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last update 16.Oct.11
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4/5   Stadt Land Fluss
dir-scr Benjamin Cantu
prd Bjorn Koll
with Lukas Steltner, Kai-Michael Muller, Karin Butsch, Petra Thymian, Katharina Korner, Christian Hahn, Simon Kirmeier, Eric Fechner, Christian Sauermilch, Florian Born, Charlina Ingold, Tobias Weichert
hara and hayama
release Ger 15.Apr.11,
US Jun.11 fff,
UK 21.Nov.11 dvd
11/Germany 1h28

iris prize fest
harvest Earthy realism makes this subtle drama hugely involving, especially since it avoids any sense of melodrama or sentimentality while telling a hugely emotional story. It's an inventive film made with skill and sensitivity.

After a problematic childhood, 17-year-old Marco (Steltner) joins a group of young people training to be farmers. A quiet loner, Marco avoids contact with the other trainees, especially the girls who show an interest in him. Then he strikes up a friendship with a new apprentice, Jakob (Muller), who left banking to train on the farm. As they get to know each other, they're both reluctant to admit that they're attracted to each other.

Shooting in a fly-on-the-wall style, writer-director Cantu captures the life of these teens with telling attention to detail. Most scenes feel like they were captured on film by accident, with unpolished dialog and offhanded performances. And the camerawork captures the beauty of the countryside setting so vividly that that we can almost smell the hay and feel the sunshine on our skin.

This makes the story feel so realistic that we can't help but learn rather a lot about raising cows and growing carrots. And we also of course get involved as various relationships develop. Marco and Jakob's interaction is spurred along by tiny glances and awkward conversations leading to brief moments when they overcome their fear.

Some of the plot points feel a bit contrived, such as Marco's refusal to learn the business side of the job, which gives Jakob an excuse to help him. But the film feels so bracingly authentic that we accept the fiction along with the realism. And their spontaneous trip to Berlin is clearly staged to kick starts their journey to self-acceptance.

But what sets this film apart is its truthful depiction a society so slanted against homosexuality that two young men must spend their lives lying to themselves and everyone around them, crippled by the fear of rejection. So it's impossible to watch this film without feeling the hugely complex emotional connection between Marco and Jakob, played with honesty to convey both the pain of being an outsider and the joy of finally being able to be yourself.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
3.5/5   Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da
dir Nuri Bilge Ceylan
prd Zeynep Ozbatur
scr Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ercan Kesal
with Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel, Firat Tanis, Ahmet Mumtaz Taylan, Ercan Kesal
uzuner release Tur 23.Sep.11,
UK 16.Mar.12
11/Turkey 2h24

london film fest
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia Patiently following a police procedure over about 18 hours, this Turkish drama is startlingly involving, mainly because it quietly deepens our interest through character detail. It's also stunningly well shot and edited.

As the sun begins to set, prosecutor Nusret (Birsel) and policeman Naci (Erdogan) lead a convoy into the countryside looking for a dead body. Guided by the unhelpful suspect Kenan (Tanis), the group moves from place to place, seemingly on a wild goose chase. During this time, Nusret and Naci get to know Dr Cemal (Uzuner), who is along to examine the body. And Naci's driver Arab (Taylan) also adds to the mix of personalities driving in circles through the long, dark night.

For a slow-paced film in which little happens in the first two hours, this is remarkably gripping, mainly because of its earthy humanity. Not only is there a growing sense of intrigue about the murder case, but each character reveals little details about themselves through the largely random dialog, which is packed with often hilarious discussions of anything that comes to mind.

Along the way there's also a stop off for dinner at the home of a local mayor (Kesal), at which we glimpse one of only two women in the entire film. But either of them has any dialog, as we are firmly within a male culture of violence and crime. And it's a little frustrating that the plot never ties up all of the loose ends. Yes, they find the body, which we follow through to the autopsy, but key questions are left unanswered.

Filmmaker Ceylan's point seems to be that life is rarely as neat and tidy as we'd like it to be. Even as our culture has rules to keep everyone in line, the fact is that almost everyone must break them now and then to survive. And this story is packed with people who transgress the law and culture in large and small ways. So while the ending may feel a little unsatisfying, the film has still managed to make us think about things we encounter every day. And Ceylon has also made us see the raw beauty in even the most mundane activities we undertake.

15 themes, language, violence
13.Oct.11 lff
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She Monkeys
4/5   Apflickorna
dir Lisa Aschen
prd Helene Lindholm
scr Lisa Aschan, Josefine Adolfsson
with Mathilda Paradeiser, Linda Molin, Isabella Lindquist, Sergej Merkusjev, Kevin Caicedo Vega, Maria Hedborg, Adam Lundgren, Sigmund Hovind, Nasrin Pakkho, Inger Lindberg, Elin Soderquist, Malin Muller
paradeiser and molin release Swe 2.Sep.11,
UK 18.May.12
11/Sweden 1h23

london film fest
she monkeys With a bracing filmmaking style, this unflinching exploration of power and desire continually surprises us with its quietly revealing approach. The writing, direction and acting are all extraordinary.

Emma (Paradeiser) joins a vaulting team and is immediately intrigued by team member Cassandra (Molin), who offers to help her learn the ropes. But Cassandra's need to be in control is continually challenged by Emma's natural leadership abilities, and the sparks between them hint at both rivalry and attraction. Meanwhile, Emma's 8-year-old sister Sara (Lindquist) is having her own issues: when she's told she must start acting like an emerging woman, she takes it a bit too far. But then, neither of them has a helpful role model.

Aschen's quietly introspective filmmaking style is a bundle of insinuation, as the characters say more through silence than through the dialog. Small glances let us see how the power is shifting between the characters, as the film explores female roles in society in increasingly provocative ways. Emma and Sara live with their father (Merkusjev), so must figure these things out themselves in a society that sends confusing messages even to young girls. And this is intriguingly echoed in the way they are trying to teach their dog to be more obedient.

The cast is terrific, giving honest performances that are packed with suggestive moments and character insight. The actors beautifully underplay the complex sexual tension in every scene, including the shifting relationship between Emma and Cassandra, their charged tormenting of the nice boy Jens (Lundgren) and Sara's awkward advances on an older cousin (Vega). Watching the subtle interplay between the characters is riveting, and it's made even more engaging by a dry sense of humour that subtly grounds the extremely serious themes.

This is a powerful, involving story that says things about women, ambition and society that we rarely see on screen. Without ever being girly or simplistic, the cast and crew present characters and situations that reveal hard truths about society, while some extremely dark twists and turns in the plot give us sometimes uncomfortable insights into human nature. This is the kind of film that haunts us long after after the final credits.

12 themes, language, nudity, violence
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The Yellow Sea
dir-scr Na Hong-jin
prd Han Sung-goo
with Ha Jung-woo, Kim Yun-seok, Cho Seong-Ha, Lee Chul-Min, Kim Jae-hwa
ha release Kor 22.Dec.10,
UK 21.Oct.11
10/Korea Fox 2h20

The Yellow Sea This breathless epic thriller from Korea traverses the genres from lovelorn romance to personal horror to gangster action and back again. It's far too long, and gets rather exhausting in the final act, but it's impossibly to be bored.

In the region where North Korea, China and Russia meet, nearly 1 million Joseonjok people resort to illegal activities to survive. Here, Gu-nam (Ha) is a cabbie who borrowed a bit too much money to send his wife across the Yellow Sea to South Korea. Desperately in debt, he meets Myun-ga (Kim Yun-seok), who offers him work that might turn his life around and reunite him with his wife. So he heads to Seoul, where the job takes a twist that complicates his life beyond his wildest imagination.

The film is shot in an urgent, gritty style that almost makes Na's previous film (2008's superb The Chaser) look slick and overproduced. This film revels in the squalor of its characters lives, with seedy gambling halls, snarling guard dogs and shady thugs at every turn. Hope for a better life seems so far out of reach that it's not even worth thinking about.

Na keeps the pacing taut, pushing Gu-nam further down this rabbit hole as he encounters a Hitchcockian series of terrifying events. This is a simple guy just trying to regain his wife and life, and yet he finds himself on the run, accused of a murder he didn't commit and chased by thugs more violent than he could imagine. And indeed, the violence is unthinkably horrific.

As with The Chaser, Na demonstrates astonishing skill at assembling pursuit sequences, as Gu-nam is chased by armies of cops and gangsters. It's fairly clear that he'll never clear his name, so escaping becomes panic-strikingly urgent, and watching him run through streets filled with colliding police cars and rampaging trucks is outrageously thrilling.

Despite the confusing barrage of characters and plot twists, we can engage with Gu-nam's desperation. In the end, the mayhem goes on far too long as the story gets crazier and messier. Every set piece is packed with suspense and grisliness, but as the body count rises we begin to wonder what the point is. Especially since Gu-nam's personal route through the carnage is sometimes lost in the noisy grisliness.

18 themes, violence, language, sexuality
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