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last update 25.Oct.09
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Johnny Mad Dog
dir-scr Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
prd Benoit Jaubert, Mathieu Kassovitz
with Christophe Minie, Daisy Victoria Vandy, Dagbeh Tweh, Barry Chernoh, Mohammed Sesay, Leo Boyeneh Kote, Prince Kotie, Nathaniel J Kapeyou, Eric Cole, Prince Doblah, Joseph Duo, Careen Moore
hitting the streets release UK 16.Oct.09
08/Liberia 1h38

london film festival
johnny mad dog Harrowing, violent and deeply disturbing, this realistic drama about children fighting in Liberia's grisly civil war (1999-2003) is not only a strong story, but it has wide resonance as a look at young people living without limits.

Mad Dog (Minie) is the 15-year-old commander of a group of boy soldiers, all stolen from their families and turned into ruthless killers by the age of 10. Operating in a world with no moral centre, they rape and pillage their way through the country challenging everyone with big guns and macho posturing, including the UN peacekeeping force. Mad Dog is also on a collision course with 16-year-old Laokole (Vandy), who has lost her little brother and is trying to get help for her wounded father.

Filmmaker Sauvaire tells this story with doc-style urgency, and the mainly non-actors in the cast are eerily realistic. Most have firsthand memories of these events, and yet they dive in with gusto to create characters who are seriously terrifying, all while adding telling touches of humour and yearning childishness. As these boys go on a rampage through their society, they clearly think their weapons and pack mentality make them invincible.

And of course the scariest thing is the Lord of the Flies angle: is this how young boys anywhere in the world would behave without any rules? In other words, in addition to revealing a staggering chapter of history, this film has something important to say about human nature. And it's also telling that they excuse this viciousness because they're "bringing freedom to our people", while their chanting echoes American movies and videogames, including their "no die, no rest" mantra.

This is a deeply authentic and electrically charged film. It's loud and violent, restless and relentless in its grim depiction of a previously civilised society in freefall. It's also shot on a remarkably large scale, with crowds of people adding a believable backdrop to the compelling drama at the centre. And it's so strong that it kind of earns its few heavy-handed moments (such as a Martin Luther King speech on the radio). In the end, it's painful to see what this war has done to a once-promising country. And an entire generation of children.

15 themes, language, strong violence, sexuality
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dir-scr Samuel Maoz
prd Anat Bikel, Leon Edery, Moshe Edery, Ilann Girard, Benjamina Mirnik, Uri Sabag, David Silber
with Yoav Donat, Itay Tiran, Oshri Cohen, Michael Moshonov, Zohar Shtrauss, Dudu Tassa, Ashraf Barhom, Reymond Amsalem
the rhino crew
release US Oct.09 nyff,
UK 9.Apr.10
09/Israel 1h34

london film festival
lebanon Set entirely within the confines of a tank, it would have been pretty hard for this war drama to avoid an almost unbearable sense of claustrophobia. It may feel somewhat over-constructed, but it's a gripping, harrowing ride.

On the first day of the 1982 Lebanon War, Israeli gunman Shmulik (Donat) joins team leader Assi (Tiran), shell-loader Hertzel (Cohen) and driver Yigal (Moshonov) in a tank called Rhino. As they move, field commander Jamil (Shtrauss) pops in occasionally to give instructions, many of which are rather dodgy. And before the day is half over, their mission has gone badly wrong. Stranded in enemy territory, rules cease to matter as they just try to get back to safe ground.

The purely subjective camera work vividly captures the clanky, clammy, cluttered atmosphere inside the tank. We only look outside through Shmulik's telescopic sight, and the only change in the interpersonal dynamic comes when Jamil or someone else drops in through the hatch. While this creates a gripping sense of horror, it also feels a little deliberate in the way it's assembled, especially as the script packs so many tank experiences into this one day.

In this sense, the film feels like a stage play with a contained cast and setting and a script that's trying to be educational. Maoz is careful to document violations of international law, pointing the finger at Israelis using illegal bombs and Phalangists indulging in rough justice. Although the Arabs mainly appear as victims (including a captured bomber). This is most notable when a family is caught in the ghastly crossfire. Due to its raw humanity, this is the film's most moving and memorable scene.

The cast is very good, conveying the sheer terror and emotional carnage. This certainly isn't a film about the heroism of war; battle is depicted as confusing and conflicted, destroying good intentions and innocent lives. The soldiers respond to this with paralysis, panic and devastation. They simply don't have the stomach to be the ruthless killers their government is asking them to be. And this is where the film finds real resonance, undercutting the propaganda to say something important and true about the nature of warfare. Not that it'll change anything.

15 themes, language, strong violence
6.Oct.09 lff
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dir Tarik Saleh
prd Kristina Aberg
scr Fredrik Edin, Stig Larsson, Tarik Saleh
voices Vincent Gallo, Juliette Lewis, Udo Kier, Stellan Skarsgard, Alexander Skarsgard, Sofia Helin, Shanti Roney, Fares Fares, Fredrik Eddari, Doreen Mansson, Indy Neidell, Joanna Mikolajczyk
roger release UK Oct.09 lff,
Swe 27.Nov.09
09/Sweden 1h26

london film festival
metropia Just when we think we've seen everything possible with animation, this eye-popping film appears from Scandinavia. It looks like nothing else, and while the plot feels rather familiar, it still finds important new things to say.

In 2024, Europe is connected by a gigantic metro system run by the Trexx mega-corporation. In Stockholm, call-centre worker Roger (voiced by Gallo) has become distracted by voices in his head, as if someone's both listening to him and telling him what to do. This causes trouble with both his boss and his girlfriend (Helin), who's transfixed to the television. The ubiquitous Dangst shampoo clearly has something to do with this, and when Roger spots Dangst model Nina (Lewis) in the metro, he plunges into a conspiracy that stretches to Trexx's owner (Kier).

Filmmaker Saleh uses real photos to create animated characters, which gives them an eerie life of their own. We can see pores on their faces and life in their eyes, even as they look oddly pinched and stretched, and they move like Terry Gilliam's cut-out stop-motion. They're also remarkably engaging, mainly due to the subtlety of expression in their faces and voices. Meanwhile, colours are almost completely absent from this grey-brown megalopolis, although there are telling hints of hues.

The plot may be a virtual copy of The Matrix, but it finds some new resonance in its mind-bending mind-control premise. Witty touches abound, including a particularly vicious reality TV show and the constant presence of Hello Kitty firgures, which develop an increasingly sinister aura as the story progresses. And along the way, we're hooked by both the characters and the central mystery, which starts to feel dreamlike and surreal.

Saleh is cleverly playing with us, deliberately building a disorienting atmosphere to push us deeper into a situation in which Roger must figure out who he really is through a barrage of advertising, media messaging, urban paranoia and the self-serving friendships of the people he trusts. In other words, there's plenty in here that we can identify with, and the ultimate message in so simple that it's amazing we almost miss it every day: do you listen to your inner voice?

15 themes, language, violence
24.Oct.09 lff
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A Prophet
4.5/5   MUST must see SEE   Un Prophète
dir Jacques Audiard
prd Martine Cassinelli
scr Thomas Bidegain, Jacques Audiard
with Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Hichem Yacoubi, Adel Bencherif, Reda Kateb, Jean-Philippe Ricci, Gilles Cohen, Antoine Basler, Leila Bekhti, Pierre Leccia, Foued Nassah, Jean-Emmanuel Pagni
rahim and arestrup
release Fr 26.Aug.09,
UK 15.Jan.10, US 26.Feb.10
09/France 2h35


29th Shadows Awards

a prophet A blistering dramatic epic set mainly inside a French prison, Audiard's film takes us deeply into its central character while giving us an unnerving look at the justice system from the inside out.

After spending his childhood in custody, 19-year-old Malik (Rahim) transfers to an adult prison. He soon has his gentle naivete knocked out of him by Cesar (Arestrup), leader of the fearsome Corsican gang that rules the roost. As an Arab, Malik is in something of a no-man's land, caught between the Corsicans and the Muslims. And he uses this wisely over the next few years, learning about economics with the help of his friend Reyeb (Yacoubi) and making dangerous links with the Muslims and gypsies to become a confident kingpin himself.

Audiard tells this story tightly from Malik's perspective, with surreal touches such as the way he's haunted by the first man (Bencherif) he is forced to kill. The way Malik slides between warring factions leads people to consider him as a prophet, and indeed there's something visionary about the way Malik redefines ancient feuds in a 21st century way. And even though he indulges in some nasty violence, we see an underlying decency that hints at an ultimate, difficult redemption.

In other words, there's a lot going on in this film. The long running time flies by, and even when things get overcomplicated, we are riveted by the spiralling intensity of each scene. Malik's 12-hour days of prison leave are contained adventures all their own. And the relentless brutality is skilfully undermined by moments of tenderness along the way, most notably in his growing relationship with Reyeb and his wife (Bekhti) and child.

The film hinges on Rahim's breakout performance, which is extraordinary. His scarred body hints at a rough past, and yet we see softness in his eyes even as he becomes toughened. Since we so fully identify with him, the violence takes on a heart-stopping quality we rarely see on film. And even as the plot becomes somewhat fragmented, we never lose track of this young man who seems on the verge of losing his soul in a society that simply doesn't care about him.

18 themes, language, strong violence, drugs, sexuality
24.Oct.09 lff
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© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall