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last update 6.Oct.17
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The Cakemaker
dir-scr Ofir Raul Graizer
prd Itai Tamir
with Tim Kalkhof, Sarah Adler, Roy Miller, Zohar Shtrauss, Sandra Sade, Tamir Ben Yehuda, Stephanie Stremler, Tagel Eliyahu, Eliezer Lipa Shimon, Gal Gonen, Sagi Shemesh, Iyad Msalma
adler and kalkhof release Isr Jun.17 jff,
UK Oct.17 lff, US Oct.17 ciff
17/Israel 1h44

london film fest
The Cakemaker Warm and open, this Israeli-German drama takes a sensitive approach to a complex relationship. Writer-director Ofir Raul Graizer stirs in strong issues without ever losing sight of the internal journeys the characters are taking, and how their interaction helps them move forward. And with its low-key style, the film is beefed up with some powerfully resonant undercurrents.

The sensitive, shy Tomas (Kalkhof) runs a cake shop in Berlin, where he meets visiting Israeli businessman Oren (Miller). Over the course of a year, they develop a romance until Oren goes suddenly silent. Discovering that he died in an accident in Jerusalem, Tomas travels there and looks up Oren's widow Anat (Adler), who is struggling to run her cafe and care for 7-year-old son Itai (Yehuda). Without explaining his connection, Tomas takes a job in the cafe, surprising Anat with his baked goods. He also starts bonding with Itai over cookies and chocolate.

The film is quietly haunting, as Graizer concentrates on the faces of these people grappling with their emotions. Tomas, Anat and Itai are all grieving over the same man, so watching them come together is full of intriguing issues. For example, the cafe is kosher, so Tomas isn't allowed to use the oven there, but he works through this and develops a growing friendship with Anat. Of course, there's always that other shoe waiting to drop, but the story remains unpredictable and involving.

Performances are understated, sharply depicting real-life people and their sometimes awkward interaction. Kalkhof's Tomas is such a gentle, nice guy that his journey is strongly sympathetic. Adler's Anat is a little more prickly, but she's also observant and open, welcoming Tomas against the bigoted objections of her brother (Shtrauss). Even as she begins to suspect the truth about Tomas, her reaction is complex and authentic, leading to a moment that's perhaps too pointed.

The cakes and cookies are almost as much a part of the story as the people, and Graizer photographs them lovingly (without veering into food porn), including the smiles they elicit in those who eat them. And there's also the traditional Jewish food Tomas discovers, which adds to the interplay between cultures and traditions. There's one plot point that feels rather overtly controversial, and there's an extended flashback that might have worked better earlier in the film. But this is a lovely drama that says important things about love and connection.

15 themes, sexuality
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The Double Lover
3.5/5   L’Amant Double
dir-scr Francois Ozon
prd Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
with Marine Vacth, Jeremie Renier, Jacqueline Bisset, Myriam Boyer, Dominique Reymond, Fanny Sage, Jean-Edouard Bodziak, Antoine de La Morinerie, Jean-Paul Muel, Keisley Gauthier, Tchaz Gauthier, Clemence Trocque
vacth and renier release Fr 26.May.17,
UK 20.Oct.17
17/France 1h47

london film fest
The Double Lover Chameleon-like filmmaker Francois Ozon sets out this movie in the style of Almodovar doing a Hitchcock homage. And the double-layered approach is perfect for a sly, twisty plot adapted from a Joyce Carol Oates novel. Sexy and playful, the film spins around dualities, warping reality to present a story that keeps us both gripped and entertained.

In Paris, Chloe (Vacth) is struggling to feel normal, so starts seeing therapist Paul (Renier), and when he decides she no longer needs him professionally, he confesses his love for her. But when they move in together, Chloe begins to wonder if he has told the whole truth about himself, discovering that he has a twin brother Louis (also Renier) he never mentions. So Chloe starts seeing him, falling into a lusty affair. And a further discovery leads Chloe to the mother (Bisset) of another girl both men dated, with deadly results. Is Chloe next?

Ozon's script and direction delight in misleading the viewer with smoke and mirrors, plus rather a lot of dreamy imagery that leaves Chloe (and us) unsure what is real and what is imagined. Where this goes is so tricky that it's easy for the audience to feel somewhat cheated, but the approach is so sleek and seductive that it's a lot more fun to go along with it than to fight it. And Ozon has a great time convincing us of one element of truth before pulling the rug out again.

Vacth is a superbly sympathetic protagonist, a young woman who is easy to identify with in her yearning for clarity and her curiosity about the mysteries circling around her. Her attraction to both brothers is strikingly believable, mainly because they are so different, brilliantly played by Renier as mirror images of each other. And there's strong support from Bisset in a small but pivotal role, as well as Boyer as a somewhat too nosy neighbour.

The film is a masterclass in misdirection, with details and sideplots that might be important, so we follow every strand in a variety of directions wondering which one is the real one. At the same time, there's a logic in the through-line that holds the interest, engaging us emotionally with the likeable Chloe and Paul as they travel on this offbeat rollercoaster. So if it all ends up being a little too slippery for its own good, the movie is still a lot of fun.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality

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4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Andrey Zvyagintsev
prd Gleb Fetisov, Sergey Melkumov, Alexander Rodnyansky
with Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov, Marina Vasilyeva, Andris Keiss, Aleksey Fateev, Roman Madyanov, Varvara Shmykova, Daria Pisareva, Maxim Stoianov, Yanina Hope
novikov release Rus 1.Jun.17,
US Sep.17 tff, UK 10.Nov.17
17/Russia 2h07

london film fest
Loveless As he did in 2014's Leviathan, Andrey Zvyagintsev tells a provocative personal story that reveals layers of painful truth about both Russian society and the whole world. Among other things, it explores how compassion is evaporating from "polite" society, with people more concerned about posting Instagrams of their food than paying attention to where their children are. Beautifully shot and acted, the story and themes get deep under the skin.

In 2012 Moscow, social media-obsessed Zhenya (Spivak) is divorcing her husband Boris (Rozin), and neither of them wants custody of their 12-year-old son Alyosha (Novikov). After overhearing them arguing about which loves him less, he leaves for school and vanishes. The police argue that runaways almost always come back, and they don't have the manpower to investigate, so Zenya and Boris turn to a proactive volunteer group coordinated by Ivan (Fateev). But both also have new relationships to cultivate: Zenya with the wealthy Anton (Keiss) and Boris with the heavily pregnant Masha (Vasilyeva).

This film is so finely shot, edited and played that its subtle insights might be lost on audiences that prefer more obvious story points. Instead of approaching ideas straight-on, Zvyagintsev tackles them allegorically through pungent drama that stubbornly refuses to plays by the rules of mainstream cinema. For example, this has the structure of a procedural thriller with the search for a lost child, but film's true interest is in the parents' relationship and the larger sociological context.

The actors are almost unnervingly natural. In just a few scenes, young Novikov infuses so much emotion that we feel the weight on his soul. And Spivak and Rozin beautifully layer attitudes toward each other and new lovers, none of which is simplistic. There's a clever sense of repeated patterns, especially notable during a hilarious but harrowing visit to Zhenya's mother. All of these people are easy to identify with, although Spivak's Zhenya earns the least sympathy.

Zvyagintsev pointedly addresses enormous issues without ever being heavy-handed. Is society becoming increasingly selfish, living online while neglecting real people? He also takes a gentle swipe at religious fundamentalism that pushes people to pretend to maintain an unrealistic lifestyle. But at its core, this is a story about two people who fall out of love. The thought that they were never in love to begin with is almost irrelevant, and certainly doesn't lessen their pain. But it certainly makes everything much worse for their child.

15 themes, language, sexuality, brief grisliness
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4/5   Rökkur
dir-scr Erlingur Thoroddsen
prd Bui Baldvinsson, Baldvin Kari, Erlingur Thoroddsen
with Bjorn Stefansson, Sigurdur Thor Oskarsson, Adalbjorg Arnadottir, Gudmundur Olafsson, Anna Eva Steindorsdottir, Johann Kristofer Stefansson, Bodvar Ottar Steindorsson
oskarsson and stefansson
release UK Oct.17 lff,
Ice 27.Oct.17
17/Iceland 1h51

london film fest
rift Sleek and dark, this Icelandic thriller gets under the skin quickly with filmmaking that's enticingly mysterious. Writer-director Erlingur Thoroddsen skilfully shoots the film to catch deep colours while positioning characters against stunning landscapes, giving everything a powerfully visual kick while the story develops beneath the surfaces. It's overlong but beautifully made, and packed with fiendishly clever touches.

It's Christmas time in Reykjavik, and something's wrong with Einar (Oskarsson). His ex-boyfriend Gunnar (Stefansson) hasn't seen him since they broke up. Now living with another man, Gunnar finally gets a call from Einar in the middle of the night, asking Gunnar to come his family's isolated house in Rokkur. But Einar isn't suicidal, he's dark and angry and insists that he's fine. Too late to drive home, Gunnar stays the night. And sure enough, freaky noises outside wake them up. They're sure someone is out there, but are too frightened to open the door.

From here, the film cleverly builds both the personal drama and the overall suspense. Thoroddsen has a great time adding suggestive touches to each scene, from the usual bump-in-the-night horror to the equally disorienting uncertainty in the relationship. There are terrific Hitchcockian moments all the way through, amplified by Einar Tryggvason's superb score and John Wakayama Carey's gorgeous cinematography, which makes the setting another character in the story. And movie buffs will enjoy witty references to scary classics.

Stefansson and Oskarsson are terrific in the central roles, trying to be civil while carrying plenty of bitterness about their break-up. Tstefansson plays Gunnar as a guy who still worries about Einar's state of mind and struggles to be patient with his erratic behaviour. Oskarsson makes unpredictable and rather enigmatic, sharing stories that certainly don't ease Gunnar's mind. His story about his lonely childhood and his imaginary friend Leemoy (Steindorsson) is both sweet and chilling. But mostly chilling.

Both actors make the film's twists surprising and powerful. And the tension about where this is heading is gripping. Is this a film about two guys trying to make sense of a messy break-up that's haunted by lingering feelings and flickers of memories? Or is there something nefarious going on with a stranger they never seem to get a good look at? Indeed, the film shifts between comedy, drama, romance and horror. And rather than just making us jump, the imaginative direction and editing build up some serious, under-the-skin suspense.

15 themes, language, violence

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