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On this page: HAPPY HAPPY | THE POOL

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last update 21.Nov.12
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Happy, Happy
3.5/5   Sykt Lykkelig
dir Anne Sewitsky
scr Ragnhild Tronvoll; prd Synnove Horsdal
with Agnes Kittelsen, Henrik Rafaelsen, Joachim Rafaelsen, Maibritt Saerens, Oskar Hernaes Brandso, Ram Shihab Ebedy, Heine Totland, Mattis Myrland, Hans Martin Austestad, Nils Christian Fossdal, Hakon Rasmussen
rafaelsen, kittelsen, saerens, rafaelsen
release Nor 5.Nov.10,
US 16.Sep.11, UK 16.Nov.12
10/Norway 1h25

happy happy This Sundance-winning Norwegian black comedy nicely highlights the messier side of love and relationships with warm doses of sharp wit, romantic farce and even several gospel-style music numbers.

Danish couple Sigve and Elisabeth (Henrik Rafaelsen and Saerens) move with their adopted Ethiopian son Noa (Ebedy) to the middle of nowhere in snowy Norway to save their marriage. But their cheery neighbour/landlord Kaja (Kittelsen) sees them as the perfect family: liberal, outward-looking and much more exciting than her dull routine. Kaja's secretive husband Eirik (Joachim Rafaelsen) also has his world shaken, as he starts to acknowledge his questioning sexuality. The problem is that both of them are lusting after Sigve. Meanwhile, their lively son Theodor (Brandso) becomes fascinated by Noa's heritage as a colonial slave.

With a deranged Scandinavian sense of humour, the film remains light and snappy even as it deals with some serious topics. These are all interesting, likeable people, and the isolated setting cleverly forces them to get to know each other as they have little to do but play revealing boardgames and discuss their feelings. So it's not surprising that with tension in their respective marriages, Sigve and Kaja start an affair that goes in directions that are never simplistic or predictable.

Even as things begin to turn farcical, the film remains grounded in realistic characters and situations that reveal deeper resonance. Watching both Kaja and Eirik thaw out is fascinating and endearing. While Theodor taunting Noa about his racial background is both unnerving and charmingly innocent. And things escalate to a Christmas concert and dinner that manage to be both awkward and warmly engaging at the same time, even if it's Kaja's optimism that receives the hardest blow.

Along the way, the filmmakers never shy away from the more serious edges of the story, recognising the pain even among the most understanding characters, and especially the effect on the children. And it's particularly impressive that the situation never boils over into melodrama, catching moments of unexpected humour and humanity in every scene. The point is that real love is much more complex than we usually imagine it will be, and that honesty is the only way forward, even if it hurts.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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The Pool
dir-scr Chris Smith
scr Chris Smith, Randy Russell
prd Malcolm Faria, Kate Noble
with Venkatesh Chavan, Jhangir Badshah, Ayesha Mohan, Nana Patekar, Malcolm Faria, Keshav Dalasi, Pandari Gosavi, Somawa Chavan, Ganga Chavan, Parvati Chavan, Sheikh Abdul Gaffar, Krishna Appa
badshah,  mohan and chavan
release US 3.Sep.08,
UK 16.Nov.12
07/India 1h38

The Pool More than 15 years after American Job, Smith returns to narrative fiction with this gently offhanded drama. And he challenges himself by setting the story within the caste culture of India. It's a remarkable little film that, for whatever reason, took nearly six years to get to British cinemas.

At 18, Venkatesh (Chavan) works in a hotel in Goa and sleeps on the floor. With his 11-year-old friend Jhangir (Badshah), he's trying to make life better. From a perch in a tree, they spy over a wall on a tranquil oasis, where a pool tempts them to take a dip. In that garden, Nana (Patekar) and his surly daughter Ayesha (Mohan) live what looks like the idyllic life to two illiterate street urchins. Finally, Venkatesh works up the nerve to ask Nana for a job.

Smith shoots the film in a loose style that captures honest rhythms of life. The cast, most of whom are non-actors, seem to be improvising the dialog. Indeed, The script was adapted from an American short story (by Russell) and adjusted while working with the actors and settings, shaping the film as they went along. This organic approach grounds the premise in a remarkable place and time while creating warmly engaging characters we can identify with.

The developing relationships between the four central figures are complex and intriguing as they cross a variety of barriers. While the boys become closer to Ayesha, their interaction gets increasingly relaxed until Jhangir's jealousy flares up. And when Nana invites Venkatesh to move to Bombay, there are all kinds of issues involved, including the fact that Nana's only son has died. Then at one point Venkatesh travels home to see his mother and sisters in the countryside, letting us see further into his life.

The film's earthy authenticity is irresistible, drawing on a tradition of Indian filmmaking that seems to have been lost over the years. Smith captures telling details in a matter-of-fact way, creating powerfully involving characters. We want to know more about them, and we cheer each one on in his or her own private dream. And what makes it even more notable is the way the film shows us things about ourselves too.

12 themes, language
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dir Ken Scott
scr Ken Scott, Martin Petit
prd Jasmyrh Lemoine, Andre Rouleau
with Patrick Huard, Julie LeBreton, Antoine Bertrand, Igor Ovadis, Dominic Philie, Marc Belanger, David Michael, Patrick Martin, Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse, Felix-Antoine Tremblay, David Giguere, Patrick Labbe
release Can 27.Jul.11,
UK 23.Nov.12, US 29.Mar.13
11/Canada 1h49


Remade as:
Delivery Man (2013)
Starbuck Warm and witty, this scruffy comedy-drama is hugely satisfying even if the plot doesn't quite hang together. With likeable characters and an affirming story, the film's generous sense of humour and emotion win us over even if we're not quite convinced by the plot.

Irresponsible butcher David (Huard) doesn't make enough working for his dad (Ovadis) to pay off his debts, and his pregnant girlfriend (LeBreton) is fed up with him. Then he discovers that, after donating sperm nearly 20 years earlier, he has 533 biological children, 142 of whom have filed a class-action lawsuit to learn the identity of the donor "Starbuck". While his lawyer pal (Bertrand) prepares his defence, his curiosity gets the best of him and he starts following his "kids" as a kind of guardian angel. Then the global press gets hold of the story.

The script is a clever combination of snappy dialog and warm emotion. Huard effortlessly plays David as a hapless charmer who takes life as it comes. So watching him reach out to his children individually and as a group is both funny and moving. Within this mind-boggling situation, we can see his paternalistic pride and a new sense of focus. But Huard cleverly keeps his comical edge even in the heart-stopping emotional moments.

Oddly, the script only vaguely refers to the fact that these young people actually have families (a reference to "adoptive" parents is just wrong). Several plot elements make no sense, while the loan shark subplot is an irrelevant distraction the film would be stronger without. Fortunately, the legal case is underplayed by focussing on the emotional fallout rather than the courtroom battle. And in the end it's the personal connections that make the film so endearing.

A father-son scene later on is especially touching, as is the camaraderie between the mob of newfound siblings. So if David's connection with all of them is just a bit contrived, at least the filmmakers find ways to make the situation resonate with us. And in the end, the film's combination of amusing comedy and sweet emotion evoke a sense of belonging we'd all like to have. It'll also probably give sperm banks a boost of hopeful donors.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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X Game
aka: DeathTube
dir Yohei Fukuda
scr Mari Asato, Yoichi Minamikawa
with Hirofumi Araki, Ayaka Kikuchi, Haruka Nakagawa, Masashi Mikami, Shota Chiyo, Meguru Kato, Kazuyuki Aijima, Shingo Tsurumi, Ken Kumagai
X Gamer release Jpn 18.Sep.10,
UK 12.Nov.12
10/Japan 1h59
X Game Inspired by batsu, the cruelly embarrassing penalties on Japanese game shows, this horror movie indulgently mixes elements of other movies without much originality. But at least filmmaker Fukuda strikes a blackly comical tone, while never forgetting the underlying theme of bullying.

After a teacher commits suicide, a group of teens suspect something else was going on. Sure enough, they find a DVD marked with a red X showing someone being horrifically killed. Before they know what's happened, they've been abducted and put into the next production, apparently because they bullied a girl back in gradeschool. In a booby-trapped classroom, they're forced to complete a series of grisly tasks that inflict ghastly pain with a humiliating twist. Then one of them gets the "death penalty" and they turn on each other.

The film is essentially a deranged pastiche of Saw. It has style in the way it's shot and edited, and there's lively energy all the way through. But the undisciplined filmmakers fail to shape the story properly, so it meanders through scenes that don't fit together logically. Most set-pieces are cleverly written and played with spiky attitude by the young cast, but much of the movie is muddied by chattery dialog that dilutes the suspense.

There are also too many flashbacks and some badly staged action, which makes the film seem even longer than its already excessive running time. Director Fukuda is poking fun at teen relationships while gleefully playing with J-horror imagery.But he borrows so many elements from movies and TV that we have a nagging feeling that we've seen all of this before. Instead of suspense there's grotesque violence, as if the bewildering premise will scare us as much as it scares the characters. But since none of these people has much personality, it's difficult to care what happens to them.

Even so, these random sequences are vaguely held together by the increasingly sadistic revenge plot. The overall effect is haunting, as the story touches on the resonant issue of bullying by juggling images of snuff films, torture-porn and teen rom-coms. There are also interesting things going on in every scene, including a rather scary look at how the internet can lead us into areas we really shouldn't go. It just doesn't hang together very well.

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