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last update 15.Oct.14
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dir-scr Christophe Honore
prd Philippe Martin
with Amira Akili, Sebastien Hirel, Damien Chapelle, George Babluani, Nadir Sonmez, Melodie Richard, Jimmy Lenoir, Arthur Jacquin, Coralie Rouet, Vincent Massimino, Gabrielle Chuiton, Jean Courte
akili and hirel
release Fr 3.Sep.14,
UK Oct.14 lff
14/France 1h42

london film festival
Metamorphoses Based on Ovid's epic 1st century poem, this film is a strikingly involving exploration of how ancient mythology both creates and exposes elements of humanity and culture. Set in modern-day France in which average people take on the roles of gods and mythical characters, the film isn't easy, but its earthy Pasolini-esque approach makes it unnervingly resonant.

Europa (Akili) is a student whisked away from school by truck driver Jupiter (Hirel), who tells her stories of past conquests including Io (Rouet), whom he turned into a cow, and his mischievous wife Juno (Richard). With her brother Cadmus (Lenoir) looking for her, Europa continues her odyssey, meeting Bacchus (Chappelle), who tells her more stories about lust and transformation, and Orpheus (Babluani), who leads a cult of dedicated followers. Europa observes all of this, while listening to each elaborate anecdote, trying to work out her own place in the narrative.

The film is a mesh of episodic sequences, including Europa's various encounters as well re-enactments of tales she's being told. Each story relates to some sort of transformative experience, generally as the result of an annoyed god who turns someone into an animal. But there's a lot more going on here. As Europa roams the countryside, the swoosh of traffic is constantly audible on nearby highways. In cities, people gather to look at whatever is going on, generally passively but sometimes aggressively dismissive. There's even a brief, pointed moment at the door of a Catholic church.

In other words, Honore is layering this ancient mythology over today's society, discovering all kinds of deep parallels along the way. Everything that happens springs from human motivations, yearnings for approval, companionship, physical connections and control. And the actors play their characters in matter-of-fact ways that cleverly ground them in recognisable present-day figures. For example, Bacchus is like a fast-talking working-class guy who has a way with the ladies and can't handle rejection.

The film's free-flowing approach will limit it to arthouse audiences, and a previous understanding of the Roman gods will help make sense of some sequences. But there's a universality to the film that makes it wonderful to watch, especially since Honore and his cast depict physicality and sexuality in frank ways that are neither timid nor prurient. And since he cleverly resists the urge to use flashy special effects, Honore manages to turn a 2,000-year-old poem into something refreshingly relevant.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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Next to Her
dir Asaf Korman
scr Liron Ben-Shlush
prd Haim Mecklberg, Estee Yacov-Mecklberg
with Liron Ben Shlush, Dana Ivgy, Yaakov Daniel Zada, Sophia Ostritsky, Varda Ben Hur, Carmit Messilati-Kaplan, Liat Goren, Ayala Vahba, Yardena Farhi, Shai Cohen, Meni Yaesh, Amir Yaesh
laas and fares release Isr Sep.14 icd;
UK Oct.14 lff, US Oct.14 ciff
14/Israel 1h26

london film festival
Next to Her This offbeat Israeli drama features vivid characters and a series of stunning twists and turns that continually challenge the viewer's attitudes. With a strong sense of realism, director Korman creates a strikingly involving film that touches on big issues while remaining deeply grounded in the characters.

At 27, Chelli (Ben Shlush) struggles to care for her mentally disabled 24-year-old sister Gabby (Ivgy), getting no help from their mother. When their social worker (Goren) discovers that Chelli leaves Gabby home alone during the day, Chelli is required to put Gabby into day care. Suddenly Chelli has time of her own, and she finds a companion in 34-year-old loner Zohar (Zada). As their relationship develops, Zohar creates his own connection with Gabby. And things get tricky because Gabby is used to sleeping with her sister. Still, these three create a precarious family.

This is a fascinating, surprising exploration of a young woman who has never known independence. Caring for Gabby has always been part of her life, so she has never experienced things other women her age take for granted, like nights out clubbing or having a boyfriend. Not that Zohar is much better at being one, although their relationship develops warmly into something sexy and sweet. So it's a shame that one character does one thing that removes all sympathy.

Earthy and realistic, everything about the film feels authentic, from the unfussy camerawork to the thoughtful, understated performances. Ben Shlush (who also wrote the script) is superb at the centre: Chelli is determined and focussed, taking every event in stride and refusing to give up. But she also makes snap decisions that might cause more pain than necessary. Zada brings a terrific counterpoint as the friendly Zohar, who manages to get through to Gabby in his own way even as his seemingly inexhaustible patience is pushed to the limit.

The film is packed with realistically awkward interaction, most of which is infused with various challenges and wrenching emotional undercurrents. Intriguingly, the film never presents Gabby as an interference or distraction: she's part of life, an important aspect of Chelli's and now Zohar's day-to-day routine. She also has the potential to bring them together or push them apart, but ultimately that's up to Chelli and Zohar. So where this goes is strongly provocative.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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1001 Grams
dir-scr-prd Bent Hamer
with Ane Dahl Torp, Laurent Stocker, Hildegun Riise, Stein Winge, Per Christian Ellefsen, Dinara Droukarova, Magne-Havard Brekke, Peter Hudson
dahl torp and stocker
release Nor 26.Sep.14,
UK Oct.14 lff, US Oct.14 ciff
14/Norway 1h28

london film festival
1001 Grams Cheeky Norwegian filmmaker Hamer is back with another film that combines black comedy and dark drama. And this time there's also a layer of startlingly warm emotion running just underneath everything. Ostensibly a story about the most immovable technical details about everyday life, the film's ultimate point is that some things can't be measured.

Marie (Dahl Torp) works for her father Ernst (Winge) at Norway's metrology institute, which calibrates official scales and measures around the country and maintains the nation's official kilo. As her ex quietly removes his personal effects from their anonymous home, her father is taken ill and Marie is required to carry the kilo to the international bureau in Paris for verification. And everything in her world seems to shift into a state of flux. There she meets Pi (Stocker) a sometimes gardner who helps her put her disappointment and grief into perspective.

Hamer has a great time contrasting the futuristic blandness of Norway offices and housing estates with the old-world colour of Paris, gently poking fun at people whose lives revolve around such an absurd item as a nation's official kilo (a glimpse of the very first kilo in a wildly secure safe elicits gaping silence from the experts). The rituals are as precise as the measurements, as Marie makes sure that race-horse jockey scales or petrol-garage pumps are perfectly accurate.

Dahl Torp plays Marie's disorientation beautifully, keeping much of the emotion behind her eyes as she puts every upsetting event in its place and gets on with the task at hand. As the film progresses, the tiniest glimmers of emotion emerge in the way she puffs on a cigarette or talks to a customs agent. It's a lovely transformation that plays out subtly in Marie's interaction with herself and those around her.

The film is a remarkable exploration of how difficult it is to quantify life, and yet we still try to do so every day. Things like long-held grudges, career ambitions and simple pleasures waft through scenes like mere distractions until it becomes clear that there are some things that are essential in life, and some that are a waste of time. The trick is working out which is which. There may not be a scale to help us be sure, but looking someone in the eye is a good place to start.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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The Way He Looks
4/5   Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho
dir-scr Daniel Ribeiro
prd Diana Almeida, Daniel Ribeiro
with Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi, Tess Amorim, Isabela Guasco, Eucir de Souza, Lucia Romano, Selma Egrei, Pedro Carvalho, Victor Filgueiras, Guga Auricchio, Julio Machado, Naruna Costa
brunner and kruger
release UK 24.Oct.14,
US 7.Nov.14
14/Brazil 1h38

Original short:

Norte, the End of History Brazilian filmmaker Ribeiro expands his award-winning short I Don't Want to Go Back Alone in to a feature titled, cheekily, Today I Want to Go Back Alone. Yes, he's taking a different angle this time, not just by expanding the cast and the themes, but also in his relaxed approach to what is a warm and effective coming-of-age drama.

At school, blind 17-year-old Leo (Lobo) has his best friend Giovana (Amorim) to help him navigate adolescence. Bullied by the inane Fabio (Carvalho) and his cronies, Leo just gets on with his day-to-day life. But he's yearning for independence, and as he bristles against his over-protective parents (de Souza and Romano), he befriends the new boy in school, Gabriel (Audi). While Gabriel seems to fall for the class slut Karina (Guasco), Leo begins to understand that he has a crush on him. And Giovana can't figure out why Leo seems to be drifting away from her.

Writer-director Ribeiro shoots and edits the film in a quietly knowing way that never plays up the teen melodrama. The story seems to drift along with the relaxed rhythms of teens who are unsure about themselves and the people around them. Sometimes this feels slightly draggy, but the characters are so relentlessly charming that it's impossible to lose interest. Leo, Giovana and Gabriel are vividly recognisable teens in whom we can easily see our own youthful confusion and deepest hopes.

The actors give their interaction an earthy jolt of honest humour and rumbling emotion. Relationships are pretty rocky, swerving wildly rather than hewing to the standard rom-com structure. Each small falling-out feels painfully truthful, as do the awkward conversations that get things back onto an even keel before the next unexpected issue comes along. Meanwhile, there are outside forces in the form of Fabio's relentless bullying, a school camping trip and Leo's sudden desire to get as far away from Brazil as possible.

But at the centre, this is a story of first love and its attendant dizziness. As their feelings become more defined, these characters are even less sure what to do about them. So themes of peer pressure, disability and sexuality take on remarkable resonance not as issues to overcome but as things that combine to make us who we are. And it's refreshing to see a teen movie that isn't afraid to make us feel warm inside.

15 themes, language
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall