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last update 13.Oct.13
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Closed Curtain
dir Jafar Panahi, Kambuzia Partovi
scr-prd Jafar Panahi
with Kambuzia Partovi, Maryam Moqadam, Jafar Panahi, Hadi Saeedi, Azadeh Torabi, Abolghasem Sobhani, Mahyar Jafaripour, Ramin Akhariani, Sina Mashyekhi, Siamak Abedinpour, Zeynab Kanoum
partovi and boy
release UK Oct.13 lff,
US Oct.13 ciff
13/Iran 1h46


london film festival
Closed Curtain Banned filmmaker Panahi continues to work by making movies with other filmmakers and distributing them outside Iran. Packed with clever ideas, this feels more like an expression of his frustration than a fully formed feature. After an intriguingly provocative first half, it turns surreal and far too metaphorical.

With dogs outlawed, a blocked writer (Partovi) takes his beloved pooch Boy into hiding at a seaside villa, blacking out the windows. Then a mysterious brother and sister (Saeedi and Moqadam) turn up. They're also on the run, so he reluctantly offers help. But the brother runs off, leaving him to fend for himself against this feisty woman. At this point he loses track of his script, so director Panahi steps in, attempting to make sense of the story and send it somewhere interesting. This includes a possible burglary and some help from the neighbours.

The enjoyable set-up is unpredictably twisty as Partovi is forced to share his refuge with this cheeky, confrontational woman. We're told that she's suicidal, although she seems too full of life for that. But once Panahi enters the frame reality crumbles, as scenes are shot in mirrored reflections with action taking place off-screen. There are also sequences that are shot and then rewritten and shot again, or in one case played out, re-enacted and then watched back on an iPhone video with the camera crew in view.

Even though it's witty and cleverly shot, the film feels heavy-handed simply because everything in the second half is an expression of creative rage. When a friend suggests he find something to occupy his time aside from moviemaking, Panahi can't think of anything else. Which makes the suicide theme rather frightening. And as Panahi's ideas for his film start to flail around, we begin to lose interest.

As for acting, the dog delivers the strongest performance and wins us over completely. Partovi seems distracted as his paranoid owner, while Moqadam veers from sassy attitude to glassy-eyed boredom. And Panahi looks haunted, wandering around the house trying to create scenes that send his story somewhere interesting. What has happened to him in Iran is deeply horrific, and we feel his deep urge to be creative. But maybe he needs a short holiday.

12 themes, some grisliness
12.Oct.13 lff
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The Critic
3.5/5   El Crítico
dir-scr Hernan Guerschuny
prd Carolina Alvarez, Hugo Castro Fau, Hernan Guerschuny, Pablo Udenio
with Rafael Spregelburd, Dolores Fonzi, Ignacio Rogers, Telma Crisanti, Ana Katz, Daniel Cargieman, Eduardo Iaccono, Marcelo Subiotto, Blanca Lewin, Gabriella Ferrero, Pino Siano, Marta Pacamicci
fonzi and spregelburd release Arg Apr.13 baific;
UK Oct.13 rff
13/Argentina 1h38

raindance film festival
the critic A witty in-joke about the movies, this Argentine romantic-comedy centres on a critic who hates rom-coms. Especially when he's living one. The film may be a bit too knowing for its own good, but it's sharply well-made and features characters we enjoy hanging out with.

Victor Tellez (Spregelburd) feels like his job as a film critic is eating away his soul. "Film are suffocating me," he says, noting that movies are just getting increasingly derivative. When a wealthy supporter (Iaccono) challenges him to start writing better movies than are being made, he starts working on a script. Meanwhile he's trying to get to know his teen niece (Crisanti) and dodge an angry young filmmaker (Rogers). Then while looking for a new flat he meets Sofia (Fonzi) and starts a romance that, annoyingly, begins to change his perspective on the movies.

The film is skilfully shot and edited, with a bone-dry sense of humour and playful cinematic references. Spregelburd plays Victor as an amusingly scruffy cynic with a soft centre; his running commentary is in French, because Spanish sounds too judgmental. A confirmed curmudgeon, he sees his job as helping readers see the difference between real art and something manipulative and unoriginal. But being around Sofia is opening him to emotions he has always resisted.

Writer-director Guerschuny only barely has to exaggerate a film critic's life, taking notes in the dark in a basement screening room with a handful of fellow grumps who can never admit to falling for a movie's emotions. Victor's in trouble with his doctor for sitting too much. His editor wants to change his review to please a potential advertiser. And a filmmaker just wants to explain his badly trashed movie, leading to some dark drama and mild suspense.

This is a sometimes too-clever film about how cheap sentimentality and perfect phrases at just the right moments work even though we know they shouldn't. As Guerschuny eviscerates the romantic-comedy, he's forcing Victor to experience one, horrified at the thought of a cute montage, a big romantic kiss and especially at recreating that iconic moment from Titanic. And he'd certainly never race to the airport to stop his beloved from leaving. The real trick is finding an ending that's both satisfying and realistic.

12 themes, language
6.Oct.13 rff
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aka: Alone
dir-scr Marcelo Briem Stamm
prd Derek Curl, Didier Costet
with Patricio Ramos, Mario Veron, Carlos Echevarria, Laura Agorreca, Mike Zubi
ramos and veron
release US Jul.13 qf,
UK 23.Sep.13
13/Argentina 1h16
Solo Contained and simple, this talky Buenos Aires drama explores the meeting of two gay men in a somewhat theatrical way. Essentially a two-hander, this twisty romantic thriller gets rather preachy as the balance of power shifts over one long rainy night.

Manuel (Ramos) has a lonely night at home watching TV, talking to his friend Vicky (Agorreca) on the phone and chatting online to Julio (Veron), who doesn't have a photo on his profile. But Manuel gives in, and the two meet on a nearby corner. There's a spark of attraction, and they go back to Manuel's flat. Both confess that they're tired of anonymous sex and decide to start a monogamous relationship. As they talk, they decide to run away. But do they really know each other?

The film has a relaxed, understated tone, as filmmaker Briem Stamm stages scenes like a play, exploring relational issues like mainly through dialog. Then a moralising attitude creeps in, as both young men talk about the emptiness of promiscuity, the "bad" people who choose that way of life and the dangers of hooking up online. Briem Stamm choreographs their interaction in an eerily awkward way, turning the whole encounter into something vaguely sinister as Julio's temper flares and Manuel's neediness begins to feel cloying.

The title can be translated either as "alone" or "single", and the script plays with the meaning of the word for gay men who pretend to be unattached to have one-off flings outside their relationships. Everything seems to be a sign of deception: "let's meet soon" is a way to put someone off and people always turn out to want things they claim to not be interested in. The fact is that Manuel is still hung up on Horacio (Echevarria in flashback), his first boyfriend, who led him into open exploratory sex.

The fact is that neither of these guys trust each other, because they've never found anyone they can trust. It's fairly easy to see where the story is heading, and the script isn't complex enough to say anything hugely original. We never believe there will be a happy ever after. But there's enough insight to hold our interest, and both Ramos and Veron create intriguing characters we can identify with, especially when they fantasise about a happier life away from their worries.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Young & Beautiful
3.5/5   Jeune & Jolie
dir-scr Francois Ozon
prd Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
with Marine Vacth, Geraldine Pailhas, Frederic Pierrot, Fantin Ravat, Johan Leysen, Charlotte Rampling, Nathalie Richard, Djedje Apali, Lucas Prisor, Laurent Delbecque, Jeanne Ruff, Carole Franck
Delbecque and Vacth
release Fr 29.Jun.13,
UK 29.Nov.13
13/France Mandarin 1h35

london film festival
Jeune & Jolie Ozon explores a transgressive side of sexuality in this internalised drama about a teen prostitute. But this isn't the usual trip to the seedy low-life: these are well-off people who seem balanced and intelligent. And it's tricky for us to admit that this is just as realistic as the grimier depictions we see in preachier films.

In the summer of her 17th birthday, Isabelle (Vacth) orchestrates the loss of her virginity to a German tourist (Prisor), then casually dumps him. Her little brother Victor (Ravat) doesn't understand this; her open-minded mother (Pailhas) and stepdad (Pierrot) have no idea it's even happened. And back in Paris, Isabelle begins a secret career as a high-class hooker visiting clients in hotels. But when a regular john (Leyson) has a heart attack, Isabelle has no idea how to cope. Can she ever be a regular teen again?

Since Isabelle comes from a well-off family, she doesn't have the usual simplistic reasons for going into this work. She certainly doesn't need the money, and her interest in sex is tentative at best. On the other hand, she loves pretending to be in in her 20s. Vacth plays this perfectly, with a transparent honesty that's sometimes unnerving. We see her desire for these experiences and even her fondness for some clients, but we never understand her motivations.

This forces us into a very different perspective than we're used to. But then, Ozon loves throwing his audiences into squirm-inducing situations. It's impossible to just sit back and watch a movie like this. It's fluidly shot and edited in such an expert way that we never notice the filmmaking itself. And the acting is earthy and natural, only jolting us when Rampling appears at the end in a key role.

That said, it's hard to see what Ozon is trying to say, aside from challenging our preconceptions and the values we may not quite understand properly. Is he exploring the idea that youngsters are maturing earlier than we think, and that we need to take a more realistic approach to helping them grow up? Or is he challenging the fundamental definition of a sexual predator? The important thing is that he's raising these kinds of questions. And we need more filmmakers willing to do this without offering glib answers.

18 themes, language, strong sexuality
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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall