Shadows Film FestShadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs, videos, revivals and shorts...

< <   F O R E I G N   > >
last update 1.Nov.11
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
4.5/5   Skoonheid   MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Oliver Hermanus
prd Didier Costet
with Deon Lotz, Charlie Keegan, Michelle Scott, Roeline Daneel, Albert Maritz, Sue Diepeveen
lotz and keegan
release SA 5.Aug.11,
UK 20.Apr.12
11/South Africa 1h38


london film fest
london l&g film fest
Beauty Intensely personal filmmaking takes us deep into this darkly involving drama about a man who simply doesn't have the skills to deal with his inner desires. And watching it is a challenging, moving experience that's hard to shake.

Francois (Lotz) is a middle-aged man with a rather tired marriage to Elena (Scott). After their older daughter's wedding, their younger daughter (Daneel) starts seeing Christian (Keegan), son of family friends (Maritz and Diepeveen). But Francois also takes a new interest in the now-adult Christian. Which takes on new meaning when he joins a group of husbands in an isolated farmhouse for a secret gay orgy. Over the next few days, his interest in Christian turns into an obsession that he has no idea how to control.

From the gorgeous tone-setting opening shot, director Hermanus puts us into Francois' point of view in such an intimate way that we can see what he's thinking. Remarkably, we never see the directorial gears turning, we just feel everything Francois feels. So even when events begin to get a bit menacing, we understand that this is a man who lives in a homophobic society that has never allowed him to express his true feelings. So how can he possibly know what to do when they grow this strong?

This sensitive filmmaking allows the cast to deliver unusually thoughtful performances. Much of the action takes place in long shot, as Francois watches Christian from a distance and contrives to meet up with him for business and family reasons. This gnawing fixation is presented in a hauntingly matter-of-fact way through scenes that are beautifully played by Lotz and Keegan. Both actors pack telling information into the tiniest movements. And Scott also has some potent scenes as Elena, including one subtle revelation that comes as a conflicted relief to Francois.

But what we feel mostly is Francois' paralysing fear, self-doubt and the frustration that he wishes he was the person everyone thinks he is. So the film's squirmingly horrific climactic scene completely throws us off. It's impossible to see Francois as a villain when he's been subtly victimised his whole life. And yet the tragedy is that, even as his society is now opening up, he remains trapped in his unhappy life. This is wrenchingly beautiful, painful, haunting filmmaking.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
23.Oct.11 lff
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
The Kid With a Bike
4/5   Le Gamin au Vélo
dir-scr Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
prd Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Denis Freyd
with Thomas Doret, Cecile De France, Jeremie Renier, Egon Di Mateo, Olivier Gourmet, Laurent Caron, Fabrizio Rongione, Valentin Jacob, Romain Clavareau, Charles Monnoyer, Jasser Jaafari, Youssef Tiberkanine
doret and de france release Bel 18.May.11,
US 16.Mar.12 UK 23.Mar.12
11/Belgium 1h27


london film fest
the kid with a bike A striking central performance and the Dardennes' usual intimate filmmaking bring this simple story to vivid life in ways that are moving and sometimes gasp-inducing. It's a striking film with a real kick in its tale.

Cyril (Doret) is an angry tornado of a boy who lives in a care home with no idea where his father has moved. In a fit of desperation, he goes in search of his beloved bike, which is found by a neighbour, Samantha (De France). Her kindness strikes a chord with Cyril, and he starts visiting her for weekends. She also helps him find his father (Renier), who can't cope with the responsibilities of fatherhood. But Cyril then turns to a local thug (Di Mateo), who teaches him how to rob a local businessman.

As usual, the Dardennes focus tightly on their central character, encouraging unusually natural acting while delivering a reverse riff on the classic The Bicycle Thief. They also once again discover an amazing raw talent in Doret, who delivers a complex, full-bodied performance as the almost feral Cyril. Like Samantha, we never know what he'll do next. And the filmmakers peel away his disinterested bravado to reveal a troubled, sad life that's clearly heading for a nasty end unless someone can help him make better decisions.

The film's focus is so strong that the rest of the cast almost doesn't register, which echoes the way Cyril virtually ignores them. De France brings layers of tough honesty to Samantha, who continually confounds Cyril with her compassion. Renier is terrific in a small role as his terrified young dad, echoing his 2005 role in the Dardennes' The Child. And Di Mateo gives his character a magnetic presence that makes him hugely attractive even though we know he's up to no good.

Nothing is easy in this story, and the Dardennes head into some very dark places. The concentrated intimacy keeps us griped while also making this realistic, urgent film sometimes hard to watch. But we continue to root for Cyril, even when we start to feel the grinding gears of the plot. This makes the film feel a bit too pointed, but it also makes what happens both heart-stopping and thoroughly engaging.

15 themes, language, violence
12.Oct.11 lff
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
dir Wayne Wang
prd Wendi Murdoch, Florence Sloan
scr Angela Workman, Ron Bass, Michael K Ray
with Li Bingbing, Gianna Jun, Hugh Jackman, Archie Kao, Coco Chiang, Hu Qingyun, Zhang Ruijia, Tang Ying, Guo Congmeng, Dai Yan, Vivian Wu, Russell Wong
jun and li
release Chn 24.Jun.11,
US 15.Jul.11, UK 4.Nov.11
11/China Fox 1h44
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan This ambitious Chinese drama is involving but softens its serious themes to make it more warmly palatable. It's also a thoroughly female movie, and yet it never actually challenges China's sexist history and culture.

Nina (Li) is a successful Shanghai businesswoman preparing to move to New York when she hears that her lifelong friend Sophia (Jun) is in a coma following an accident. As she waits, she reads Sophia's account of 19th century ancestor Snow Flower (also Jun) who was matched to Lily (also Li) as laotong, friends for life, a ceremony Nina and Sophia also went through as girls. Over the years, Snow Flower and Lily each marry and have children and watch their fortunes change drastically, which has an impact on their friendship.

Besides casting the same actresses in both roles, the two strands are packed with parallel plot elements as tensions strain each laotong relationship. Along the way, we meet family members, friends and lovers (a key one played by Jackman). None of this is particularly subtle, as the film is aimed at less-demanding audiences, but it's a finely crafted film with solid acting even when things get melodramatic.

The title refers to the way Snow Flower and Lily communicate with each other by writing on a fan, but the film is really about Nina/Lily, through whose eyes both stories are told. And Li is thoroughly engaging as the more tortured friend in each case, letting us see her inner emotions and the stresses of society in both periods. Since Sophia is comatose, Jun's main scenes are obviously as Snow Flower, and she has a steely presence that brings this tough-skinned woman to life.

A central element of the story is the way Lily and Snow Flower have their feet bound and maimed to remain smaller as they grow up. But after noting the idea, the film odly skirts around the issue. The film also touches on caste prejudice and gender slavery, but the filmmakers never dig too deeply, nor do they find any present-day resonance. More important is the weepy emotion of this enduring sisterhood of the travelling fan. Which, it must be said, is genuinely moving.

12 themes, violence, sexuality
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
We Have a Pope
3/5   Habemus Papam
dir Nanni Moretti
scr Nanni Moretti, Francesco Piccolo, Federica Pontremoli
prd Jean Labadie, Nanni Moretti, Domenico Procacci
with Michel Piccoli, Nanni Moretti, Margherita Buy, Jerzy Stuhr, Renato Scarpa, Franco Graziosi, Camillo Milli, Ulrich von Dobschutz, Roberto Nobile, Gianluca Gobbi, Mario Santella, Enrico Ianniello
release It 15.Apr.11,
UK 2.Dec.11
11/Italy 1h42


london film fest
we have a pope Cleverly filmed to look like the real thing, this papal drama is infused with such a lively sense of humour that it feels like a comedy. So when things turn serious, it's a bit jarring. And in the end, unsatisfying.

After the Pope dies, the cardinals meet in secret to select a successor. But when Melville (Piccoli) is elected, he has a panic attack. Until he recovers, no one is allowed out of the Vatican, so they call in a psychiatrist (Moretti), who becomes imprisoned with the cardinals. Meanwhile, the new Holy Father manages to escape, posing as a man on the street and mixing with the people in a voyage of self-discovery, as the cardinals and the whole world await an announcement.

Moretti seems to think that having the priests do offbeat things (like staging a volleyball tournament to kill time while they're sequestered) is hilarious. But mixing goofy slapstick with a more introspective exploration of personal spirituality makes the film feel rather uneasy. It also fragments the tone in such a way that, despite the superb production design and strong acting, the story is ultimately unconvincing.

At the centre, Piccoli delivers a beautiful, serious performance as a man who is thrown into self-doubt when he has greatness thrust upon him. This cleverly expresses the film's key theme: how can anyone dare to feel up to such a job? And as he wanders incognito around Rome, his encounters with various people (including Buy's unknowing therapist) are realistic and thoughtful, with a sharp edge of irony since no one realises that they've just met the Holy Father.

Meanwhile, Moretti coasts through his role as the shrink locked in the Vatican with the cardinals, getting so caught up in his silly tournament that he forgets why he's there. Along the way there are some hilarious asides, including clueless journalists who think a procession is a red carpet event and inventive comical details about Vatican life, and several cardinals emerge as sharp characters all their own. But while the film is entertaining and engaging, the pointed seriousness of the finale comes as a shock when we were expecting something sublime.

12 themes, some language
12.Oct.11 off
back to the top Send Shadows your reviews!

< <   F O R E I G N   > >

© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall