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last update 24.Apr.10
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dir Antonio Hens
scr Antonio Hens, Gabriel Olivares
prd Juan Luis Galiardo, Antonio Hens, Jose Miguel Lopez, Gabriel Olivares, Chris Silva
with Israel Rodriguez, Mehroz Arif, Luis Hostalot, Hugo Catalan, Inma Cuevas, Pepa Aniorte, Juan Luis Galiardo, Ana Rayo, Antonio Dechent, Juanma Lara, Manuel Salas, Asuncion Ayllon
rodriguez and arif release Sp 15.Feb.08,
UK 12.Apr.10 dvd
07/Spain 1h21
clandestinos An intriguing mix of teen drama and terrorism thriller, this pacey, energetic Spanish film feels perhaps a little slight, but it's also thoroughly watchable from start to finish, thanks to honest acting and filmmaking.

Hothead Xabi (Rodriguez), good-time boy Joel (Catalan) and eager Moroccan Driss (Arif) stage a bold escape from a teen prison and head for Madrid, picking up two girls (Cuevas and Aniorte) along the way. Xabi is on a mission to find his older Basque-separatist lover Inaki, and Driss joins Xabi in his efforts to make a bold, dangerous statement that'll catch Inaki's attention. To get some cash, Xabi picks up a man (Galiardo) in the mall, but he turns out to be linked to the cops. It looks like they're all headed for tragedy.

The film is shot guerrilla-style, provocatively exploring the driving forces behind terrorism in a startlingly sympathetic way. And the teen actors have an edgy, raw quality that makes it extremely believable, vividly portraying some truly offbeat traits (such as Xabi's daddy fixation and Driss' intriguing relationship with his feisty new girlfriend). Each of the guys charges into situations with fearless charisma, vividly depicting their feelings of invincibility. And the other characters also surprise us with their complexity.

At the centre, Rodriguez is lean and gymnastic, adeptly portraying Xabi's blind desperation to see Inaki, no matter how dangerous it may be. We feel the weight of his memories, as he's haunted by the connection the two men once had. And this contrasts nicely with a gritty sense of humour about Xabi and Driss' inexperience. Of course they are playing with fire, and everyone's potentially misplaced loyalties keep things feeling urgent and unpredictable.

Filmmaker Hens builds this cleverly, letting the plot progress in an unusually organic and realistic way. Flashbacks fill in the human sides of the story, and we never forget that, for all their bravado, these guys are actually children. There's also an intriguing parallel between Xabi's two relationships, in which a needy, impressionable younger guy joins in a dangerous cause for all the wrong reasons. Which gives the film a kick of haunting relevance.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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dir Giorgos Lanthimos
scr Efthymis Filippou, Giorgos Lanthimos
prd Yorgos Tsourgiannis, Giorgos Tsourianis
with Christos Stergioglou, Michelle Valley, Aggeliki Papoulia, Hristos Passalis, Mary Tsoni, Anna Kalaitzidou, Alexander Voulgaris
release Gr 11.Nov.09,
US Jan.10 psiff,
UK 23.Apr.10
09/Greece 1h34


london film festival
dogtooth This rather mannered allegory will annoy some filmgoers with its elliptical plot and heavy-handed message. But there's no denying the film's power to grab our attention and make us think. And it's cleverly well-made.

A Greek family lives in an isolated, walled-in enclosure where the parents (Stergioglou and Valley) have raised their children (Papoulia, Passalis and Tsoni) in a fantasy world. These teens have grown up thinking that everything outside wants to kill them: kittens scaling the walls are man-eating predators and airplanes flying overhead are taunting toys thrown by outsiders. But puberty presents other problems, and the father brings a work colleague (Kalaitzidou) home to service the son. But she opens a door of curiosity that the three kids can't resist.

The film feels unstuck in time, as the household seems trapped in the 1980s, which is part of the gimmick. So is the way the parents subtly twist the language they teach their children, using nonsensical definitions to keep them from asking too many questions. This limited life clearly warps the children's imaginations, as their role-playing games show. And as they begin wondering what's really outside, everyone's world is about to crumble. Which may not be a bad thing.

Parallels with the global political situation are obvious, as filmmaker Lanthimos playfully explores the effects of isolationism and fear-mongering. Without his witty touches, the film would be almost insufferably pretentious, but it has a blackly comical tone that keeps us off guard and helps cover some gaping plot holes. The film also benefits from inventively sundrenched cinematography, with still, askew framing that make it visually striking.

This is an extremely smart movie that's also oddly cold, mainly because the parents have refused to let these young adults grow up. But their bodies and minds are crying out for more mature ways to express themselves, resulting in shocking moments of sex and violence. The title refers to a mythical tooth the children are waiting to get, so they can be safe outside. It's like a carrot dangled in front of a horse to get it to continue on the path. But these are human beings, so of course they learn unintended lessons from their parents too.

18 themes, sexuality, violence
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4/5   L’Affaire Farewell
dir-scr Christian Carion
prd Philippe Boeffard, Bertrand Faivre, Christophe Rossignon
with Emir Kusturica, Guillaume Canet, Alexandra Maria Lara, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Oleksii Gorbunov, Evgenie Kharlanov, Dina Korzun, Niels Arestrup, Fred Ward, Philippe Magnan, Willem Dafoe, David Soul
canet and kusturica
release US Sep.09 tff,
Fr 23.Sep.09, UK 29.Apr.11
09/France Pathe 1h53

Closing film:
farewell By focussing on the personal side of a momentous true story, this spy thriller gets us thoroughly involved in the lives of its central characters. And inventive filmmaking helps carry us through the rather offbeat structure.

In 1981 Moscow, at the height of the Cold War, Pierre (Canet) is working for a private company when his boss asks him to make contact with Sergei (Kusturica), a KGB officer passing secrets to the West. Over the next few months, Pierre becomes known as "Farewell", and his non-spy status hides him from the Russian authorities as Sergei delivers some of the most vital information to French President Mitterand (Magnan) and US President Reagan (Ward). But neither Pierre's wife (Lara) nor Sergei's (Dapkunaite) has a clue what's going on.

What makes this film work so well is the way writer-director Carion focuses on the fact that both of these men are utterly preoccupied with their families. Pierre is afraid that his wife and small children will be endangered if they know the truth; Sergei knows that his wife and teen son (Kharlanov) would be furious that he has lied to them about this (and other things). But both of them are risking everything so that their children will have a better life.

By taking such an intimate approach, Carion allows the cast to give vivid, layered performances that add emotion and suspense into key scenes. By contrast, the film seems to stall during the secret diplomatic deals made by shady side characters, including Dafoe as the head of the CIA. As a result, the personal odysseys must sometimes step aside for talky scenes that explain what's going on.

And the story is amazing, as these extremely private men were essentially responsible for ending the Cold War. Carion's direction is telling and artful, using the locations beautifully and recreating the period without being precious about it. The film also has a strong kick as it examines the moral choices these men were forced to make in isolation, selflessly putting themselves on the line in the name of something so important. It's hard to imagine anyone in today's partisan age doing something like this.

12 themes, language, some violence
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dir-scr Götz Spielmann
prd Sandra Bohle, Mathias Forberg, Götz Spielmann, Heinz Stussak
with Johannes Krisch, Ursula Strauss, Irina Potapenko, Andreas Lust, Hannes Thanheiser, Hanno Poschl, Magdalena Kropiunig, Rainer Gradischnig, Haris Bilajbegovic, Aleksander Reljic-Bohigas, Peter Josch, Linde Prelog
Krisch and Strauss
release Aut 16.May.08,
US 1.May.09, UK 29.Apr.10 08/Austria 2h01


london film festival
revanche More character study than thriller (the title means "revenge"), this slow-burning Austrian film effectively holds our interest with its unpredictable plot, even though it's not easy to care where it's going.

Tamara (Potapenko) is a Ukrainian prostitute in Vienna whose out-of-hours lover Alex (Krisch) is a low-level gangster who's too nice to be a proper thug. But he tries to up his game and release her from her pimp's clutches, plotting a bank robbery while boldly saying that "nothing can go wrong". And after things go badly wrong, he finds out that the pursuing cop (Lust) and his wife (Strauss) live in the same village as his grandfather (Thanheiser). And his life gets even more complicated.

Reminiscent of Haneke (the stark camera work) and Seidl (the stark themes), the film also feels rather disturbingly voyeuristic as it exposes the naked bodies of these desperate prostitutes on screen. As a director, Spielmann continually suggests that something nasty is around the next corner; well of course it is, and the film is so coolly observant that we are never able to properly connection with these outsiders and loners. Although the ways the characters are interlinked has the haunting impact of a literary novel.

These intricate relationships between the characters are portrayed with unusual understatement. Perhaps Spielmann's main point is that connections between people are sometimes utterly random, sometimes fated by circumstances and sometimes so powerful that they can derail our lives completely. And while the plot moves very slowly, the robbery sequence is a true heartstopper that irrevocably twists everything that follows.

At the centre of the story, Krisch is a terrific presence, physically inhabiting the role in a way that keeps us completely gripped. We can see what he's feeling, but not what he might do next. In his performance, Alex's dark sense of humour takes on a sinister tone, not because he's a bad guy but because he simply doesn't realise that his actions could have horribly unexpected repercussions for those around him. Rather than a revenge tale, this is a film about how being vengeful eats you up inside. And so does guilt over something you didn't mean to do.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall