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last update 19.Oct.18
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Birds of Passage
3.5/5   Pájaros de Verano
dir Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra
prd Cristina Gallego, Katrin Pors
scr Maria Camila Arias, Jacques Toulemonde Vidal
with Carmina Martinez, Jose Acosta, Natalia Reyes, Jhon Narvaez, Jose Vicente Cotes, Juan Martinez, Greider Meza
 Cotes and Acosta
release Col 2.Aug.18,
UK Oct.18 lff, US 13.Feb.19
18/Colombia 2h05

london film fest
Birds of Passage Using real events and traditions from the Wayuu culture in northern Colombia, this involving drama tells a fascinating, deeply human tale about an escalating cycle of revenge. But there's added meaning since what happens is fuelled by a combination of isolationism and colonial invasion. It's a striking film that remains earthy and honest even as it touches on magical realism.

In the Guajira region, Rapayet (Acosta) is determined to marry Zaida (Reyes). To come up with enough cash to pay her dowry, he takes on a dodgy marijuana deal with his loose-playing pal Moises (Narvaez). And it works, launching a new career for them. Reminded of tribal traditions by his uncle Peregrino (Cotes) and his imperious mother-in-law Ursula (Martinez), Rapayet builds a life in the desert, travelling to the mountains to trade with a cousin. Then Moises' trigger-happy ways cause problems, as do the actions of Zaida's little brother.

The story spans from the mid-60s to the early 80s, as the influence of alijuna (outsiders) wreaks havoc on close-knit traditional families. Filmmakers Gallego and Guerra unfold these events in chapters, observing how globalisation affects communities in such a remote place. In meeting the gringos' craving for weed, the Wayuu think their robust traditions will protect them. And the benevolent surfer community of Peace Corps volunteers has come to help them, oblivious to the fallout of their quest for a gentle high.

Performances are subtle and matter-of-fact. Martinez anchors the film as the matriarchal Ursula, whose one goal is to fiercely protect her clan. But of course this also means helping them survive, and Martinez beautifully plays the conflict within her. Acosta has a wonderfully soulful presence at the centre of the story as a genuinely nice man pushed into this increasingly perilous situation by the demands of his own culture. Each character has a remarkable authenticity that breaks the surface.

As with their stunning Embrace of the Serpent, Gallego and Guerra are tracing the collision between cultures that is both fascinating from an anthropological perspective and hauntingly resonant as a fable about the entire world. Feelings of quiet desperation are familiar, being pushed to break rules just to survive within the system. And the film is gorgeously shot to capture the physical settings as well as deeper beliefs and attitudes. So even if it all feels a little elusive, watching these sympathetic, vulnerable people face down their future is properly bracing.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
17.Oct.18 lff
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
dir-scr Mamoru Hosoda
prd Yuichi Adachi, Takuya Ito, Genki Kawamura, Yuichiro Sato
voices Moka Kamishiraishi, Haru Kuroki, Gen Hoshino, Kumiko Aso, Mitsuo Yoshihara, Koji Yakusho, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Masaharu Fukuyama
mirai and kun release Jpn 20.Jul.18,
UK 2.Nov.18
18/Japan 1h40

london film fest
Mirai Japanese anime is terrific at combining flights of fantasy with deeper, resonant themes. And this movie is a beautiful portrait of family connections, exploring the nature of relationships between spouses, siblings, parents and children across generations. The story is relatively simple, and yet its flourishes are packed with provocative meaning for both adults and kids.

In tiny slice of suburbia, a man and woman (Hoshino and Aso) are raising their young son Kun (Kamishiraishi). Then they add baby daughter Mirai (Kuroki), and Kun isn't happy that he's no longer the centre of attention. In the middle of a tantrum, he finds himself in a mysterious garden where he meets a man (Yoshihara) who recounts a similar story of love that turns into abandonment. And as the months pass, Kun returns to this fantastical realm, meeting Mirai in the future as well as a his great-grandfather as a young man.

These and other figures from Kun's past and future teach him how to be a proper big brother to the vulnerable Mirai. And writer-director Hosoda cleverly lets this unfurl through Kun's over-emotional imagination. It's also the story of a mother who returns to work after giving birth, leaving the running of her home to a husband who doesn't feel confident about fitting freelance work between housework and child-rearing. These plot strands weave together seamlessly, as each person confronts his or her situation, often failing to notice other points of view.

The animation is simply stunning, expanding on the usual anime style with a remarkable attention to detail. From the vast cityscapes to the cluttered interior of a well-designed house, scenes are skilfully and artfully rendered. Characters are vividly expressive, while the settings are awash with layers of colour, texture, light and shadow. Most of the story is seen through Kun's eyes, even if he doesn't quite understand what's happening. He's a 4-year-old toddler more concerned with his own issues, of course. And this adds complexity to every moment in the film.

There's a powerful sense of connection between past, present and future in this story, exploring how families grow and shift from generation to generation, but remain inexorably united. And because filmmaker Hosoda takes a child's-eye view, what happens will have distinct resonances for grown-ups and youngsters in the audience. The more imaginative elements spring organically from this young boy's creativity, playfully exploring how he grows into a better big brother. It's a lovely film that leaves us hoping we're the best family members we can be.

PG themes, violence

R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
May the Devil Take You
3/5   Sebelum Iblis Menjemput
dir-scr Timo Tjahjanto
prd Wicky V Olindo, Sukdev Singh
with Chelsea Islan, Pevita Pearce, Karina Suwandhi, Samo Rafael, Hadijah Shahab, Clara Bernadeth, Ray Sahetapy, Ruth Marini, Kinaryosih, Nicole Rossi
islan release Ina 9.Aug.18,
US Sep.18 ff, UK Oct.18 lff
18/Indonesia 1h50

london film fest
Five Fingers for Marseilles Riotously grisly, this inventive Indonesian horror plays with a variety of nasty elements that work together to produce a gonzo freak-out. So it's a bit frustrating that the movie doesn't make much sense, and especially that it has no subtext to make it memorable. But as a masterclass in effective ways to stage violent suspense, it's a treat.

After making a pact with the devil to become wealthy, Lesmana (Sahetapy) enjoys wild success. Then everything suddenly goes wrong, leaving him dying in the hospital. This causes his daughter Alfie (Islan) to reunite with her actress stepmom Laksmi (Suwandhi) and step-siblings Maya, Ruben and Nara (Pearce, Rafael and Shahab), plus Ruben's girlfriend Lily (Bernadeth). Their first job is figuring out what to do with Lesmana's dilapidated country home. Everyone knows they probably shouldn't unlock the nailed-closed door to the cellar. But of course they do.

What follows is a combination of ghostly horror, demon possession and voodoo, with other frantic touches stirred in. These people don't get on at the best of times, and now this supernatural insanity is trying to kill them. Filmmaker Tjahjanto seems to throw just about everything into the mix without worrying about creating a logical mythology. And there's also very little here that connects with the audience emotionally or thematically. But the nastiness is expertly staged.

It helps that the characters, while simplistically defined, are engaging enough to hold our sympathies. In the central role, Islan is a tough young woman who has learned to fend for herself. We're not quite sure why, but watching her kick into action is impressive as well as involving. Pearce and Rafael bring a strong sense of personality to their characters, which adds plenty of interpersonal tension before things turn bonkers. And as the ghastly evil presence, Marini has a lot of fun lurking out of focus in the background while flexing her seriously freaky nails.

Tjahjanto skilfully mixes the scares, using jolts, gross-outs, creepy suggestion and carefully staged suspense to keep the audience rattled. The main reaction is to the yuckiness of it all, with dust and blood and mud and thunderous rainstorms combining to accentuate each demonic vision. The cast dives into the extreme physicality of the film, after which no one emerges unscathed. It's a clever twist on the usual haunted house scenario, although it might have been even more riveting if there was a bit of coherence and connection in there somewhere.

18 themes, language, violence
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
4/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Zhang Yimou
scr Li Wei, Zhang Yimou
prd Liu Jun, Catherine Pang, Wang Xiaozhu
with Deng Chao, Sun Li, Ryan Zheng, Hu Jun, Guan Xiaotong, Wang Jingchun, Wu Lei, Wang Qianyuan
deng and sun
release Chn 30.Sep.18,
UK Oct.18 lff
18/China 1h56

london film fest
Shadow Chinese filmmaker Zhang is back with another staggeringly beautiful historical saga packed with complex characters and a story that twists and turns right to the brilliant final shot. With costumes and settings that are simply stunning, the film has its own distinct visual sensibility, which brings the central themes into focus. It's a powerfully involving tale of love, betrayal, revenge and retribution.

In the 3rd century, the King of Pei (Zheng) is furious that his Commander (Deng) challenged rival ruler Yang (Hu) to a dual, putting their kingdoms at war. The Commander argues that this is about recapturing a city that used to be Pei's. The furious king demotes the Commander, who must now face Yang as a commoner. But he doesn't know the Commander is in hiding, and his shadow Jing (also Deng) will actually be fighting. Meanwhile, the king offers Yang's son Ping (Wu) the hand of his sister (Guan), but Ping's response is offensive.

Each character has his or her own vested interest in the various plots and counterplots as these nations face off in the rainy mist. This includes the Commander's wife (Sun), who pretends to live with Jing while the real Commander hides his illness in a secret tunnel. Sets and costumes are intricately designed in monochrome, so the only colour is in the characters' skin (and of course blood). This includes gorgeous panoramic shots of misty, rain-soaked mountains.

Movies like this are usually confusing, but Zhang keeps everthing bracingly clear by quickly narrowing down to a handful of important figures, each of whom has a singular presence. In the title role, Deng is terrific as a likeable man who's both a reluctant hero and a bold protagonist. His conflicting motivations are particularly vivid. Zheng's king is also strong, an arrogant, entitled young man who never quite grasps what's happening. Or does he? Others are overconfident, worried, fiercely focussed and darkly haunted.

Zhang is seriously gifted at combining eye-catching imagery with darkly engaging stories. And this film is packed with sequences that take the breath away, from the calligraphic elegance of the king's throne room to an inventive full-on invasion of sliding-rolling warriors. The complex characters are almost unnervingly easy to identify with, including those who are meant to be enemies. So the stakes of each encounter are high, while the real threat comes from within: an unhinged leader. And with the never-ending rainstorms, the grey setting adds an extra layer of meaning for bleak political times.

15 themes, language, violence

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