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On this page: THE FORGIVEN | GOOK
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last update 15.Mar.18
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The Forgiven
dir Roland Joffe
scr Michael Ashton
prd Craig Baumgarten, Zaheer Bhyat, Roland Joffe
with Forest Whitaker, Eric Bana, Jeff Gum, Pamela Nomvete, Thandi Makhubele, Nandiphile Mbeshu, Osbert Solomons, Morne Visser, Alexander Wallace, Terry Norton, Rob Gough, Debbie Sherman
whitaker release UK Oct.17 lff,
US 9.Mar.18
17/South Africa 1h55

london film festival
The Forgiven This well-produced drama about South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission feels somewhat dated, as this kind of story has been told in plenty of movies over the past 20 years. But strong performances from an international cast raise the interest level, and it's a vivid exploration of mercy that transcends some rather sentimental storytelling.

As South Africa rebuilds itself as a democracy in 1996, Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Whitaker) is facing opposition from both blacks and whites to his role running the TRC. Then he gets a letter from Piet Blomfeld (Bana), a notoriously brutal security officer who is serving life in prison. Unapologetic, cocky and verbally abusive, Blomfeld challenges Tutu's views, but the priest quietly counters by noting that violence is the aberration, and love should be the norm. Tutu also begins to think that Blomfeld might be the clue to finding what happened to a missing girl.

Blending fact and fiction (screenwriter Ashton is adapting his play The Archbishop and the Antichrist), the film develops on two fronts: firstly as Tutu tries to break through the stonewalling culture that is refusing to discuss Apartheid's most heinous crimes, and also as a young prisoner tries to navigate the gangs of inmates, leading to a pivotal meeting with Blomfeld. The two halves of the movie sit uneasily with each other, one is thoughtful and emotional, while the other is thuggish and grisly. But they do come together meaningful for a moving final act.

Whitaker takes a relaxed approach to Tutu that's likeably disarming, portraying him as a man who thinks and feels deeply, and also knows his own flaws. Bana dives into Blomfeld with gusto, never wobbling in his depiction of a man who is deeply racist and proud of his murderous past. And yet even a psychopath has a back-story, and Bana subtly lets Blomfeld's past emerge in his performance, aided by flashbacks in which he's played by Wallace as a boy.

The film's real heart lies in less flashy characters: the vulnerable 17-year-old inmate Benjamin, Nomvete as Tutu's warmly sassy wife Leah, and Makhubele as the missing girl's quietly steely mother. These are the people who push the protagonists along in their journeys. Yet while their stories are compelling and extremely relevant, it's hard not to think that we've heard them told before with less melodrama and sentimentality. Toni Braxton's closing ballad certainly doesn't help.

15 themes, language, violence
13.Oct.17 lff
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dir-scr Justin Chon
prd Alex Chi, James J Yi
with Justin Chon, Simone Baker, David So, Curtiss Cook Jr, Sang Chon, Omono Okojie, Ben Munoz, Isaiah Jarel, Kirlew Vilbon, Lando Wilkins, Cesar Garcia, Trinecia Moore-Pernell
chon and so release US 18.Aug.17,
UK 9.Mar.18
17/US 1h34

Gook With a title that reclaims ownership of a derogatory term, this artfully crafted drama explores the clash between Asian, Latino and black residents of Los Angeles on a fateful day in the city's history. Shot in a timeless black and white, the film is relaxed and likeable, and bursting with love for its characters and community even when things turn darkly intense.

As the Rodney King case unfolds in April 1992, Eli (Chon) is an outsider in his Hispanic gang-controlled Los Angeles neighbourhood, where he and his brother Daniel (So) run a shoe shop started by their late Korean immigrant father. Since she's skipping school today, 11-year-old African-American Kamilla (Baker) wants to hang out with them, avoiding her flustered sister Regina (Okojie) and tough-guy brother Keith (Cook). Then word comes through about the trial verdict. And while the looting is a chance to get some free stuff, it begins to feel dangerous as the violence gets closer.

The film opens with Kamilla dancing as a house burns, a hint at the unusual approach Chon is taking to such momentous events. The story plays out with a wry, edgy tone reminiscent of Spike Lee's early films; characters speak in energetic, rhythmic patter that reveals details about them and the ways they are inter-connected. There are moments of raucous humour and transcendent joy alongside the darker encounters. The use of music is particularly vivid. And when the riots break out, the way people lash out is terrifying but never exaggerated.

Performances are raw, a realistic blending of camaraderie and conflict. Each person is just trying to have fun, but is confronted by the darker issues surrounding him or her, as well as the larger issues erupting in the fractured society around them. Characters continually surprise us with their inner lives, moments of thoughtfulness between the outbursts. Touching scenes devolve suddenly into fireworks, while quiet connections come out of seemingly nowhere, such as Eli's conversation with a rival shop owner (played by the actor-filmmaker's father Sang Chon).

Along with an unusually insightful depiction of these racially charged events, writer-director Chon takes a sensitive journey into the nature of family, especially how we seek out people who love us when others let us down. There's a remarkably emotional undercurrent through every scene, with tiny details that take the breath away. And it heads into a spiralling, out-of-control confrontation that's absolutely terrifying, a powerful reminder for everyone on-screen (and in the audience) about what's truly important.

15 themes, language, violence

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The Lullaby
dir Darrell Roodt
scr Tarryn-Tanille Prinsloo
prd Andre Frauenstein Snr, Samuel Frauenstein
with Reine Swart, Thandi Puren, Brandon Auret, Deanre Reiners, Dorothy Ann Gould, Shayla Rae McFarlane, Samuel Frauenstein, Briony Horwitz, Anne-Marie Ellis, Lara de Villiers, Eckardt Spies, Amjone Spies
swart release US 2.Mar.18
18/South Africa 1h26
The Lullaby Lushly shot and skilfully edited, this South African thriller plays with familiar imagery as it works to unsettle the audience. The film's lurid nastiness is deliberately abrasive, as is the choppy, disorienting editing. It also plays merrily on fears relating to harming children. So although the movie never comes together into something meaningfully involving, relying instead on hyper-grisly imagery and a cacophonous sound mix, it's an enjoyable freak-out.

After giving birth to her son, 19-year-old Chloe (Swart) moves back in with her harsh mother Ruby (Puren), but struggles to bond with this constantly crying infant. And the tension with her mother doesn't help. Then her lovelorn friend Adam (Reiners) appears, startled to discover that she's had a child. And as Chloe begins to see terrifying visions, Ruby starts to worry both about her daughter and baby grandson. So she asks her butterfly-obsessed therapist friend Timothy (Auret) for help. But Chloe begins to feel the threat is far more menacing than postnatal depression.

Director Roodt amps up the moody atmosphere with scratchy old-movie cutaways to a 1901 baby-murdering cult, then filling present-day scenes with deep shadows and rich colours. Dialog is often impenetrable, whispered for no real reason other than to suggest fearfulness. Camera angles add scary touches to every scene, the wind howls, doors creak, TVs flicker, music boxes tinkle, and there are glimpses of a sinister midwife (Gould). It's pushy and messy, and sometimes clever, such how Chloe reacts to breast-feeding as an assault on her body.

This Rosemary's Baby meets The Woman in Black approach requires performances to be heightened, bristling with noisy, melodramatic emotions. Both Swart and Puren veer wildly from tightly wound, wide-eyed worry to screamy hysteria. Thankfully, they also find some intriguing textures in their tormented mother-daughter relationship, especially as they discuss their past. By contrast, Auret is knowing and oddly suggestive, while Reiners offers the film's only nice-person role as a charming guy who seems far removed from the chaotic feelings around him.

The underlying ideas are genuinely insidious, as Chloe's anxiety about being a new parent expresses itself in how exaggerates the harm she could do to her child. There's also the local area's grim colonial past. And the way writer Prinsloo swirls these together into haunting horror is far more intriguing than the movie's cheap thrills suggest. But then, audiences are more entertained terrifying gruesomeness than political insight. And this movie will keep genre fans darkly unnerved.

15 themes, language, violence
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They Remain
dir-scr Philip Gelatt
prd Will Battersby, Philip Gelatt, Linus Hume
with William Jackson Harper, Rebecca Henderson, Alex Mills, Jordan Douglas Smith, Charles Lavoie, Lauren Marx, Nola Elliffe, Brenda Calore, Conor Stankovich, Avery Dodd, Jessica Godfrey, Christine Cilano, Meron Getachew
harper and henderson release US 9.Mar.18
17/US 1h42
They Remain Quietly insidious, this cleverly made thriller creeps up on the audience with an understated sense of horror. Writer-director Philip Gelatt makes the most of a low budget, with a limited cast and simple but eye-catching visuals, including a set that cleverly raises sci-fi overtones. The film is rather slow and repetitive, but it's so sharply well shot and acted that its darker undercurrents keep the audience gripped.

When animals start behaving strangely in an Oregon woodland, scientists Keith and Jessica (Harper and Henderson) are called to investigate. Watching from a mobile lab, they try to ignore the fact that they have a romantic past. But this was previously the site of a murderous cult, which buried hundreds of bodies in the fields, and many of the cult's members were never found. Then Keith and Jessica start hearing voices and seeing strange visions of bizarre activities in the woods. And after discovering a graveyard full of 200-year-old bones, things get even freakier.

Based on a novella by Laird Barron, the premise ingeniously raises unnerving issues, mainly the way people manipulate and persecute in the name of religion. The narrative emerges through superb dialog, which is loaded with subtext as these two people explore each others' feelings and talk about the cult's violent activities. "I shudder to think what this land has witnessed," Jessica says. "It gives me the chills." And us too. Meanwhile, Gelatt skilfully brings it to life with striking visuals and a droning score.

Harper and Henderson mix matter-of-fact professionalism with the freaky nature of this assignment. And in the unfinished personal business between them, there's even more resonance. Keith is more openly sympathetic, letting us into his personal nightmares, while Jessica is secretive and sceptical. Their conversations are dark and intense, reflecting both their past together and the weeks they have spent on this isolated assignment. And both are darkly affected by what transpires.

These two experts hope to find a biological anomaly that explains what's happening and offers new insight into the natural world. But what they discover is purely psychological, which escalates the suspense and adds enjoyably uncomfortable, creepy details. The most intense moments come in Keith's dreams, which often leave us wondering, like him, what's real and what's not. In the final act, the motion of the plot seems to stall and perhaps spiral deliberately in circles. But by then we're hooked, and like these two scientists we have to see this mission through.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality

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