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last update 17.Apr.16
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The Absent One
3.5/5   Fasandræberne
dir Mikkel Norgaard
scr Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg
prd Jonas Bagger, Peter Aalbaek Jensen, Louise Vesth
with Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Fares Fares, Pilou Asbaek, David Dencik, Danica Curcic, Sarah-Sofie Boussnina, Johanne Louise Schmidt, Marco Ilso, Beate Bille, Peter Christoffersen, Soren Pilmark, Philip Stilling
fares and kaas release Den 2.Oct.14,
UK 8.Apr.16
14/Denmark Zentropa 1h59

See also:
The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013)
The Absent One Another mystery from Jussi Adler-Olsen's Department Q novels, after 2013's The Keeper of Lost Causes, this sharply well-made film maintains serious tension from the start with textured acting and strong production values. The plot is a bit convoluted and, like the first film, oddly separated from current events, but it's a riveting thriller.

After successfully solving their first cold case, detectives Assad and Carl (Fares and Kaas) earn a bit of respect at work (everyone still calls them "the Arab and the drunk"), plus a new secretary (Schmidt) and a cat. The problem is that, with the publicity, they're in serious demand. The case that grabs their attention involves twins who were killed 20 years ago. Even though the murders were solved, there are too many discrepancies to ignore. And Assad and Carl remain tenacious through every roadblock and and revelation they encounter.

The film continually flicks back to 20-years-ago scenes of three badly behaving teen boarding school students (Ilso, Stilling and Boussnina). We also meet them as respectable, and not-so-respectable, adults (played by Asbaek, Dencik and Curcic, respectively), and all of the cross-cutting is a bit distracting, although it does quickly create a strikingly unnerving connection between past and present, which grows along with the expanding cast.

Fares and Kaas are terrific in the lead roles as offbeat cops who think outside the box. Their chemistry is jagged and fascinating, as are their quietly emotional asides throughout the film. And the fine supporting cast adds layers of intrigue and menace along the way, as the plot gets more twisted with every scene. So it's entertaining, even when it's not completely believable. For example, the baddies' reactions to being investigated are so stupid that they'd never have got away with all of this for so long.

The long, enjoyably over-complicated story is a grim trawl through on the lifestyle of the absurdly rich, with their ability to buy anyone and use secret societies to subvert the law. The film plays cleverly with these things, but never quite grapples with them. And the exploration of school bullying seems a bit on the nose, especially as it spirals into horror. Much more engaging is the pairing of the intriguingly mismatched Assad and Carl, so it's great to know that a third Department Q film, A Conspiracy of Faith, has already been made.

18 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs
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The Brand New Testament
4/5   Le Tout Nouveau Testament
dir Jaco Van Dormael
scr Thomas Gunzig, Jaco Van Dormael
prd Olivier Rausin, Jaco Van Dormael
with Pili Groyne, Benoit Poelvoorde, Catherine Deneuve, Francois Damiens, Yolande Moreau, Laura Verlinden, Serge Lariviere, Didier De Neck, Marco Lorenzini, Romain Gelin, David Murgia, Johan Heldenbergh
groyne and gelin release Bel 1.Sep.15,
UK 15.Apr.16
15/Belgium 1h53

london film festival
The Brand New Testament Like Amelie, this stylised comedy-drama approaches an existential story by turning earthy reality into a fairy tale-style odyssey. Although this is a darker, more emotional story, it's beautifully told with a wry sense of humour that explores issues of fate and humanity in ways that are remarkably engaging.

Ea (Groyne) is the 10-year-old daughter of God (Poelvoorde) and his wife (Moreau), who live together in a sealed-closed flat in Brussels. Finally tired of the way her father plays so cruelly with humans, Ea rebels, sending everyone on earth a countdown to their deaths so they know how to live, then crashing God's computer and escaping into the city to find six apostles of her own and write an all-new testament. Accompanied by the homeless Victor (Lorenzini), Ea recruits an eclectic bunch of followers as her furious father tries to stop her.

Filmmaker Van Dormael cleverly catches that conflicting human sense of an all-powerful being who is both fearsome and loving, as represented here in the way Poelvoorde's bitter puppet-master bullies Moreau's more loving wife into silence. This gives the film several layers of meaning, from the grand scope of life itself to the political realities around the world, plus of course the jagged interaction within families. It may be fantastically nutty, but each scene bristles with insight that's designed to provoke thought rather than push a message.

The actors are terrific, anchored sharply by Groyne's astute performance. As her apostles, Deneuve, Damiens, Verlinden, Lariviere, De Neck and Gelin bring all kinds of comedy and emotion to the film, exploring human instincts from gender identity to murder. Scenes are packed with telling depictions of family interaction, usually of the wildly dysfunctional sort. And each performance explores the idea that much of human misery is caused by thoughtless selfishness rather than deliberate cruelty.

Most intriguing is the idea that if we knew how long we had left to live the world would instantly become a very different place. So it's a bit odd that the film's idea of a truly loving creator feels whimsical and simplistic, ignoring the realities of human nature that it has been depicting from the start. But maybe the filmmakers' point is that a harsh and tragic world creates bitterness and violence, rather than the other way round.

15 themes, language, violence,sexuality
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dir Panos H Koutras
scr Panos H Koutras, Panagiotis Evangelidis
prd Alexandra Boussiou, Panos H Koutras, Eleni Kossyfidou
with Kostas Nikouli, Nikos Gelia, Aggelos Papadimitriou, Romanna Lobats, Marissa Triandafyllidou, Yannis Stankoglou, Patty Pravo, Petros Chytiris, Electra Leda Koutra, Dinos Psychogios, Dimitris Rakos, Maria Laina
nikouli and gelia
release Gr 2.Oct.14,
US 12.Oct.15, UK 11.Apr.15
14/Greece 2h14

east end film festival
Xenia Colourful and messy with moments of internalised fantasy, this Greek drama vividly explores significant aspects of European culture like immigration, identity and sexuality. The relaxed narrative is packed with meaningful connections that are both provocative and involving. So in addition to engaging the audience, the film leaves us with something to think about.

Leaving Crete after his mother dies, cheeky-scrappy 15-year-old Dany (Nikouli) takes his white rabbit Dido with him to Athens to find his big brother Odysseas (Gelia). Dany immediately starts annoying Ody, pushing him to enter a TV singing competition and to go find their biological father, which might help Ody sort out his visa problems, since he was born in Albania before their parents moved to Crete. Family friend Tassos (Papadimitriu) has some information that may help, but it indicates that an "unspeakable" stranger is their father (Stankoglou). So they hit the road.

Without becoming political, the film has a terrific sense of the ethnic mix that feeds into the artistic life of any culture. Tassis is a colourful club owner, while their dad is a far-right gangster. So even if the narrative is a bit uneven, it frequently hits a resonant nerve. The film's title refers to an abandoned resort where the brothers hole up during their journey, and it's also the ancient Greek ideal of offering generous hospitality to strangers who are far from home.

Nikouli and Gelia make a terrific duo, likeable and infuriating at the same time. As he roams the streets of Athens, there's a sense that the thoughtless, freewheeling Dany's mother is still looking out for him. The spark of both loyalty and irritation between the brothers is strikingly realistic, with a shared love of Italian diva Patty Parvo (who cameos as herself). There are several terrific musical numbers, including an elaborate one-take nighttime choreographed dance in their underpants.

The film meanders amiably along, occasionally dropping in clunking plot points like the revelation of a gun in Dany's bag, which eventually appears in a startlingly violent encounter. From the start, filmmaker Koutras plays cleverly with the story's mythological parallels and psychological subtext, drawing out universal truths that explore issues of art, ethnicity and attraction. But more effective is the story of two brothers reconnecting on a quest into the mysteries in their past.

18 themes, language, violence, nudity
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You & I
dir-scr Nils Bokamp
prd Bjorn Koll
with George Taylor, Eric Klotzsch, Michal Grabowski
klotzch and taylor release US Jul.15 off,
Ger 17.Sep.15, UK 25.Apr.16
14/Germany 1h19
You & I A meandering drama with just three characters, this German film has very little actual plot as it observes the playful interaction between distinctly different young men. What develops is an intriguing collision of expectations, desires and unexpected emotions. Writer-director Nils Blokamp keeps everything rather obtuse, but the themes are fascinating.

After dumping his girlfriend by simply ignoring her, Jonas (Klotzsch) prepares to drive out of Berlin to gather images for his next art show. He invites his British buddy Philip (Taylor) to travel from London to join him, and they drive a campervan into an uninhabited area of picturesque lakes and forests. The fact that Philip is gay isn't an issue to Jonas, who taunts him with naked horseplay and continually hints that he might be interested in more. Then they pick up Polish hitchhiker Boris (Grabowski), who shifts the dynamic between them.

Bokamp fills scenes with hints about the interaction between these three guys, playfully suggesting where the story might be heading without ever giving much away. The tone is earthy and relaxed, with natural performances from the actors, who speak to each other in a familiar mix of German and English. Some of the interaction feels a bit forced, with sudden bursts of laughter or nudity, but all three actors add intriguing angles to their characters. And their sexuality is cleverly blurred, so none of them quite knows who might be up for what. But it's clear that all of them have something in mind.

The film is beautifully shot in striking locations in the Uckermark national park, as these guys horse around in lakes and abandoned buildings. The settings are all deserted, and the fact that these guys removed from the usual societal pressures highlights the shifting connections between them. As they end up in a giant country house for a few days, things develop in a much more provocative direction. Even here, Bokamp takes an elusive approach, churning up the dark undercurrents of tension beneath their breezy camaraderie.

Instead of playing on its sex-fantasy premise, the film is gently exploring the thin line between friendship and romance between men, complicated by cultural issues that insist on macho displays of heterosexuality that aren't necessarily natural. Indeed, all three of these guys have yearnings that they simply have no idea how to express. And in the end, this is an astute exploration of what it takes to push a man to reveal his true feelings.

15 themes, language, nudity
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