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last update 20.Oct.13
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Gare du Nord
dir-scr Claire Simon
prd Richard Copans
with Nicole Garcia, Reda Kateb, Francois Damiens, Monia Chokri, Sophie Bredier, Michael Evans, Lucille Vieaux, Michael Dai, Ardoise, Marvin Jean-Charles, Ibrahim Koma, Christophe Paou
garcia and kateb
release Fr 4.Sep.13,
UK Oct.13 lff
13/France 1h59

london film festival
Gare du Nord As an exploration of the variety of life seen in a single railway station, this film has certain value for people-watchers. But its narrative strands are only barely developed, and it overstays its welcome when it tries to stir in some twisty plotting and magical realism.

At Paris' busy Gare du Nord, Ismael (Kateb) is conducting surveys for the rail company while quizzing people for his own sociological research. One day he meets university professor Mathilde (Garcia), who encourages him to pursue his PhD with his theory that the station is the equivalent of "a global village square". Meanwhile, reality TV host Sacha (Damiens) is looking for his runaway daughter, while businesswoman Joan (Chokri) is trying to keep up with her various clients while wishing she was home with her husband and kids.

Simon's sharp direction catches telling details of little stories happening all around these four characters amid the constant flow of people travelling in and out of the station. And we get to know a few others along the way, including a timid young woman (Vieaux) terrified that she might lose her job in a lingerie shop, a Nepali (Dai) running a candy stall, and a Congolese man (Ardoise) who sets up a more informal style of business.

Every scene is packed with glimpses of life on various train platforms and waiting areas, layered above and below each other. We see hellos and goodbyes, police breaking up conflicts, teens lurking and gypsies begging. Tourists struggle to understand the system, while locals make irrational demands ("No, I don't have a ticket, but I have to catch this train!"). A protest involving doctors and nurses grinds everything to a halt one day. Filmmakers Pawel Pawlikowski and Jacques Nolot pop up in cameos.

All of this is fascinating in a documentary sense, while the film's dramatic storylines never quite get off the ground, making the film drag badly over its extended running time. There are real moments of emotion along the way, but a few fantastical touches leave everything feeling rather superficial. That said, the film does capture the way we feel most alone when we're in the middle of a bustling crowd of people.

15 themes, language, violence
15.Oct.15 lff
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It’s All So Quiet
4/5   Boven Is Het Stil
dir-scr Nanouk Leopold
prd Stienette Bosklopper, Els Vandevorst
with Jeroen Willems, Henri Garcin, Martijn Lakemeier, Wim Opbrouck, Lies Visschedijk
willems and lakemeier release Ned 25.Apr.13,
US Jun.13 fff, UK 10.Aug.15
13/Netherlands 1h33

london film festival
It's All So Quiet The title of this Dutch drama is almost annoyingly accurate: this is a sleepy, almost silent drama about people who are so repressed that it's the height of enlightenment when they crack the hint of a smile. But the film's beautifully observed by writer-director Leopold and actors who have to convey the characters' feelings without many words.

In his mid-40s, Helmer (Willems) moves back to the rural farm where he grew up to take care of his bedridden father (Garcin). But he's going to do this on his own terms, re-arranging the house so he feels more comfortable there. Clearly Helmer has deep-seated resentment for his dad, but he's unable to articulate it in any way. Instead there are hints everywhere: the dairy driver (Opbrouck) flirts gently with him as he collects the milk. And when Helmer hires young farmhand Henk (Lakemeier), their working relationship begins to shift.

Yes, this is essentially a story about a man who has never been allowed to admit, even to himself, that he's gay. This idea is never even vaguely articulated in the film, but as we watch Helmer interact with the other characters, we begin to understand what he's thinking. And we hope he will find the courage to stand up for himself and live the rest of his life as himself. The question is how deeply his father has scarred him.

Leopold's writing and direction are so understated that we almost miss the plot. Scenes unfold in tranquility, with the steady rhythms of life on a small farm as Helmer quietly breaks the flow by, for example, redecorating the house. He cares for his father with patient compassion, but clearly longs to talk to him honestly for a change. And the actors play these scenes with so much delicacy that it sometimes sends chills down our spine.

On the other hand, there's also a fatalism in this script that's hard to accept. Unlike the similarly themed Ander, from Spain's Basque region, this film isn't about a middle-aged man's awakening. This is a far darker, sobering drama about the lingering effects of endemic prejudice. Is this really about resentment, or is Helmer's father actually making him feel guilty about his own feelings? Either way, the film seems to suggest that it will take another generation to clear out the darkness.

12 themes, language, some nudity
16.Oct.13 lff
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dir Michalis Konstantatos
prd Yorgos Tsourgiannis
scr Michalis Konstantatos, Stelios Likouresis
with Nicholas Vlachakis, Eleftheria Komi, Christos Sapountzis, Maria Tsima, Steve Krikris, Yorgos Tsemberopoulos, Aglaia Pappa, Connie Zikou, Thalassini Vostantzoglou, Yota Argyropoulou, Anna Kouroupou, Magda Lekka
release Gr 10.Oct.13,
UK Oct.13 lff 13/Greece 1h40

london film festival
Luton Fans of Dogtooth, Attenberg and Alps will be intrigued by this similarly styled Greek drama, which is even more elusive than those relentlessly obtuse films. But patience is paid off as the seemingly unrelated scenes begin to coalesce into something that's genuinely horrific. And when it's over, the film leaves us pondering some pretty big issues.

Jimmy (Vlachakis) is a teenager with a girlfriend (Zikou) who's willing to kiss him, but nothing more. He is continually shuttled back and forth between his icy mother (Pappa) and work-focussed dad (Tsemberopoulos). Mary (Komi) works in a government office, where she spends her days trying to get around bureaucratic queues. By night she hits the clubs with her boyfriend (Krikris), but is quietly unsatisfied with him. And Makis (Sapountzis) is a shop-owner with a wife (Tsima) and two cheeky sons who seem to have sapped all the energy from their love life.

Director-cowriter Konstantatos simply intercuts between scenes of these three people at random moments of their lives. There's absolutely no connection between them, other than their shared upper-class malaise: without any worries, life holds no challenges for them, so everything seems pointless. Then their scenes start overlapping, and these three very different people eventually get together a completely new picture emerges.

Konstantatos shoots this with the usual infusion of Greek sunshine, as light drenches every scene, making white the predominant colour. Camera work is sparing, sometimes locked-down and other times hand-held, but always in long takes that seem to start and end at irrelevant points in the scene, then cut to show another perspective. It feels so haphazard that we begin to wonder if anything is ever going to happen.

Then there's a very subtle shift, and the scenes that follow add a frightening glimpse at a class war, as the wealthy take out their frustrations on homeless people, immigrants, prostitutes and the elderly. It's such a chilling change of tone, coming right out of seemingly nowhere, that it catches us off-guard and forces us to connect the dots ourselves. And when we do, it makes us feel rather queasy. Sure, it's rather forced, but it's rare for a film to carry such a nasty punch.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
18.Oct.13 lff
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A Magnificent Haunting
4/5   Magnifica Presenza
dir Ferzan Ozpetek
prd Domenico Procacci
scr Ferzan Ozpetek, Federica Pontremoli
with Elio Germano, Margherita Buy, Paola Minaccioni, Vittoria Puccini, Giuseppe Fiorello, Cem Yilmaz, Andrea Bosca, Matteo Savino, Claudia Potenza, Alessandro Roja, Anna Proclemer, Mauro Coruzzi
release It 16.Mar.12,
UK 25.Oct.13
12/Italy 1h45
A Magnificent Haunting This intriguing mixture of present-day Rome with life in the mid-40s finds both humour and warmth along the way. Skilful filmmaking and sensitive performances make the most of the ghost story, which is both very funny and startlingly emotional as it gets under the skin of the characters and situations.

Just shy of 30, Pietro (Germano) has moved to Rome to become an actor, living with his cousin Maria (Minaccioni). When he decides to get his own place, he can't believe his luck when he rents a grand house in a desirable neighbourhood. Then he realises that there are eight ghosts living with him. After his initial terror, he discovers that they're an acting troupe from 1943. Maybe they can help him with his career and romantic life. And if he works out their mystery, maybe he can help them move on.

Director Ozpetek has blended the present with the legacy of WWII before (see Facing Windows), but his approach this time is amusing since these ghosts are actors with diva tendencies. Buy is terrific as the company's grande dame, while Yilmaz and young Savino add cheeky wit and Bosca brings a terrific note of romance as a writer who loves to watch Pietro sleep. At the centre, Germano is almost painfully likeable: smart, funny and perhaps too cute for us to believe that he has so much trouble finding a man.

It's an intriguing mix of present-day screwball comedy with a historically authentic tragedy. Sometimes the script's attempts to juxtapose the two storylines feels forced, although sharp observations about Italian politics are amusing. But the fact remains that these eight people are dead, even if they don't know it. And when Pietro tracks down the group's only surviving member (Proclemer), the film takes a startlingly emotional turn.

Fortunately, Ozpetek has always been adept at these tonal shifts, mixing humour and sadness like real life. He engages us emotionally with a variety of sure-handed filmmaking and resonant acting. And in the end, we're surprised to discover just how much we have invested of ourselves into these characters. Thankfully, the script resists the urge to tie up every loose end. The story comes to a lovely conclusion, but Ozpetek also leaves us happily pondering where these people might go next.

15 themes, language
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