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last update 4.Sep.11
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dir-scr Fernando Barreda Luna
prd David Sanz, Jessica Villegas Lattuada
with Cristian Valencia, Clara Maraleda, Jose Masegosa, Chus Pereiro, Xavi Dos, Sergi Martin, Sammy Gad Gonzalez, Rafael Amaya, Anne Sanz, Ferran Castera, Carlos Blanco, Rebecca Gil
release Sp Oct.10 sff,
US Jan.11 sff, UK 12.Sep.11
10/Spain 1h15

fright fest
atrocious Like a cross between Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project, this found-footage thriller features a lot of shaky camerawork in which very little actually happens. But by creating interesting characters, it manages to at least catch, if not hold, our interest.

Cristian (Valencia) and his sister July (Maraleda) are bored Madrid teens who make video clips about urban legends for their website. Their parents (Pereiro and Dos) annoying insist that they and 8-year-old brother Jose (Martin) go on a holiday to a creepy family home near Sitges. But when they find a local myth about the ghost of a young girl haunting a nearby forest, they at least know they'll have something to do. Sure enough, there's a creepy overgrown garden labyrinth next door, and things quickly start to get strange.

What follows is pretty much what you expect from these films: lots of running around lost in the dark woods (cue night-vision shaky-cam with panting voiceover), wandering into scary basements (torch spotlight only showing part of the scene) and no on-camera action. Director Barreda Luna also indulges in deliberately stylised editing, as if the video failed, when actually he doesn't want to play his cards quite yet.

Yes, this means that there's a nifty plot twist coming, but by the time we get there, we're exhausted from all of the running and panting. Fortunately, Cristian and July are terrific characters, played by Valencia and Maraleda with the right amount of nervous bravura: real teens who refuse to do what they're told but kind of wish they had. Their parents and little brother are mainly irrelevant to their daily life until the plot needs them. More interesting is dad's friend Carlos (Masegosa), who helps explain the local legend in more detail.

It's also clever to have Cristian and July wielding their own cameras, capturing different kinds of imagery as well as filming each other. And as the script slowly dribbles information to us (their mother knew this garden from her childhood!) while adding some decent freak-out moments along the way, Barreda Luna just about manages to fill his brief running time. Although it feels like a lot of nothing until the knowing, game-changing epilogue.

15 themes, language, violence
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Guilty of Romance
dir-scr Sion Sono
prd Yoshinori Chiba, Nobuhiro Iizuka
with Megumi Kagurazaka, Miki Mizuno, Makoto Togashi, Kanji Tsuda, Ryo Iwamatsu, Ryuju Kobayashi, Hisako Okata, Kazuya Kojima, Satoshi Nikaido, Shingo Gotsuji, Motoki Fukami, Chika Uchida
release UK 30.Sep.11,
Jpn Nov.11
11/Japan 1h53

guilty of romance This third part in Sion Sono's Hate Trilogy (after Love Exposure and Cold Fish) is a challenging, artistic exploration of power as expressed through sex and violence. Its point may not be clear and the story hard to watch, but the filmmaking is exhilarating.

Izumi (Kagurazaka) lives an ordered life with her punctual novelist husband (Tsuda), but loving him isn't enough. While working in a local supermarket, she secretly accepts an invitation to pose as a scantily clad model. But this is actually a front for porn, which she proves rather adept at. Yet even as she begins to explore her sexuality, she maintains her role back home as the young, dutiful wife. Then she meets the hooker Mitsuko (Togashi), who also has a secret life and teaches her the ropes.

Sono writes and directs with a sharp sense of black humour that contrasts Izumi's sexual awakening with the a policewoman (Mizuno) investigating a hideous double murder in a "love hotel". Indeed, things quickly turn dark as Izumi's odyssey takes some extreme twists and turns. Visually the film is lurid and colourful, packed with lively characters, illicit liaisons and intense conversations.

As a result, the performances are full-on. Kagurazaka carries us through Izumi's boredom, curiosity, exploration and indulgence with an earthy, raw yearning, and that's just the film's first half-hour. Where it goes is unpredictable and sometimes horrific. Intriguingly, Sono also peppers the film with literary references, turning it into a deranged variation on Dickensian squalor or Bronte-style girl power. Meanwhile, danger lurks everywhere as Izumi descends into this Kafkaesque Wonderland.

Finding meaning in here is a bit trickier, especially as the plot spirals out of control. Is Sono exploring female empowerment through women who use their bodies to control brutish men? Having sex for money is depicted as providing power and liberation, but he seems to be saying that this lifestyle will lead to a nasty end. But whether Sono is saying that women have all the power or that they should have it, his filmmaking is so provocative and audacious that it's well worth a look. And his strongest message is that life is best when it's approached at full-tilt. So is filmmaking.

18 strong themes, language, sexuality, violence
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Mademoiselle Chambon
dir Stephane Brize
scr Stephane Brize, Florence Vignon
prd Milena Poylo, Gilles Sacuto
with Vincent Lindon, Sandrine Kiberlain, Aure Atika, Jean-Marc Thibault, Arthur Le Houerou, Bruno Lochet, Abdallah Moundy, Michelle Goddet, Anne Houdy, Genevieve Mnich, Florence Hautier, Jocelyne Monier
clindon and kiberlain release Fr 14.Oct.09,
US 28.May.10, UK 23.Sep.11
09/France 1h41
mademoiselle chambon This French marital drama may feel elusive and slight, but it's extremely well observed, beautifully shot and acted with raw honesty. And virtually the entire plot takes place on an emotional level.

Jean (Lindon) is a builder who lives happily with his wife Anne-Marie (Atika) and their lively son Jeremy (Le Houerou). When Anne-Marie injures her back, Jean takes over her school run and meets Jeremy's teacher Veronique Chambon (Kiberlain), a lonely woman who moves to a new town each year with her job. Jean and Veronique are instantly intrigued by each other: she asks him to repair a window in her flat, and he becomes intrigued by her violin-playing. But his interest in her starts to affect his marriage and job.

Essentially this is a film about discovering something beyond your life that seems irresistible. Jean and Veronique clearly know that they shouldn't start an affair, but that's exactly what they are considering. So both weigh up the risks involved in embarking on this forbidden relationship. Lindon and Kiberlain play this with a startlingly level of introspection; almost nothing is said aloud as we see thoughts and feelings play across their faces. And the same goes for Atika, although Anne-Marie actually asks Jean why he is in such a mood.

This unspoken style of storytelling is fascinating to watch, especially since it's written and directed in such a natural way. But we can never escape the nagging feeling that these two people aren't remotely right for each other. They come from very different worlds, have nothing in common and are clearly only infatuated with each other. So watching them consider major life changes is more than a little frustrating: we never believe the relationship will last.

But then, that's probably the point of the whole film, that these people have lost the ability to see clearly. The screenplay also stirs in a subplot involving Jean's ageing father (Thibault), who never quite registers as a proper character beyond someone who has remained at the head of his family for at least three generations. Thankfully, this is filmmaker Brize's only hint of moralising. If only he had kept the central romance more organic.

12 themes, language, sexuality
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Post Mortem
dir-scr Pablo Larrain
prd Juan de Dios Larrain
with Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Amparo Noguera, Jaime Vadell, Marcelo Alonso, Marcial Tagle
castro and zegers
release Chl Oct.10 ficv,
US Oct.10 nyff, UK 9.Sep.11
10/Chile 1h38

edinburgh film fest
post mortem Chilean filmmaker Larrain takes an askance approach to one of his nation's most horrific events, the violent 1973 coup that overthrew Allende. Intriguingly, the film has an almost post-apocalyptic tone.

Mario (Castro) works in the Santiago morgue, documenting autopsies performed by Dr Castillo (Vadell) and his assistant Sandra (Noguera). By night, he keeps his eye on his burlesque dancer neighbour Nancy (Zegers), who has just been sacked for being too thin. But Nancy's boyfriend Victor (Alonso) is involved in the anti-government movement, so when violence breaks out and the military take over, Mario's afraid he'll find Nancy in the bodies piling up in the morgue. Meanwhile he, Castillo and Sandra are called to perform a significant autopsy.

By keeping the coup action off-screen, Larrain keeps the dramatic atmosphere almost unbearably dark. Grainy 1970s-style cinematography and production design add to the murkiness, as an eerily unsettling sound mix hints at the horror that's growing out of sight. As the spare hospital sets become overwhelmed with cadavers, we vividly feel, like the characters, that the end of the world has arrived.

The actors underplay their roles almost to the point where they seem like the undead, wandering through scenes with a dazed look of disbelief on their faces. In the early scenes this is a little perplexing, since nothing has really happened yet. So Castro's stiff movements and dialog feel a bit arch and contrived for cinematic purposes, matching Larrain's mannered use of camera angles to show us some things and obscure others.

This stylised approach makes the awkward interaction deeply unsettling to watch. But the actors are terrific; Noguera is especially strong, as Sandra makes a tentative bid for affection from Mario, then later finds herself overwhelmed by the death that surrounds her. And scenes between Castro and Zegers are bristle with the subtext of their clashing expectations.

All of this vagueness is somewhat annoying, but Larrain is clearly trying to capture how it feels to have your life torn apart around you. In this sense, we sharply feel Mario's helplessness, and we understand his final desperate action. Although the way Larrain shoots it in a strangely long take betrays his indulgent approach to filmmaking.

15 themes, language, grisliness, sexuality
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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall