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last update 12.Sep.17
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Hotel Salvation
dir-scr Shubhashish Bhutiani
prd Sanjay Bhutiani, Sajida Sharma, Shubhashish Bhutiani
with Adil Hussain, Lalit Behl, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Palomi Ghosh, Navnindra Behl, Anil K Rastogi
hussain with the family release US Apr.17 sfiff,
UK 25.Aug.17
16/India 1h39

venice film fest
Hotel Salvation Shot without the usual excesses of Indian cinema, this subtle drama explores big issues in an internalised way. As a result, the characters come to life in ways that feel timeless and resonant. This draws out big themes that connect to universal ideas of family relationships, social expectations and thoughts of mortality, all within a specific cultural framework. It's a beautiful film, worth seeking out.

When his father Daya (Behl) decides to head to Varanasi, middle-aged Rajiv (Hussain) has little choice but to travel with him. This is the city on the Ganges in northern India where Hindu pilgrims go to find salvation and prepare for death. Leaving his incomprehensible wife Lata (Kilkarni) and their troubled daughter Sunita (Ghosh), Rajiv takes his dad to the holy site, where hotel owner Mishraji (Rastogi) tells them they can stay for 15 days. But fellow resident Vimla (Behl) has been there for 18 years, so clearly rules are meant to be bent.

At only 25, first-time filmmaker Bhutiani shows remarkable sensitivity when dealing with characters in their 50s and 70s, exploring delicate layers of parent-child connections and the conflicting generational attitudes toward something as inevitable as death. Sunita perhaps represents the filmmakers' own perspective, constantly taking selfies and rebelling against traditional expectations. But there's a lovely connection between father, son and granddaughter that says a lot about humanity, and not just in this rather quirky corner of the world.

This is an observant film, shot with earthy realism, and all of the performances match this style. This makes the movie sometimes feel almost documentary as it quietly follows these people into a variety of lively situations. The actors give their characters vivid internal lives that both clash with each other and find witty ways of expressing themselves. Much of the film is very funny indeed, but the overriding emotion is more thoughtful. And each actor brings a beautiful range of textures to his or her role.

It's rare to find a film set in such a specific culture that feels so real to audiences all over the world. Life in this part of India moves to its own rhythms, colours, tastes and smells, and some of this may seem troubling for Westerners (how could you drink from the same river where people bathe and wash their clothes?). But the feelings are strongly recognisable, as is the fact that these people have so much trouble talking about them. So watching them move a bit closer to understanding themselves and each other is deeply inspiring.

PG themes
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4/5     MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Philippe Van Leeuw
prd Guillaume Malandrin, Serge Zeitoun
with Hiam Abbass, Diamand Bou Abboud, Juliette Navis, Mohsen Abbas, Elias Khatter, Alissar Kaghadou, Ninar Halabi, Moustapha Al Kar, Mohammad Jihad Sleik, Husam Chadat
navis and abbas
release US May.17 siff,
UK 8.Sep.17
17/Belgium 1h25

InSyriated An unnervingly real-life setting provides the backdrop for what feels like a horror movie, exploring a situation that is even more terrifying because these things are actually happening right now. And what makes it even more powerful is that Belgian writer-director Philippe Van Leeuw makes it impossible not to imagine it happening right where we live.

In a middle-class Damascus apartment, a woman (Abbas) and her frazzled maid Delhani (Navis) are struggling to take care of the family as snipers shoot in the street and bombs land in the neighbourhood. Along with her father-in-law (Abbass), teen daughters (Kaghadou and Halabi) and young son (Sleik), upstairs neighbours Halima and Samir (Abboud and Kar) and their infant son have taken refuge in the flat, as has one daughter's boyfriend (Khatter). As she waits for her husband to come home, this woman struggles through nightmarish events that shake these fragile people to the core.

All of this is somewhat oppressive, locking the audience in this claustrophobic home with an eclectic group of people who are desperately trying to continue with their normal lives. But water and electricity supplies are unsteady, phone signals unreliable, and strangers are pounding on the door. At one time, two men break into the flat, sending the residents scurrying to bolt themselves in the kitchen, leading to the film's most harrowing sequence.

In this kind of situation, the actors never get a break. They must play people who are almost always terrified, with brief moments during which they forget the apocalypse outside while, for example, sharing a boisterous meal or arguing about who's taking too long in the bathroom. But the grim reality can't be ignored for long over the course of this unrelenting day. Abbass and Navis are especially powerful as women trying to hide an awful bit of information. Abboud has the most emotionally wrenching role, while Abbas quietly underscores his scenes with thoughtful emotion.

This is not an easy film to watch. It's more like an experience that needs to be endured, but its challenge is profoundly important. Like a stage play, the single set hints that this is a story that could happen at virtually any place or time in history. You kind of expect the camera to pull out at the end and reveal London or New York outside the windows. Because these people are immediately recognisable. And what is happening to their nation is only one paranoid head of state away from all of us.

15 themes, language, violence

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The Odyssey
2.5/5   L’Odyssée
dir Jerome Salle
scr Jerome Salle, Laurent Turner
prd Olivier Delbosc, Nathalie Gastaldo, Philippe Godeau, Marc Missonnier
with Lambert Wilson, Pierre Niney, Audrey Tautou, Laurent Lucas, Benjamin Lavernhe, Vincent Heneine, Thibault de Montalembert, Roger Van Hool, Chloe Hirschman, Adam Neill, Ulysse Stein, Rafael de Ferran
ninney and wilson release Fr 12.Oct.16,
UK 11.Aug.17
16/France 2h02
the odyssey This biopic about undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau is stylishly shot and edited into a brisk sprint through his relationship with his younger son Philippe. Scenes are short and to the point, but never quite generate a properly rounded portrait of the iconic adventurer. Still, it holds the interest and vividly depicts the larger issues Cousteau championed in later life.

In the late 1940s, Jacques (Wilson) began to experiment with diving equipment, improving the aqua-lung and working with his pal Tailliez (Lucas) to document his expeditions in print and on film. With Calypso, his floating laboratory and film studio, he travelled the world with his wife Simone (Tautou) and sons Jean-Michel and Philippe (Lavernhe and Niney), sourcing funding from oil companies and television networks. But as his fame grows, his self-involvement and womanising alienates him from his family, even as they remain involved in his work.

The film looks great, with its slick production design, seamless effects and some gorgeous underwater camerawork, all accompanied by one of Alexandre Desplat's most surging scores. But filmmaker Salle tries to push every emotional button rather than earn it, telling the story in choppy fragments that convey some key event before leaping on to the next important moment. This prevents the film from building up momentum, as the characters' are unable to develop into people we can identify with.

Wilson gives a clever performance at the centre, refusing to shy away from Cousteau's darker edges. But this makes him rather unlikeable right from the start, so his transformation into advocate for the environment feels almost mercenary. Niney has the most detailed character on-screen, and in many ways this is actually Philippe's story as he rejects his father but can't resist his charismatic pull. But this is never properly explored in the script. Neither is Simone's wounded decision to keep living on Calypso, which leaves Tautou looking sullen and mopey.

There is of course an intriguing, important story in here, which makes the film watchable. To highlight the urgent theme about the state of the planet, the script sharply depicts how scientists' warnings have gone unheeded right from the start. The Cousteau Society continues work in this field, which is admirable even if this movie kind of gives it a murky back-story, undermining some of Cousteau's most beloved movies with chilling back-stage details. Even so, his contribution to the environment and to cinema is indelible.

PG themes, language
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Reinventing Marvin
3.5/5   Marvin
dir Anne Fontaine
scr Anne Fontaine, Pierre Trividic
prd Philippe Carcassonne, Jean-Louis Livi, Pierre-Alexandre Schwab
with Finnegan Oldfield, Catherine Salee, Gregory Gadebois, Jules Porier, Charles Berling, Isabelle Huppert, Vincent Macaigne, Catherine Mouchet, Sharif Andoura, Yannick Morzelle, India Hair, Luna Lou
berling and oldfield release UK Oct.17 lff,
Fr 22.Nov.17
17/France 1h55

venice film fest
london film fest
Reinventing Marvin The thoughtful story of a young artist's journey to self-expression, this film is sometimes brutally honest about the tension between so-called provincial attitudes and enlightened liberal sensibilities. The film may be in need of some judicial editing, but the material here is resonant and important. And it's also beautifully played by an intriguingly eclectic cast that includes Isabelle Huppert in a witty role as herself.

As he prepares to launch his one-man show on a Paris stage, Marvin (Oldfield) is still working through the events that inspired it. Raised in a working-class family, the teen Marvin (Porier) felt at odds with his earthy parents (Salee and Gadebois). Cruelly bullied at school for being different, he gets support from an understanding teacher (Mouchet), who steers him to drama school. There he is mentored by his professor Abel (Macaigne). And later he has a fling with wealthy, older Roland (Berling), who helps him make important connections in the industry.

Through all of this, the gnawing question of identity roars through Marvin's mind: is he a product of his parents or someone unique despite the environment he grew up in? His story is cross-cut between various periods in Marvin's life, making it somewhat difficult to get a grip on simply because it unnecessarily taxes the viewer. We wonder where we are on the timeline and whether this scene has anything to do with the bigger picture. Indeed, quite a few scenes could be cut to make it clearer.

Oldfield delivers a nicely understated performance as a new drama student and also as a budding theatre star, creating strong chemistry with both Berling and Huppert, who is having a marvellous time playing herself. But it's Porier who registers even more strongly as a teen trying to make sense of the messy world around him, interacting in surprising ways with parents, siblings, teachers and classmates. Salee and Gadebois bring unexpected textures to roles that could easily have been stereotypes.

As the fractured scenes coalesce into an overall narrative, the film becomes a look at how life experiences are woven into a work of art. Marvin may draw on some very specific elements from his childhood in his play, but he's also dramatising these moments in a way that helps audiences connect. The script brings this out in some clever ways, while Fontaine's direction remains so centred on the people that it can't help but move us.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
2.Sep.17 vff

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