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On this page: HERMIA & HELENA | MA' ROSA

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last update 9.Oct.16
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Hermia & Helena
dir-scr Matias Pineiro
prd Andrew Adair, Jake Perlin
with Agustina Munoz, Maria Villar, Keith Poulson, Dan Sallitt, Julian Larquier Tellarini, Mati Diop
diop and munoz release UK Oct.16 lff,
US Oct.16 nyff
16/Argentina 1h27

london film festival
Hermia & Helena Indulgently experimental, this is the kind of movie that appeals to film students due to its clever references and artful juxtaposition. But the fact is that there is no plot to speak of, scenes simply don't hang together and it's perhaps too generous to call the acting uneven. There is some charm in filmmaker Matias Pineiro's loose, witty style, but in the end it's just too smug to have any resonance.

As Carmen (Villar) winds up her art project in a New York collective and returns to Buenos Aires, she swaps places with her friend Camila (Munoz), whose project in Manhattan is to translate A Midsummer Night's Dream into Spanish. Leaving her boyfriend Leo (Tellarini) back home, Camila strikes up a relationship with colleague Lukas (Poulson), and also welcomes Carmen's free-spirited friend Daniele (Diop) when she arrives for a visit. But her biggest challenge is meeting the father (Sallitt) she never knew.

Pineiro assembles this in a wilfully stylised assembly of stand-alone scenes that have only tenuous connections, leaping around in time over a period of perhaps a year. Hand-written chapter headings play on the title, which is one of many Shakespearean references in a movie overflowing with allusions to art, philosophy and literature. But all of this is stirred in with a very light hand, so much so that it's not easy to catch the point of it all.

The characters are so gently developed that they never quite register as real people with inner lives of their own. This isn't a problem with fringe figures like Lukas or Leo, but Camila and Carmen aren't any better. At least Villar gives Carmen a fiery personality, with an unpredictability that's intriguing even though the character isn't in the film very much. By comparison, Munoz's Camila is a vacuum, sucking the life out of every scene she's in. Camila is an unlikeable opportunist, so self-indulgent and shallow that it's difficult to watch her fail to grapple with anything that happens to her.

It's definitely impossible to care. This is one of those affected movies that feels like a film school project, combining some clever ideas and original filmmaking techniques with a bold approach to non-linear narrative and characters who evolve unexpectedly. The problem is that it never coalesces into anything meaningful, merely drifting right past each potentially pointed moment. And the generally unfocussed nature of the direction and acting leaves the audience wondering what we're supposed to see here.

15 themes, language
23.Sep.16 lff
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Ma’ Rosa
dir Brillante Ma Mendoza
scr Troy Espiritu
prd Larry Castillo
with Jaclyn Jose, Julio Diaz, Jomari Angeles, Felix Roco, Andi Eigenmann, Kristoffer King, Mercedes Cabral, Baron Geisler, Maria Isabel Lopez, Inna Tuason, Neil Ryan Sese, Ruby Ruiz
release Ph 6.Jul.16,
UK Oct.16 lff
16/Philippines 1h50

london film festival
Ma' Rosa Shot with handheld urgency and extended real-time sequences, this Filipino drama grabs hold of the audience from the start and never lets up. Filmmaker Brillante Mendoza skilfully immerses us in the rain-soaked bustle of Manila, focussing on a low-level drug dealer whose concern for her family makes her enormously sympathetic. And while the drama is more than enough to hold the attention, the film also has some harrowing things to say about justice in the Philippines.

A force of nature, Rosa (Jose) keeps her family going by never stopping for a moment. Her husband Nestor (Diaz) is upstairs smoking crack, while eldest son Jackson (Roco) indulges in his love of karaoke, next son Erwin (Angeles) sits on the internet, Raquel (Eigenmann) attends college and young Jillian pitches in where she can. In addition to running a shop out of their simple home, Rosa also sells "ice" (crystal meth) to her neighbours. Then the cops burst in and arrest her and Nestor, demanding a huge payout to let them go.

Aside from a segment in which her three older children do everything they can to raise the bribe money, the film is tightly focussed on Rosa, and Jose delivers a superbly understated performance. The subtlety is especially effective at making Rosa tricky to engage with, her stony expression only barely betraying some passing emotions. But it's her ferocious eyes that draw us in. Clearly this is a woman who would do anything for her family. Even as a drug dealer, she's the most morally upright person on-screen.

Indeed, the police are the real villains, smugly abusing power to line their pockets and torment people who are incapable of defending themselves. When they push Rosa to turn in her supplier (King), they viciously extort even more cash from his terrified wife (Cabral). All while pretending that they are enforcing the law. But then everyone in this community is capable of betrayal if it helps them survive.

Mendoza builds an intense momentum in the first half, as Rosa and Nestor face an increasingly uncertain fate. There's a gnawing suspense that we feel in the gut, a hope against hope that perhaps there will be a way out of this nightmare. Oddly, it's at this point that Mendoza slackens the narrative drive, sending the film off on an extended sideroad that's telling but not so riveting. Even so, this is urgent, involving storytelling with a razor-sharp sense of its characters and setting.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
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Train to Busan
4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Yeon Sang-ho
prd Lee Dong-ha
with Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an, Jung Yu-mi, Ma Dong-seok, Kim Eui-sung, Choi Woo-sik, Ahn So-hee, Choi Gwi-hwa, Jeong Seok-yong, Jang Hyuk-Jin, Kim Chang Hwan, Ye Soo-jung
sang, gong and choi release Kor/US 22.Jul.16,
UK 28.Oct.16
16/Korea 1h58


See also:

Things to Come An offhanded comical-satirical tone adds an unpredictable kick to this irreverent Korean horror romp. Alongside the no-nonsense action chaos, exhilarating pace and superbly orchestrated carnage, filmmaker Yeon Sang-ho is making pungent comments on social and economic issues. He's also made one of the most heart-stopping action thrillers in recent memory.

Amid the general annoyances of everyday life, workaholic banker Seok-wu (Gong) is hating all the reminders of his broken marriage. But he knows he needs to bond with his lonely young daughter Su-an (Kim Su-an) during her birthday bullet-train journey from Seoul to Busan. But soon after they leave, pandaemonium breaks out as the train is overrun by voracious zombies who ferociously spread infection through the cheap seats. And an evacuation attempt proves the problem is more widespread than anyone thought. These ravenous creatures have weaknesses, but some of the survivors are even bigger monsters.

The film opens with a run-over deer springing to life in a zone quarantined after some sort of chemical spill. There's no more set-up needed before introducing a variety of disaster movie style characters, including the train's crew, a stubborn man (Ma) with his pregnant wife (Jung), a gang of boisterous teens on a school trip, a homeless man (Choi) and a late-arriving young woman clearly infected with something nefarious. What follows is a clever class-conscious exploration of the clash between callous self-interest and those who band together to help each other.

Gong's is superb as the despised banker who only very slowly finds his humanity. And Kim is terrific as the young Su-an, far more complex than expected for a child in a movie like this. Amid the survivors, heroes and villains emerge, as the wealthy pointedly abandon the lower classes to the disease. Performances are layered with meaning and resonance. And there are surprises all along the way, with clever character twists amid a stream of astonishing action beats that are even more terrifying because we are so emotionally invested.

In an astute real-world parallel, police, government officials and the media are making the situation much worse, all while urging people to stay calm. And elitism is clear at every point, ultimately turning catastrophic. But it's the film's relentless action, claustrophobically contained within the train carriages, that propels the film forward like a rocket. And by including so many personal elements, the suspense never lets up, shifting from one breathlessly nerve-wracking set-piece to the next, right to the haunting final moments.

15 themes, language, violence
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The Ways of Man
aka All the Ways of God   •   Tots els Camins de Déu
dir Gemma Ferrate
prd Aritz Cirbian
scr Gemma Ferrate, Eduard Sola
with Marc Garcia Cote, Oriol Pla, Jan Cornet
cote and pla release Sp 4.Mar.16,
UK 10.Oct.16
14/Spain 1h10
The Ways of Man An experimental exploration of a biblical story, this film takes an indulgent approach that's also a little dull as it loosely drifts along without much sense of direction. Writer-director Gemma Ferrate waits until nearly the end before giving the audience much information, adding an intriguing spin that carries a hint of meaning. Although it's perhaps too pretentious to resonate.

After betraying his best friend Jesus (Cornet) with a kiss, Judas (Cote) regrets his action. He flees to the sea, consumed by thoughts of suicide, and then into a deep forest. There he's unnerved by Iu (Pla), a backpacker who seems to be following him. They're both lost, so they silently stick together. But the needy Iu who perseveres at connecting, even though Judas wants to be left alone. Small adventures ensue, from an attempt at fishing to the discovery of a dead pig. And finally, they begin to talk around a campfire.

This is performed in a present-day European setting with actors wearing jeans and hoodies. These two men are fairly monosyllabic, speaking in brief phrases rather than sentences. And more often than that just carrying on in silence. So the acting is expressive, as both actors must give every thought and feeling some sort of visual clue. Both men dive into the physicality and emotion, even as details about them remain elusive. Some playful moments help break the tension.

With the performances so overt, the characters aren't hugely likeable. Judas is surly and thoughtful, Iu is petulant and impulsive. In other words, they act like stereotypical brothers, with the younger one relentlessly pestering the older one. The problem is that we know that Judas is trying to escape from his fatal mistake, but we haven't a clue who Iu is or why he's acting so dim. And without more definition, the connection between them never properly develops, which could be the point.

The film is beautifully shot by Daniel Fernandez Abello in gorgeous locations, with a sensitive musical score by Maik Maier. A swimming sequence is particularly striking, artfully photographed above and below the surface of a pond. But this is kind of all the film is: nice-looking. It's ostensibly a rumination on potentially deep themes, but remains wilfully aloof, almost daring the viewer to find the meaning. And while there is a hint of a point, it's impossible not to think that it could have been made in a fraction of this time.

12 themes, language, violence, nudity
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