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last update 14.Nov.12
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Dead Europe
dir Tony Krawitz
scr Louise Fox
prd Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Liz Watts
with Ewen Leslie, Marton Csokas, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Thanos Samaras, Danae Skiadi, Ania Bukstein, Jean-Francois Balmer, Francoise Lebrun, Yigal Naor, William Zappa, Eugenia Fragos, Alex Lanipekun
smit-mcphee and leslie release Aus Jun.12 sff,
UK Oct.12 lff
12/Australia 1h24

london film fest
Dead Europe An intensely dark, foreboding tone is the best thing about this perplexing thriller. While playing around intriguingly with issues of race, religion and sexuality, the film gets under our skin even though we are never quite sure what's actually going on. Kind of like the central character himself.

Melbourne photographer Isaac (Leslie) is the son of Greek immigrants who have forbidden their children from returning to the old country. His brother Nico (Czokas) moved to Hungary, so Isaac decides to go visit, sparking something in his father Vassily (Zappa) that leads to a car-crash death. Now even more determined, Isaac heads to Greece to scatter Dad's ashes, and discovers that his branch of the family is cursed due to a creepy connection with a Jewish boy during the war. But truth remains elusive as Isaac travels on to Paris and then Budapest.

A multitude of characters add unhinged texture to Isaac's odyssey, including his helpful cousin Giulia (Skiadi) and her seductive friend Andreas (Samaras), a freaky woman (Fragos) who does some sort of psychic steam-reading, a Parisian couple (Balmer and Lebrun) who knew Vassily in the day, a trafficked Arab woman (Bukstein) and Nico's drug-porn cohort Syd (Naor). Freakiest of all, though, is the teen Joseph (Smit-McPhee), whom Isaac rescues in Athens only to be haunted by at every turn.

The film is cleverly playing with the idea that the sins of parents and grandparents can follow a family forever, with past and present merging to give Isaac a rather nightmarish first trip to the European homeland. Is this a fable about the dodgy history of so many immigrants who travelled around the world subjugating natives in lands far and wide? Or is it a message about how parents pass their guilt on even if the children don't realise it?

It's beautifully shot in a way that continually unsettles us, and edited with jarring cuts that throw us into random events. Both violence and sex spring out of nowhere, as does an eerie subtext of human trafficking. Whatever it is, the film certainly gives us a lot to chew on, even if it the resolution remains enigmatic and a bit sinister.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence, drugs
10.Oct.12 lff
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Elliot Loves
dir-scr Terracino
prd Elizabeth Gardner, Terracino
with Fabio Costaprado, Jermaine Montell, Quentin Araujo, Elena Goode, Elaine del Valle, Guillermo Ivan, Monte Bezell, Benjamin Bauman, Mo Brown, Robin de Jesus, Antoni Porowski, Rafael Sardina
montell and costaprado
release US May.12 mglff,
UK 12.Nov.12
12/US 1h32
Elliot Loves Shot on a very low budget with inexperienced actors, this is one of those movies in which you can see the filmmaker learning his craft as he goes along. There are some terrific moments here, and a strong sense of character and story, but writer-director Terracino encourages the actors to wildly overplay every scene.

In New York, Elliot (Costaprado) is a naive 21-year-old who really doesn't understand much about the world and doesn't have many social skills. He thinks speaking to a man means that they're boyfriends now, which means that his heart gets broken almost every day. Because he can't help but fall in love with every man he meets. Then while praying in church for a man, he meets Kiko (Montell), a sexy go-go-boy who seems top be perfect except that at 25 he isn't ready to be tied down. And Elliot simply can't understand that.

The film flicks back and forth between Elliot's experiences now and when, as a precocious 9-year-old (Araujo), he copes with his free-spirited mother (Goode) and her violent boyfriend (Bauman) and bonds with his lively Aunt Carmen (del Valle). These experiences are shown in an effort to explain Elliot's behaviour in a variety of present-day situations, including overwrought emotional highs and lows and violent reactions to perceived infidelities.

Both Costaprado and Araujo are likeable as the chatty-silly Elliot, although Terracino directs them to exaggerate every internal thought. As a result, Elliot seems to be wilfully simpleminded. And because all of the ambiguity has been stripped away, each of Elliot's relationships feel superficial. That said, the characters are charming and sexy even if the filmmaker shies away from any actual sexuality. But there are moments of real warmth and affection.

Some linking scenes are rendered in a variety of animation styles, some of which are strikingly visual and could stand alone as short films. And while many of the live-action scenes are nicely played, several are so broad that they leave us unable to properly engage with the characters. There's also an undercurrent of moralising, as the filmmaker depicts anyone who doesn't hold to Elliot's romanticised, unrealistic worldview as a shallow loser. When actually it's the other way round.

15 themes, language, drugs, violence
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The Loneliest Planet
dir-scr Julia Loktev
prd Helge Albers, Marie-Therese Guirgis, Lars Knudsen, Jay Van Hoy
with Gael Garcia Bernal, Hani Furstenberg, Bidzina Gujabidze
garcia bernal, gujabidze and furstenberg release UK Oct.11 lff,
US 26.Oct.12
11/US 1h53

london film fest
The Loneliest Planet Skilful filmmaking mixes comedy, drama and suspense to create a fascinating study of the geography of a relationship. It's beautifully shot and acted in a way that catches us in the central idea and forces us to grapple with it.

Alex and Nica (Garcia Bernal and Furstenberg) are on a backpacking trip in the republic of Georgia, hiking through the Caucuses with their sardonic guide Dato (Gujabidze). As they go, Alex quizzes Nica on Spanish verb tenses and they both get to know Dato, who spins colourful stories about the countryside. Then in the middle of nowhere they come across three men who rattle their relationship to the core. In the grand scheme of things, it's a minor event, but new tensions change the dynamic between them.

The first half of this film is so loose that we hardly believe we're watching a fictional film. With little dialog, the actors give us a rich sense of Alex and Nica's spontaneous ease. And even when they join with Dato, there's a playful sense of interaction that feels thoroughly realistic. The event that swivels everything into another direction is shot in a long, heart-stopping take. It's played in the same offhanded way, and yet the relaxed mood is gone.

Writer-director Loktev is forcing us to examine our deep-seated ideas of gender. The film's events all happen in the subtext, so we fully understand that Alex and Nica's modern relationship sits at odds with this traditional culture. Which makes the key moment that much more complex, because it plays on male and female roles and expectations. And once this door is opened, we feel like there's no going back. Fortunately, Loktev never lets this boil over into melodrama.

As they hike through the wilderness, there's a sense that they're travelling vast distances from mountains and desert through jungles to a glacier. These are such spectacular untouched landscapes that the film could do wonders for Georgia's eco-tourism trade. Although the issues raised make it hugely uncomfortable to watch: we know how we feel, and yet we also know that we shouldn't be thinking this way. Yes, this is a gem of a film that challenges our preconceptions and leaves us questioning the way our culture has conditioned us to respond.

15 themes, language, sexuality, some violence
16.Oct.11 lff
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dir Conor McMahon
scr Conor McMahon, David O'Brien
prd Julianne Forde, Brendan McCarthy, John McDonnell, Ruth Treacy
with Tommy Knight, Ross Noble, Gemma-Leah Devereux, John McDonnell, Eoghan McQuinn, Lorna Dempsey, Jemma Curran, Valerie Spelman, Laila Stack, Harry Behan, Callum Maloney
noble and the kids release UK 26.Oct.12
12/Ireland 1h26
stitches A riotous B-movie, this horror-comedy has several funny moments that make us laugh out loud, especially as it lampoons 1980s-style slasher movies. So it's a shame that it's otherwise a corny mess made on a painfully obvious low budget.

At age 16, Tom (Knight) is still traumatised by a fatal incident involving the clown Stitches (Noble) at his birthday party six years earlier. But since his mum (Spelman) is out of town, he allows his chucklehead pals to plan a party in his house on his birthday weekend. Especially when it gives Tom a chance to finally get together with his long-time crush Kate (Devereux). What they don't realise is that Stitches has been mysteriously resurrected to get revenge on the children who treated him so cruelly all those years ago.

The filmmakers assemble this as a spoof of standard 1980s schlock horror, with a houseful of partying, sex-obsessed teens stalked one-by-one by a gleefully sinister supernatural sleazeball. But the riotous set-up lets us down by becoming predictable and repetitive. We keep waiting for the movie to take off, to build up momentum that will keep us entertained through the grisly scares and stupid gags, but the cartoonish wackiness actually becomes dull.

This rude, silly film delights in grotesque sight gags, with astonishingly over-the-top violence that's so revolting that it's comical. Tom has blood-soaked visions of clowns everywhere he goes, which cleverly plays on the fears a lot of people have. But not much about the movie is this clever; far more jokes miss the mark than hit it. A secret satanic clown society never makes any sense and the party itself is oddly low-key. And the vast variety of gruesome deaths is only occasionally inspired

As the plot devolves into full-on chaos, all that's left are cheesy effects, corny one-liners and cheap gags. We get the feeling that the filmmakers were increasingly desperate to throw something even more ridiculous at us than before. But while some of this is witty, most of the movie is so clunky that we just brace ourself and hope it ends soon. Fortunately it does. And the closing credits include an outtake reel.

18 themes, strong violence, language, sexuality
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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall