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Indies, foreigns, docs, videos, revivals and shorts...

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last update 31.Jul.09
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Broken Embraces
4/5   Los Abrazos Rotos
dir-scr Pedro Almodóvar
prd Esther García
with Penélope Cruz, Lluís Homar, Blanca Portillo, José Luis Gómez, Tamar Novas, Rubén Ochandiano, Chus Lampreave, Chema Ruiz, Kiti Manver, Alejo Sauras, Carmen Machi, Mariola Fuentes
homar and cruz release Sp 18.Mar.09,
UK 28.Aug.09, US 20.Nov.09
09/Spain Universal 2h09

broken embraces Perhaps not as dazzling as Almodovar's masterpieces, this film is still an involving and sleekly well-made melodrama touching on his usual themes of romance, death and parentage. It also has some terrific noir touches as it dips into ambition and revenge.

Mateo (Homar) is a filmmaker who, after going blind, has locked himself in his Madrid flat writing scripts with Diego (Novas), son of his loyal agent (Portillo). Then he hears of the death of wealthy financier Ernesto (Gomez), who 14 years earlier had bankrolled a film project starring his trophy mistress Lena (Cruz), who was desperate to get out of the relationship. Back then, as Lena and Mateo started spending rather too much time together, Ernesto sent his teen son (Ochandiano) to follow them, ostensibly to film a making-of doc.

Like TALK TO HER or BAD EDUCATION, the movie has a simmering dramatic tone rather than the broad, expressive emotion of other Almodovar films. But the growing mystery is thoroughly involving, as the fragmented structure brings out telling details and allows the characters to emerge vividly. The cast is excellent, with Homar holding the film together through understatement, and Cruz delivering another delightfully engaging turn as a complex woman caught in tricky circumstances.

And it looks fantastic. Rodrigo Prieto's sharp cinematography cleverly echoes the movie-making setting through mirrors, frames and video screens while echoing film classics with wit and emotion. The sound mix is just as inventive, playfully using the art of cinema to make effective points about perspective. And Almodovar also plays with the movies' voyeuristic allure, as the characters all seem to be keeping an eye on each other. And what they see might not be the truth.

Almodovar continues to twist things right up to the end, dropping in big and small revelations that redefine relationships and situations. The final act may feel like it peters out without an emotional kick, but there's a beautiful sense of what might have been if things hadn't taken such a fateful turn 14 years earlier. This is a bold, perhaps too subtle conclusion to such an elegantly made movie, but once it gets into your head, you can't stop thinking about it.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Coco Before Chanel
3.5/5   Coco Avant Chanel
dir Anne Fontaine
scr Anne Fontaine, Camille Fontaine
prd Caroline Benjo, Philippe Carcassonne, Carole Scotta
with Audrey Tautou, Benoit Poelvoorde, Alessandro Nivola, Marie Gillain, Emmanuelle Devos, Lisa Cohen, Regis Royer, Etienne Bartholomeus, Yan Duffas, Roch Leibovici, Marie Parouty, Jean-Chrétien Sibertin-Blanc nivola and tautou release Fr 22.Apr.09,
UK 31.Jul.09, US 25.Sep.09
09/France Haut et Court 1h55
coco before chanel This biopic kind of dwells on the misery in Coco Chanel's life, but it's a strong story of a woman who made her own way against all odds. And it's skilfully and beautifully filmed and acted.

After her mother died in 1895, Gabrielle Chanel (Cohen) moves into orphanage, where nuns teach her how to sew. As soon as she's 18 (now Tautou), she becomes a bar singer with her sister (Gillain) and is dubbed "Coco" after her signature song. Even now she's rebelling against the constricting clothes of the day, and when she becomes the mistress of the wealthy Etienne Balsan (Poelvoorde), she has clear ideas about her own life. What she doesn't expect is that she'll fall for his friend Boy Capel (Nivola).

Director-cowriter Fontaine tells this story like Chanel's fashion style: elegant and detailed, but without frills. The film takes us through these early years in a somewhat dispassionate way, only drawing emotion from Tautou's mesmerising performance. She conveys a sharp, opinionated intelligence even as Coco knows her place in society. And as she quietly evolves to the moment she becomes the Coco we remember, Tautou keeps the character consistently engaging without sacrificing any of her inner toughness.

Fontaine doesn't shrink from portraying this male-dominated society: men treated women like possessions. So Coco was a true revolutionary, going against the grain to become the first major female designer. Fontaine makes sure the period detail is sleek and gorgeously recreated, with actors who aren't afraid to show the dark sides of their characters. There are moments of levity, but powerful scenes between Tautou, Poelvoorde and Gillain reveal a shadowy complexity.

The problem is that the film feels a bit gloomy as a result; Coco seems melancholic even when she's smiling. And this carries through to the limited colour scheme, as well as Coco's simple clothing in a time when women wore outrageous frills. But watching closely, we can see Coco in control of her life, even though the men around her thought she was theirs. And into this world, Nivola's Boy is a breath of fresh air, a rare man who can see her for who she is. So where their story goes can't help but move us.

12 themes, innuendo
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District 13: Ultimatum
3.5/5   Banlieue 13: Ultimatum
dir Patrick Alessandrin
scr-prd Luc Besson
with David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli, Philippe Torreton, Daniel Duval, Pierre-Marie Mosconi, Elodie Yung, MC Jean Gab'1, Laouni Mouhid, Fabrice Feltzinger, Patrick Steltzer, Sophie Ducasse, Moussa Maaskri
belle and raffaelli release Fr 18.Feb.09,
US 12.Jun.09 dvd,
UK 2.Oct.09
09/France Europa 1h41

See also:
DISTRICT 13 (2004)
district 13: ultimatum Luc Besson and pals are back with another crazed action movie that, despite its ludicrous plotting, keeps us entertained with sheer energy and wit. And the central duo is turning into a pretty good movie team.

It's been three years since the super-fit cop Damien (Raffaelli) teamed up with the shady, athletic Leito (Belle) to bring the government to its knees. Predictably, nothing has changed since then and in 2013, France's new president (Torreton) is convinced to take drastic actions against the violent thugs in District 13. Except that the whole scenario has been staged by the secret security service, led by the mysterious Gassman (Duval) and his top goon Roland (Mosconi), who try to do away with Damien and Leito (as if!), in order to enact their evil plan.

The parallels to the current global political situation aren't even trying to be subtle. The secret service is clearly Homeland Security, District 13 is clearly any part of the planet that refuses to toe the line, and the script actually mentions a company called "Harriburton" as the private contractors who will go in and rebuild a more pro-government middle-class neighbourhood on the ruins of the district. And of course the population of the district are a melange of happy (and well-organised) ethnicities including Africans, Arabs, Asians, Gypsies and, erm, skinheads.

But the main reason for this film to exist is to give Belle and Raffaelli a chance to show their stuff, and that they do. The action choreography is frenetically good fun, as they jump and fly, flip and slide, and find time in between to crack some baddie skulls. The chase scenes are breathlessly exciting, while the fight scenes are muscly and intense, all accompanied by a pounding score and rendered with constantly moving camerawork.

There's a definite music video aesthetic at work here, as everything is deeply gritty, with lots of fast and slow motion effects, plus rippling near-naked bodies everywhere. Just when you think it's become shamelessly misogynistic, we meet Asian leader Tao (Yung) and her killer ponytail. Not to mention the fantastic early sequence with Damien in skimpy drag as he takes out an entire gang of thugs. In other words, don't think too much. Just sit back and enjoy the carnage.

15 themes, language, violence
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Katalin Varga
4.5/5   MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Peter Strickland
prd Oana Giurgiu, Tudor Giurgiu, Peter Strickland
with Hilda Péter, Tibor Pálffy, Norbert Tankó, Melinda Kántor, Sebastian Marina, Roberto Giacomello, László Mátray, Eniko Szabó, Attila Kozma, Zsolt Páll, Florin Vidamski, Fatma Mohamed
release UK 9.Oct.09
09/Romania 1h22

Berlin Film Fest
Edinburgh Film Fest
katalin varga Artistic and insightful, this sharply well-made film has an emotional resonance that becomes thoroughly haunting as the story travels to places we don't expect it to go. A sense of foreboding terror keeps us gripped, as does an underlying hope.

After a dark secret comes out, Katalin (Peter) takes her bright 10-year-old son Orban (Tanko) and leaves her loving husband Zsigmond (Matray) on an enigmatic journey across Romania. Orban thinks they're going to see his grandmother, but Katalin is on a mission as she tracks down the married Gergely (Giacomello) and plays along as he tries to seduce her. Soon she and Orban are on the run followed by an angry mob, heading for an isolated village where they have an unexpected encounter with Antal (Palffy) and his wife Etelka (Kantor).

Watching Katalin's odyssey is often uncomfortable, as she confronts a dark truth after years of hoping it would never emerge into the light of day. First-time British filmmaker Strickland gives the story a mythical quality, as Katalin and her son travel by horse-drawn cart even though this isn't a period film (she also has a mobile phone). This bleak pilgrimage to reluctantly face the past is punctuated by both tenderness and violence. And as a result, Katalin's quest becomes derailed in revelatory ways, right up to the gasp-inducing final shot.

Peter gives a subtle, layered performance, fully inhabiting this strong, wild, vulnerable woman who's willing to do whatever it takes to protect her son. Several scenes play out like a thriller, while others overflow with emotion. The scene in which she tells her story, in astonishing detail, while on a boat ride with Antal and Etelka is pure cinematic magic--both unnerving and deeply moving. And all of the characters feel fully formed.

Strickland captures each scene with inventive camerawork (by cinematographer Mark Gyori) that weaves nature into the fabric of Katalin's journey. The settings are evoked with a fine use of light and shadow, plus a cleverly unsettling sound mix that blends tonal music with ambient noise. Altogether, this effectively captures both the large and small stories: an old culture in which people have lived the same way for generations, and the tale of an innocent young girl who grew up to discover a big bad world where redemption doesn't come cheap.

15 themes, violence
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall