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last update 2.Jan.16
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Brancusi: From Eternity
2/5   Brâncuşi din Eternitate
dir Adrian Popovici
prd Cornelia Palos, Adrian Popovici
scr Radu Petrescu-Aneste, Pascal Ilie Virgil, Ioan Carmazan
with Ioan Andrei Ionescu, Iulia Verdes, Alexandru Potocean, Claudiu Bleont, Alexandru Isfan, Luca Rusu, Andra Negulescu-Bleont, Vlad Radescu
release Rom 19.Sep.14,
UK 8.Jan.16
14/Romania 2h01
Brancusi From Eternity Instead of a straightforward biopic, this is a jarringly fragmented collage about the Romanian sculptor/painter Constantin Brancusi. Jumping around between characters, time periods and planes of reality, it's a bracingly ambitious film, but with virtually no context it fails to make much sense for viewers unfamiliar with the man, his life or his work.

Born in 1876, Constantin (Ionescu) left his rural Romanian home to find fame amid the artist community in Paris. Assisted by local boy Jeannot (Rusu, then Isfan), his two great muses are young model Martha (Verdes) and wealthy collector Elaine (Negulescu-Bleont). After his death in 1957, his studio and legacy are rejected by Romania's communist government official (Radescu), who hires a young artist (Potocean) to illicitly copy Constantin's greatest works. Watching over Brancusi's life, 11th century Tibetan yogi Milarepa (Bleont) and his two acolytes make random observations.

Director Popovici tells this story in a choppy style, jumping around the chronology without ever establishing exactly when anything is happening. (The main clue is the amount of grey painted into Ionescu's beard.) But this lack of connective tissue in the story, and the refusal to place the events into European history (there is no mention at all of either World War), leaves the film feeling rather academic and impenetrable. And also rather bonkers, sometimes enjoyably so.

Ionescu gives a striking performance as the enigmatic artist who seems oddly disconnected from the people around him. His only emotional outburst centres on his friendship with Italian painter Modigliani; by contrast his romantic liaisons are merely lusty, and his relationship with Jeannot is oddly cold. This leaves the supporting cast feeling almost like set dressing. More intriguing is the story of Potocean's forger, a man whose own talents remain ignored due a few cruel twists of fate.

Most of the film's strands have a strikingly realistic tone, with a strong sense of artist passion and relational drama. And then there are the rather wacky scenes with Milarepa's Greek-style chorus, shot on dodgy green screen to offer fantasy-style backdrops. These silly sequences add nothing to the film and feel like random distractions. Surely the screenwriters had a reason for this, and for slicing Brancusi's life story into ribbons. They were probably aiming for something artistic, but end up stubbornly refusing to let the audience in.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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My Skinny Sister
3.5/5   Min Lilla Syster
dir-scr Sanna Lenken
prd Annika Rogell
with Rebecka Josephson, Amy Deasismont, Henrik Norlen, Annika Hallin, Maxim Mehmet, Ellen Lindbom, Emelie Stromberg, Hugo Wijk, Noam Asseraf, Karin de Frumerie, Elisabeth Callejas
josephson and deasismont release US Jun.15 siff,
Swe 18.Sep.15,
UK 27.Nov.15
15/Sweden 1h35

london film festival
My Skinny Sister Essentially an issue movie, this Swedish drama is effective because it sticks closely to an unusual perspective, drawing out resonant themes in a variety of relationships. The topic is eating disorders, and seeing it through a little sister's gradually dawning understanding adds unusual angles to the film. Which makes it more involving than expected.

At 12, Stella (Josephson) feels like she can't do anything right, but that doesn't stop her from trying. Even though she's short and a bit pudgy, she is determined to be a figure skater like slender big sister Katja (Deasismont), especially if that means she gets to spend time with Katja's hot trainer Jacob (Mehmet). As the sisters jostle for attention and control, Stella discovers that Katja is bulimic, a condition that causes health problems as she trains for a competition. And Katja blackmails Stella to keep the secret from their parents (Norlen and Hallin).

Writer-director Lenken cleverly reveals the interconnections between these characters in ways that are never obvious, so the picture builds up as they interact. For example, the way Katja quietly belittles Stella feels almost unnervingly realistic, like hinting that she has the beginnings of a moustache. And Stella's crush on Jacob seems harmless and cute until she actually gets up the nerve to talk to him.

This allows the actors to bring a subtle authenticity to the characters that continually draws the audience in. Josephson and Deasismont bring very different kinds of steely determination to their roles, shifting from sweet to monstrous in the flick of an eyelash. Their rivalry seems both pointless and like a life-or-death struggle. And their sisterly bond is just as complicated, especially as both work their ways into untenable situations. And as Stella realises that nothing she can do will ever divert attention from Katja.

Lenken wisely lets their parents remain largely in the background, ignorant of what's really going on here. And when the truth is revealed, Norlen and Hallin bring even more surprising honesty to the film and to the topic at hand. And yet as the film turns increasingly serious, it also loses some of its power, mainly because it reveals its cautionary agenda. This doesn't make it any less moving and at times harrowing. And in telling the story through Stella's eyes, Lenken makes her important point in a fresh, innovative way.

PG themes, some language
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dir-scr Chucho E Quintero
prd Eduardo Makoszay, Chucho E Quintero
with Pablo Mezz, Carlos Hendrick Huber, Alan Aguilar, Berta Soni, Roberto de Loera, Hugo Catalan, Roberto Becerra, Gerardo Del Razo, Ricardo Enriquez, Jonathan Ramos, Ruben Santiago, Diego Cruz Cilveti
mezz and huber release Mex Jun.14 mix,
US Apr.15 mglff,
UK 9.Nov.15
14/Mexico 1h34
Velociraptor There's an inventive comic book sensitivity to this Mexican drama that gets under its characters' skin as the narrative meanders along amiably. It's about two teens re-evaluating their friendship because there's no point in thinking about the future. The plot is slight, but the ideas are profound and the film is made with an engagingly light touch.

With a world-ending calamity imminent, teen Alex (Mezz) doesn't feel like doing much of anything,so he goes to hang out with his friend Diego (Huber), chatting openly about Alex's homosexuality and Diego's machismo. Alex has been seeing an artist (Aguilar), but feels their relationship isn't developing. Then Alex asks Diego to help get rid of his pesky virginity. Diego initially balks, then realises that this was a heartfelt request. And this gets him thinking about the bigger picture, although he has second thoughts when they hilariously watch a porn film together.

Mezz and Huber are superb, depicting the easy chemistry of lifelong friends who have genuine affection for each other. They chat about anything and everything, from music and movies to serious issues related to the coming end of humanity. Most intriguing is the way they share their personal experiences, comparing themselves with each other, teasing and playfully flirting, talking with bracing honesty about their thoughts and hinting at their real feelings.

Their running conversation covers a number of pungent, resonant issues as they talk about politics, relationships and sex, all illustrated through inventively staged flashbacks. A superb montage shows why Alex is still a virgin. Another follows Diego as learns sign language from the deaf comic book shop clerk (de Loera) who's a fan of the Velociraptor comics Alex collects. Where this goes is surprisingly honest and intimate, never simplistic. It's thoughtful, warm and revelatory in ways beyond the gay subject matter. And it's never remotely gratuitous or exploitative.

This is an intriguing take on how people react to the impending apocalypse with fear, denial, artistic expression and a desire to spend time with loved ones. Here, the deniers are in a panic because they didn't prepare themselves until far too late. But the more personal issues resonate even more strongly, such as the difficulty of trusting someone with real intimacy in a world preoccupied with instant sex. And in the end, this is a haunting reminder that we shouldn't wait until the world ends to be honest with ourselves and those we care about.

18 themes, language, sexuality
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Water Boys
2/5   Non Accettare i Sogni Dagli Sconosciuti •
US title: Dreams From Strangers
dir-scr-prd Roberto Cuzzillo
with Giuseppe Claudio Insalaco, Daniel de Rossi, Walter Lo Piccolo, Enrico Nas
de rossi and insalaco release It May.15 tglff,
UK 7.Dec.15
15/Italy 1h10
Water Boys There's a strong story buried within this micro-budget Italian drama about a small-town Italian guy who has powerful encounter with a Russian young man. The contrast between their lives is fascinating, but despite the important topic, the movie feels contrived and simplistic. Essentially, it's a decent short film padded out with material that's both distracting and unnecessary.

Massimo (Insalaco) is a swimmer who also practices free diving on the Italian coast. At a competition in St Petersburg, he meets translator Vladimir (de Rossi), who takes him out on the town for some dancing and lessons in vodka-drinking. They fall for each other, which leaves Massimo feeling even lonelier than usual when he returns to his small village in Italy. He remembers his experiences in Russia like they were a dream. Or maybe a nightmare passed down through human history.

The film has an indulgent style with a collage-like structure, languorous takes and philosophical narration, plus far too many cutaways to colour-tinted silent clips, using stock footage and old movies to fill in the story. And the underfunded filmmaking further subverts the movie, as the St Petersburg sequences were clearly filmed in Italy (surrounding mountains are the clue), and Vladimir suspiciously speaks Italian like a native despite never having been to Italy. At least it's beautifully shot in picturesque coastal locations with good-looking actors.

Insalaco and de Rossi have nice chemistry, with conversations that feel realistic as they meander from topic to topic. It's impressive that the actors are as engaging as they are, since filmmaker Cuzzillo never tries to deepen the characters or meaningfully depict their relationship on an emotional or physical level. It's a friendship, never the romance Cuzzillo clearly intends it to be. And instead of enriching their story, he fills the already brief running time with irrelevant scenes and images, while Massimo rambles philosophically in voiceover.

All of this is fairly infuriating to audience members who would actually like to know the story of these two young men, how they interact and where their story goes. Still, the film has a nice sense of Massimo's lonely rural life, plus a pointed glimpse of Russia's hideously violent homophobic culture. So Massimo's connection with Vladimir is touching, if not particularly profound (and only teasingly sexy). In other words, this five-minute story has been stretched out to 70 minutes in all the wrong ways. But that story has some meaningful things to say about respect and fear.

15 themes, violence
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