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last update 26.Jan.12
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dir-scr Joseph Cedar
prd Joseph Cedar, Leon Edery, Moshe Edery, David Mandil
with Lior Ashkenazi, Shlomo Bar-Aba, Aliza Rosen, Alma Zack, Daniel Markovich, Micah Lewensohn, Yuval Scharf, Nevo Kimchi, Michael Koresh, Idit Teperson, Albert Iluz, Jackey Levi
ashkenazi and bar-aba
release UK Oct.11 lff,
US Oct.11 nyff
11/Israel 1h43


london film fest
Footnote Essentially a father-son drama, this clever Israeli film expands to explore issues from religion to politics with a strikingly ethical slant. It also maintains a comical tone even when things get very serious indeed.

Beyond a single footnote in an important textbook, Professor Eliezer Scholnik (Bar-Aba) has never been recognised for his painstaking research into the Talmud. So when he finally wins the prestigious Israel Prize, he is quietly but enormously pleased. The problem is that the award was actually meant for his son Uriel (Ashkenazi), who believes his father deserves the honour, even though Eliezer has little respect for Uriel's work. But can Uriel convince the prize chairman (Lewensohn), who also happens to be Eliezer's life-long nemesis, to cover up the mistake?

Gifted filmmaker Cedar tells this story with plenty of wit, capturing scenes in long takes and editing them together inventively while adding little flourishes of text. The result takes us into the specific perspectives of both Eliezer and Uriel, so we can see both the events and the bigger picture through each of their eyes. Underscoring everything is an exploration of the role of a scholar to pass on knowledge to from one generation to the next.

The characters are likeable even in their stubborn spikiness. Bar-Aba's Eliezer is a calm, confident grump who doesn't really care what people think of him ("That is a very nice idea, but wrong," he repeatedly says to his son). Or at least that's who he pretends to be: only his patient wife (Rosen) knows better. Meanwhile, Ashkenazi's Uriel is more of a peacemaker, and therefore more generally liked, although this doesn't mean that his wife (Zack) doesn't have to be just as patient with him.

Through all of this, Cedar's bold camerawork creates a wry, humorous tone that highlights the much bigger issues surging under the surface. Through footnotes and flashbacks, he fills in the back-stories and adds comical touches to the plot that sometimes threaten to turn the film into a French-style farce. Then the huge ethical dilemma shows itself, forcing us to think about much bigger issues like inter-generational respect and the importance of the truth even when a lie might seem easier to swallow.

12 themes, language, some violence
5.Oct.11 lff
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House of Tolerance   aka: House of Pleasures
2.5/5   L’Apollonide: Souvenirs de la Maison Close
dir-scr Bertrand Bonello
prd Bertrand Bonello, Kristina Larsen
with Noemie Lvovsky, Hafsia Herzi, Celine Sallette, Jasmine Trinca, Adele Haenel, Alice Barnole, Iliana Zabeth, Laurent Lacotte, Xavier Beauvois, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Jacques Nolot, Esther Garrel
House of Tolerance
release Fr 21.Sep.11,
US 25.Nov.11, UK 27.Jan.12
11/France 2h02


House of Tolerance Beyond the obvious fact that prostitution is depressing and degrading to women, this film doesn't have much to say. But at least it's assembled with lavish style, while packing scenes with increasingly wacky touches.

Madame Marie-France (Lvovsky) is struggling to keep her brothel open in 1899 Paris. Even though her licensed high-class girls have loyal clients, trouble is brewing. As the new century dawns, Madeleine (Barnole) is viciously attacked by a regular customer (Lacotte), and there are also the usual worries of pregnancy and syphilis. Although at least there's a new girl, 16-year-old Pauline (Zabeth), to attract fresh customers. But rising rent and shifting morality is changing the business, and Marie-France may need to take drastic measures to survive.

This isn't much plot for a two-hour film, so most of the running time consists of colourful scenes of the women in various states of undress as they prepare for work, flirt with gentlemen in the lounge, face a variety of fantasies and fetishes, and then collapse afterwards into their communal beds. In other words, it's like a particularly lush and lurid reality TV show about prostitutes. It certainly has a modern sensibility about it, with rock songs on the soundtrack and a casual doc-style approach.

But there's not much more to it than bodices being ripped apart and near-naked women languishing on chaise longues. The plot would barely fill a 15-minute short, and while each character has at least one salient trait, they aren't distinct enough to emerge as individuals. They come and go seemingly at random, without establishing any real relationships. That said, the cast is excellent, with especially brave performances from Barnole and Trinca.

Meanwhile, Bonello drops in odd elements like the pet panther that purrs loudly in the parlour, threatening something grisly to come. Madeleine's freaky dreams and deranged pronouncements of love are deeply unsettling, especially when visualised on screen. And there's an unnerving orgy sequence that is likely to haunt most viewers. Well, at least there's that: most films are instantly forgettable, but this atmospheric trip to the gloomier side of Moulin Rouge will be forever etched in the mind.

19 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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Polish Roulette
2/5   Sztos 2
dir Olaf Lubaszenko
scr Olaf Lubaszenko, Jerzy Kolasa
prd Marcin Kacak, Andrzej Banasik
with Cezary Pazura, Borys Szyc, Bartlomiej Topa, Boguslaw Linda, Edward Linde-Lubaszenko, Jan Nowicki, Ewa Gawryluk, Miroslaw Sbrojewicz, Janusz Jozefowicz, Michal Milowicz, Olaf Lubaszenko, Michal Piela
szyc and pazura release Pol 20.Jan.12,
UK 27.Jan.12
12/Poland 1h45
Polish Roulette This madcap Polish caper comedy may connect with audiences who remember life in the Communist-controlled 1980s. Otherwise it's funny and energetic, but so chaotic that it's difficult to follow.

It's the winter of 1981, and experienced conman Sonny (Pazura) hits the road with handsome sidekick Janek (Szyc) to make some cash. As they drive through the icy countryside, they win some and lose some until an old pal (Linde) asks them to smuggle a Solidarity activist (Topa) into Warsaw. Now they're on the run from ZOMO, the paramilitary secret police that's known for both sadism and corruption. So they team with veteran grifter Eryk (Nowicki) to pull an elaborate sting on a ZOMO agent (Linda).

This is a sequel to the hit 1997 romp Sztos, but it also stands on its own. Diving straight into the chaos, it takes awhile to get up to speed with the freewheeling style and fast-talking characters. Filmmaker Lubaszenko fills the screen with lurid colours and music from the period, gleefully sending up both the fashion excesses and the Soviet-era politics. Meanwhile, the plot is a sequence of bluffs and double-bluffs that often boggle the mind, especially since there are so many characters that it's impossible to remember who's connected to whom.

At the centre of the mayhem, Pazura and Szyc are engagingly hilarious, unable to resist a con even if it will surely mean trouble. Some of these events are corny and more than a little contrived, but each caper plays out like a short film on its own, so if one scene doesn't work we only have to wait a few minutes for the movie to shift into another scenario. But this shambolic structure means that the overall story has no real momentum.

In addition, it feels like a witty in-joke for Poles who remember the politics, music and clothes of the time. Not to mention the escape valve provided by vodka. Less clear is whether the film's rampant homophobia and misogyny are from the period or just part of the filmmaker's worldview. A vile scene involving a cross-dresser seems included only to eliminate any potential bromance between Sonny and Janek, and all of the female characters are anonymous sex objects.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs
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A Useful Life
4/5   La Vida Útil
dir Federico Veiroj
prd Laura Gutman, Juan Jose Lopez
scr Ines Bortagaray, Gonzalo Delgado, Arauco Hernandez Holz, Federico Veiroj
with Jorge Jellinek, Manuel Martinez Carril, Paola Venditto, Gonzalo Delgado, Felipe Arocena, Victoria Novick, Maria Jose Santacreu, Julio Pelossi, Luis Olveira, Macunaima, Anhelo Hernandez, Patricia Cruz
release Ur 13.Aug.10,
US 14.Jan.11, UK 13.Jan.12
10/Uruguay 1h07

A Useful Life Shot in grainy back and white like an Italian neo-realist classic, this warm and witty ode to cinema may only appeal to true film fans. But it's packed with astute observations and enjoyably scruffy characters whose passion for movies is a natural to them as breathing.

Jorge (the actors use their own names) and Manuel are programming the arthouse Cinemateca in Montevideo from an extensive archive of old prints. But running this cinema is difficult in the digital age, with shrinking audiences and failing equipment. And when the financial backers pull the plug, Jorge hasn't a clue what to do next. Having worked at Cinemateca for 25 years, he has no other skills. How can he now ask university professor Paola out on a date? Maybe his love of old movies will provide some inspiration.

Realistically tatty settings provide a terrific backdrop for this film's bone-dry humour, which knowingly observes the way audiences for serious cinema are inexorably shrinking. And then there's the bigger picture, looking at how economic forces change familiar ways of doing things. In today's financial climate, it's not only art cinemas that are closing, but also libraries, newspapers, family-run shops, traditional cafes. In other words, this is a knowing look at how society's history and experience are quietly being lost.

So it's sad to watch Jorge and Manual desperately try to draw in people who are increasingly disinterested in the classics. Indeed, this film's subtle and sly approach will alienate blockbuster lovers who prefer simplistic plotting and whizzy visuals. Director Veiroj shoots in a static fly-on-the-wall style, refusing to manipulate scenes and letting the characters emerge from actors who don't seem to be acting at all.

But every scene has a playful touch that's even more fun for audiences who know their film history. After the heartbreaking images of the cinema being closed, Jorge emerges into a contemporary landscape of computers and mobile phones, things he's clearly never touched. But he also quietly realises that his love of movies might provide a way forward. And the film's final scenes are a joyous proclamation of just why film history is more important now than it's ever been before.

U some themes
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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall