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last update 2.Sep.10
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Certified Copy
4/5   Copie Conforme
dir-scr Abbas Kiarostami
prd Angelo Barbagallo, Charles Gillibert, Marin Karmitz, Nathanael Karmitz, Abbas Kiarostami
with Juliette Binoche, William Shimell, Jean-Claude Carriere, Agathe Natanson, Gianna Giachetti, Adrian Moore, Angelo Barbagallo, Andrea Laurenzi, Filippo Trojano, Manuela Balsimelli
shimell and binoche
release Fr 19.May.10,
UK 3.Sep.10
10/France 1h46

certified copy Like Before Sunrise, this film follows two people as they roam through a setting that's foreign to both of them. But since this is an Italian-French film by an Iranian filmmaker, it's also oddly playful and provocative.

In Tuscany, author James Miller (Shimell) finds that his latest book, Certified Copy, is more acclaimed in Italy than back home in England. A fan, Elle (Binoche), buys the book to her friends while her son (Moore) teases her that she's in love with the author. In her shop full of antiques (and copies), she meets James and the two head off for a day of visiting museums and roaming through an Italian village. And as they talk, they invent their own history as a couple.

The film is clearly an examination of originality; the subject of Miller's book is that a copy of an artwork has value of its own. Kiarostami seems to be asking whether something that's not original can still be called authentic, and he's seeing this through the prism of culture. The dialog is a fascinating mix of French, Italian and English, discussing serious issues mixed in with offhanded observations. And the script constantly cycles around to find places where these big ideas meet real life.

Performances from Binoche and Shimell are relaxed and realistic, with gentle humour and quiet chemistry, especially when people mistake them for husband and wife (are they?). Shot in a low-key observational style, the conversation is constantly in motion both as it floats from topic to topic and as these two people roam around the village. Kiarostrami directs this with a beautifully light touch, packing the screen with telling details and moments that are funny and emotional, although it's not easy to engage with.

The questions raised through all of this chat are complex and a bit bewildering. As it progresses, we become increasingly unsure what we're watching, and what the real history is between Elle and James. Yes, this is essentially a talky string of dialog from start to finish, but the range of discussion and the raw honesty of it makes it rather gripping. As long as you're not expecting something to actually happen.

12 themes, language
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The Girl Who Played With Fire
4/5   Flickan Som Lekte med Elden
dir Daniel Alfredson
scr Jonas Frykberg
b>prd Søren Stærmose
with Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Mikael Spreitz, Peter Andersson, Georgi Staykov, Yasmine Garbi, Paolo Roberto, Johan Kylen, Sofia Ledarp, Per Oscarsson, Hans-Christian Thulin
rapace release Swe 18.Sep.09,
US 9.Jul.10, UK 27.Aug.10
09/Sweden 2h09

Noomi Rapace

the girl who played with fire The second part of Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy details another spiralling mystery, but this time it's even more personal for the protagonists. Which makes it more subtly involving for us as well, even though it's the middle chapter.

It's a year later, and journalist Mikael (Nyqvist) has lost touch with young hacker Lisbeth (Rapace). Suddenly she's in the news as the suspect in a double murder that's connected to his work as an editor at Millennium magazine. As the cops look for her, Mikael tries to get to the bottom of the story. But a ruthless, gigantic goon (Spreitz) is also after her, and he's working for the elusive Russian mobster Zala (Staykov) who seems to be behind everything that's happening.

Alfredson (brother of Tomas) directs with a slick, sure hand, quietly insinuating all kinds of things as the story widens and then contracts suddenly into an intense final act. In many ways it's like an extended episode of a police procedural series, as various characters approach a central mystery from different directions. And the plot is a little over-constructed in the way it draws everything together into a single confrontation. This requires a few threads to be lost along the way as well as a couple of brief contrivances.

But what makes the film gripping is the way it closes in so tightly around the two central characters, and since they're apart for most of the film Nyqvist and Rapace get the chance to develop them a little deeper. Intriguingly, even though they're physically separated, they are actually working together all the way through the story, and even without sharing scenes they have palpable chemistry.

Along the way there are a few detours (a random car chase, a gratuitous sex scene, a vicious fist fight), but the film builds a relentlessly suspenseful tone through a series of freaky scenarios and unpredictable encounters. And the taut pacing makes sure that our interest deepens as the events encompass big issues like human trafficking while also focussing intimately on Lisbeth and Mikael's own lives. And the abrupt ending leaves us wondering where Part 3 will go from here.

15 themes, language, strong violence, sexuality
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The Maid
4/5   La Nana   MUST must see SEE
dir Sebastian Silva
prd Gregorio Gonzalez
scr Sebastian Silva, Pedro Peirano
with Catalina Saavedra, Claudia Celedon, Alejandro Goic, Andrea Garcia-Huidobro, Mariana Loyola, Agustin Silva, Darok Orellana, Sebastian La Rivera, Mercedes Villanueva, Anita Reeves, Delfina Guzman, Luis Dubo
release Chi 13.Aug.09,
US 16.Oct.09, UK 27.Aug.10
09/Chile 1h35

SUNDANCE FILM FEST edinburgh film fest
the maid This striking black comedy from Chile delves into the life of a 41-year-old maid for a wealthy Chilean family, cleverly revealing both her own inner life and some home-truths from this modern-day caste system.

Raquel (Saavedra) has worked with Pilar and Mundo (Celedon and Goic) for more than 20 years, raising their four children. She's part of the family, and is fiercely protective of her work. So when Pilar hires a nice younger woman (Villanueva) to help, Raquel subtly but outrageously hounds her out of the job. And when they hire a much feistier older woman (Reeves) to snap Raquel into shape, she tries the same thing again. But the next one (Loyola) is a completely different story.

The film is shot with a handheld, doc-style realism that captures tiny glimpses of the characters' real feelings, as opposed to what they express to each other. The camera follows Raquel without blinking, making constant observations that are bitingly funny and sharply telling, while almost never leaving the family home. Raquel's relationship with each family member is distinct. Issues constantly crop up, especially between Raquel and the eldest daughter (Garcia-Huidobro), and this becomes even more tense with invasions of privacy from both sides.

Saavedra delivers a relentless performance that blends loyalty with paranoia. Raquel's increasingly surly demeanour is both hilarious and a little terrifying, because we can see that it could be her undoing. She rejects all suggestions that she might need assistance, and her territorial attitude is pretty vicious. And yet Saavedra's performance miraculously holds our sympathy even as she behaves very badly indeed. We actually understand why she feels the way she does. And we like her a lot.

This is a fiendishly clever film that constantly catches us by surprise with witty touches that reveal the characters deepest thoughts and feelings. The connections between these people are complex and often unexpected, as the sharper, darker edges are softened with affection. By the end, we feel like we have travelled a remarkable journey with Raquel and this family, and it's not only a thoroughly enjoyable trip, but along the way we've learned a few things about ourselves.

15 themes, language, some nudity
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Twisted Romance
2.5/5   Vil Romance
dir-scr-prd Jose Celestino Campusano
with Nehuen Zapata, Oscar Genova, Marisa Pajaro, Javier De La Vega, Olga Perezgel, Julio M Gonzalez, Silvia Benacar, Fabio Zurita, Ailen Perez, Basilia Stavron, Angel Barrera, Alejandro Barrera
genova and zapata
release Arg Nov.08 mpff,
UK 13.Sep.10 dvd
08/Argentina 1h43

London L&G Film Fest
twisted romance An extremely low budget doesn't inhibit Argentine filmmaker Campusano from making a sharply realistic drama about a very dodgy relationship. It's not pleasant to watch, but has a raw authenticity to it.

Roberto (Zapata) is a young guy who starts a bleak romance with 50-year-old has-been rocker Raul (Genova). Raul's aloof and harsh, but Roberto just wants somewhere to belong. It's not remotely healthy, but Roberto's mother and sister (Perezgel and Pajaro) are happy for him. Eventually, Roberto and Raul talk through their issues to develop a tentative but still-tense relationship. Meanwhile, Roberto cruises the park and the internet for a more appropriate lover, Cesar (De La Vega), who also turns out to be a handful. And Raul responds by dragging Roberto into his dodgy business dealings.

Campusano takes a bold approach to the story, never shying away from the ugly realities of the working-class setting. The movie is shot in an extremely low-budget video style, and the actors look like genuine people, which is to say that they're not particularly attractive. But they realistically create their characters without worrying that we'll like them. Even Roberto's naivete is portrayed as a stubborn and, yes, twisted resolve.

Sex is either darkly violent with Raul or porn fantasy with Cesar, but the contrast makes them feel authentic. On the other hand this also makes plot feel almost ludicrously melodramatic Roberto gets caught between the shaggy-haired Raul's criminal activity and the cute Cesar's obsession. It's not difficult to see which way he should go, and yet he dithers. And in the end, the film seems to get just as mesmerised by Raul's fiery temper and dangerous gun-running. Even though these are the two things Roberto must obviously avoid.

As an exploration of a codependent relationship, the film does have things to say. Although Raul is so controlling and obnoxious, not to mention rather gruesome-looking, that we can't understand why Roberto would stay for one day let alone much longer. Campusano never gives us a single reason why we should root for this relationship to succeed, so the film starts dragging badly as it heads to what can only be a nasty conclusion.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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