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Indies, foreigns, docs, revivals and shorts...

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last update 29.Jun.16
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Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)
2.5/5   (Une Histoire d’Amour Moderne)
dir-scr Eva Husson
prd Laurent Baudens, Didar Domehri, Gael Nouaille
with Finnegan Oldfield, Marilyn Lima, Daisy Broom, Lorenzo Lefebvre, Fred Hotier, Julien Granel, Gaia Oliarj-Ines, Giulia Nori, Julien Gomez, Raphael Porcheron, Tatiana Werner, Olivier Lefebvre
lefebvre and lima release Fr 13.Jan.16,
UK 10.Jun.16
15/France 1h38

london film festival
Bang Gang: A Modern Love Story There's definitely the sense that writer-director Eva Hisson is being intentionally controversial with this movie about teen sex, based on a notorious true story. But she over-eggs the film with stylistic vagueness that's oddly infused with preachy moralising. She also stirs in lots of nudity, with an emphasis on women, but not a single moment that's actually sexy.

In a coastal town near Biarritz, George and Laetitia (Lima and Broom) are 16-year-old girls on the lookout for fun. George has a crush on the sexy Alex (Oldfield), who has his parents' mansion to himself as they go through a messy divorce. So he and his pal Niki (Hotier) decide to throw some parties, which turn spicy as the girls invent what they call the Bang Gang, a truth or dare game without the truth part. Soon the entire school is hanging out at these parties, indulging in all kinds of unsafe sexual activity.

The film is artfully shot and edited, nicely portraying the internalised yearnings of these lively teens as they give in to the powerful urges they are naturally feeling at this time of life. Each of the characters has moments of thoughtful consideration, as they wonder how they should be reacting to all of this drug-fuelled, sexualised interaction. This adds a level of realism to the movie that helps paper over its more indulgent elements. The unsympathetic characters are a bigger problem.

Lima and Broom are strong at the centre, believably playing even the more contrived elements of their characters' storylines. George is more experienced, but it's Laetitia who dives into the fray. And George's connection with shy boy Gabriel (the superb Lefebvre) adds a nice emotional kick to the film. Meanwhile, Oldfield becomes by far the most interesting person on screen. Even though Alex kind of drifts through each situation, he's the most charismatic person in the movie.

The main problem here is that the film seriously lacks a proper sense of youthful energy. These teens may be playing around with their sexuality, but they don't seem to be having any fun at all. Instead, all they seem to do is mope around, which means that the movie's cautionary approach becomes increasingly obvious. And by emphasising the grim and nasty elements of the story, the filmmaker completely undermines whatever point she is trying to make.

18 themes, language, sexuality, drugs
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The Commune
3.5/5   Kollektivet
dir Thomas Vinterberg
scr Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm
prd Sisse Graum Jorgensen, Morten Kaufmann
with Ulrich Thomsen, Trine Dyrholm, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Lars Ranthe, Martha Sofie Wallstrom Hansen, Anne Gry Henningsen, Magnus Millang, Fares Fares, Julie Agnete Vang, Sebastian Gronnegaard Milbrat, Rasmus Lind Rubin, Mads Reuther
dyrholm and thomsen release Den 14.Jan.16,
UK 29.Jul.16
16/Denmark Zentropa 1h51

East End film festival
the commune Beautifully directed and acted, this 1970s drama from Denmark is packed with involving characters and knotted relationships. It may drift into melodrama from time to time, but it's an entertaining, riveting exploration of the issues raised as a group of people set up house together. And the cast is excellent.

When architect Erik (Thomsen) inherits his large childhood home, his news anchor wife Anna (Dyrholm) suggests that they move in with their 14-year-old daughter Freja (Hansen). But the house is so enormous that they'll need help with the bills. So they invite old pal Ole (Ranthe) to join them, followed by Ditte and Steffen (Henningsen and Millang) and their frail 6-year-old Vilads (Milbrat). Completing this extended family are the emotive Allon (Fares) and the lively Mona(Vang). Then everything gets complicated when Erik falls for his student Emma (Neumann).

Vinterberg directs the film with visual fluidity, creating a warm, inviting atmosphere that focusses on the characters. This cleverly leaves the period detail in the background, giving this social experiment some intriguing context. Yet while the themes are deep and resonant, the film's script feels preoccupied by the rather simplistic romantic triangle at the centre, which kind of leaves the other characters as little more than colourful wallpaper.

Thomsen, Dyrholm, Neumann and Hansen have layers of emotions to play as people with big expectations who are surprised by where their decisions take them. Thomsen has the roughest ride, because Erik isn't terribly sympathetic, sharing his life with a group of people while making selfish decisions. Which of course means that Dyrholm has the most appealing role. Her scenes with Neumann and Hansen are the best in the film. The remaining solid actors kind of blur in the background, never quite emerging from the single characteristic they're required to play.

Clearly, Vinterberg and Lindholm are exploring a larger idea about society, unpicking the way seemingly perfect situations can unravel simply because of human nature. The striking production values and expressive performances keep it involving, but there's a sense that the themes remain just out of reach. Instead, the film becomes a somewhat over-emotional personal drama about people who think of themselves as progressive and free until they are put in a position where they need to live their life by those ideals. If this is true of human society, then we're all doomed.

15 themes, language, sexuality
26.Jun.16 eeff
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Embrace of the Serpent
4/5   El Abrazo de la Serpiente
dir Ciro Guerra
prd Cristina Gallego
scr Ciro Guerra, Jacques Toulemonde Vidal
with Nilbio Torres, Antonio Bolivar, Jan Bijvoet, Brionne Davis, Yauenku Migue, Nicolas Cancino, Luigi Sciamanna, Pediwake Daniel Martinez, Jose Sabogal, Marcilo Paiva, Jaime Pereira, Marisel Mosquera
migue, bijvoet and torres release Col 25.May.15,
US 17.Feb.16, UK 10.Jun.16
15/Colombia 2h05

london film festival
Embrace of the Serpent Shot in a dreamlike monochrome, this exquisite Colombian film finds striking insight as it depicts natives meeting Europeans who have ventured deep into the Amazon. It tells two stories about the same man, 40 years apart, and the inventive approach is both riveting and powerfully moving. The themes are also eerily resonant, as the characters explore the impact of big business on a small community.

Down a snaking river, the frail explorer Theodor (Bijvoet) seeks help from the loner Karamakate (Torres), known for his remedies. Karamakate hates white men for destroying local tribes and landscapes, but reluctantly agrees to help. With Theodor's navigator Manduca (Migue), they embark on a trip to find his lost tribe. Decades later another white man, Evan (Davis), meets Karamakate looking for the plant that cured Theodor. But Karamakate can't remember where it came from, so the two go in search of the past, retracing his long-forgotten steps to find a hallucinogenic flower.

With artful black and white cinematography and an authentic approach to locations, filmmaker Guerra creates a timeless quality that allows him to profoundly explore concepts of past and future through a world-changing collision of cultures. The film cuts back and forth between the two time periods, as the young and old Karamakate each embark on a powerful expedition. In both cases, Karamakate must confront his own story while helping a foreigner.

Performances are minimalistic, so become much more provocative than expected as the story progresses, including moments of humour and suspense. As they travel, the shifting connection between Theodor, Karamakate and Manduca is beautifully played by the three actors as they encounter a slippery local chief (Paiva) and a terrified rubber plantation worker (Sabogal), then visit a Catholic orphanage run by a nervous priest (Sciamanna). When Karamakate returns 40 years later, it's the home of a freaky cult, perhaps the result of their earlier intervention.

Along with local culture and traditions, the film explores difficult truths about the collision between old and new worlds. Theodor is upset at having his compass stolen by the chief, because he knows the tribe will now lose the ability to navigate using the wind and stars. Scenes are full of contrast between locals who follow the wisdom of plants and animals and interlopers who exploit them. Yes, each culture is taking things from the other, but the film's central point is that one of them was lost forever.

15 themes, violence
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4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Stefano Sollima
scr Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli, Giancarlo De Cataldo, Carlo Bonini
prd Marco Chimenz, Gina Gardini, Giovanni Stabilini, Riccardo Tozzi
with Pierfrancesco Favino, Alessandro Borghi, Elio Germano, Claudio Amendola, Adamo Dionisi, Greta Scarano, Giulia Elettra Gorietti, Antonello Fassari, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Giacomo Ferrara, Simone Liberati, Yulia Kolomiets
release It 14.Oct.15,
UK 24.Jun.16
15/Italy Rai 2h10
suburra A pulsing collision of religion, politics and crime in Rome, this epic thriller doesn't say anything particularly new but is so finely orchestrated that it's utterly riveting. It's also packed with seriously engaging characters who range from bewildered nice guys to shifty officials to psychopathic nutcases. Yes, even the film's most violent thugs are fascinating.

It's November 2011, and shadowy mafioso Samurai (Amendola) wants to turn Rome's ancient harbour at Ostia into a Vegas-style party town. But several tit-for-tat murders threaten the deal. Corrupt politician Filippo (Favino) is trying to pass property legislation when his favourite hooker Sabrina (Gorietti) asks for help from a swaggering Romany thug (Ferrara) whose self-important big brother Manfredi (Dionisi) weighs in wanting his cut. This drags party planner Seba (Germano) into the mess. Meanwhile, young Ostia boss Number 8 (Borghi) and his feisty junkie girlfriend Viola (Scarano) seem oblivious to the trouble they're in.

The plot is laid out as an apocalyptic countdown during a week of torrential rain before Berlusconi's resignation amid a flood of corruption charges. Filmmaker Sollima occasionally cuts to turmoil within the Vatican to illustrate how deep problems run, but what grabs hold is how the seven central characters become entangled within this nasty web of greed, violence and revenge. The spiralling events seem rather random in isolation, but as they close in, it becomes doubtful that anyone will walk away.

Intriguingly, only a couple of these people feel innocent enough to be likeable: Seba may organise bunga-bunga parties, but he's hapless, vulnerable and in this mess because of his father (Fassari). His pal Sabrina is equally out of her depth, even though it's her naive phone call that triggers the nastiest carnage. Otherwise, these are dirty politicians and murderous criminals, all of whom are played with complexity and charisma by the skilled cast.

It's rare for a thriller to be packed with such vividly well-rounded characters, especially villains who are all sympathetic in their own way. They may deserve the awful fates that await them, but the first-rate writing, direction, editing and acting combine to make each one indelibly human. It's also rare to see such an ambitious, large-scale crime drama that remains so bracingly in focus from start to finish. This is a world without morality, populated by people who believe they're above the law. But there are higher laws they haven't reckoned with.

15 themes, language, violence, drugs, sexuality
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