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last update 16.Oct.15
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The Club
4/5   El Club
dir Pablo Larrain
prd Juan de Dios Larrain, Pablo Larrain
scr Pablo Larrain, Guillermo Calderon, Daniel Villalobos
with Alfredo Castro, Antonia Zegers, Marcelo Alonso, Roberto Farias, Jaime Vadell, Alejandro Goic, Alejandro Sieveking, Jose Soza, Francisco Reyes, Paola Lattus, Diego Munoz, Catalina Pulido
castro release Chl 28.May.15,
US 5.Feb.16, UK 25.Mar.16
15/Chile 1h38

354th Shadows Awards


The Club Exploring a topical issue with invention and insight, Chilean filmmaker Larrain tells a haunting but magnetic story about disgraced Catholic priests caught in a kind of purgatory of self-deception. It's a stunningly clever film, packed with quietly pointed commentary and darkly involving drama.

In the grim Chilean costal village of Boca, four ex-priests (Castro, Vadell, Goic and Sieveking) live with an ex-nun (Zegers) in quiet contemplation. And they also have found a stray greyhound that they enter into local races to make some extra cash. Then a newly arrived priest (Zoza) draws the attention of damaged fisherman Sandokan (Farias), whose outspoken accusations of abuse create a scene that escalates to violence. So the officials send in Father Garcia (Alonso), a psychologist trying to decide if this "retirement" home needs to be closed down for good.

Yes, these former religious leaders have all been quietly sent out of the limelight because they have been sexually abusive. Yet despite evidence to the contrary, they don't really believe they've done anything wrong. But then, they don't really believe in God or the church either, even though they live as if they do. And as they talk to Garcia, it's intriguing to see his concerns mingle with his doubts about his job. Perhaps there's a bigger picture here, and another way to solve the problem.

All of the performances are strikingly layered, offering glimmers of the truth behind the eyes of people who blankly think they're doing the right thing. And some of the decisions they make are so shaded that they chill us to the bone. The priests and nun see Sandokan as an interloper who needs to be hushed in order to preserve their privileged private retreat, but he turns out to be their accuser, and he's not so easy to ignore.

Larrain tells this story unflinchingly, playing on the evasive way the church deals with paedophiles in its midst. This beach community seems perpetually shrouded in mist, as true justice remains eerily out of reach. But as the dialog explicitly traces the crimes of these men, their eyes show that the words hit home, quickly dispelled by whatever they tell themselves to sleep at night. It's a strikingly powerful exploration of a very difficult theme. And a staggeringly unnerving film.

15 themes, language, violence, brief nudit
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The Endless River
dir-scr Oliver Hermanus
prd Didier Costet, Marvin Saven, Genevieve Hofmeyr
with Nicolas Duvauchelle, Crystal-Donna Roberts, Clayton Evertson, Darren Kelfkens, Denise Newman, Katia Lekarski, Shelton Salie, Truly van Rooy, Charlton George, Nomasonto Tshabalala, Octavia Meissenheimer, Carel Nel
duvachelle and roberts
release UK Oct.15 lff
15/South Africa 1h48

london film festival
The Endless River A harrowing drama about the cycle of violence in South Africa, this film certainly isn't easy to watch as it continually challenges the viewer's preconceptions. Dark and tough, it's evocative and simply gorgeous to watch, even though the story is relentlessly painful. Filmmaker Hermanus finds real resonance using period-style touches in a present-day story. Although it may be heavy and over-serious for some viewers.

In a small town in the Western Cape, Percy (Evertson) returns home from prison to his wife Tiny (Roberts), who has held things together by working as a waitress. But his unforgiving mother-in-law (Newman) is driving him crazy. Meanwhile, Tiny's customer Gilles (Duvachelle) befriends her, escaping silent dinners with his family. Then tragedy strikes, as Gilles' wife and two sons are murdered in a home invasion. The police suspect Percy simply because of his record, and Gilles turns to Tiny for support. Is it possible for these damaged souls to escape this violent culture?

From the vivid 1950s-style titles, a surging orchestral score by Braam du Toit and extraneous chapter headings, it's clear that Hermanus is revisiting an old, melodramatic way of filmmaking, hinting that South African society is stuck in the past. He shoots scenes formally, layering in subtext by focussing on the faces of people who are desperately clinging to the truth in a society that doesn't seem to value it. Even in the promise of a healing relationship they can't escape suspicions and mistrust sparked by a violent society.

The characters display a vivid reluctance to live the life set out for them. As Gilles, French actor Duvachelle has a haunted quality that's utterly devastating, mainly because he seems almost eerily diffident except in a few key moments when he can't hold it in. With even more complexity, Roberts gives Tiny a fiercely independent streak that's both abrasive and charming, and staggeringly resilient, while Evertson's Percy is hugely sympathetic, a man who can't catch a break.

Chris Lotz' lovely cinematography adds to Hermanus' elegant directing decisions. So Gilles' situation is seriously devastating, as is the way everyone talks to him, from the interrogating cops to others who haven't a clue what he's been through. The obvious reference is the Western, and perhaps Hermanus is suggesting that South African is as civilised as post Civil War America. But he's also rejecting simplistic views of societal violence, digging into historical and even primeval urges.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Jess & James
dir-scr Santiago Giralt
prd Federico Carol, Derek Curl
with Martin Karich, Nicolas Romeo, Federico Fontan, Alejandro Paker, Nahuel Mutti, Denise Yanez, Umbra Colombo, Monica Trejo, Uky Suescun, Juan Orlando, Aquiles Yascan, Marianela Fasce
karich and romeo
release US May.15 fosd,
UK 12.Oct.15
15/Argentina 1h32

iris prize festival
Jess & James Witty and realistic, this scruffy Argentine drama feels like a fantasy as it takes three young men and frees them from the constrictions of their families and culture. Although filmmaker Giralt loses his way in the final act and never finds much resonance beyond a gay audience, the film makes some telling observations.

At 23, Jess (Karich) is feeling pressure from his pregnant semi-girlfriend Mimi (Yanez) when he meets James (Romeo) in a park. The spark between them is initially just sexual, but it blossoms into a potential relationship. Desperate for some time alone together, they borrow a car and head off on a road trip. Along the way, they meet the friendly waiter Tomas (Fontan), who's desperate to escape his too-involved father (Parker). Travelling on, they stay briefly with a mysterious woman (Suescun) in her large country house and also drop in on Jess' estranged brother (Mutti).

The film has a bold, offhanded style, with sun-drenched imagery and a dense, twanging score by Emisor. Giralt also uses long takes to build the atmosphere of each scene and play with the structure, which echoes films like Bonnie and Clyde and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as these two young men team up and head out of town for an adventure they couldn't have if they stayed at home. Yes, this is about expressing love and sexuality in a society that forbids it.

The actors bring an earthy energy to men who feel trapped in lives they don't want. In simple terms, Romeo's James is looking for romance, while Karich's Jess mainly wants sex with a man. But when he's with James, Jess feels able to be who he really is, so he's worried about their trip coming to an end. Fontan brings a freewheeling vibe as Tomas, complicating everything as he tries to escape the carefully managed image his father wants him to have.

Giralt's direction is rather loose and messy, and the story has some corny twists and turns, plus two important scenes that play out maddeningly in pitch darkness. But he coaxes full-on performances from the cast that give the film a blast of attitude, and the story touches on big pressures even in a seemingly free society. So although Giralt tends to over-indulge in montages of beautiful young men cavorting in cut-off jeans, there's depth to the characters and themes that makes the film worth a look.

15 themes, sexuality
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Men & Chicken
4/5   Mænd & Høns
dir-scr Anders Thomas Jensen
prd Kim Magnusson, Tivi Magnusson
with Mads Mikkelsen, David Dencik, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Soren Malling, Nicolas Bro, Ole Thestrup, Bodil Jorgensen, Maj-Britt Mathiesen, Lisbet Dahl, Birthe Neumann, Rikke Louise Andersson, Kirsten Lehfeldt
mikkelsen and dencik
release Den 5.Feb.15,
UK Oct.15 lff
15/Denmark 1h44

london film festival
Men & Chicken A wickedly grotesque look at family connections, this Danish black comedy is both hugely entertaining and utterly bonkers. A mixture of scientific creepiness and Three Stooges-style slapstick, the film defiantly refuses to fit into a genre. Which makes it gloriously entertaining in all the wrong ways.

When their father dies, brothers Elias and Gabriel (Mikkelsen and Dencik) discover that they were adopted as infants, and that they had different mothers. So they decide to meet their biological father, travelling to his sanatorium on an isolated island. There they discover three more half-brothers, the equally eccentric Gregor, Franz and Josef (Kaas, Malling and Bro). Taking this all in is a bit of a challenge, but Elias and Gabriel stick around in the hopes of finally meeting their father, who lives in cloistered secrecy as his 100th birthday approaches.

The cast makes the most of the wildly outrageous characters, each with a quirk that makes jarring sense as the story progresses. These brothers are all hilariously hot-headed, impulsively attacking each other at the slightest provocation, usually involving a bash to the skull with their weapon of choice (Franz prefers taxidermy, Elias likes rolling pins). Even so, all five of the central actors manage to find telling emotional details in their performances, constantly catching us off guard with glimpses of depth in these nutty, slightly scary men.

Visually, the film is cluttered and chaotic, as this massive, falling-down sanatorium is overrun with farm animals. It clearly hasn't been taken care of for decades, and yet these brothers have created an oddly functional society there. They have forbidden themselves from entering their father's locked basement laboratory, so the film stirs up some tension in Gabriel's relentless curiosity. He feels that he can't get on with his life until he knows the truth about his past. Even if what he learns forever changes everything.

Yes, there are currents of meaning surging throughout each crazed encounter. Cleverly, these nutty brothers are depicted as only slightly less reasonable than the goofy characters who populate the island. Jensen's is playfully mixing movie genres from slapstick comedy to ghost horror to mad-scientist thriller to small-town melodrama. It's a delightfully nasty little movie that's impossible not to laugh at, especially as it turns increasingly yucky. And repeat viewings will offer new layers of entertainment.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall