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last update 17.Oct.12
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dir-prd Prakash Jha
scr Prakash Jha, Sagar Pandya, Anjum Rajabali
with Arjun Rampal, Abhay Deol, Esha Gupta, Anjali Patil, Om Puri, Manoj Bajpayee, Kabir Bedi, Deep Raj Rana
rampal and deol
release India/UK 24.Oct.12
12/India Eros 2h22

london film fest
Chakravyuh Since it's from Bollywood, this thriller feels somewhat overwrought and bombastic compared even to Hollywood's most ridiculous blockbusters. But it also has a story that works its way under the skin, daring to explore a complex moral dilemma that has remarkable relevance.

In rural India, militant leftist Naxalite rebels are fighting a system that takes advantage of poor villagers. To quell the uprising, idealistic police officer Adil (Rampal) takes command of the local forces, despite resistance from his tough-cop wife Rhea (Gupta). Then their best friend, police academy drop-out Kabir (Deol), turns up with a plan to infiltrate the rebels to help Adil. But as violence escalates, Kabir realises that Adil is actually taking orders from a multinational corporation intent on exploiting the region. So he switches sides, pitting best friends against each other.

The screenwriters frame this in fine Bollywood tradition as two brothers on the opposite sides of the law. But the twist here is that the morality of the situation isn't remotely cut and dried. From most angles, the marxist rebels actually have the philosophical high ground, although both they and the police enter every situation guns blazing, justifying mass murder in the name of war. But the real point is that three-fourths of India's population is living in poverty, kept there by companies and politicians that are making a fortune off of their resources.

These kinds of themes hold our interest even if the filmmaking feels over-the-top. The dialog is packed with corny aphorisms and over-emotional declarations, but the cast members hold their own, making the film surprisingly personal. Rampal is as manly and thrusting as you'd expect from a Bollywood hero, but he reveals Adil as a man aware of his own flaws. Deol makes Kabir into a charming, inquisitive man who discovers romance with a rebel colleague (Patil) and even gets a big song-and-dance number. And their mutual chemistry is very sharp.

Through all of this, the camera work is restless and incessantly moving, the music is thunderous and the editing jarringly throws us out of each scene before we get the gist of it. On the surface, this is a film about massive shoot-outs, wrenching emotional confrontations and huge explosions. But it's the more interesting relational issues that bring the true story to life.

12 themes, violence, language,
11.Oct.12 lff
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In the House
4/5   Dans la Maison
dir-scr Francois Ozon
prd Eric Altmeyer, Nicolas Altmeyer, Claudie Ossard
with Fabrice Luchini, Ernst Umhauer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emmanuelle Seigner, Denis Menochet, Bastien Ughetto, Catherine Davenier, Jean-Francois Balmer, Yolande Moreau
luchini, seigner and umhauer release Fr 10.Oct.12,
UK 29.Mar.12
12/France 1h45

london film fest
in the house Ozon playfully takes on the nature of storytelling in this black comedy about an unusual teacher-student relationship. Sharply written and directed, the film is a bundle of provocations, forcing us to think about the way we see, or imagine, the people around us.

As a literature teacher tired of illiterate students, Germain (Luchini) perks up when reading homework from shy 16-year-old Claude (Umhauer). His first essay is like the beginning of a serial novel in which he inveigles himself into the home of his friend Rapha (Ughetto), flirting with his mum (Seigner) and getting matey with his dad (Menochet). Germain is gripped by the developing story, as is his wife Jeanne (Scott Thomas), who's struggling to make her art gallery connect with the public. But in private sessions with Claude, Germain's tutoring crosses an ethical line.

The film has a terrific sense of the blurred lines between fact and fiction, mostly because everyone wants to imagine scenes in their own way. We see events through a variety of perspectives, sometimes embellished and often probable fantasies, as Germain puts himself into Claude's narrative, realising that Claude is a better writer than he ever was. And as they discuss what makes good writing work, Germain and Claude adjust the other characters, revealing hidden personality traits and other details.

At the centre is an exploration of voyeurism, how we live vicariously through other lives that look more idealised (or perhaps more normal) than our own. We only get one brief glimpse of Claude's tough life with his single father, although we learn quite a bit more about Germain. But both of these characters are in search of something so intangible that they're still waiting to discover what it is.

Ozon unveils the story expertly, with sure-handed direction that glides smoothly through the convolutions of the plot, keeping a tight focus on the characters. Yes, it's twisty and surprising, but we are held firmly in his grip all the way through, as the film shifts from breezy comedy to eerie drama to Hitchockian suspense. It may leave a bit too much to the imagination for viewers who like to know exactly what's real and what isn't, but clearly that's the whole point.

12 themes, language, sexuality
4.Oct.12 lff
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Laurence Anyways
dir-scr Xavier Dolan
prd Charles Gillibert, Nathanael Karmitz, Lyse Lafontaine
with Melvil Poupaud, Suzanne Clement, Nathalie Baye, Monia Chokri, Susiie Almgren, Catherine Begin, Emmanuel Schwartz, Magalie Lepine-Blondeau, David Savard, Yves Jacques, Sophie Faucher, Jacques Lavallee
release UK 30.Nov.12
12/Canada MK2 2h39


london film fest
Laurence Anyways With each feature, 23-year-old Dolan gets more ambitious. This third time out, the unusually gifted filmmaker pushes things just over the edge into self-parody, but still tells a powerfully provocative story with a strong emotional undercurrent.

University professor Laurence (Poupaud) stuns both his girlfriend Fred (Clement) and his mother (Baye) when he confesses that he's a woman in a man's body. Both initially reject him, but their connection is too strong to ignore. Fred declares her love and sticks with him, but it certainly isn't easy as Laurence faces bigotry everywhere he goes. Soon their relationship is strained to the breaking point, but they're unable to let go and after a few years apart seek each other out again, even though their relationship is even more impossible now.

Dolan draws startlingly naturalistic performances from his cast, even in the film's most highly stylised sequences. Both Poupaud and Clement are utterly transparent in their roles, letting us see into Laurence's and Fred's souls as they grapple with the difficulty of staying together amid secrets, betrayals, outside pressures and other complications. But to Dolan's credit, this never feels like punishment from some screenwriting god: it's completely believable, grounded in human emotions and experience.

Set between 1989 and 1999, with subtle period details, the film is shot with considerable artistry, focussing on the perspectives of the characters. So while some scenes are camp and colourful, others are staid and brittle. There are also several surreal touches along the way that feel just a bit obvious as they convey the characters' emotional experiences. But it's so well shot and performed, that we can't help but be moved. Perhaps an outside editor's eye could have provided an even tighter focus.

Most impressive is how the film catches the confusion of everyone involved in Laurence's transgendered journey. Some find it easy to support him, but most are caught in a web of conflicting feelings, including Laurence himself, as they face a side of judgmental society they can't just ignore anymore. And in telling this story, Dolan shows that I Killed My Mother and Heartbeats were just the tip of his artistic talents. He's still developing his voice as a filmmaker, and his perceptive approach continues to promise great things to come.

15 themes, language, violence
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Suicide Room
3.5/5   Sala Samobójców
dir-scr Jan Komasa
prd Jerzy Kapuscinski
with Jakub Gierszal, Roma Gasiorowska-Zurawska, Agata Kulesza, Krzysztof Pieczynski, Bartosz Gelner, Danuta Borsuk, Piotr Nowak, Filip Bobek, Krzysztof Dracz, Aleksandra Hamkalo, Piotr Glowacki, Kinga Preis
release Pol 11.Mar.11,
UK 8.Oct.12
11/Poland Kadr 1h51

suicide room This Polish drama takes a complex approach to the coming-out genre, building a growing sense of danger as a young man struggles to find his place in the world. The filmmaking is stylish and somewhat indulgent, but also haunting and important.

Dominik (Gierszal) is a bright 18-year-old who withdraws from the world when his questioning sexuality becomes the topic of a video that goes viral. The whole school laughing at him, while his self-absorbed parents (Kulesza and Pieczynski) make things worse by refusing to accept that he might be gay. So he withdraws into a virtual world where he meets Sylwia (Gasiorowska-Zurawska), a pink-haired self-harmer who runs a secret website called Suicide Room. But is she playing a game unaware of Dominik's depression? Or will she give him the courage to face the real world?

Writer-director Komasa splits the film into two narratives, following Dominik's dark odyssey and his parents bullheaded attempts to get him back under control. As a government minister and magazine editor, everything revolves around them: "He makes us look like idiots," they say, treating him as a spoiled brat. And they listen neither to him nor the psychiatrists they hire.

Oddly, the parents' side of the story feels like a cautionary distraction from Dominik's more personal journey. His online escapes are rendered in beautiful gaming-style animation in which Dominik and Sylwia interact in a variety of ways, including a sexy underwater ballet. But the strain begins to show, since Sylwia won't show her full face on webcam and will only meet him in person if he brings enough drugs for her to kill herself.

These clashes gegin to get repetitive, making the film feel overlong and sometimes melodramatic. But they also provide a gravely serious tone. The filmmakers and cast have a strong sense of the role of social networking in teen life, and the script knowingly suggests that those outside the norm should treasure their uniqueness, because it shows up everyone else as too weak to be themselves. But Komasa also chillingly acknowledges the bleak truth that self-acceptance is sometimes the hardest thing to find. And he also notes that refusing to listen to those we claim to love can ve very dangerous.

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