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last update 28.Aug.11
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dir-scr Athina Rachel Tsangari
prd Maria Hatzakou, Giorgos Lanthimos, Iraklis Mavroidis, Athina Rachel Tsangari, Angelos Venetis
with Ariane Labed, Vangelis Mourikis, Evangelia Randou, Giorgos Lanthimos
randou and labed release Gr 9.Dec.10,
US Jan.11 sff, UK 2.Sep.11
10/Greece 1h37

london film fest

attenberg Elusive, dryly witty filmmaking sometimes makes watching this Greek drama a bit of a challenge, but it's so quietly revelatory and powerfully observant that we're drawn into the journey of the central character. And more adventurous filmgoers will love it.

In her early 20s, Marina (Labed) is struggling with the fact that her intellectual, caring father (Mourikis) has a terminal illness. As she spends time with him - their favourite activity is to watch and mimic David Attenborough's nature documentaries - she begins to ponder life beyond him for the first time, including issues of sex and sexuality. Meanwhile, Marina's lively friend Bella (Randou) continually challenges her to overcome her inhibitions. When she meets an engineer (Lanthimos) in a pub, her inexperience shows, but he too patiently helps her blossom.

The film opens with a scene in which Bella playfully teaches Marina how to have tongue-swapping kiss, and the ongoing interaction between these women gives the film an often absurdly comical side that intriguingly balances the more contemplative scenes between Marina and her father, although they have wacky moments as well. And then there's Marina's sweet, awkward encounters with the engineer. All of these characters are beautifully underplayed by the naturalistic actors.

Like Lanthimos' 2009 film Dogtooth, this story is exploring a character who has grown up outside the mainstream, and it's fascinating to watch her begin to open up to the possibilities of the world around her, mainly the idea of romantic companionship. One of the film's themes is how history is buried to make way for progress, as this industrial town was once a scenic seaside village. So even thought we don't know how Marina met Bella to begin with, the way their playful relationship develops is thoroughly engaging.

Writer-director Tsangari shoots this with sunny-dusty photography and a minimum of distractions. A locked-down camera captures each scene, whether it's darkly emotional, gleefully silly or evocatively surreal, sometimes all three at the same time. Strangely, this style of filmmaking also makes the entire movie feel rather dry and aloof, despite the continual sharp humour, leaving us as spectators rather than participants in Marina's story. But the most clever thing about this film is how it forces us to explore our own views of love and death.

18 themes, language, sexuality
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3.5/5   Hit First, Hit Hardest
dir-scr Tobias Lindholm, Michael Noer
prd Rene Ezra, Tomas Radoor
with Pilou Asbaek, Dulfi Al-Jabouri, Roland Moller, Jacob Gredsted, Omar Shargawi, Kim Winther, Jorg Beutnagel, Lars Jensen, Johnny Nielsen, Claus Saric Pedersen, Sune Norgaard, Claus Poulsen
al-jabouri and asbaek release Den 22.Apr.10,
US 17.Jun.11, UK 26.Aug.11
10/Denmark Nordisk 1h39

edinburgh film fest
R Although gritty and authentic, this Danish prison drama doesn't really have a new story to tell. Except perhaps that prisons in Denmark are just as grim and violent as those in any other country. Well, at least those that make prison dramas.

Young inmate Rune (Asbaek) is moved from a quiet ward to maximum security, now mixing with the big boys. On his first day, he has a run-in with the Mason (Moller), who threatens to rough him up unless he viciously beats up someone else. So he joins Mason's gang. Then he figures out an ingenious way to help Mason's cohort Carsten (Gredsted) move drugs around the prison, working with his yard pal Rashid (Al-Jabouri). This gives him some security until the next shoe drops.

In the final act, the film (and the title R) jarringly shifts to focus on Rashid and his struggle between survival, loyalty and his strong religious beliefs, which make him want to do the right thing, even if it means putting himself in danger. This strongly echoes in Rune's separate journey, as both of these young men are just trying to get through their few years in prison alive.

Asbaek and Al-Jabouri are terrific, developing a strong sense of camaraderie that adds a tiny glimmer of kindness in what's otherwise a relentlessly unpleasant movie. All of the actors are thoroughly believable as hardened inmates with their own secret society, willing to kill their closest confidant if needed. Meanwhile the guards (Winther and Beutnagel) are a little more complex, in that they sometimes seem to actually care about these guys, even as they turn a blind eye or humiliate them to make a point.

In other words, there isn't much we haven't seen on film or TV before. It's shot like a documentary, with glaring grey skies and creepy corners, which makes several moments even more horrific. And the tension between characters is uncomfortably harsh. In fact, only one scene captures the inmates' humanity: when they get their budgies to stage a football match. Watching the tiny birds escape from their cage and be recaptured by these smiling, happy thugs is the most telling moment in the film.

18 themes, language, strong violence, some nudity
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The Skin I Live In
4/5  La Piel que Habito
dir-scr Pedro Almodovar
prd Agustin Almodovar, Pedro Almodovar
with Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Blanca Suarez, Ana Mena, Roberto Alamo, Eduard Fernandez, Fernando Cayo, Barbara Lennie, Jose Luis Gomez, Susi Sanchez
anaya and banderas release UK 26.Aug.11,
Sp 2.Sep.11, US 18.Nov.11
11/Spain El Deseo 2h00

the skin i live in With his bold, assured filmmaking style and heavy echoes of Hitchcock's Vertigo, Almodovar creates a lean, twisty thriller that plays with issues of revenge and identity in very dark ways.

Robert (Banderas) is a skin-transplant specialist who goes against bioethics rules to experiment on a new kind of skin for Vera (Anaya), a young woman he keeps trapped in his home and cares for with the help of his childhood nanny Marilia (Paredes). But everyone has a secret, and Robert's relates to a young man (Cornet) he kidnapped six years earlier following an incident that drove his teen daughter (Suarez) to suicide. Actually, all of this started much earlier when Robert's wife was horribly burned in a car accident.

Almodovar reveals the lurid story strands out of sequence, then weaves them into a series of progressively startling revelations. And the gonzo elements of the plot are played dead straight, without any histrionics, as Almodovar continues to crank up the intensity right to the strangely blunt finale. Along the way, he explores the film's opening thesis, that the face gives us our identity, by gleefully stirring in some extremely provocative sexuality.

Everyone in the cast is terrific, maintaining almost blank-slate faces throughout the film that only let us see glimpses of the deep currents of emotion that drive the story forward. As the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, our sympathies lie with both Banderas' Robert and Anaya's Vera, especially as their enmity shifts uneasily into trust and respect and even more. Paredes is superb as usual, and Alamo has an unforgettable role as her crazed tiger-costumed son.

While the flurry of emotions and morality make us think about the issues at hand, it's the churning suspense that makes this film so enjoyable. As expected, the camerawork (by Jose Luis Alcaine) and music (Alberto Iglesias) are exceptional, as is Antxon Gomez's clever production design, which subtly uses colours and shading to tell us what these people can't say. Essentially it's a bonkers story of revenge that takes more than a few gasp-worthy twists. And the fact that Almodovar never over-eggs things makes it that much more effective.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy
dir Christopher Sun
prd Stephen Shiu, Stephen Shiu Jr
scr Stephen Shiu, Stephen Shiu Jr, Mark Wu
with Hiro Hayama, Leni Lan, Tony Ho, Saori Hara, Vonnie Lui, Yukiko Suo, Kirt Kishita, Jason Lu, Cliff Chan, Tin Kay Man, Wong Shu Tong, Carina Chen
hara and hayama
release HK 14.Apr.11,
US 12.Aug.11, UK 2.Sep.11
11/China 1h49
Sex and Zen While it sells itself as an erotic Chinese epic, this is actually a comical Flesh Gordon-style spoof of wushu classics like House of Flying Daggers. It's camp and utterly ridiculous, never remotely sexy, and it's pretty good for a laugh.

Young scholar Yangsheng (Hayama) has no experience with women when he falls for the beautiful Yuxiang (Lan). So he asks the notoriously oversexed Prince of Ning (Ho) for help satisfying his new wife. Ning's women Ruizhu and Dongmei (Hara and Suo) teach him plenty, and the Elder of Ultimate Bliss (Lui) offers a way to boost his manhood. But things don't go as planned. Meanwhile, the abandoned Yuxiang is ravished by a muscled workman (Kishita) and marries a kindly scholar (Lu) before realising that she still loves Yangsheng. But will they ever be able to reunite?

The film is bright and luridly designed, using 3D to hilariously throw all kinds of things into our faces. And everything about the movie is way over-the-top, from the nutty plot to the camp performances. As a result, most of the audience's laughter is at the sheer silliness of the filmmaking itself, even though much the story is deliberately comical. And it's constantly attempting to shock us with something outrageous, such as the slapstick, panic-stricken penis transplant.

All of this is so cheesy that we can hardly believe what we're seeing. Apparently this style of filmmaking comes from a tradition of Hong Kong soft- porn. And it gets extremely grisly as well, with some genuinely nasty torture and brutality thrown in with a blackly comical wink. The sexuality seems coy by comparison.

Meanwhile, the film has a rather ugly misogynist slant; even though the women are primarily active in sex, they're also little more than male fantasy figures, usually naked (the men keep their loincloths on) and always wanting sex. Not that the film is kinder to the men, most of whom are obsessed with size issues and power games. And as the sadistic final act unfurls, it seems a bit corny that the main message is that sex is essentially irrelevant when you have true love.

18 themes, sexuality, language, violence
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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall