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On this page: MY LAST ROUND | OMAR

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last update 8.Jun.14
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My Last Round
3/5   Mi Ultimo Round
dir-scr Julio Jorquera Arriagada
prd Eduardo Castro
with Roberto Farias, Hector Morales, Manuela Martelli, Tamara Acosta, Yamila Reyna, Alejandro Trejo, Luis Dubo, Gonzalo Robles, Ariel Mateluna, Armando Navarrete, Victor Rojas, Ramon Llao
farias and morales release UK 23.Jun.14
11/Chile 1h50

iris festival
My Last Round With solid production values and a gritty sense of reality, this film can't help but draw us into its complex story. But it's so relentlessly dark and increasingly grim that it's difficult to engage with the characters. Still, for such an emotional story, filmmaker Jorquera Arriagada never gives into sentimentality.

Hugo (Morales) is a young guy struggling with grief after his mother's death. Then he meets Octavio (Farias), a boxer who's just been told that must give up his beloved sport due to epilepsy. Hugo and Octavio fall quietly in love and move to big-city Santiago to find work, but their lives take diverging paths. Hugo befriends flirtatious colleague Jenny (Martelli), never telling her that he has a boyfriend. Meanwhile, Octavio discovers that his new boss (Trejo) is a former boxer, so secretly starts training for a comeback, even though he's risking his life.

The film kicks off with waves of lively, earthy energy and a relaxed sense of humour that makes the interaction feel extremely realistic. But things quickly settle down as the tone becomes increasingly sombre, turning quiet and very serious. While there's still some warmth, the film becomes aloof, leaving us waiting impatiently for something to happen. This makes it feel layered and unpredictable, but it doesn't help the solid cast win us over.

Farias and Morales create complex, interesting characters, but Hugo and Octavio seem achingly sad together. Hugo is depressed by everything and annoyed at life, while Octavio is grumpy and riddled with self-doubt. Together they have a strong sense of physicality, but not much in the way of a relationship. Even Jenny reveals herself to be darkly nasty. In fact, each of them is so tetchy that it's difficult to like them, although at least Morales manages to locate Hugo's soul.

The problem is that both of these guys are stubbornly lying to each other. And since Octavio is risking permanent brain injury or worse by returning to the ring, the big climactic match is painful to watch. We don't care whether he wins; we only want him to survive. Which is a very grim way to sit through a film's most important scene. Because it's clear that even if Octavio manages to live, the film will still be a serious downer. It's tough and provocative, but very bleak.

15 themes, language, violence
8.Oct.11 iris
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4/5    MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Hany Abu-Assad
prd Hany Abu-Assad, Waleed F Zuaiter, David Gerson
with Adam Bakri, Leem Lubany, Waleed F Zuaiter, Samer Bisharat, Iyad Hoorani, Yousef 'Joe' Sweid, Ramzi Maqdisi, Tarik Kopty, Rohl Ayadi, Yael Lerer, Wafaa Aon, Jehad Abu Assal
lubany and bakri release US 21.Feb.14,
UK 30.May.14
13/Palestine 1h36

london film festival
Omar Harrowing honesty makes this Palestinian drama utterly riveting, as it explores the everyday intensity of life in a difficult place. And while the film sometimes gets very difficult to watch, it also works its way deep under the skin, bristling with a sense of rage at heavy-handed oppression that callously rips lives apart.

Frustrated by years of daily cruelty at the hands of the Israeli security services, Palestinian teen Omar (Bakri) and his childhood pals Tarek and Amjad (Hoorani and Bisharat) hatch a plan to shoot a random Israeli soldier. Arrested by agents, Omar is tortured into exhaustion before being given an impossible ultimatum by Agent Rami (Zuaiter). To make things even more complicated, Omar's also struggling to work up the nerve to ask for the hand of Tarek's sister Nadia (Lubany). And as the situation shifts around him, finding a way forward becomes increasingly tricky.

With sharp camerawork and editing, filmmaker Abu-Assad beautifully captures the easy relationship between these three friends. And they're beautifully played by Bakri, Hoorani and Bisharat, who continually reveal shadowy subtext that reflects the precarious situation they're in. The setting is just as sharp, as the town is bisected by an 8-metre-tall wall, so Omar's everyday life is like a parkour adventure as he's chased by Israeli soldiers who delight in taunting, brutalising and humiliating him.

The film's earthy approach vividly brings this situation to life. Lifelong friendships are eviscerated, while warm conversations are interrupted by heart-stopping action and horrific scenes of torture take inconceivable twists. There's never an attempt to make these three likeable young men innocent, although they're clearly trying to do the right thing in an untenable situation. So as events unfold, it's painful to watch Omar naively think he'll be able to have a normal life with Nadia.

Abu-Assad's direction is packed with small ironies and dark implications, including some surprising humanising touches for Zuaiter's Rami. And the final shot is simply stunning. But the overriding metaphor is of Israel is a playground bully using brute strength to push around the weaker Palestinians, who fight back even though they're badly outnumbered. Intriguingly, the film seems to have the same hopes for a positive future that Omar has. And also the same grim sense that the future is bleak indeed.

16 themes, language, violence
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Venus in Fur
4.5/5   La Vénus à la Fourrure   MUST must see SEE
dir Roman Polanski
scr David Ives, Roman Polanski
prd Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde
with Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric
seigner and amalric
release Fr 13.Nov.13,
US Apr.14 tff, UK 30.May.14
13/France 1h36

Venus in Fur Based on Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's 1870 novella, as well as Ives' post-modern play, this film is so fiercely written, directed and acted that it frequently takes the breath away. The only real criticism is that it's too clever for its own good, packed with references that may only reveal themselves on subsequent viewings and with outside knowledge.

In a present-day Paris theatre on a rainy afternoon, frazzled actress Vanda (Seigner) is auditioning for playwright Thomas (Amalric). But he's fed up with terrible actresses and just wants to go home. Tenaciously, she wears him down until he lets her take the stage, and when she launches into the first scene Thomas is transfixed. Not only has she become his leading lady, but she exerts the character's own power over him as he reads lines opposite her. And as the intensity grows and shifts, Thomas sees his play from a new point of view.

This is tour-de-force cinema, as Polanski effortlessly blurs lines between reality and fantasy using bold camera movement and razor-sharp editing to build a powerful storytelling rhythm. It's impossible to watch the film without being thrown into the characters' shoes, and it's a remarkable blend of perspectives with the actress and director as well as the reversed roles they're playing: dominatrix and slave. The dialog crackles with insinuation and insight, pulling the audience in and provoking with each turn of the screw.

These are terrific roles for such solid performers. Seigner creates a fluid path from the disheveled, blowsy ingenue to the controlling, terrifying master, gleefully toying with Thomas as she pulls all the right props and costumes from her bag of tricks. Meanwhile, Amalric sharply captures Thomas' evolving state of shock in this unexpected situation. He's also eerily made up to look like Polanski (while acting opposite the director's real-life wife), playing Thomas ironically as an artist who doesn't understand his own work.

Ultimately, the script becomes an intriguing treatise on how novels and plays demean women even when they're presented as the ones in power. The Austrian novelist's name coined the term "masochism", and his novella Venus in Furs (plural) is a story of obsession, possession and, yes S&M. This allows for plenty of circuitous debate between Vanda and Thomas about male and female roles in a relationship. And while its ultimate observations feel a bit forced, this hugely satisfying film leaves our heads spinning.

15 themes, language, innuendo
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When I Saw You
dir-scr Annemarie Jacir;
prd Ossama Bawardi
with Mahmoud Asfa, Ruba Blal, Saleh Bakri, Ali Elayan, Firas Taybeh, Ruba Shamshoum, Ahmad Srour, Anas Algaralleh, Kamal Awad, Shereen Zoumot, Waleed Ramahi, Ammar Abu Shawish
asfa release US 15.Jan.14,
UK 6.Jun.14
12/Palestine 1h38

When I Saw You This gentle Palestinian drama makes up for a relatively thin plot with sparky characters and strong underlying themes. Set near a refugee camp in 1967 Jordan, the film uses its historical setting to tell a remarkably universal story about deep human yearning.

After fleeing from their home in Palestine, precocious 11-year-old Tarek (Asfa) is bored of waiting for something to happen. Living with his mum Ghaydaa (Blal) in a Jordanian refugee camp, he misses his father and bristles against his schoolteacher (Algaralleh) because, even though he's illiterate, he's too smart for his own good. So Tarek heads out in the direction of home, and is found in the desert by Layth (Bakri) who takes him to a freedom fighter training camp where he's adopted as a comrade-mascot by leader Abu Akram (Elayan).

Tarek is so stubborn that he can only think about one thing: going home. And he sees these makeshift soldiers as his ticket. And when his equally stubborn mother discovers his hiding place, she camps with him hoping she can convince him to abandon this ridiculous quest. The push and pull between these two characters is fascinating. Asfa is lively, cheeky and always busy, beautifully portraying Tarek's impulsive decision-making. He may be smaller and younger than the other fighters, but he's as savvy and observant as they are.

Meanwhile, Blal creates an equally fascinating character in Ghaydaa, a strong-willed survivor. But she isn't closed off to what's happening around her, and deeply understands Tarek's need to return home while also sensing her own need for company. Her tentative friendship with Bakri's charismatic Layth is subtle and intriguing. And the whiff of a plot is sparked when Israel starts bombing refugee camps, giving Ghaydaa little choice about what to do next.

Writer-director Jacir sets all of this in wide-open spaces, creating an eerie timelessness, echoing the way these people are stuck in limbo. And the focus is on the character interaction rather than the political battle raging around them. Overhead conversations about the nature of religion and conflict are echoed in Tarek's stubborn refusal to do what anyone tells him to do. But the most powerful urge here isn't revenge or rebellion: it's the desire to go home after a time in the wilderness.

12 themes, language
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