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last update 18.Jul.11
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The Big Picture
4/5   L’Homme qui Voulait Vivre Sa Vie
dir Eric Lartigau
prd Pierre-Ange Le Pogam
scr Laurent de Bartillat, Eric Lartigau
with Romain Duris, Marina Fois, Niels Arestrup, Catherine Deneuve, Branka Katic, Eric Ruf, Enzo Cacote, Luka Antic, Rachel Berger, Esteban Carvajal Alegria, Florence Muller, Jean-Paul Bathany
duris and fois release Fr 3.Nov.10, UK 10.Jun.11
10/France Europa 1h54

The big picture An intriguing variation on The Talented Mr Ripley, this French dramatic thriller holds our attention mainly because of the hugely engaging Romain Duris. The plot is a little loose and fragmented, but we can't take our eyes off him.

Paul (Duris) is a successful Paris lawyer living in suburban bliss with his wife Sarah (Fois) and two lively sons (Cacote and Antic). But just as his boss (Deneuve) offers him the chance of a lifetime, Sarah pulls the rug out by asking for a divorce. So Paul confronts the man (Ruf) he holds responsible, and this starts a dizzying journey as Paul makes a series of decisions that change his life completely. Along the way he meets a drunken newsman (Arestrup) and a sexy editor (Katic) who spark even more unexpected actions.

The film is so tightly centred on Paul that a lot of what happens seems not to make sense, simply because we don't have the whole picture, as it were. This is either because Paul doesn't know the details or because he's hiding them, and the result is that we can't help but sympathise with him even when he does something that seems inexplicable.

Duris is amazing in the role, holding our attention tightly even though he's far from the typical leading man. We feel every pang of emotion, fear, anger and resignation. And like him, we don't always like what happens. Meanwhile, director-cowriter Lartigau keeps the atmosphere taut, but never over-eggs it. So the intensity is sharply heightened by extended sequences in which there seems to be no threat at all.

As it continues, the script folds in a continual sense of irony and fate, as if Paul is destined for something that he has no control of, even as past events continually circle back around him in unexpected ways. To say any more would be to give away several very clever plot turns. They're not exactly surprises and they don't always hold water, but the way the film keeps us constantly guessing what Paul (and the filmmakers) will do next is thoroughly entertaining.

15 themes, language, violence
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4/5   Bal
dir-prd Semih Kaplanoglu
scr Semih Kaplanoglu, Orcun Koksal
with Bora Altas, Erdal Besikcioglu, Tulin Ozen, Ayse Altay, Alev Ucarer, Ozkan Akcay, Selami Gokce, Adem Kurkut, Kamil Yilmaz
besikcioglu and altas
release Tur 9.Apr.10,
US Jan.11 psiff, UK Jun.11
10/Turkey 1h43

honey This beautifully observant exploration of childhood quietly holds our attention even though there isn't much in the way of a plot. But it's so strikingly well-filmed, with a lovely central performance, that it really sparks our imagination.

Yusuf (Altas) is a 6-year-old in a tiny Turkish village, where he follows his father Yakup (Beskicioglu) around with unending curiosity. Yakup places beehives high in the trees, climbing up to extract the honey. This is far more appealing to Yusuf than learning to read and write in school, although even that holds some interest. When his father goes on a trip to find more bees, Yusuf goes silent, as he can't talk to anyone else without stammering. Will he be able to communicate with his mother (Ozen) without his dad to help?

The film is an almost elegiac ode to childhood, as it follows Yusuf closely through this story. And he's such a cute little kid that we can't help but fall in love with him, as he refuses to drink his milk, cheekily steals his neighbour's homework, and chases birds through the forest. Life is a bundle of inexplicable mysteries for Yusuf, and he is learning new lessons every day. But this has little to do with his schoolwork.

Very little actually happens in the film, and there is only minimal dialog. But scenes clearly establish the tight bond between father and son before events gently nudge Yusuf out of his secure nest. Young Altas plays this with a raw honesty that's completely disarming. A wry grin, quavering fear, watery eyes: we only see subtle signs as to what he's thinking, and yet we are right with him through the story. This is minimalist filmmaking aimed at a fairly adventurous audience that is willing to dive in and experience the film as a slice of life and an exploration of connections between families, society and nature. This is also the third chapter in Kaplanoglu's trilogy, after Egg (2007) and Milk (2008), recounting Yusuf's life in reverse order. All three films have won major festival awards, but the first two haven't been released in the UK. Hopefully a boxed set will come along after this film's release.

U somethemes
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The Light Thief
dir-scr Aktan Arym Kubat
prd Marc Baschet, Karl Baumgartner, Thanassis Karathanos, Altynai Koichumanova, Cedomir Kolar, Denis Vaslin
with Aktan Arym Kubat, Taalaikan Abazova, Askat Sulaimanov, Asan Amanov, Stanbek Toichubaev
arym kubat release US Jan.11 psiff,
UK 29.Jul.11
10/Kyrgyzstan 1h20


the light thief This beautifully made fable from Kyrgyzstan tackles big themes in its story about the encounter between poor villagers and rich big-city businessmen trying to change their way of life. But the story remains intimate and often very funny.

In a small Kyrgyz village, the cheeky electrician (Arym Kubat) is simply called "Mr Light", and he's often in trouble for helping people get free electricity off the national grid. When he's drunk, he confesses to his friend Mansur (Toichubaev) that he wishes he and wife Bermet (Abazova) had a son instead of four lively daughters. And when rich businessman Bezkat (Sulaimanov) arrives, buying up land saying he wants to improve village life, he gives Mr Light a great job. But is Bezkat as nice as he seems?

The film is shot and edited with skill, revealing details of the characters through the colourful culture, stunning landscapes and quirky actions. Structured as a series of black-out sequences, the film is infused with both dry wit and broad comedy, which cleverly provide a counterpoint to the underlying suspense in each scene. Mr Light is continually scales tall poles and trees, and a polo match played with a dead sheep ends in a scary confrontation.

Played with precision by Arym Kubat, Mr Light's cheerful idealism always seems on the verge of being slammed down. But with each setback he perseveres, always ready to help anyone in need and holding to a higher sense of morality than the wealthy people he works for. Indeed, this leads to the film's most startling confrontation, as Bezkat entertains visiting Chinese investors.

Between the breezy surface and the nervy undercurrent, the film is a fascinating look at a society where modern life collides with ancient customs. One character's wife writes asking for a divorce so she can stay in Italy and get married there. Another sees a decadent display of modern technology, but is more impressed by a huge bowl of strange fruit. And a crowd of donkeys paces the dusty streets, punctuating scenes and hinting at a deeper meaning. Yes, some of this is a bit over-stated, but it's so engagingly well made that we're ultimately surprised by just how invested we are in these people's lives.

15 themes, language, violence, brief nudity
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Sarah’s Key
4/5  Elle S’appelait Sarah
dir Gilles Paquet-Brenner
prd Stephane Marsil
scr Gilles Paquet-Brenner, Serge Joncour
with Kristin Scott Thomas, Melusine Mayance, Charlotte Poutrel, Niels Arestrup, Frederic Pierrot, Michel Duchaussoy, Aidan Quinn, Dominique Frot, Gisele Casadesus, Karina Hin, Natasha Mashkevich, Arben Bajraktaraj
scott thomas release Fr 13.Oct.10,
US 22.Jul.11, UK 5.Aug.11
10/France 1h51

sarah's key Framing a harrowing story as an investigative mystery, this film carries a powerful emotional punch but never pushes the sentimentality. It also gives Scott Thomas yet another remarkable role to sink her teeth into.

Julia (Scott Thomas) is an American journalist living in Paris with her husband Bertrand (Pierrot) and their teen daughter (Hin). As they remodel Bertrand's family flat in the Marais, Julia is working on a story for her magazine about Parisian families who in 1942 were deported to Nazi camps in the most hideous conditions. Then one story catches her eye because it is linked to the flat. And she starts to dig around, talking to Bertrand's father (Duchaussoy) and grandmother (Casadesus) to get to the truth.

Intercut with Julia's search is the series of events she's digging into: as a young girl in 1942, Sarah (Poutrel, then Mayance) locks her little brother into a closet to protect him from the police when she and her parents are taken away. Separation, an escape and adoption by strangers (Arestrup and Frot) follow as this young woman is deeply disturbed by her experience.

The film is beautifully shot and edited, layering the two stories against each other as Sarah runs from her past while Julie seeks it out. Thankfully, director-cowriter Paquet-Brenner never tries to be too clever about forcing the parallels; he lets each story play out in a way that's believable and extremely involving. And scenes in both periods feel fresh and compelling.

Scott Thomas provides a wonderfully steely centre as a tenacious woman determined to get to the bottom of this story, even after her assignment is technically finished. She's so effortless in the role that we are right with her in every scene, including personal moments as she struggles with the fact that she might be pregnant when she's least expecting it. And both actresses who play Sarah are excellent, especially young Pierrot, who carries the film's most gut-wrenching scene.

In some ways, this feels like yet another Holocaust drama. But the story has enough fresh twists and turns to make it distinctive. And the quality of the production and acting make it both vitally important and deeply moving.

12 themes, violence
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