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last update 2.Mar.16
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
dir Hansal Mehta
scr Apurva Asrani
prd Shailesh R Singh
with Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao, Dilnaz Irani, Ashish Vidyarthi, KR Parmeshwar, Sukhesh Arora, Suman Vaidya, Sumit Gulati, Balaji Gauri, Ishwak Singh, Nutan Surya, Divya Unny
rao and bajpayee release UK 26.Feb.16
15/India 2h00

london film festival
aligarh It would be easy to write off this true drama as something that could only happen in India, but the film has striking layers of global resonance. Not only is it a vivid depiction of the struggle for equality, but it's also a subtle indictment of how Western media need everyone to fit into their appropriate box. And it's written, directed and acted with sensitivity and insight.

In 2010 at the university in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, Dr Sivas (Bajpayee) is the chair of Modern Indian Languages. He keeps his private life out of view until a local TV channel runs a sting operation, catching him in an embrace with a rickshaw diver in his home. The university officials immediately sack him, charging him with "immoral activity". But questions arise about who actually plotted his downfall so shortly before his retirement. Then visiting journalist Deepu (Rao), who's covering the story, decides to take up his cause.

The story hinges on Section 377, the 1860 law introduced by the British colonials that criminalised homosexuality. It was overturned in 2009, before these events (and then reinstated in 2013). Filmmaker Mehta recounts Sivas' story in an artful, almost documentary style that feels somewhat alien to Western viewers. But this forces the audience to take a local perspective. Invasions of privacy, the volatility of street protests and shocking personal betrayals are portrayed in ways that resist the usual cliched approach.

Importantly, the film notes widely differing opinions in its array of characters. For example, Deepu sees this as a human rights story, while his editor (Irani) wants to report it as a sex scandal. Some of this is rather pointed and melodramatic, but it cuts right to the core of the issue with telling details (such as how the two who broke into Sivas' flat and cornered him aren't charged at all). Thankfully, Mehta also includes a bit of comical relief to lighten the dark tone.

While the legal debate feels rather farcical, it comes from the actual court record. And more intimately, the film quietly explores deeper issues in individuals and society, such as mistrust of outsiders and the nature of attraction. Sivas argues that desire is poetry, an uncontrollable and deeply personal urge, so he refuses to admit that he's gay even as campaigners beg him to become the face of equality when the story hits national headlines. And his most profound question is bracingly simple: why does "lover" sound like a dirty word?

12 themes, violence
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Goodnight Mommy
3.5/5   Ich Seh Ich Seh
dir-scr Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
prd Ulrich Seidl
with Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz, Susanne Wuest, Elfriede Schatz, Karl Purker, Hans Escher, Georg Deliovsky, Christian Steindl, Christian Schatz, Erwin Schmalzbauer
Lukas and Elias Schwarz release Ger 8.Jan.15,
US 11.Sep.15, UK 4.Mar.16
14/Austria 1h39

Goodnight Mommy Starting out as witty and mysterious, this film spirals into unexpected layers of horror as it progresses. A true original, it's genuinely upsetting, a freak-out that works in a profoundly emotional way. It's sharply shot and edited, acted with conviction by the cast as it plays with audience perceptions. Its final act is increasingly terrifying and perhaps rather overwrought.

In a house on the edge of a lake, a television star (Wuest) has taken her pre-teen twin sons Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) to recover from facial reconstruction surgery. But the boys begin to notice that she's acting erratically, and suspect that this strange woman has done something nefarious with their mother. As they begin to taunt and spy on her, she refuses to acknowledge Lukas, offering hints of serious emotional trauma. And encounters with a priest (Escher) and two charity collectors (Schatz and Purker) push events into truly scary directions.

The Schwarz boys are strikingly engaging: Elias is more nervous, Lukas more adventurous. They're hilariously boyish, engaging in cheeky misbehaviour and boyish adventures before they settle into their obsessive curiosity about what's happening with their mysterious and masked mother. At this point, a dark shadow descends over the film, revealing elements of the back-story that cast new light on the events. And allowing Wuest to deliver a powerfully effective physical performance that turns unspeakably wrenching.

Filmmakers Franz and Fiala keep everything unnervingly minimalistic. Their writing and direction are deceptively simple, packed with implications and red herrings, hints of impending danger and questions about what's really happening. And then things begin to turn outright horrific. Right from the beginning, there are hints that Elias has created Lukas as his imaginary friend. Or maybe Lukas died in an accident that injured their mother. Or perhaps their mother is the one who's delusional.

The filmmakers stick close to Elias' perspective to maintain this bracingly gripping tone, constantly sending the characters into pitch black spaces: a culvert, the basement, a bone-filled cave in the churchyard, a jar containing their collection of huge bugs. All of this both tantalises and freaks out the audience. And when the truth resolves itself, there's still a half hour of devastating nastiness to come. And through it all, the film somehow manages to deliver its core message with honesty and urgency: keep your true feelings from your loved ones at your peril.

15 themes, violence, grisliness, nudity
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Love in the Time of Civil War
2.5/5   L’Amour au Temps de la Guerre Civil
dir Rodrigue Jean
scr Ron Ladd
prd Cedric Bourdeau, Rodrigue Jean
with Alexandre Landry, Jean-Simon Leduc, Simon Lefebvre, Catherine-Audrey Lachapelle, Ana Christina Alva, Eric Robidoux, Richard Frechette, Julie C Delorme, Jean-Francois Blanchard, Tyler Jason Megarry, Alexandrine Agostini, Jeremy Hervieux-Gosselin
landry release Can Sep.14 tiff,
US Jun.15 ciff, UK 8.Feb.16
14/Canada 2h00

Love in the Time of Civil War An odyssey tracing the bleak lives of young drug addicts on the wintry streets of Montreal. Nothing much happens in this indulgent, often infuriating film. It's shot in a way that's not particularly easy to see, and the characters are only intriguing because they're so young and attractive. But as it continues, it begins to feel like little more than right-wing propaganda about depraved youth.

Unable to pay the rent for his room, or to fund his next hit of pretty much any drug he can find, Alex (Landry) sleeps in hospital waiting rooms and pays his dealer Simon (Lefebvre) for drugs with sex and lifts in his shared rental car. Simon brings sparky hooker Jeanne (Lachapelle) along, and they become a team until the cops pick them up. Back on the street, Alex calls his friend Eric (Robidoux) for help, leading to more drugs, sex and homelessness. Then he runs into his lover/fellow addict Bruno (Leduc).

Yes, Alex's story merely meanders through a series of depressing episodes. Each encounter is grim and not remotely sexy. Much of the skilful hand-held camera work is lost due to a deliberate lack of lighting, so even if the close-up angles make everything edgy, it's impossible to see much of what happens. The only properly intriguing aspect is that, even amid the squalor, the characters' youth allows the hint of a positive future if they could only snap out of this.

The actors nicely underplay their roles, although the characters are one-note: pathetically aimless people unable to see that they've destroyed their own lives. The film casually reveals details, such as the fact that Jeanne has a young daughter. Or that no one can be bothered with labels like straight or gay. Or in what feels like a cheap shot, that character is HIV positive. And the film cuts between perspectives, eliminating any sense of a focal storyline.

Even if the film is starkly authentic-looking, nagging questions linger. Alex rarely does anything to generate cash, yet he rents cars, pays his phone bill and buys cigarettes, coffee and drugs. Meanwhile, the movie simply drifts along like a journey to nowhere, full of characters who have no interest in living. This may be director Jean's and writer Ladd's point, but it's neither interesting nor insightful. And certainly not engaging.

18 themes, language, sexuality, drugs, violence
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The Wave
4/5   Bølgen
dir Roar Uthaug
prd Are Heidenstrom, Martin Sundland
scr Harald Rosenlow-Eeg, John Kare Raake
with Kristoffer Joner, Ane Dahl Torp, Jonas Hoff Oftebro, Edith Haagenrud-Sande, Arthur Berning, Fridtjov Saheim, Laila Goody, Eili Harboe, Herman Bernhoft, Thomas Bo Larsen, Mette Agnete Horn, Hakon Moe
Haagenrud-Sande and Joner
release Nor 28.Aug.15,
UK Oct.15 lff, US 4.Mar.16
15/Norway 1h44

london film festival
the wave Structured like a classic disaster movie, this Norwegian dramatic thriller is particularly well-made, with vivid characters and a believable sense of the science behind it. The premise is a picturesque fjord that has long been at risk of a mountainside collapse, which would trigger a devastating tsunami. And in this solidly crafted, only slightly corny movie, an entire village's day has come.

After a 1905 tragedy, Norway's geological officials set up a system to warn fjord residents in the event of a rockslide-caused tsunami. Boyish geologist Kristian (Joner) has reluctantly agreed to leave his quake-monitoring job in Geiranger to work for an oil company, moving his wife Idun (Torp) and teen kids (Oftebro and Haagenrud-Sande) to the city. Just as they're packing up their family home, the sensors go off and Kristian heads into the hills to investigate. But his boss (Saheim) is reluctant to sound the alarm during tourism season.

The film is shot, edited and scored to create an overwhelming sense of impending doom. This is of course augmented by Kristian's gut feeling that something isn't right and everyone else's careless behaviour. The fjord is photographed expansively to look both spectacular and menacing. And as calamity strikes, this plucky family finds itself separated from each other, each with a series of set-pieces to survive. This provides several exhilarating moments that are hugely entertaining even if they're essentially contrived.

A wide range of characters bring details to ramp up the melodrama. Joner is superb as the obsessively worrying Kristian, who simply refuses to give up on the collection of family, colleagues and neighbours around him. Trapped in Idun's hotel in the aftermath, Torp and Oftebro deliver punchy performances that combine raw emotions with physical mayhem. It's especially nice to see a genre script like this with such a strong female character at the centre who does the rescuing rather than just squealing in peril.

Even so, there are plenty of silly plot points, thankfully eliciting nervous laughter rather than derision. This is because the film is a knowing pastiche of disaster movies, deploying each cliche on cue for maximum impact. There's even a clock counting down the apocalyptic destruction, cranking up emotion as enormous digital effects kick in. But even the largest set-pieces have a remarkably human scale, recognising the emotional cost when characters we've quickly learned to love are suddenly gone.

15 themes, language, violence
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