violence, nudity
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Funuke: Show Some Love, You Losers!
dir-scr Daihachi Yoshida
with Eriko Sato, Aimi Satsukawa, Masatoshi Nagase, Hiromi Nagasaku, Ryotaro Yonemura, Hiroshi Yamamoto, Nobumichi Tosa, Koichi Ueda Shoichiro Tanigawa, Seiji Nozoe, Nahoko Yoshimoto, Koichiro Yuzawa
sato, satsukawa, nagasaku and nagase
release Jpn 7.Jul.07,
UK 1.May.09
07/Japan 1h52

funuke Flooded with brightly streaming sunshine, this dark Japanese comedy cuts knowingly through family interaction with a strikingly involving story that constantly surprises us.

Kyomi (Satsukawa) is an asthmatic 18-year-old stunned when she witnesses the accidental death of her parents. Now living with her brother Shinji (Nagase) and his timid, oppressed wife Machiko (Nagasaku), she's horrified when her monstrous older sister Sumika (Sato) comes home after failing to make it as an actress in Tokyo. Sumika is a tyrant, demanding that everything revolve around her. But everyone in this family has a turbulent past, and they're only going to take her spoiled-brat behaviour for so long.

The title indicates a person who has no guts, and the film examines how family members exert an almost indefinable control over each other. The cast members play this perfectly, including telling flashbacks that give us their back-stories. Satsukawa gives a Kyomi wonderfully quiet resilience as she draws her sister into an outrageous manga. Nagase portrays the troubled Shinji with real pathos; even though he's a violent thug, we understand he's under serious pressure. Nagasaku gives the orphaned Machiko an intriguingly awkward yearning desire to please her new family.

And at the centre of the storm, Sato is a force of nature, turning Sumika into a remarkably complex anti-hero who manipulates anyone she meets, blames everyone for her own failures, and is willing to do anything to achieve her goals. This extends to a few murderous rampages that are deeply chilling. And as she prowls around the house with her slightly too-slender frame and hungry eyes, we worry about the state of this family even as we can't help but smile at the raw irony the filmmaker pours into each scene.

Writer-director Yoshida has a wonderful grip on the story, keeping the tone razor sharp, with colourful imagery and pitch-black humour that brilliantly brings out the instability of the characters. Even as the plot drags a bit, there are several laugh-out-loud moments that have a remarkably unsettling undercurrent. In the end, besides being a lacerating look at family dynamics, the film is a superb satire of how some people will do anything for fame. Or love.

15 themes, violence, language
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O’ Horten
dir-scr Bent Hamer
with Bard Owe, Espen Skjonberg, Ghita Norby, Henny Moan, Bjorn Floberg, Kai Remlov, Per Jansen, Peder Anders Lohne Hamer, Bjarte Hjelmeland, Kari Loland, Gard B Eidsvold, Trond-Viggo Torgersen
owe and skjonberg release Nor 26.Dec.07,
UK 8.May.09, US 15.May.09
07/Norway 1h31


o'horten With vivid characters and a remarkably understated filmmaking style, Norwegian filmmaker Hamer (Factotum) tells a charming story of a man on the verge of retirement who rediscovers that there's still a lot of life left in him.

Odd Horten (Owe) is retiring after 40 years as a train conductor. At age 67, his life has become a series of rituals that will have to be broken. And on the evening of his retirement party, he has a series of encounters with a variety of offbeat people, including an eccentric drunk diplomat (Skjonberg), a frightened young boy (Hamer) and a friend (Floberg) who wants to buy his boat. All of these encounters are wry and slight. And utterly life-changing.

The film is structured as a collection of anecdotes as Odd goes from one encounter to the next between his party and his last train run from Oslo to Bergen. Along the way we learn the details of his systematic life, including the woman (Moan) who takes care of him in Bergen, and we feel his general unease about the future. But then something wonderful happens as he quietly opens his eyes to the hitherto unseen world around him. And Owe underplays each scene beautifully, catching tiny details as he invites us into Odd's world.

Writer-director Hamer is terrific at letting scenes play out in their own time, without ever pushing anything. While the events of the film feel almost fable-like in the way they surround and define the central character's life, there's also not a moment that's false. From the engineers' hilarious "choo-choo woo-woo" salute to the old drunk's insistence that he can drive through Oslo blindfolded, these people and situations are both surreal and solidly grounded in real life.

And the dryly hilarious tone is perfect for catching Odd's inner life. When he gets up the nerve to go skinny-dipping, his boyishness is remarkable. When he ends up wearing red stilettos, we understand that his soul is shifting. His odyssey is packed with dreamlike touches and virtually silent charm. And as he finally faces his demons and begins to really live, the film gently encourages us to look at our own lives in a new way.

12 themes, brief nudity
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Rudo y Cursi
dir-scr Carlos Cuarón
with Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, Guillermo Francella, Jessica Mas, Dolores Heredia, Adriana Paz, Salvador Zerboni, Alfredo Alfonso, Tania Esmeralda Aguilar, Fermin Martínez, Eduardo Von, Axel Ricco
garcia and luna release Mex 19.Dec.08,
US 8.May.09, UK 26.Jun.09
08/Mexico 1h42

Edinburgh Film Fest
rudo y cursi This bright, energetic comedy-drama reunites Garcia and Luna seven years after Y Tu Mama Tambien for a raucous tale of two brothers dealing with fame. The plot is a bit over-structured, but the filmmaking is thoroughly enjoyable.

Tato (Garcia) and his brother Beto (Luna) live in a small town, where Beto, nicknamed Rudo (tough), is married to Tonia (Paz) and has two small kids and Tato dreams of becoming a singing sensation. Then Tato is spotted by a football scout (Francella) and taken to Mexico City to play with the pros. The media nickname him Cursi (fancy). Beto follows soon, and both struggle with the pressures of fame--Tato with a sexy TV-star girlfriend (Mas) and Beto with gambling problems. And they're about to face off in the match of their life.

The film captures the football's global grassroots, as we meet these characters working in a banana plantation and devoting every spare minute to soccer. Like everyone, they have very big dreams. But even when their big breaks come along, it doesn't play out as imagined. While maintaining a light, comical tone, writer-director Cuaron (Alfonso's brother, intriguingly) never shies from the dark reality.

Garcia and Luna are a terrific double-act, making the most of the script's bristling humour as the brothers become national sensations. From success on the pitch to Tato's hilarious music videos (including a polka version of I Want You to Want Me), then dipping into gambling and drug addiction, both actors keep their characters firmly grounded. They're believable and likeable, and we never give up hope for them to sort themselves out and find what's really important.

Underneath the lively, often in-your-face plot, the film is a bracing examination of the difference between talent and passion. And it takes a perhaps too-telling turn when the boys' big sister (Aguilar) marries the local gangster (Alfonso). Everyone in this story is straining for more than they have--success, fame, money, power. And the film's relaxed, scruffy style is perfect for capturing the irony of their situations. Because essentially they were much happier before all of this began. And even though the big final match feels like the end of the world, it's only a game. Maybe.

15 themes, language, sexuality, drugs
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall