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On this page: KINATAY | MICMACS

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last update 22.Oct.09
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dir Brillante Mendoza
scr Armando Lao
prd Didier Costet, Ferdinand Lapuz
with Coco Martin, Maria Isabel Lopez, Mercedes Cabral, Jhong Hilario, Julio Diaz, John Regala, Lauren Novero, Mark Meily
martin release Ph 23.Sep.09,
UK Oct.09 lff
09/Philippines 1h45

london film festival
kinatay Hinging on a strong moral dilemma, this gritty Filipino drama is so brutal that we sometimes lose track of the point the filmmaker is trying to make. It's a harrowing journey that forces us to put ourselves into a nasty situation.

Peping (Martin) and his girlfriend Cecille (Cabral) are having a good day, dropping off their baby son with an aunt before heading off to get married. Then Peping heads for the police academy, where he's studying criminology. Since being a cop doesn't earn enough to pay the bills, Peping is already supplementing his income with the help his drug-dealer friend Abyong (Hilario). But tonight Abjong takes Peping along with a gang of off-duty cops who are meting out a brutal punishment on a hooker (Lopez) who hasn't paid her debt.

As things get increasingly horrible (the title is the Tagalog word for "butchered"), Peping has several decisions to make: does he run away, does he help the woman, or does he notify the authorities? There are mitigating circumstances for every one of these, and as his odyssey progresses the central issue becomes Peping's backbone: does he have the courage to stand up against evil, or is his society so corrupt that it has left him unable to do the right thing?

These are very heavy questions for a film that essentially doesn't have a plot. It covers 24 eventful hours in Peping's life, during which he goes through a particularly gruelling trial by fire. But the message is conveyed with a somewhat heavy handed. Even so, Mendoza has a terrific eye for detail, using skilful camerawork and sharp editing to create driving energy. He also mercifully resists showing too much detail in the more horrific scenes, although we know exactly what's happening.

The cast is so natural that the film often feels like a fly-on-the-wall doc. Martin is terrific as the almost too-happy Pepino of the opening scenes, who we watch turn into a sullen, shaken wreck. And while Mendoza adeptly captures the rhythms and colours of Manila on screen, he has also made a film that's extremely hard to watch. By the end, we feel like we've survived a seriously grisly ordeal. And in that sense, the film is doing its job.

18 themes, language, strong violence
18.Oct.09 lff
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3.5/5   Micmacs à Tire-larigot
dir Jean-Pierre Jeunet
scr Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillaume Laurant
prd Frederic Brillion, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Gilles Legrand
with Dany Boon, Andre Dussollier, Nicolas Marie, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Yolande Moreau, Dominique Pinon, Julie Ferrier, Michel Cremades, Omar Sy, Marie-Julie Baup, Urbain Cancelier, Patrick Paroux
cremades, boon and ferrier release Fr 28.Oct.09,
UK 26.Feb.10
09/France Warner 1h45

london film festival
micmacs Back in Amelie mode, Jeunet creates a wonderfully entertaining romp about a group of outsiders and manages to slip in an extremely subtle political jab amid the wacky slapstick and almost obsessive attention to detail. It's a bit silly, but it's also great fun.

After being shot by an errant bullet, Bazil (Boon) becomes homeless. Taken in by the Micmacs, seven misfits living in a secret lair under a rubbish heap, he discovers that rival Parisian arms dealers manufactured the bullet that hit him and the landmine that killed his father when he was a child. As he plots his revenge, his new friends all want in on the plan, so they set about inventively using their salvage to get the company owners (Dussollier and Marie) to square off against each other.

The opening sequence is pure Jeunet magic: a contained short film that traces Bazil's childhood, his father's death and his life leading to the fateful bullet. It's packed with a witty sense of visual energy, twisted irony and a remarkable emotional undercurrent. And all of this continues through the rest of the film, as the plot spirals into unexpected directions and constantly catches us off guard with moments of hilarious comedy and tender humanity.

Boon is terrific at the centre--as adorable as Audrey Tautou in Amelie, but rather a lot more twitchy as he copes both with the bullet in his brain and his personal history while learning to accept this nutty gang as his family. And they're wonderfully imaginative characters: jailbird Slammer (Marielle), motherly Mama Chow (Moreau), human cannonball Buster (Pinon), inventor Tiny Pete (Cremades), cliche-spouting writer Remington (Sy), the always-analysing Calculator (Baup) and especially Bazil's reluctant love interest, the bendy Elastic Girl (Ferrier).

And even though there's a pointed comment on the global arms trade, the film buries any serious message under the goofy antics, constant sight gags and some extremely amusing caper sequences. Yes, there are points where it even abandons its own internal logic for something comically satisfying or convenient for the plot. But it keeps us smiling and often laughing loudly from start to finish.

12 themes, language, violence
20.Oct.09 lff
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The Milk of Sorrow
4/5   La Teta Asustada
dir-scr Claudia Llosa
prd Antonio Chavarrias, Claudia Llosa, Jose Maria Morales
with Magaly Solier, Susi Sanchez, Efrain Solis, Marino Ballon, Antolin Prieto
solier release Per 12.Mar.09,
US Oct.09 afi, UK 30.Apr.10
09/Peru 1h34

berlin film festival
london film festival
the milk of sorrow Infused with local colour, this Peruvian film finds real resonance in its light handling of a personal journey. Without overstating its themes or sentimentalising the drama, filmmaker Llosa tells a story we'll never forget.

Fausta (Solier) is a young woman raised in the shadow of a rural myth: after her mother was raped by terrorists in the 1980s, Fausta grew up on the milk of sorrow (the literal title means "the frightened tit") because her soul was so frightened that it buried itself in the earth. Now in Lima living with her Uncle Lucido (Ballon) and working for the wealthy Mrs Aida (Sanchez), Fausta is only just now starting to discover who she really is.

A vague touch of magical realism adds dramatic texture: the last vestige of Fausta's past is a potato inserted into her uterus to prevent rape. It's trying to take root, and doctors say she must decide what to do. Meanwhile, she goes about her work, helping with her aunt and uncle's wedding catering business and getting ready for a cousin's wedding. But along the way, she is redefining her own existence. And some of these lessons are pretty difficult.

The film' tellingly explores the Latino class system, as Fausta's Quechua roots contrast against the city's Spanish descendants. So when she meets a fellow campesino, Aida's gardener Noe (Solis), we can see that she's finally found someone she can trust and speak to in her native language. This element may be lost on viewers who rely on subtitles (and it's perhaps not necessary) but it adds an important layer to the film. And no one will miss the way she sings to express her emotions.

The performances bring out dark honesty, earthy humour and sharp irony. And even the side characters are full of personality. The depiction of Lima life--both in the city and the shantytown--is colourful and vibrant; the various weddings alone are worth the price of admission. And we also have the potent journey of the almost painfully timid Fausta, who starts to realise that maybe she isn't as invisible as she always thought she was. Llosa captures her tiny steps with beautiful photography and editing to quietly bring her to a remarkable catharsis.

12 themes, language
20.Oct.09 lff
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No One Knows About Persian Cats
dir-prd Bahman Ghobadi
scr Bahman Ghobadi, Hossein M Abkenar, Roxana Saberi
with Hamed Behdad, Ashkan Koshanejad, Negar Shaghaghi, Bahman Ghobadi
Koshanejad and Shaghaghi (right)
release UK 26.Mar.10,
US 16.Apr.10
09/Iran 1h46

london film festival
no one knows about persian cats Iranian filmmaker Ghobadi examines the underground music scene in his country by telling a fictional story that's based on "real events, locations and people". The film vividly shows that the young people of Teheran aren't any different from anyone else. Although they have a lot more obstacles.

Negar and Ashkan are trying to form a band to travel to London to play a concert. Well-known on the indie rock scene in Teheran, they are meeting with other musicians and practicing songs together in empty warehouses and basements. Meanwhile, they meet Nader (Behdad), who helps them get the necessary travel documents on the black market. Nader is a smiling fast-talker for whom anything is possible, and Negar and Ashkan have no choice but to trust him.

As we follow this bright young couple around the city, often riding on the back of Nader's motorbike, we get a remarkably thorough glimpse of the society. Not only do all of these young musicians look exactly like their Western counterparts, but their city is also indistinguishable, with European cars, motorways, skyscrapers, shops and commuter trains. This alone makes this film urgent viewing for much of the West, which seems to think of Iran as some sort of stone-age backwater.

Even more important is what is says about young people. As they travel around meeting other musicians, we hear their songs and listen to them talk about their life and joke with each other. Their music is passionate pop, ranging from soft rock to metal to rap, often with politically barbed lyrics. And it's illegal for them to perform it in public, so they hold underground concerts and parties while living in constant fear of police raids. And the situation is worse for Negar, because as a woman she has far more restrictions than men.

Ghobadi shoots and edits this with skill, catching telling details in every scene, allowing the vivid personalities to come out and letting the cast use improvised dialog to explain the situations while peppering scenes with important facts. Several sequences turn into make-shift music videos, crosscutting the bands with the local streetlife, and as the film progresses the comical tone quietly gives way to a more serious plot in which things start to go wrong for the central characters. So the startling final events really leave us thinking.

12 themes, some violence
19.Oct.09 lff
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall