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last update 25.Sep.13
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In the Name of...
4/5  W Imie...
dir Malgorzata Szumowska
prd Agnieszka Kurzydlo
scr Malgorzata Szumowska, Michal Englert
with Andrzej Chyra, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Maja Ostaszewska, Lukasz Simlat, Tomasz Schuchardt, Mateusz Gajko, Daniel Swiderski, Maria Maj, Kamil Adamowicz, Jakub Gentek, Mateusz Malczewski, Kamil Konopko
Kosciukiewicz and Chyra release US Jun.13 fff,
Pol 20.Sep.13, UK 27.Sep.13
13/Poland 1h42

east end film festival
In the Name of... With almost doc-style realism, this understated drama packs a strong punch as it quietly explores the inner life of a priest in rural Poland. All of the characters are so vivid that they never seem like actors at all, and as the story begins to touch on some big issues it also becomes urgent and important.

In a small country village, Father Adam (Chyra) is quietly frustrated by the entrenched bigotry and fear of his parishioners, gently lecturing them about their violent reactions to things like mental illness and epilepsy. But clearly Adam has more personal issues, and when the sensitive Lukasz (Kosciukiewicz) turns to Adam for help in dealing with his messy family, their supportive friendship begins to shift into romance. At which point Adam realises he's going to have to move on yet again.

Instead of a plot, filmmaker Szumowska focuses on Adam's relationships with the people around him. His primary interaction is with the teacher (Simlat) and rough-housing boys at a local reform-school, including one boy (Gajko) who confesses to being in love with a classmate (Schuchardt). There's also the flirty, lonely Ewa (Ostaszewska). But with all of these gurgling secrets and crippling self-hatred, it's only a matter of time before things go badly wrong.

Szumowska directs the film beautifully, creating almost mythical locations and internalising the events so strongly that we don't mind missing key scenes in the story. These are raw, achingly realistic characters with intriguing back-stories. And the way they interact is lively and often extremely tense. At the centre, Chyra is terrific as a compassionate man with a bright spark of faith who is taunted by guilt over his deepest longings.

As the story gets increasingly dark, the less-defined plot points begin to undermine our emotional connection to Adam, who turns to alcohol to numb his inner turmoil. But the way these people circle around each other is complex and provocative, drawing us in through pointed imagery that reveals thoughts and feelings. And watching Adam try to help others while he's waging war with himself is hugely involving. We want to give him a hug, even as we understand he needs more than that.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
28.Jun.13 eeff
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Metro Manila
dir Sean Ellis; scr Sean Ellis, Frank E Flowers
prd Mathilde Charpentier, Sean Ellis
with Jake Macapagal, Althea Vega, John Arcilla, Erin Panlilio, Moises Magisa, Ana Abad-Santos, Mailes Canapi, JM Rodriguez
macapagal and vega
release US Jan.13 sff,
UK 20.Sep.13, Ph 9.Oct.13
13/Philippines 1h50

sundance london film festival
Metro Manila With kinetic visual style, British filmmaker Ellis takes us into the bustling streets of Manila for a family drama that shifts into a seriously intense thriller. The story is perhaps a bit too tidy, broadly signposting both themes and plot twists, but a natural cast and the urgent camerawork make it a riveting ride.

Oscar (Macapagal) is a farmer struggling to support his wife Mai (Vega) and two young daughters. So they pack up and move to the big city. But of course things are even tougher here, as they are swindled and chased into the slums. Oscar finds work as an armoured truck driver, one of Manila's most dangerous jobs, while Mai goes to work in a lap-dancing club. Both are pushed far beyond reason into nasty moral corners. And when Oscar's sparky mentor Ong (Arcilla) makes a shady proposal, he sees a possible way out.

Despite the over-developed script, the story doesn't go as expected; Ellis has a few surprises up his sleeve. And his most potent tools are the unknown actors who create visceral characters we can easily identify with. Even if we've never been in a situation quite this violently perilous, we can sympathise with their desperation as they do things they would never even think about in better circumstances.

This earthy realism gives the film a real kick, with several seriously horrific sequences that chill us to the bone. As Ellis says, this story could have been set in hundreds of cities where at-risk people look for economic solutions to seemingly impossible situations. Everyone in this film rings true, even if the clanking machinery of the plot sometimes seems to lay the trials of Job onto Oscar and his family.

We long for him to get one decent break. So as things get increasingly nasty, the film develops a strong resonance, especially as the actors do such great job of conveying the internal workings of their characters. And Ellis keeps the tension levels high through skilful filmmaking. In the end, this thrilling drama beautifully captures Filipino culture and settings with a documentary sense of urgency. And while the messages are laid out rather too clearly for us, the story carries a real wallop.

15 themes, language, strong violence
26.Apr.13 slf
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Museum Hours
dir-scr Jem Cohen
prd Paolo Calamita, Jem Cohen, Gabriele Kranzelbinder
with Bobby Sommer, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Ela Piplits
bacri and scott thomas release US Apr.13 sfiff,
UK 6.Sep.13
12/Austria 1h47
Museum Hours Quite literally an art film, this quietly riveting drama essentially just observes its settings and characters, eavesdropping on what they have to say about themselves and the world around them. It's a striking exploration of the essence of being human, both old and young. But it'll leave audiences seeking story or momentum a bit cold.

After a noisy youth as a music teacher, Johann (Sommer) has chosen a much quieter job as a guard at the grand Kunsthistorisches Art Museum in Vienna. He wiles away the time watching people and spotting details in paintings. Then he meets Anne (O'Hara), who is clearly in need of a friend. In town from Montreal to care for her cousin in hospital, Anne can't even talk to the doctors. So Johann acts as an interpretor, and as they spent time together they begin to change the way they see the world.

Narrated with Johann's deadpan voice (he notes that he has spent the past six years sitting in front of a big door), the film is punctuated by the museum's paintings. His favourite artist is Breughel, and he loves exploring the class-jumbling 16th century canvasses as the tour guide (Piplits) reveals their secrets. Meanwhile, Anne is adrift in this strange city, curious enough to make the most of her time and deepen her fascination with art. There isn't really a plot here, and certainly no romance, but the film is a profoundly insightful journey to the intersection between art and everyday life.

Writer-director Cohen shoots this elegantly, capturing settings from the tranquil museum to the even more silent hospital, plus busy streets and Johann's solitary flat. Cohen has a strong eye for wry humour and telling detail, and indulges in clever touches such as letting us watch Johann's face as he describes a painting before showing it to us. The conversations between Johann and Anne are often more like a two-handed voiceover than on-screen dialog.

Tellingly, Johann never feels like Anne is taking advantage. "It's no trouble to help," he says. "I'd hope for the same." And he gets something back: a fresh look at art that sparks him to, for example, imagine the museum visitors naked. And he clearly loves it as their chats spiral through art, religion, sex, politics and personal feelings. This gives the film a remarkable depth that punches emotional notes with precision.

12 themes, nudity
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dir-scr Kim Ki-duk
prd Kim Soon-mo
with Cho Min-soo, Lee Jung-jin, Woo Gi-Hong, Kang Eun-jin, Jo Jae-ryong, Lee Myung-ja, Heo Joon-seok, Kwon Se-in, Song Moon-soo, Kim Beum-joon, Son Jong-hak, Lee Won-jang
cho and lee release Kor 6.Sep.12,
US 17.May.13, UK 6.Sep.13
12/Korea 1h44


Pieta With his usual abrasive style, writer-director Kim packs this offbeat thriller with blackly witty touches while keeping the tone dark and chilling, often delving into deeply transgressive corners of the human psyche. This is a grisly fable that never goes where we expect it to. And it has some important things to say about both revenge and sacrifice.

Loan shark enforcer Kang-do (Lee) is sent to extract payment from Hoon-chul (Woo) by crushing his arm with his own equipment, then claiming on an insurance policy. Later that day, a strange woman named Mi-sun (Cho) turns up claiming to be his mother and begging forgiveness for abandoning him as an infant. A heartless loner, Kang-do becomes increasingly annoyed as Mi-sun worms her way into his life, cleaning his flat, buying food and even helping with his work. He's so taken aback that he doesn't think something else might be going on here.

The story takes place in a chaotically run-down industrial district that almost looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland where everyone's in financial trouble. All of the debtors are desperate, pleading for mercy because someone else depends on them. We get glimpses of the modern city life outside this neighbourhood, but the people here are trapped in a place that's dying and will soon make way for more gleaming skyscrapers.

The film quietly shifts as Kang-do begins to engage with the people he's collecting from rather than just ruthlessly inflicting horrific harm. One young guy (Kwon) actually begs him for a crippling injury. But once Kang-do discovers that he has a mother, he becomes terrified of being on his own again. So as the story takes a dark turn, we feel eerily sympathetic toward him. And as the nastiness escalates, the film becomes unnervingly emotional and almost elegiac.

Clearly, Kim is exploring bigger themes about how post-industrial society is destroying traditional homes and businesses. But the plot itself is a twisted, shifting tale of revenge, played with surprising layers by both Lee and Cho. The more we learn about them, the creepier their relationship becomes (which is saying something). Kang-do isn't cruel because he never had a mum, he's cruel because he never had anyone to care about. And because he lives in a society in which money is the only thing that's important.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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