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last update 27.Jul.14
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The Last Match
4/5   La Partida
dir Antonio Hens
scr Abel Gonzalez Melo, Antonio Hens
prd Antonio Hens, Julio Gutierrez, Vanessa Portieles
with Milton Garcia, Reinier Diaz, Jenifer Rodriguez, Beatriz Mendez, Mirtha Ibarra, Luis Alberto Garcia, Toni Canto, Carlos Enrique Almirante, Saray Vargas, Blanca Rosa Blanco, Jose Luis Midalgo, Sergio Buitrago
garcia and diaz
release US Jun.14 fff,
UK 28.Jul.14
13/Cuba 1h34

flare film festival
The Last Match This Cuban drama tackles its issues with honesty and sensitivity, even if the plot's clanking gears begin are a distraction in the final act. But the film has a sunny, gritty tone that gives us a remarkable glimpse at life in Havana, including a culture that makes it tricky to be yourself.

Yosvani (Garcia) is a lively teen who plays on a local football team with his buddy Reinier (Diaz). Yosva has a serious girlfriend, Gema (Mendez), and lives with her father Silvano (Luis Alberto Garcia), who supplies the neighbourhood black market. Rei lives with his wife Liudmila (Rodriguez), her feisty mother Teresa (Ibarra) and their infant son. To make cash, Rei sleeps with visiting tourists, including Spanish man Juan (Canto), with the approval of his mother-in-law. And he insists that he's not gay, although growing feelings between him and Yosva are about to complicate their lives.

Filmmaker Hens and his cast draw out the Latino rhythms and the raw humour in each situation, plus a scruffy sexuality. It's a playful, relaxed film awash in the full spectrum of machismo, so it feels bracingly truthful in ways the movies rarely are. This complexity adds intimacy to each scene, and combines with strongly open-handed performances to dig deep beneath the surface of the two central characters.

Both Garcia and Diaz bring a remarkable physicality to these shirtless, sweaty, sporty guys. Constantly up to something, their collision can hardly help but be startlingly sexy. Even when they're hanging out with their girlfriends and families, there's a bustle of physical contact that brings out inner thoughts and feelings in almost subliminal ways. So it's rather frustrating when an overcomplicated series of pointed events unfold, threatening to make the film both moralising and tragic.

But the personal connections still resonate. This is a fascinating look at a society in which sexuality is a non-issue. Rei lives in a world of expectations, telling everyone what he'll do when he has money. Yosva's dad matter-of-factly believes that men are either gays or thugs. When you're living under threats of violence and questions about where your next meal will come from, no one cares who you're attracted to. And watching these guys interact with their friends, family and environment is often exhilarating.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
27.Mar.14 flare
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Mood Indigo
3.5/5   L’Écume des Jours
dir Michel Gondry
prd Luc Bossi
scr Michel Gondry, Luc Bossi
with Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Omar Sy, Aissa Maiga, Charlotte Le Bon, Sacha Bourdo, Vincent Rottiers, Philippe Torreton, Laurent Lafitte, Alain Chabat, Michel Gondry
duris, tautou and sy
release Fr 24.Apr.13,
US 18.Jul.14, UK 1.Aug.14
13/France 1h38
Mood Indigo While the plot echoes a 19th century novel, this film is like nothing you've ever seen: Gondry lets his imagination run riot, filling every frame with visual absurdities, witty references and colourful characters. Yet while the style is manic and silly, the tone is awash in melancholy. So even if it's not always easy to watch, it's thoroughly involving.

Independently wealthy, Colin (Duris) is a lively bachelor in Paris whose friend Nicolas (Sy) does all his cooking and keeps the music flowing through his ramshackle flat. When Colin's best pal Chick (Elmaleh) announces that he has a new girlfriend Alise (Maiga), and Nicolas admits that he's seeing Isis (Le Bon), Colin decides he needs a woman too. Soon he meets Chloe (Tautou), and their courtship progresses rapidly. But just as they marry, Chloe becomes infected by a tiny waterlily growing in her lung. The only treatment is to surround her with flowers.

Everything on screen is constantly in motion, and Gondry has so many visual tricks up his sleeve that it's quickly exhausting. But as the characters and their stories emerge, they take over the central focus, leaving the wacky effects to continue in the background. When Chloe falls ill, so does Colin's entire apartment, and eventually the colour begins to sap out of Paris itself as the grim realities weigh heavily on these people.

All of them are beautifully played, with Duris once again holding the film's charming centre effortlessly. He generates so much chemistry with each of the other actors that the relationships spring to vivid life. Even if Gondry rushes through both Chick's and Nicolas' own journeys, both are still startlingly moving: Chick becomes obsessed with the existentialist Jean-Sol Partre (Torreton), spending all his cash on collectibles instead of his promised wedding to Alise, while Nicolas ages at an accelerated rate while caring for Colin and Chloe.

Published in 1947, Boris Vian's novel is considered a classic (there have been two previous film versions as well as a Russian opera), and Gondry has perhaps gone over-the-top to re-create the book's surreal playfulness on-screen. But even if the movie is indulgent and far too dense, it's also darkly riveting and ultimately emotionally wrenching. Although the surface is so busy that it doesn't leave many themes to ponder later.

15 themes, language, violence
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Norte, the End of History
3/5   Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan
dir Lav Diaz
prd Raymond Lee
scr Lav Diaz, Rody Vera
with Sid Lucero, Angeli Bayani, Archie Alemania, Angelina Kanapi, Mae Paner, Soliman Cruz, Hazel Orencio, Ian Lomongo, Kristian Chua, Noel Sto Domingo, Perry Dizon, Moira Lang, Sheenly Gener
release US Sep.13 nyff,
Ph 11.Mar.14, UK 18.Jul.14
13/Philippines 4h10

london film festival
Norte, the End of History Inspired by Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, this Filipino epic tackles huge issues of life, death, justice and purpose. It's boldly shot and skilfully acted, but suffers from slack editing. It's not that the film is slowly paced (it's not), but that there's simply too much of it.

After dropping out of law school, Fabian (Lucero) maintains his links with his educated, upper-class pals, sitting around discussing the collapse of meaning in society and arguing whether there's still any absolute truth. But secretly he's in trouble with harsh local loan shark Magda (Paner). Meanwhile, poor but virtuous Joaquin (Alemania) is struggling to support his wife Eliza (Bayani) and their children after injuring his leg. And they too owe Magda more than they can repay. So when Fabian kills Magda, Joaquin takes the fall, earning a long prison sentence.

Filmmaker Diaz shifts between these three characters who are unaware of the others' experiences. Fabian makes a few attempts at redemption, but can't control his disaffected attitudes. Eliza and Joaquin make the best of a horrible situation in poverty and prison, respectively. Through it all, Diaz maintains a lively, edgy sense of the characters, with thoughtful dialog and intricately orchestrated long takes. The film is sharp and realistic, with poetic touches and naturalistic beauty.

It's also more than four hours long, so it feels like watching four episodes of a particularly downbeat TV series back-to-back. Fortunately, the larger themes hold the interest, as the film cuts back and forth between noble poverty and idealistic privilege, one lacking in money and the other in morality. The law students talk about the need for divine intervention to clean up the lawless mess of their society, believing capitalists are hypocrites for not helping the situation. But they're only half right.

Yes, big issues swirl through every scene, as each of the three central characters has his or her beliefs pushed to the limit. Amid the pungent conversations, there are intensely emotional moments and some shocking surprises, leading up to a final half hour that's deeply unnerving and rather incomprehensible. Some political subtext will be lost on foreign audiences, and everything would be punchier if Diaz dared to actually edit his script and cut his film. But this is a strikingly important story, told with insight and artistry.

15 themes, language, violence
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3.6/5   Nordvest
dir Michael Noer
scr Rasmus Heisterberg, Michael Noer
prd Rene Ezra, Tomas Radoor
with Gustav Dyekjaer Giese, Oscar Dyekjaer Giese, Nicholas Westwood Kidd, Roland Moller, Dulfi Al-Jabouri, Lene Maria Christensen, Annemieke Bredahl Peppink, Clement Black Petersen, Ali Abdul Amir Najei, Sandra El-Hussein, Marina Vorobyeva, Jelena Bundalovic
gustav and oscar release Den 18.Apr.13,
US Apr.13 tff, UK 25.Jul.14
13/Denmark Nordisk 1h31
Northwest While this is a familiar story of teens drifting into violent lawlessness in the margins of a major European city, it also has an edgy, earthy sense of energy to it. And when filmmaker Noer isn't distracted by his mob-war plot, he nicely captures the blend of youthful playfulness and swaggering arrogance that coexist within the characters.

In the rough working-class northwest Copenhagen, tough guy 18-year-old Casper (Gustav Dyekjaer Giese) and his stoner pal Robin (Westwood Kidd) rob houses, annoyed that their boss Jamal (Al-Jabouri) doesn't give them their fair share. As he struggles to support his mother (Christensen), 17-year-old brother Andy (Gustav's real brother Oscar) and little sister Freya (Bredahl Peppink), Casper takes a job with rival gangster Bjorn (Moller), driving prostitutes around town while dealing drugs. As Casper brings Robin and Andy into his newfound high-life, Jamal gets seriously angry. And all-out war threatens to break out.

The characters are drawn with hints of complexity in lighter moments that contrast against the darker menace lurking in the corners. This allows for naturalistic performances that play up the characters' baseless bravado. All of the relentless macho posturing is rather exhausting to watch. It also makes few of them remotely likeable, because they're bright young guys who are destroying any chance of a positive future, not that they have many options in this neighbourhood.

The film is sharply photographed and edited to capture the youthful physicality, and the best scenes feel improvised, telling us a lot more about the characters than the scripted scenes do. Often the plot feels like it's interrupting a more interesting film about Casper's attempt to juggle a happy home with criminal rampages and drug-fuelled partying. This juxtaposition provides a fierce sense of what he's risking, even as he justifies everything because he's taking care of his family.

Of course, just when things seem to be going well, the plot turns the other screw. This isn't particularly original: a standard story of young guys lured in by cash, girls and drugs. Yes, this is a cautionary tale about dangerous choices and the delusion that they won't affect loved ones. And as the story builds to a series of heart-stopping sequences involving emotions, violence and real terror, the message comes through loud and clear.

15 themes, language, violence, drugs
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