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last update 28.Jul.12
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In Your Hands
3.5/5   Contre Toi
dir-scr Lola Doillon
prd Saga Blanchard
with Kristin Scott Thomas, Pio Marmai, Jean-Philippe Ecoffey, Marie-Sohna Conde, Marie-Christine Orry, Vinciane Millereau, Sophie Fougere, Jean-Louis Tribes, Laurent Cyr, Olivier Galliano, Noelle Boisson, Mic Cheminal
scott thomas and marmai
release Fr 2.Feb.11,
UK 20.Jul.12
10/France 1h17

london film fest
In Your Hands Subtle and involving, this dark drama maintains a fierce sense of perspective that never allows any side-plots to distract us. For us and for the central character, the situation is all-consuming, haunting and deeply perplexing.

After her last day at work before going on holiday, maternity doctor Anna (Scott Thomas) returns home to find a man waiting for her. Yann (Marmai) kidnaps her and locks her in a barren room, giving her enough information to figure out why he has her. But she has no idea what he's going to do next. And it seems like he doesn't either, especially as his cruelty shifts into compassion. So when one day she finds the door unlocked, she's not sure if she should report him to the police.

The film opens with Anna's harrowing return home, then fills in the story as she tells it. But the events are so complex that we can understand why she's not sure how to react. Yann is a good-looking young man who's emotionally devastated by the original events that brought them together; he's not a bad man, and yet he has done something terrible. But is her affection for him misplaced? She's not sure, and neither are we.

Filmmaker Doillon plays on this dilemma beautifully, never over-egging the events to let us know how we should respond. She keeps the camera tightly within Anna's point of view, letting us see the conflicting moments that make it difficult to make a definitive response. It's obvious why she would be attracted to this vulnerable, sensitive man though he's her abductor. But can they have a happy ending together?

Scott Thomas and Marmai both deliver transparently brittle performances that make it difficult for us to judge them. Meanwhile, the deliberately evasive filmmaking and acting play to our sympathies, so while if we're shocked by the violence, we understand where it comes from. Acting out of desperation is only human, right? In other words, the cast and crew draw us right into the heart of the situation, then have the nerve to let us sort out how we might respond. Which is a maddening but refreshing way to tell a story. Especially in preachy times.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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A Simple Life
4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Ann Hui
scr Susan Chan, Roger Lee
prd Ann Hui, Roger Lee
with Deannie Yip, Andy Lau, Qin Hailu, Wang Fuli, Paul Chiang, Leung Tin, Wendy Yu, Eman Lam, Elena Kong, Jason Chan, Hui So-ying, Tsui Hark
yip and lau release China 23.Sep.11,
US 13.Apr.12, UK 3.Aug.12
11/China Focus 1h58


london film fest
A Simple Life Based on a true story, this gently episodic drama beautifully portrays the connection between a man and his long-time family maid. It's funny, involving and so well-observed that it sticks in the mind for a long, long time.

Ah Tao (Yip) has served four generations of the Leung family over 60 years and is a friendly, cheerful fixture in the community. Her only real company is her cat until busy filmmaker Roger (Lau) returns to live in the family's Hong Kong flat. When she suffers a stroke, Tao doesn't want Roger to care for her, so he arranges for her to live in a nursing home and visits her regularly during her recovery. As the years pass, what was once a nanny-child relationship becomes something much more meaningful for both of them.

The film is exceptionally well-shot and edited, with earthy performances that create a relaxed, gently humorous mood. Yip and Lau play this relationship beautifully, with funny, warm banter that reflects years of memories, long-running jokes and even some sharp teasing. Food is a running theme, as Roger should be sticking to a healthier diet, and Tao tries to keep him in line. There are plenty of lively side characters, but they all add to this central relationship.

Meanwhile, the nursing home residents hilariously drive Tao nuts, while also reminding her of her mortality. Most memorable is the flirty Kin (Chiang) who continually asks for hand-outs to spend on hookers, but Tao understands why. Elsewhere, the film is packed with running gags (everyone mistakes the underdressed Roger for a cabbie or repairman) and subtle character detail, including some lovely moments with Roger's mum (Wang) and a terrific sequence in which Roger takes Tao to a glamorous film premiere.

This is an immaculately observed film about how the relational seeds you sow in youth come back later on. Both Tao and Roger realise their reliance on each other, as if their destinies are intertwined and in balance. Along the way, the filmmakers explore the distance between generations and the importance of family history. And as Tao gets increasingly infirm, Roger's joy in spending time with her is both truthful and deeply moving.

PG themes, language
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5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Miguel Gomes
scr Miguel Gomes, Mariana Ricardo
prd Sandro Aguilar, Luis Urbano
with Teresa Madruga, Ana Moreira, Carloto Cotta, Ivo Muller, Laura Soveral, Isabel Cardoso, Henrique Espirito Santo, Manuel Mesquita
cotta and moreira
release Por 5.Apr.12,
UK 7.Sep.12, US 26.Dec.12
12/Portugal 1h58

32nd Shadows Awards

edinburgh film fest
Tabu Portuguese filmmaker Gomes uses three inter-connected chapters to explore the idea of paradise. It's a deliberately artful film, throwing out cliches of structure and character for something that's gripping, moving and completely unpredictable.

In a Lisbon cinema, Pilas (Madrugada) watches a film about a king so despondent over the death of his wife that he treks into deepest, darkest Africa to disappear. She then returns home to be confronted by her batty old neighbour Aurora (Soveral) who thinks her black maid Santa (Cardoso) is a witch. When Pilar locates Aurora's long-lost love GianLuca (Espirito Santo), he tells the story of how as a younger man (Cotta) he met Aurora (Moreira) near Mt Tabu in Africa, where she was married to his best friend (Muller).

All three segments confront Portugal's colonial history in Africa, but filmmaker Gomes does this in a personal way that draws us into the emotional interaction between the characters. The final flashback is the main course, as it recounts the beautifully detailed story of an illicit affair in an exotic, romantic location. Both Aurora and GianLuca know that what they are doing is wrong, but they are simply powerless to stop.

Shot in pristine, timeless black and white, the film is so playful and breathtakingly intimate that we would happily sit there watching it all day. Indeed, we await the end of the flashback so we can go on to yet another element of the story. Every moment is engaging and haunting, even as Gomes refuses to give into our expectations of movie storytelling. With bracingly original editing and sound, he constantly surprises us with twists in the tale, usually small scenes that give us a glimpse beneath the surface and fill in elements of the overall thematic kick.

The opening story and GianLuca's flashback are both narrated in a matter-of-fact style that almost turns the visuals into a nature documentary observing the odd behaviour of the human animal. Along the way little asides trigger our own memories, from intimate back-stories to tense-humorous interaction. There's even a wonderful dose of soulful 60s pop. And a spot of sorcery. In the end, the film feels almost Lynchian: perplexing and yet inexplicably resonant. This is rich, masterful filmmaking that's ambitious and achingly beautiful.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
21.Jun.12 eiff
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The Women on the 6th Floor
3.5/5   Les Femmes du 6ème Étage
dir Philippe Le Guay
scr Philippe Le Guay, Jerome Tonnerre
prd Etienne Comar, Philippe Rousselet
with Fabrice Luchini, Sandrine Kiberlain, Natalia Verbeke, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Berta Ojea, Nuria Sole, Concha Galan, Marie-Armelle Deguy, Muriel Solvay, Audrey Fleurot, Annie Mercier
kilberlain, luchini and fleurot
release Fr 16.Feb.11,
US 7.Oct.11, UK 6.Jul.12
10/France Vendome 1h44

Angel and Tony Spiky dialog and terrific characters make this French class comedy thoroughly enjoyable, even if there's not much to it. An especially strong cast and energetic direction add a zing if personality to both characters and settings.

In 1962 Paris, wealthy broker Jean-Louis (Luchini) and his wife Suzanne (Kiberlain) live in his family flat, oblivious to the Spanish maids who occupy tiny rooms on the top floor and gather in the park to gossip about their bosses. It's not until Jean-Louis and Suzanne hire new arrival Maria (Verbeke) to work for them that they discover this world of labourers. And Jean-Louis embraces it, finding new satisfaction in helping to make their lives better while flirting quietly with Maria. But Suzanne suspects something else entirely.

With the physical slapstick of the inverted upstairs-downstairs plot, the film often resembles a madcap farce. But it's actually more social satire, poking fun at middle-class people who think being late for the hairdresser is a cataclysm and simply can't imagine a life of quiet desperation. OK, this is rather joyful desperation: these Espanolas are hilariously full of life, bursting with attitude and intensely loyal to each other, unlike Jean-Louis and Suzanne's vile, spoiled sons who turn up now and then from boarding school.

Luchini effortlessly carries us on Jean-Louis' voyage of discovery. He's clearly constrained by a life mapped out by his father, so watching him engage his passion is inspiring. Verbeke is terrific as the strong-willed, sexy Maria, even if their chemistry is a bit unlikely. And the film is stolen by masterful Maura and Duenas, as the mother hen and bitter revolutionary, respectively. Both are simply wonderful, as always, adding quiet layers to their characters' stories.

Essentially this a film you can sit back and enjoy without needing to think. There are small moments that offer insight into the characters' social structure, but these are never laid on too thickly. And even the film's coda is a gentle, smiley sequence that drops its (unsurprising) plot bombshell so lightly that most viewers will miss it. Yes, it's pretty corny, but it's also the kind of effortlessly breezy cinema that France does to perfection.

PG themes, language
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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall