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last update 8.Sep.15
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3.5/5   La Isla Mínima
dir Alberto Rodriguez
scr Rafael Cobos, Alberto Rodriguez
prd Jose Antonio Felez, Mercedes Gamero, Gervasio Iglesias, Mikel Lejarza, Jose Sanchez-Montes
with Javier Gutierrez, Raul Arevalo, Jesus Castro, Salva Reina, Antonio de la Torre, Nerea Barros, Manolo Solo, Ana Tomeno, Angela Vega, Miguel Angel Diaz, Juan Carlos Montilla, Jesus Ortiz
arevalo and gutierrez
release Sp 26.Sep.14,
US Apr.15 mspiff,
UK 7.Aug.15
14/Spain 1h45
marshland Strikingly well shot and acted, this Spanish police procedural sometimes feels dry and evasive as mismatched cops investigate a brutal crime. The focus shifts back and forth between the case and the police officers themselves, and both are described with a minimalism that builds a riveting atmosphere even as the screenwriters stubbornly refuse to add emotional insight.

In September 1980, investigators Pedro and Juan (Arevalo and Gutierrez) travel from Madrid to the southern wetlands to investigate two missing teenage sisters. It's been five years since General Franco died, but time doesn't seem to have passed here, and the cops quickly encounter resistance to their presence. The girls' parents (de la Torre and Barros) show signs of an abusive relationship, and as the investigation turns into a murder case, Pedro and Juan begin to focus on young-buck Quini (Castro), who currently has the missing girls' best friend Marina (Tomeno) in his grip.

Intriguingly, the detectives' back-stories are the most interesting aspects of the film. The men are polar opposites, as the younger Pedro is liberal and open, preoccupied with his pregnant wife back home, while the older Juan is eerily relaxed, never seems to sleep and is very easily provoked to violence. As rumours start to swirl that he was one of Franco's henchmen, this becomes far more fascinating than who the killer might be. But the clues to both mysteries appear only as fragments.

This is a delicate balancing act for director-cowriter Rodriguez, who tries to maintain equal emphasis on every aspect of the story while building an oppressive sense of the location with spectacular God's-eye camera angles revealing natural beauty in contrast to the seediness at ground level. Here, no one wants to talk about a possible child prostitution ring, heroin smugglers or the links between several disappearances and two gruesome murders.

Even with all of this, we are mainly concerned with what's happening between Pedro and Juan, who are played by Arevalo and Gutierrez with a striking level of understated detail. Gutierrez has the more difficult role as the coolly detached Juan, who seems both dangerously on-edge and far too disciplined. It's because of these men that the sudden rainstorms and a terrifying nighttime car chase carry a solid kick. As does the idea that these men have stumbled into a place where humanity itself is at risk.

15 themes, language, violence
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dir Abel Ferrara
scr Maurizio Braucci
prd Fabio Massimo Cacciatori, Thierry Lounas
with Willem Dafoe, Riccardo Scamarcio, Ninetto Davoli, Valerio Mastandrea, Maria de Medeiros, Adriana Asti, Francesco Siciliano, Andrea Bosca, Giada Colagrande, Damiano Tamilia, Roberto Zibetti, Salvatore Ruocco
release It 25.Sep.14,
US Oct.14 nyff,
UK 11.Sep.15
14/Italy 1h26

london film festival
pasolini Swirling with ambition, this odd collage of a movie never quite connects its disparate parts to communicate anything meaningful to the audience. Shot in a murky, uneven style, director Ferrara has made it difficult to make out what writer Braucci intended with this Fellini-esque dip into the mind of an iconic filmmaker.

In late 1975, just as he has finished his most scandalous film Salo, Piers Paolo Pasolini explains to a journalist (Siciliano) that he sees sex as politics and that he's no longer interested in moralising. Over the next 24 hours, he works on his novel Petrolio and continues to develop his next film Porno-Teo-Kolossal. As scenes from these projects unfold around him, he continues about his normal routine, unaware (or is he?) that he's heading toward a fateful encounter on a beach outside Rome, where he is killed by a gang of homophobic thugs.

Ferrara clearly sees himself in Pasolini, another filmmaker who regularly provoked audiences. Made up of random-seeming fragments, this requires detailed knowledge about Pasolini and his work. As it lurches from lush fantasies to dry discussions about censorship, the film is artful but annoyingly vague. It's swamped in muddy browns and greens, which adds a dark, creepy vibe but makes many scenes impossible to see. And the mix of English and unsubtitled Italian is also jarring, as are constant cutaways to everything from fascist-communist street clashes to men cruising each other.

It also strains to depict Pasolini's feelings about the relationship between the artist and his creation. Dafoe plays him as a loose aesthete, restlessly finishing one film while already working on the next. He may search the streets for rent boys every night, but he still lives with his doting mother (Asti). Dafoe plays this with focus and authenticity, but Ferrara seems unable to make sense of it, both lamenting this unfinished life and heavy-handedly hinting that Pasolini got what he deserved.

This jarring Roman Catholic contradiction also links Ferrara with Pasolini, although this film never grapples with that. Instead, it remains wilfully disconnected, with philosophical musings that rarely extend deeper than pondering how "people are good and bad, lovers and gladiators". And Ferrara shoots Pasolini's incomplete work in an oddly cartoonish style. For example, for an imagined Sodom in which gays and lesbians come together to procreate, Pasolini would have made a scene that felt unnervingly earthy and human. Ferrara makes it feel ridiculous.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
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The Second Mother
4/5   Que Horas Ela Volta?
dir-scr Anna Muylaert
prd Caio Gullane, Fabiano Gullane, Debora Ivanov, Gabriel Lacerda, Anna Muylaert
with Regina Case, Camila Mardila, Michel Joelsas, Karine Teles, Lourenco Mutarelli, Helena Albergaria, Antonio Abujamra, Luis Miranda, Theo Werneck
case and joelsas release US 28.Aug.15,
UK 4.Sep.15
15/Brazil 1h54

The Second Mother Especially vivid characters make this exploration of the Brazilian class structure thoroughly entertaining. Set in Sao Paulo, the story sharply slices through the layers of society as it follows a group of people who have big personalities and may not even be aware of how they're continuing to hold attitudes that really should have ended decades ago.

Val (Case) has worked for Carlos and Barbara (Mutarelli and Teles) for more than a decade, raising their son Fabinho from a toddler to a young man (Joelsas). She's happy to be a servant, since it means she can support her daughter Jessica (Mardila) back home. Then Jessica joins her, upsetting the balance because she doesn't respect the upstairs-downstairs divide. Carlos flirts with her, Barbara asserts her authority, and Val slowly begins to realise that maybe she doesn't like being subservient after all. Although her bond with Fabinho will be very hard to break.

Even if the script is somewhat overwritten, peppered with carefully contrived plot points, it's an engaging story that not only comments on Brazilian culture but makes much wider observations about human nature. At the centre, Case is simply wonderful, engaging with each of the characters in a specific way that helps her make sense of the world around her, even as she silently subverts these boundaries. Whether this is eavesdropping on a private conversation or stealing Fabinho's affection from his demanding mother, Val is both prickly and loveable.

When she turns up, pointedly to sit her university exams, Jessica refuses to even acknowledge that there are rules to follow. So of course she shakes Val's carefully ordered world to its foundations. Mardila is terrific as this whip-smart, quietly aggressive young woman who is getting to know her mother properly for the first time and doesn't really like what she sees. And as they circle around each other, their only hope for survival is to work out a level of understanding.

The film is bracingly honest about this social hierarchy. When Jessica accepts Carlos' offer to stay in the guest room, Val chides her that he only offered so she would decline. And when Fabinho throws Jessica into the pool, Barbara has it immediately drained and cleaned. Yes, the film is packed with blackly comical touches, but it's the natural approach in Muyleart's writing and direction that strongly brings out each character's personal arc in a way that resonates loudly.

15 themes, language
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dir Jonathan Taieb
prd Sami Chlagou, Jonathan Taieb
scr Jonathan Taieb, Frederic Jean-Jacques, Constance Fischbach, Anthony Robin
with Renat Shuteev, Andrey Kurganov, Andrey Koshman, Ekaterina Rusnak, Veronika Merkoulova, Tanya Baranova, Daniel Baranov, Nataliia Baranova, Yevgen Baranov, Ellen Slusarchi, Alyosha Sokolovski, Igor Surkov
kurganov and shuteev
release Ukr Nov.14 kmff,
US 3.Aug.15, UK 10.Aug.15
14/Ukraine 1h27
Stand Set in Russia but shot guerrilla-style in Ukraine, this drama's poetic approach allows the filmmakers to artistically indulge in lots of philosophical musing. But the film has a clever, naturalistic complexity to it that continues even when the plot stalls about halfway in.

Anton (Shuteev) is haunted by guilt when he and his boyfriend Vlad (Kurganov) are afraid to stop and help a young man being beaten along the road. And he's further horrified when cops refuse to look into a homophobic murder. So he launches his own investigation, joining an online community to catfish the suspected thug. Vlad is terrified that Anton is putting himself in danger, so he accompanies him along with Katya (Rusnak), journalist daughter of Anton's home-care patient (Merkoulova). And when the suspect slips away, Anton expands his search even more perilously.

With a ponderous, omniscient narration by Katya's friend Andrey (Koshman), the film has an oddly existential tone. There are background news stories of hate-crimes as neo-Nazi gangs attack men they think might be gay, paint them blue to "disinfect" them and viciously torture them, all without police intervention. Thankfully, this remains mostly off-screen, adding a vivid sense of horror even as the story takes some melodramatic turns.

Shuteev and Kurganov make a lively, likeable couple. Vlad patiently copes with Anton's high-maintenance obsessions, while we see Anton's softer side in the way he bonds with his patients. Their relationship is the strongest element in the film, and it is genuinely pushed and strained as the story goes on. There are some holes in the story (how does Anton have so much time and money for this personal quest?), and events feel increasingly contrived and pushy as the situation develops. But the characters and themes are seriously vivid.

Director Taieb stages the scenes cleverly, shooting in a realistic documentary style that makes the conversations feel improvised. As a result, Anton's frustration in injustice of the system is palpable, as are Vlad's fears for Anton's safety. So even if the script becomes meandering and pretentious, it touches on vital issues about communal responsibility, asking if we help others simply because it's the right thing to do or for our own satisfaction. But the most potent thing on here is the depiction of how institutional bigotry creates a nation of violent bullies.

15 themes, language, violence
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