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last update 7.May.14
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After the Night
3/5   Até Ver a Luz
dir-scr Basil da Cunha
prd Elodie Brunner, Thierry Spicher, Elena Tatti
with Pedro Ferreira, Joao Veiga, Nelson da Cruz Duarte Rodrigues, Paulo Ribeiro, Francisco Mota, Ruben Dias, Jose Milton Moreira, Carlos Rodrigues Fonseca, Ana Clara Baptista de Melo Soares Barros, Susana Maria Mendes da Costa, Euclides Mendes Fernandes, Jose Zeferino da Cruz
ferreira and rodrigues
release Por 22.Aug.13,
UK 25.Apr.14
13/Portugal 1h39

After the Night Skilfully shot and edited to bring out the earthy energy of Lisbon's creole favela, this thriller captures a corner of Europe we rarely see on screen. But the free-form filmmaking style makes it difficult to understand who these people are, how they're connected and what the stakes are for each of them.

When his cash runs out and his "stuff" is stolen, low-life drug dealer Sombra (Ferreira) finds himself in big trouble with his boss Olos (Veiga). And things get worse when he tries to make amends by joining in a robbery that goes fatally wrong. Blamed for everything, Sombra goes on the run, confiding in his slow-witted stoner pal (Rodrigues) and a curiously observant little girl (Barros), and trying to keep track of his three most valued possessions: a gas lamp, a rusty machete and a pet iguana he calls Dragon.

Shot improv-style, the film has a loose energy that carries us along even if it feels meandering and aimless. It's also not easy to make sense of the tangled knot of relationships in this community, because the only back-story we have is in the entertainingly sparky but essentially irrelevant banter between the characters. Strong, off-handed performances reveal that each person clearly has a past with everybody else, but it's not easy to engage with them without knowing what that is.

That said, the sense of helplessness is pungent, as these men relentlessly indulge in macho posturing and tough talking even though no one has any real power. Everyone owes Sombra money, but no one can pay. This is a surprisingly low-key, earthy community far off the grid in which music and drugs are the stuff of life, and everyone blames someone else for their problems. Filmmaker da Cunha's unconstructed plot leaves this fateful night feeling endless.

In this context, Ferreira's Sombra is a remarkably likeable central character. He prefers nights over days because the darkness makes time stand still, giving him the space to feel alive. And this particular night takes a surreal turn with the mixture of religion and magic in this subculture. Yes, churches, prayers, rituals, saints and the tarot all play a role in where this story heads, wherever that might be.

15 themes, language, violence
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Before the Winter Chill
3/5   Avant l’Hiver
dir-scr Philippe Claudel
prd Yves Marmion, Romain Rojtman
with Daniel Auteuil, Kristin Scott Thomas, Leila Bekhti, Richard Berry, Vicky Krieps, Jerome Varanfrain, Laure Killing, Anne Metzler, Laurent Claret, Annette Schlechter, Jean-Francois Wolff, Joel Delsaut
auteuil and scott thomas
release US Aug.13 tff,
Fr 27.Nov.13, UK 9.May.14
13/France 1h43
Before the Winter Chill Even though this sensitive drama is beautifully shot and sharply well-acted, it never quite comes together into anything resonant. Writer-director Claudel is clearly trying to say something important with the various strands of his script, but it's difficult to imagine what that might be.

Paul (Auteuil) is a noted surgeon with a glamorous wife, Lucie (Scott Thomas), a sensational modern home and an adorable baby granddaughter from their son Victor (Varanfrain) and his wife Caroline (Krieps). But Paul freaks out when he starts receiving roses at home, office and hospital, assuming it to be a slightly too-friendly cafe waitress Lou (Bekhti), whom he has never mentioned to Lucie. Despite telling Lou to stop, Paul keeps running into her around town, and they continue their wary friendship. Of course, Lucie senses that something is up.

This is one of those movies in which everyone thinks they know something but never ask anyone else to confirm it, so they stew in their jealousies, adding a hint of bitterness to years of perceived insults. Yes, there's a lot of churning resentment under the surface. Lucie has a past connection with Paul's business partner Gerard (Berry), who never hides the fact that he's in love with her. Victor is a banker who has lost his charitable father's respect, while Caroline considers leaving him. And Lucie has a sister who simply can't adapt to the real world.

Fortunately, both Auteuil and Scott Thomas are actors who can convey more with a distant glance than most say in an extended soliloquy. We can see the complexity in both Paul and Lucie, the fact that even they aren't quite sure why they're reacting this way, and that there's an underlying bond between them whatever is happening. Their delicate performances also bring out the script's constant suggestions that there are other facts here that no one is willing to talk about.

Claudel shoots this with an observant eye, never getting too close to the characters as they weave inside and around the post-modern architecture. Everbody speaks intimately to each other but remains separated by things like glass, telephones, surgical masks or even a cold stare. So it's extremely frustrating that these various personalities and story strands never quite resolve into something meaningful. It's haunting, but we never quite know why.

15 themes, language, brief grisliness
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Patema Inverted
dir-scr Yasuhiro Yoshiura
prd Michiru Ohshima, Mikio Ono
with Yukiyo Fujii, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Shintaro Oohata, Shinya Fukumatsu, Masayuki Kato, Hiroki Masumoto, Maaya Uchida, Takaya Hashi
patema and age release Jpn 9.Nov.13,
UK 2.May.14
13/Japan Purple Cow 1h38
Patema Inverted Stunning animation and spiky characters make this Japanese adventure thoroughly involving even if it doesn't quite hang together narratively. As the fiercely inventive story shifts and changes in all kinds of unpredictable ways, the film becomes both involving and provocative. And the story is infused with deep, resonant themes.

After an apocalyptic accident, humanity has moved underground, where feisty pre-teen Patema (Fujii) bristles against guardians Porta and Elder (Oohata and Fukumatsu). Branded a rebel, her closest friend Lagos (Kato) has left the colony, so she searches for him. But when she climbs to the surface she nearly falls into the sky, grabbing onto surly schoolboy Age (Okamoto). It turns out that she's an Invert, descended from those affected by a disastrous gravitational experiment that forced them underground for safety. So when Patema is captured by above-ground security forces, Age heads below to get help.

Both societies are a bundle of rules and regulations that these teens can't help but fight against. And Patema and Age come from shady families that have a history of rebelling against unjust authority. The underground is dismissive of the evil above-ground world, while the extremist above-ground leader refers to Inverts as "sinners" and believes they should all be dropped from the earth.

The film's imagery is seriously striking, with a clever use of light and shadow and settings that have a sumptuously detailed painterly quality. By contrast, the characters are simple line drawings that move stiffly and clumsily, although they make up for that with lively, sparky personalities and a gripping adventure plot. Filmmaker Yoshiura also inventively renders the opposing gravitational fields, cleverly flipping the imagery to provide vertiginous moments that take the breath away. And the climactic action sequence is amazing.

So it's a bit annoying that the story jarringly leaps around between various elements, including numerous flashbacks, and the fragmented structure makes it tricky to stay engaged. But each aspect works together to make the narrative click on various levels, mainly through the exploration of identity and understanding. And the visuals are deeply evocative, flipping up and down repeatedly to give a startlingly vivid sense of the forces this boy and girl must overcome to be together. The film's clever point is that everyone is actually upside-down. And when inverts work together they become weightless.

PG themes, violence
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Reaching for the Moon
3.5/5   Flores Raras
dir Bruno Barreto
scr Matthew Chapman, Julie Sayres
prd Lucy Barreto, Paula Barreto
with Miranda Otto, Gloria Pires, Tracy Middendorf, Marcello Airoldi, Treat Williams, Lola Kirke, Tania Costa, Marianna Mac Niven, Marcio Ehrlich, Anna Bella, Chris Hietikko, Tommy McInnis
otto, middendorf and pires
release Br 16.Aug.13,
US 8.Nov.13, UK 18.Apr.14
13/Brazil 1h58

flare festival
reaching for the moon This beautifully made Brazilian drama tells a true story with sensitivity, bringing real people to life with a spark of emotion. It's all a bit melodramatic, with surging passions and soulful torment on every side. But it gives us an insightful glimpse into a momentous time and place.

It's 1951, and American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Otto) travels to Rio de Janeiro to visit her university pal Mary (Middendorf), who's living in idyllic splendour with her girlfriend, the noted architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Pires). Lota takes an immediate shine to Elizabeth, courting her romantically and igniting Mary's jealousy. To make her happy, Lota agrees to adopt a baby with Mary as long as she can keep Elizabeth too. So the three create a rather wobbly family together. They also get involved in local politics when Lota's friend Carlos Lacerda (Airoldi) runs for governor.

Of course, this three-way relationship is fraught with problems. Aside from Mary's barely suppressed jealousy, Lota's fiery Latina temperament is fuelled when Elizabeth takes a short-term teaching contract in New York. Intriguingly, the script never plays up the repressed 1950-60s attitudes: these women live openly as lovers. So the darker truths about the period are left to be revealed in quiet glances or startling plot turns.

Yes, the story gets rather grim along the way, which makes it also feel overplayed. Otto and Pires are terrific in the roles, nicely balancing each other with contrasting attitudes that are equally problematic even as their love of art draws them together. Mittendorf hovers around the edge of the film like some sort of avenging angel, while the key male roles, including the Airoldi's savvy politician and Williams as Elizabeth's over-involved ex, feel oddly irrelevant.

What holds our interest are the political and historical touches that put everything into context. Lota's work to transform Ipanema Beach is fascinating, as is the timely exploration of Brazil's compromised style of government. And then there is the film's raw physical beauty, from Lota's spectacular home to the actors themselves. Director Barreto makes sure we understand that art is what these women are truly passionate about. Which of course leaves their relationships feeling rather empty.

15 themes, language, sexuality
21.Mar.14 flare
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