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last update 27.Mar.12
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The Adopted
4h/5   MUST must see SEE   Les Adoptés
dir Melanie Laurent
prd Bruno Levy
scr Chris Deslandes, Melanie Laurent, Morgan Perez
with Marie Denarnaud, Denis Menochet, Melanie Laurent, Clementine Celarie, Theodore Maquet-Foucher, Audrey Lamy, Morgan Perez, Nicolas Medad, Chris Deslandes, Melissa Drigeard, Jacques Pieri, Rosen Castera
maquet-foucher, laurent and denarnaud
release Fr 23.Nov.11,
UK 24.Feb.12
11/France StudioCanal 1h40
The Adopted With her directing debut, actress Laurent proves to be an insightful, sensitive filmmaker. This story centres tightly on five members of an assembled family, finding layers of resonance in each scene.

Orphaned as a child, Marine (Denarnaud) was adopted by Millie (Celarie) and raised alongside adoptive sister Lisa (Laurent), who's now a single mum to Leo (Maquet-Foucher). And their life is pretty much like any family's, with deep-seated love submerged under layers of family history, tiny grudges and personality issues. So Lisa struggles to get excited about Marine's charming new boyfriend Alex (Menochet). Then their lives take a dark twist, and each person has to stop and think about what they really mean to each other.

Laurent assembles this as a slice-of-life, quietly letting the plot develop in the background while focussing on the emotional interaction between the characters. Each of these five people emerges as a complex individual quietly trying to understand how they fit together. And each of them is as feisty and rude as they are thoughtful and caring. In other words, the roles are a gift for any actor, and Laurent directs her cast to performances that are raw and open, letting us into the souls of the characters in startlingly intimate ways.

The film's relaxed, gentle approach is constantly fired up by sparky relationships that are funny, wrenching, sexy and tender. The dialog makes constant references to past events, as families do, without explaining these things to us. But this gives us a remarkably vivid sense of their history together, including tight loyalties and tiny grudges. So their relationships are cyclical, as they fight or pull away, then find new ways to get closer than ever.

It's also gorgeously shot and edited, cleverly using depth of focus to reveal details, while the music echoes the moods without ever manipulating them. As it progresses, the film becomes so internalised that we start to feel part of this family as well, so what happens is an almost overwhelming collision of heartbreak and hope. Like Sarah Polley's evocative first film Away From Her, this is a notable debut for a filmmaker who has rare sensitivity and skill.

15 themes, language, sexuality, some violence
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Our Paradise
3.5/5   Notre Paradis
dir-scr Gael Morel
prd Paulo Branco
with Stephane Rideau, Dimitri Durdaine, Beatrice Dalle, Didier Flamand, Raymonde Bronstein, Malik Issolah, Mathis Morisset, Jean-Christophe Bouvet, Ludovic Berthillot, Jean-Marc Leon, Jacques Grant, Rabah Zahi
rideau and durdaine
release Fr 28.Sep.11,
UK Mar.12 llgff
11/France 1h40

london l&g film fest
Our Paradise Gifted French filmmaker Morel explores fairly dark themes in his films, refusing to make things easy for his characters. And this strikingly involving film is no exception, following a relationship that starts out rather bleakly and gets increasingly unnerving.

At age 30, Vassili (Rideau) works the streets in Paris but finds that his clients are getting older. So he starts quietly killing them. When he rescues 20-ish Angelo (Durdaine) after an attack, the two start to fall for each other even as they continue pulling tricks. And although Angelo asks him to stop, Vassili continues murdering their johns. So they leave the city to see Vassili's friend Anna (Dalle)and her young son (Morisset). Together they head to an idyllic mountain cabin to visit Vassili's mentor Victor (Flamand), where Vassili has a terrible idea.

As usual, Morel is exploring generational issues of masculinity, and the film's final act features men aged around 60, 30, 20 and 10 interacting in increasingly eerie ways. Especially as the intentions of each character become clear. Indeed, the film's creepy sensibility is often overwhelming since, aside from the killing spree, Vassili is a pretty nice guy and his relationship with Angelo is actually rather sweet.

Rideau gets the balance just right between Vassili's light and dark sides, catching us off guard with a flick of the eyes. And we can't quite understand why he finds it so difficult to leave the violence behind. But the "paradise" of Victor's home and the happiness of his romance with Angelo are just too much for him to resist. Opposite him, Durdaine is like an innocent who simply refuses to see the truth.

The surrounding cast is also very strong, although Issolah (as Victor's long-term partner) plays a slightly one-note character who takes huge exception to Vassili from the moment they meet. There might be some history here, but the script never fills in this gap in the character, which leaves him as the villain of the piece even if he's truly the only voice of reason. The plot's table-turning is so well-handled by Morel that we barely see it happening. And as a result, the film's final scenes are seriously haunting.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality
26.Mar.12 llgff
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The Raid
aka The Raid: Redemption
dir-scr Gareth Huw Evans
b>prd Ario Sagantoro
with Iko Uwais, Donny Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian, Joe Taslim, Ray Sahetapy, Pierre Gruno, Tegar Satrya, Iang Darmawan, Eka Rahmadia, Verdi Solaiman, Fikha Effendi, R Iman Aji
release Ina Nov.11 iifff,
US 23.Mar.12, UK 18.May.12
11/Indonesia 1h41
The Raid 2 (2014)

The Raid This riotously entertaining Indonesian action-thriller is packed with cleverly staged carnage. There's very little in the way of characterisation or plot, although there's just enough of both to hold our interest.

Rookie cop Rama (Uwais) kisses his pregnant wife goodbye and heads out for an intense day at work. The team is raiding a run-down tower block to capture vicious mobster Tama (Sahetapy). Led by tough-guy Jaka (Taslim), they aren't remotely ready for what happens next, as Tama offers the building's residents free rent for life if they kill the cops before they reach the 15th floor. Full-on war ensues, and soon there are only a handful of police officers left. Then Rama runs into his brother Andi (Alamsyah), who's one of Tama's righthand goons.

There are a few convenient plot points along the way, including the fact that the cowardly police commander Wahyu (Gruno) is operating outside the system, which means they can't call for back-up. And in the hallways there's a wiry thug (Ruhian) who prefers to fight with his hands rather than guns or knives, which leads to two insanely spectacular fights as he takes on Jaka first, then the brothers together. These encounters are so inventively choreographed (by Uwais and Ruhian) that they never seem repetitive. Which is no mean feat.

That said, every scene majors on head-smashing, bone-splintering brutality. The battles in the corridors are like kickboxing with added knives and guns, captured skilfully by Matt Flannery's tactile camerawork. The fact that every sequence has its own pace and personality keeps the film from being boring, and director Evans continually stirs in moments of pitch-black humour to keep us laughing in between the gasping and wincing.

It's surprising how entertaining this film is, since it's essentially just a series of scenes in which men bash each other in the head or stab each other in the neck. The bare-bones plot is just enough to keep us engaged, even with brazenly cheap filmmaking cliches like a pregnant wife back home and a beloved black-sheep brother. But when combined with energetic, full-on direction, editing, sound, acting and stunts, they make the film a ludicrously enjoyable guilty pleasure.

18 themes, language, brutal violence
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Special Forces
3/5   Forces Spéciales
dir-scr Stephane Rybojad
prd Thierry Marro, Benoit Ponsaille
with Diane Kruger, Djimon Hounsou, Benoit Magimel, Denis Menochet, Raphael Personnaz, Alain Figlarz, Marius, Mehdi Nebbou, Raz Degan, Tcheky Karyo, Morjana Alaoui, Isabelle Vitari
kruger and magimel release Fr 2.Nov.11,
UK 12.Mar.12
11/France StudioCanal 1h49
Special Forces Slick and pacey, this military thriller feels contrived as it ramps up the drama, but it has a terrific cast and a vivid sense of violent peril and political instability. The film gets increasingly worthy as it goes along, but is sharp enough to engage us.

Barely recovered from a full-on secret mission to Kosovo, the French Special Forces team (including Hounsou, Menochet, Figlarz and Marius) heads to the mountains of Pakistan, where journalist Elsa (Kruger) and her local assistant (Nebbou) have been kidnapped by wild-eyed fanatic Zaief (Degan). The team is joined on the ground by Tic-Tac (Magimel), and while the rescue goes to plan, Zaief's well-armed militia is relentless (Personnaz's sniper calls them "playful"). And getting out is trickier than these six tough guys expected.

The script tries to squeeze in a few details about the soldiers, but the snappy machismo of their banter is a lot more fun, while quick editing and a pulsing score maintain the feeling that everything's hugely important. As their epic trek continues, gunfire gets both more frequent and more gruesome. But there are also revealing moments, including the fact that the villain is an English-speaking Westerner.

More intriguing is the way the team watches helplessly as people are killed so they can stay on-mission. And killing people actually makes them pause: this job isn't easy on the conscience, but they're willing to do the grisly work if they have to. Which is something similar American films like Act of Valor never acknowledge.

Indeed, even with the adept cast and skilful filmmaking, this is an unnerving, scrappy action movie infused with humour and drama, even if the dangers, deaths and injuries wear us out. The film also cross-cuts unnecessarily to a ship-based admiral (Karyo) and French government officials, touching on political issues both in Asia and Europe.

So there's a real sense that the Pakistani people are caught in the crossfire between Western military and ruthless Taliban warlords who seem only interested in settling personal grudges. But in the end, the the earnest Saving Journalist Elsa sensibility is a bit much, as is the Sound of Music-like escape across the mountains. All of this may strain credibility, but it's still an involving journey.

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