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last update 12.Nov.14
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3.5/5   Diplomatie
dir Volker Schlondorff
scr Cyril Gely, Volker Schlondorff
prd Marc de Bayser, Frank Le Wita
with Andre Dussollier, Niels Arestrup, Burghart Klaussner, Robert Stadlober, Charlie Nelson, Jean-Marc Roulot, Stefan Wilkening, Thomas Arnold, Dominique Engelhardt, Lucas Prisor, Attila Borlan, Olivier Ythier
arestrup and dussollier
release Fr 5.Mar.14,
US 15.Oct.14, UK 14.Nov.14
14/France Gaumont 1h24

diplomacy This film has only slightly been expanded from the play by Gely, which is about a diplomat arguing reason with a military man who's only following orders. At stake is the existence of Paris itself. Aside from a few fictional-feeling plot elements, the movie is almost entirely two old men talking in a room. And it's utterly riveting, packed with both historical significance and philosophical insight.

After levelling Warsaw in August 1944, Hitler turns his attention to Paris, which is about to be liberated by the Allies. So he orders his top officer there, General von Choltitz (Arestrup), to obliterate landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Louvre and Arc de Triomphe. The plan is underway to lay waste to the city, killing hundreds of thousands, when Choltitz is paid a visit by the French-born Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling (Dussollier), who launches a desperate plea to save the city for future generations.

As this conversation plays out in real time, veteran filmmaker Schlondorff occasionally adds some cinematic flourish by cutting to the action outside, as Germans plan their violent withdrawal. As Nordling points out, the Nazis have already lost, so destruction is gratuitous. But Choltitz can't base his actions on how he feels: he has his orders and compelling reasons to follow them. These may not be the actual words spoken by these men on that fateful night, but they're cleverly conceived and beautifully played.

Knowing how this ends kind of eliminates any suspense other than waiting for the clincher in the argument, and the script indulges in a few twists that remove even that. What's left are the riveting performances by Arestrup and Dussollier: charged, pungent, intense, insinuating. Their sparky interaction is beautifully orchestrated by Schlondorff as issues of power and conscience swirl in the air between them. Thankfully, neither the script nor the performances paint them as simplistic hero and villain.

Fascinatingly, it's clear that there's no way to argue morality in a situation like this, especially after the Allied bombings of so many German cities. But would annihilating another city in retaliation make the world any better? Aside from depriving future generations of its beauty, would levelling Paris eliminate any possible peace between neighbouring countries? Yes, this is a case where the discussions are more thrilling than any of the script's plotting.

12 themes, violence
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Eastern Boys
dir-scr Robin Campillo
prd Hugues Charbonneau, Marie-Ange Luciani
with Olivier Rabourdin, Kirill Emelyanov, Daniil Vorobyev, Edea Darcque, Camila Chakirova, Beka Markozashvili, Bislan Yakhiaev, Mohamed Doukouzov, Aitor Bourgade, Rassambek Kourmanov, Alexander Galkin, Ousmane Artchakov
Emelyanov, Vorobyev and Rabourdin
release US Jan.14 sbff,
Fr 2.Apr.14, UK 5.Dec.14
13/France 2h08

london film festival
Eastern Boys This French drama is intriguing both as it addresses a topical issue and follows a personal story, but writer-director Campillo never quite sells it. Events feel ever-so-slightly contrived to the point where it's difficult to believe in several of the key events. But the characters and their interconnections are complex and engaging enough to hold the interest.

As a group of young Eastern European men roam around Paris' Gare du Nord, Daniel (Rabourdin) watches them closely, becoming interested in one young guy who introduces himself as Marek (Emelyanov). Daniel invites him to his flat, then is shocked to be invaded by Marek's gang, who proceed to have a party while walking off with all of his valuable possessions. When Marek turns the next day, Daniel is understandably reticent to let him in. But the two begin meeting regularly, and their rentboy-client relationship shifts into something unexpected.

The script has an unusual structure that keeps the audience on its toes, starting as a gentle freak-out then shifting into something rather sweet and messy before reverting back to thriller mode in the final act. The problem with this is that it makes it impossible to properly sympathise with Marek, who is caught in a sort of human trafficking situation under the thumb of the charismatic Boss (Vorobyev). So the suspense begins to build as Daniel offers to help him break free.

Campillo keeps the tone muted from the start, only rarely allowing Rabourdin or Emelyanov to demonstrate any personality sparks. This leaves the film feeling mopey, with lots of stone-faced gazing into the middle distance but very little connective dialog. Rabourdin comes across as slightly more likeable, so it's tricky to see what Daniel sees in Marek aside from his youth. And the inexplicable decisions Daniel makes leave as little more than a cypher.

Frankly, the movie only comes to life when the charismatic Vorobyev is on-screen. He may be menacing, but he's only person who seems to have an inner life, which bursts from his bright blue eyes and tightly wound physique. Even so, he's a movie villain who never quite makes sense, remembers things beyond reason and turns violent simply because the script tells him to. The film is full of these pushy elements, defying logic to such an extent that everything becomes implausible. So it's impossible to care how things turn out for anyone.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Snails in the Rain
dir-scr Yariv Mozer
prd Hila Aviram, Adi Cohen, Yan Fisher-Romanovsky, Jordi Rediu
with Yoav Reuveni, Moran Rosenblatt, Yariv Mozer, Ori Yaniv, Dana Tross, Yehuda Nahari, Guy Lubelchik, Adi Douiev, Hava Ortman, Eyal Kentov, Shak Brenner, Eyal Cohen
rosenblatt and reuveni
release Isr 20.Jun.13,
US Oct.13 ciff, UK 24.Nov.14
13/Israel 1h22
Snails in the Rain A loose, open-handed approach makes this Israeli drama both intriguing and somewhat frustrating as it explores a man's struggle against his own longings. But the film never quite transcends its own narrative, as writer-director Mozer tells a simple story without making it very resonant or meaningful.

In 1989 Tel Aviv, linguistics student Boaz (Reuveni) is so strikingly attractive that he flirts with both the boys and girls on campus, but always goes home to his adoring-but-feisty girlfriend Noa (Rosenblatt). While Boaz waits for word about whether he has won a scholarship in Jerusalem, he begins receiving letters from an anonymous male admirer who is clearly watching him. Boaz is unsettled because he's intrigued by the idea, reminiscing about flirting with a fellow soldier (Nahari) during his military service. But he also doesn't want to let Noa down.

The film has a gentle, introspective tone that draws out subtle internal layers in the characters, each of whom is hiding something. As Boaz begins to confront his internal desires, he sees temptation everywhere, from his professor (Mozer), at the library, gym, pool, work, mechanic's shop. So there's genuine emotional momentum that pulls us in, making us wonder what he will do. Even so, the plot is hesitant, more interested in suggestion than actually grappling with the issues.

Reuveni is a natural and likeable actor who's also ridiculously good looking, smiley, sexy, all over his girlfriend but unable to let a man pass by without checking him out. He nicely plays this growing sense of distraction and self-doubt, even in some startling moments. Rosenblatt plays the more identifiable character struggling to make sense of her boyfriend's behaviour (finding the secret love-notes gives her a big clue).

But the script feels reluctant to ever quite let the other shoe drop. Even as it holds the interest and has a certain emotional kick, this is a very tightly contained little drama that doesn't have much to say about the issues it skirts around. If genders were swapped and Boaz was tempted by another woman, it wouldn't change anything about the story. His increasingly erratic behaviour would be worrying whatever was going on in his head, but Mozer's writing or direction never quite find either a more profound meaning or a bigger context.

18 themes, sexuality
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4/5   MUST must see SEE
dir Naji Abu Nowar
scr Bassel Ghandour, Naji Abu Nowar
prd Bassel Ghandour, Rupert Lloyd
with Jacir Eid, Hussein Salameh, Hassan Mutlag, Jack Fox, Marji Audeh
eid and salameh release UK Oct.14 lff,
UAE Oct.14 adff
14/Jordan 1h40

abu dhabi film festival
Theeb Beautifully shot with a strong point of view and a lovely sense of the time and place, this Jordanian film is an inventive take on the coming-of-age genre that sends the audience on an epic journey with an engaging young protagonist. Set in a 1916 Bedouin community in western Arabia, the film shares its setting with Lawrence of Arabia.

Theeb (Eid) is the strong-willed youngest son of his clan's late sheikh, mentored by his playful older brother Hussein (Salameh). When an Englishman (Fox) and his local sidekick Marji (Audeh) turn up, Hussein is assigned to guide them to the next well in the desert. And Theeb secretly follows them until they have no choice but to take him along. But at the well they encounter a band of thieves who clearly intend to kill everyone for whatever they can steal. For Theeb, what follows is an odyssey that brings out his true nature.

The premise is eerily resonant. At a time when a new railway is changing the Arabian culture inexorably, men (there are no female characters) who previously earned an honest living turn to crime for survival. But as the son of a respected sheikh, Theeb represents an older order that values brotherhood above wealth. So this becomes a gripping story of just how far Theeb is willing to go to protect both his clan and his own integrity.

Abu Nowar directs with an eye for telling detail, and the scrip wastes very few words. Indeed, much of the backstory is left off-screen, holding tightly to Theeb's perspective as a kid unable to understand why the British might want to blow up an Ottoman railway, partly because he has no reason to know what explosives or a train are. The film's most memorable section is completely silent, as Theeb has to dig deep to do a series of desperate tasks on his own. Without ever appearing to act, the charismatic young Eid impressively carries the weight of the whole film on his shoulders.

Because everything is witnessed through his point of view, Theeb's journey works on several levels: as an adventure, as a thriller in which he must team up with an enemy (Mutlag) to survive, and ultimately as an awakening of his own character. This perspective helps Abu Nowar subvert the film's more overt Western situations, with shoot-outs and ambushes, isolated outposts and dodgy officials. And the combination of picturesque setting, lively action and thought-provoking undercurrents make the film unforgettable.

15 themes, language, violence
26.Oct.14 adff
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