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last update 29.Mar.11
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Essential Killing
dir Jerzy Skolimowski
scr-prd Ewa Piaskowska, Jerzy Skolimowski
with Vincent Gallo, Emmanuelle Seigner, David Price, Nicolai Cleve Broch, Stig Frode Henriksen, Zach Cohen, Iftach Ophir, Tracy Spencer Shipp, Klaudia Kaca, Dariusz Juzyszyn, Robert Mazurkiewicz, Phillip Goss
seigner and gallo release Pol 22.Oct.10,
UK 1.Apr.11
10/Poland 1h23


london film fest
essential killing Striking cinematography and an internalised perspective makes this wartime thriller worth a look. Although the pulse-racing tension of the first hour dissipates in a somewhat uneven final act.

When three American soldiers pass by a cave opening, the terrified Mohammed finds a gun and blasts his way out. He's immediately captured by US forces, taken to prison and brutally interrogated, but he says nothing due to shell-shock. While being transferred, an accident lets him escape, but what follows is a series of reluctant killings as desperation drives him to do more outrageous things to survive. Eventually he's taken in by Margaret (Seigner), a mute woman in a snowy farmhouse.

Skolimowski deliberately obscures the facts of the story: is Mohammed a terrorist or just a guy in the wrong place? And Gallo never says a word throughout the odyssey, which allows us to experience Mohammed's ordeal in a strongly visceral way. As we watch his face for clues, the camera sticks closely to him. On the other hand, Gallo plays Mohammed as such a blank slate that we never know whether we should be afraid of him or for him.

Mohammed's ordeal includes several violent events that stretch our belief that he'd survive at all, and yet he keeps running. As a result, it starts to feel repetitive and rather dull. But there are some unbearably intense moments along the way. We can understand Mohammed's terror in the face of the violent interrogators and as he runs barefoot into the wintry woods. So we genuinely feel his fear. Although, without knowing who this man is, it's impossible for us to truly identify with him.

Each scene is extremely well-shot, both on the ground and from the air, and the lean, minimalist filmmaking grabs our attention as it takes us from the parched desert to icy mountains, by way of sun-drenched flashbacks and berry-induced hallucinations. Clearly there's an allegorical level to the film, as well as a knowing exploration of the balance of nature. But even stronger is the depiction of Christian concern, with the harsh contrast between the American hard-men and the fragile woman who takes in a potential terrorist on Christmas night.

15 themes, strong violence and language
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From Beginning to End
3.5/5  Do Começo ao Fim
dir-scr Aluizio Abranches
prd Aluizio Abranches, Fernando Libonati, Marco Nanini
with Joao Gabriel Vasconcellos, Rafael Cardoso, Lucas Cotrim, Gabriel Kaufmann, Julia Lemmertz, Fabio Assuncao, Louise Cardoso, Jean Pierre Noher, Fernanda Felix, Eduardo Coutinho, Mausi Martinez, Aloisio de Abreu
cardoso and vasconcellos release Br 27.Nov.09,
US May.10 siff,
UK 28.Mar.11 dvd
09/Brazil 1h34
From Beginning to End Tackling a social taboo, this Brazilian drama never tries to provoke controversy with its story of a gay romance between two brothers. While its over-serious approach is somewhat jarring, the filmmaking's raw, human tone makes it worth a look.

Francisco (Cotrim then Vasconcellos) is five years older than his half-brother Thomas (Kaufmann then Cardoso). They grow up in Rio de Janeiro with a strong affection between them that sometimes worries their mother (Lemmertz). Both fathers (Assuncao and Noher) are also part of their life, as is their long-time maid Rosa (Louise Cardoso). And over the years, their relationship grows closer, through happy holidays and tragic deaths. Their biggest test will come when Thomas gets the chance to train for the Olympics for three years in Moscow.

Filmmaker Abranches eschews normal narrative structure, letting the relationship guide the narrative, rather than a plotline. The result sometimes feels a little undisciplined and meandering, as it spends a lot of time on the boys' young life then suddenly lurches ahead 15 years rather. This leaves us wondering about the intervening years and how they got to a point where their relationship takes such a big leap. But Abranches isn't interested in reasons or ramifications; he's looking at this through their eyes.

So it's remarkably visceral to watch, acutely capturing their sunny childhood and strong relationships with their parents over the years. There's a heavy echo of Almodovar in the sweeping camerawork, bright colours, insistent score and, mostly, the open emotions. And Abranches manages to show their close physical interaction without depicting actual sex on-screen. It's easy and intense at the same time, and when another woman (Felix) sets her sights on Francisco, the ramifications are never simplified.

So it's a bit frustrating that the film gets so overwrought at times, lapsing into agonised drama and swooning romantic scenes that are more like choreographed dance than real life. And the sweetly abrupt ending catches us off guard. But the filmmaking is extremely clever, drawing out an emotional connection so tangible that it quietly makes us wonder if the taboo applies in this case. And maybe that's Abranches' point.

18 themes, language, nudity
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4/5   Fires     MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Denis Villeneuve
prd Luc Dery, Kim McCraw
with Lubna Azabal, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette Remy Girard, Abdelghafour Elaaziz, Allen Altman, Mohamed Majd, Nabil Sawalha, Baya Belal, Bader Alami, Yousef Shweihat, Karim Babin
Desormeaux-Poulin and Gaudette
release Can 20.Jan.11,
US 22.Apr.11, UK 17.Jun.11
10/Canada 2h11


incendies This riveting, harrowing drama certainly isn't easy to sit through, as it tells a complex, often horrific story in an intensely personal way. And the raw performances and sure-handed filmmaking make it even more powerful.

After their mother Nawal (Azabal in flashbacks) dies, twins Jeanne and Simon (Desormeaux-Poulin and Gaudette) are given a quest by their mother's notary-boss (Girard): they must track down both their father and the brother they never knew they had. To accomplish this, they must travel to the Middle East and dig into their mother's background. And what they find is wholly unexpected, as Nawal's story is entwined with the violence of the region. Piecing together the events is going to change them profoundly.

The central theme is that we can never really move forward without facing up to the uncomfortable truths from our past. So as Jeanne and Simon stumble into some mind-bending revelations, we can see that their future will be both tainted and liberated. Meanwhile, their journey is crosscut with Nawal's story, which moves in eerie parallels even as the events of her life are unthinkable to her children.

Writer-director Villeneuve assembles this with a fine attention to detail that grabs us from the opening shot of young boys being inducted into a rebel army. This haunting sequence grows in significance as the story progresses, while Villeneuve inventively uses music and editing to link story strands together. The result is beautiful, tragic and hopeful, and it feels almost like all of these events, which span some 35 years, are happening simultaneously, even as there is also a sense of both history and the passage of time.

The story is so universal, and so deliberately un-specific in its place and time, that it can't help but push all kinds of emotional buttons. We may not be able to identify with the Middle Eastern culture and the blurry conflict there, but we viscerally feel the parent-child themes that flood through every scene. We understand the characters' longing to find someone they can trust in a scary situation. And we know that the characters' search for peace of mind might hold a clue for a larger peace in the region.

15 themes, language, violence
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Norwegian Wood
dir-scr Anh Hung Tran
prd Shinji Ogawa
with Kenichi Matsuyama, Rinko Kikuchi, Kiko Mizuhara, Tetsuji Tamayama, Reika Kirishima, Eriko Hatsune, Kengo Kora, Shigesato Itoi, Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi
matsuyama release Jpn 11.Dec.10,
UK 11.Mar.11
10/Japan 2h13


norwegian wood "I once had a girl, or should I say she once had me?" So begins the eponymous Beatles song, which echoes literally and thematically through this delicately offbeat Japanese drama by Vietnamese filmmaker Tran.

Watanabe (Matsuyama) is a 19-year-old shaken to the core when his best pal (Kora) commits suicide. While comforting his grief-stricken girlfriend Naoko (Kikuchi), Watanabe begins to fall for her, but their mutual attraction only makes her depression worse so she flees to a healing retreat in the woods. Watanabe's womanising pal Nagasawa (Tamayama) advises him to find another girl, but when he meets Midori (Mizuhara) the relationship is equally complicated. Love seems just out of reach for him; maybe it doesn't really exist.

Based on the Haruki Murakami novel, the film has a tentative tone that makes it both deeply involving and oddly alienating. As a result, the story is more interesting than moving, even though there are huge emotional scenes along the way. And the brittle, sometimes stony performances by the cast don't make it easier to engage with the characters, even though we recognise their youthful yearnings.

Perhaps this is due to the subdued themes swirling around in the story. Suicide seems to follow Watanabe around, and yet he finds living slightly less terrifying than death. So he forges on. This is a young guy who hasn't figured out how things work, and yet he refuses to give up on a distant, idealised image of romance. And the fact that it's set in the late 1960s must mean something, although those unfamiliar with Japanese culture may find it hard to catch what that is.

By contrast to the rather icy story, Tran's visual sensibilities are lush and often breathtakingly beautiful. Every scene is shot with a fluid, panoramic attention to detail, capturing the settings in vivid, often unexpected ways. And the sense of the characters within these spaces - from grassy wetlands to urban blight - is extremely powerful. But this is a story about relationships, specifically the elusiveness of finding someone we can fully connect with. Its gorgeous imagery lends weight to the literary story, although it's a shame we don't feel the characters' pain along with them.

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