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On this page: DEPARTURES | OSS 117: LOST IN RIO

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last update 7.Jan.10
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dir Yojiro Takita
scr Kundo Koyama
prd Toshiaki Nakazawa, Ichiro Nobukuni, Toshihisa Watai
with Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kimiko Yo, Takashi Sasano, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Tetta Sugimoto, Tatsuhito Okuda, Toru Minegishi, Yukiko Tachibana, Hiroyuki Kishi, Tatsuo Yamada
motoki and yamazaki release Jpn 13.Sep.08
US 29.May.09, UK 4.Dec.09 08/Japan 2h10
departures A minimalist approach to serious drama gives this film its emotional kick, even as it prevents it from really grappling with the serious issues in the story. In the end, it's powerfully moving, and perhaps a bit too nice.

When his orchestra goes bust, young cellist Daigo (Motoki) and his smiley wife Mika (Hirosue) decide to move back to Daigo's hometown, where they can live in his family home. Daigo's mother died a couple of years earlier, and he hasn't seen his father since he was 6. He answers an ad in the newspaper for a job working with "departures", but this isn't a travel agency, as his new boss Sasaki (Yamazaki) teaches him the art of encoffining, preparing dead bodies for burial. And Mika isn't happy about this.

There are several fascinating elements to this story, most notably as we experience Daigo's initial revulsion for the task, which gives way to the realisation that this elegant ritual offers compassion and dignity to families at their lowest point. Each ceremony has a different twist to it, and director Takita shows us the details in an unfussy, almost stately way while coyly averting the eyes from anything yucky or tasteless.

This gives the film's first half a sharply comical tone, which plays out through Motoki's sometimes slapstick acting and Yamazaki's ability to hilariously steal scenes by doing virtually nothing at all. And there are vivid side characters too, from grieving relatives to Daigo's old friends. And of course, eventually a few plot strands kick in as Daigo and Mika's marriage is pushed and pulled in various ways and as Daigo discovers new things about himself and his job.

Parts of the film have a cheesy charm, while other sequences feel overlong or sentimental (one mid-point montage is rather sappy). But when the final events start to unfold, we realise that we've been set up for some serious emotional intensity, because we can see ourselves and our loved ones in these situations. And we are forced to wonder why, in Western society, we prefer that our deceased loved ones are dealt with out of sight. That's this film's real power, and why it beat four better movies for the Foreign Film Oscar.

12 themes
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OSS 117: Lost in Rio
3/5   Rio ne Répond Plus
dir Michel Hazanavicius
scr Jean-François Halin, Michel Hazanavicius
prd Eric Altmeyer, Nicolas Altmeyer
with Jean Dujardin, Louise Monot, Rudiger Vogler, Alex Lutz, Reem Kherici, Pierre Bellemare, Ken Samuels, Serge Hazanavicius, Laurent Capelluto, Cirillo Luna, Moon Dailly, Walter Shnorkell
dujardin and monot release Fr 15.Apr.09,
US Jun.09 siff, UK 15.Jan.10
09/France Gaumont 1h41

See also:
OF SPIES (2006)
oss 117: lost in rio Less raucous than CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES, this new adventure for the suave but bigoted French super-agent is still extremely good fun, with its amusing script, hilarious characters and astonishingly detailed production design.

It's 1967, and Hubert (Dujardin), aka secret agent OSS 117, is assigned to make contact with an ex-Nazi (Vogler) hiding in Rio with some incriminating microfilm. Reconnecting with his old CIA pal Bill (Samuels) and dodging Chinese hitmen from his last job, Hubert teams up with sexy Mossad agent Dolores (Monot) to travel with the Nazi's hippie son (Lutz) from Rio into the Amazon and to Iguacu Falls. But treachery awaits them at every turn, not to mention a buxom seductress (Kherici) and hungry crocodile.

Shot and edited exactly like a 1960s movie, it's almost hard to believe that it wasn't made back then, especially as the filmmakers weave in stock footage that perfectly matches visually. It looks absolutely amazing, and is infused with the attitudes of the period as well, most notably Hubert's cave-man opinions on race, gender and everything else. For such a suave, smart spy, Hubert is hilariously stupid. And Dujardin plays him dead straight, wonderfully combining the slapstick and sexiness, without ever going over the top.

Even so, the film feels muted, never really cutting loose into all-out comedy. Each scene has smile-inducing details--tiny observations, glaring references, goofy silliness--but there's never an actual set piece, as it were. And much of the comedy centres on misguided attitudes about World War II, even though Hubert's politically incorrect comments are clearly unacceptable even then. Director Hazanavicius even stirs in several amusing Hitchcock references along the way.

But the real reason to see the film is Dujardin; we can't help but love this naive Mr Cool. Bullets seem unable to touch him, huge accidents only leave tiny scratches and women fall at his feet ("Some people have adventures; I am an adventure"). His earnest speeches about creating a world based on love, not war, are laughed at. And he's so dim that the villain has to explain his nefarious plan in detail twice. Which is pretty funny, really.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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4.5/5   MUST must see SEE  
dir Martin Provost
scr Marc Abdelnour
prd Milena Poylo, Gilles Sacuto
with Yolande Moreau, Ulrich Tukur, Anne Bennent, Genevieve Mnich, Nico Rogner, Adelaide Leroux, Serge Lariviere, Anne Benoit, Francoise Lebrun, Lena Breban, Serge Gaborieau Francis Lacloche
moreau and tukur release Fr 1.Oct.08,
US 5.Jun.09, UK 27.Nov.09
08/France 2h05

edinburgh film festival
seraphine This award-sweeping biopic of the French painter is made with a remarkable attention to detail that makes the characters and period spring vividly to life, aided by subtle direction and especially sharp acting.

Seraphine (Moreau) is a poor woman in rural 1914 France, working as a cleaner for the adventurous art collector Wilhelm Uhde (Tukur). Seraphine has an intense relationship with nature, and paints vivid, dense paintings that catch Wilhelm's eye. But just as he begins to introduce her to the art world, war breaks out, and it's 13 years later before their paths cross again. Seraphine has been painting all these years, but is more poverty-stricken than ever. How will she cope with fame and fortune?

The film is packed with telling touches that bring us intimately into the story. Watching Seraphine collect crumbs, wax, berries, even blood for her paintings is as fascinating as her strikingly emotional pictures. She always seems like she's up to something, with a cheeky smirk and offhanded comments. And all of these things add up to show both the woman's profound lack of formal education and her equally deep artistic sensibilities.

Moreau is wonderful in the role, which is the polar opposite to most movie heroines. Through Moreau's eyes we see a modest woman who is far too independent for her time, hiding her indomitable spirit because she doesn't have a choice. She watches, listens, barely speaks and hides herself away from people, all while developing her talent into something truly formidable. It's a beautifully unselfconscious performance that echoes director Provost's unfussy approach to storytelling.

In fact, the film is so pure that it feels like a definitive classic. And its clever, sharp touches are as unassuming as Seraphine herself, as is the heavy undercurrent of comedy and humanity. It's also a beautifully relevant film about the difference between real art and commerce that sells itself as art. Not to mention the strong final act as Seraphine's sudden success goes to her head and starts to warp her sense of reality. And the film's most remarkable achievement is that, by the end, we can see the world through her distinctive eyes.

12 strong themes
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Treeless Mountain
dir-scr So Yong Kim
prd Bradley Rust Gray, Ben Howe, So Yong Kim, Lars Knudsen, Jay Van Hoy
with Hee-yeon Kim, Song-hee Kim, Mi-hyang Kim, Soo-ah Lee, Park Boon Tak, Lee Byung Yong, Ha Min Woo, Lee Hyun Seo, Jung Gil Ja, Kim Mi Jung, Sung Sook Lee, Lee Kang Won
he-yeon kim and song-hee kim
release US 22.Apr.09,
Kor 27.Aug.09, UK 8.Jan.10
09/Korea 1h29

berlin film festival
treeless mountain Gentle and observational, this slice-of-life from Korea has only the thinnest frame of a plot as it follows two young girls on a dramatic journey. But it's so vague that audiences will find it hard to latch onto.

When their mother (Soo-ah Lee) leaves to find their estranged father, 7-year-old Jin (Hee-yeon Kim) and her little sister Bin (Song-hee Kim) are sent to live with their Big Aunt (Mi-hyang Kim). But their mother doesn't return as soon as promised, and the girls go to live with their grandparents (Tak and Yong) on an isolated farm where they have to learn a whole new routine that's nothing at all like their busy life had been in the city. They also have to learn a new set of priorities.

Essentially, this is a gentle observation of the importance of family as these tiny girls must draw together to cope with their ever-changing circumstances. Once their mother pulls the rug out from under their orderly, happy life, they're thrown into the chaos of their aunt's greedy lifestyle, which includes putting them to work doing chores and begging from neighbours. As they are required for fend for themselves, they not only feel unwanted but encounter hopelessness and cynicism at a far too-early age.

Filmmaker Kim tells this story in a realistic way that feels utterly unscripted, especially when combined with the extremely slow and meandering pace. Kim focuses much of the film tightly on Jin's face, and watching these young girls struggle to stand on their own long before they should have to is pretty harsh. The young actresses play the roles with alert sensitivity and a steely sense of resilience.

The plot itself may be pretty shocking, but this gentle film struggles to really connect with us. As we follow these girls from the city to a town to the country, we want to engage with their experience, but Kim's filmmaking is aloof and a bit cold, never quite allowing us into the situations. So even though it's an intriguing coming-of-age story, it never quite moves us as strongly as it should.

PG themes, some violence
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