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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreign, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 1.Apr.21
The Man Who Sold His Skin
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir-scr Kaouther Ben Hania
prd Nadim Cheikhrouha, Habib Attia, Thanassis Karathanos, Martin Hampel, Annabella Nezri, Andreas Rocksen
with Yahya Mahayni, Dea Liane, Monica Bellucci, Koen De Bouw, Saad Lostan, Darina Al Joundi, Jan Dahdoh, Christian Vadim, Marc de Panda, Patrick Albenque, Montassar Alaya, Wim Delvoye
release US 2.Apr.21
VENICE FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Visually sumptuous, this breathtaking film has a remarkable sense of light and shade, colour, shapes, texture and especially skin. Loosely based on a true story, it's expertly written and directed by Kaouther Ben Hania to reveal witty narrative and thematic nuances, creating characters and situations that resonate powerfully with the viewer. There are so many layers of pungent meaning in this story that it continually catches us by surprise.
In 2011 Syria, Sam (Mahayni) exhuberantly professes love for his girlfriend Abeer (Liane) on a train, which gets him arrested. Escaping into Lebanon for his safety, he watches helplessly as his homeland descends into war and Abeer marries a hot-headed government official (Lostan). At a gallery opening in Beirut, he meets the snooty Soraya (Bellucci), assistant to famed Belgian artist Jeffrey (De Bouw), who proposes turning him into a living work of art with an elaborate tattoo of an EU visa across his back. And Sam is tempted because Abeer is now living in Brussels.
The film is infused with life, as Sam's sparky personality comes through in a complex tumble of high and low emotions. In Belgium, he's photographed for billboards, then positioned as a live museum exhibit for clamouring crowds of people snapping selfies, plus inquisitive children on school trips. There are astute physical and mental parallels between his treatment as a prisoner, refugee and art-world commodity. And a reference to Pygmalion adds a new angle, as does a blackly hilarious pimple-popper moment.
Mahayni puts his entire body into the role, from his half-naked arrest in Raqqa to his shirtless museum exhibitions. It's a lean, muscled, balletic performance that sharply gets under Sam's skin as he boldly express his feelings and opinions. His emotive connection with Liane's tenacious Abeer adds some strong undercurrents of mingling joy and pain. By contrast, Bellucci infuses a blast of cold-hearted privilege, lecturing Sam on his responsibilities.
This is a fiendishly smart exploration of the state of the world today, from refugee issues to art industry excesses, both revealing how far people go for security and fame. There's also the point that Sam is exploited as an asylum seeker, eating caviar in his five-star hotel room before being sold at an auction. And at the centre, there's the edgy, messy, moving relationship between Sam and Abeer. This gives the film a surge of heart, as does Sam's rediscovery of who he really is, and what that means.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Christian Petzold
prd Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Michael Weber
with Paula Beer, Franz Rogowski, Maryam Zaree, Jacob Matschenz, Anne Ratte-Polle, Rafael Stachowiak, Julia Franz Richter, Gloria Endres de Oliveira, Jose Barros, Enno Trebs, Christoph Zrenner, Stefan Walz
release Ger 2.Jul.20,
UK 2.Apr.21, US 4.Jun.21
BERLIN FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
German filmmaker Christian Petzold reunites with Transit actors Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski for another fiendishly clever drama, this time mixing fantasy and romance into a fizzy brew. This is both a love story and a tale about the city it's set in, told with a skilfully spiralling plot that's both whimsical and darkly emotional at the same time. And its magical twist makes it unusually moving and provocative.
In Berlin, urban historian Undine (Beer) is left reeling when her boyfriend Johannes (Matschenz) dumps her. "If you leave, you have to die," she calmly reminds him, referring to an ancient myth in which a nymph with her name is required to kill the man who betrays her and return to her life underwater. Then Undine is taken aback by a rather wet encounter with Christoph (Rogowski), a diver who specialises in subaquatic welding. They're quickly smitten with each other. But old feelings and new events seem to be conspiring to separate them.
Gorgeously dreamlike underwater imagery weaves into the story in a variety of imaginative ways, evoking everyday elemental fears as well as witty touches like the spontaneous bursting of a fish tank or Christoph's interaction with a gigantic catfish he names Gunther. The watery references extend to both the eponymous fairy tale character (this is the origin of The Little Mermaid story) and the swamplands on which Berlin was built and rebuilt over the centuries. Amusingly, the historical dialog is seriously sexy, playing on the visceral impact of past and present cityscapes.
Beer and Rogowski have terrific chemistry, portraying Undine and Christoph as young people who feel like soulmates, as they're simply unable to resist clinging to each other whenever they're together. Their conversations are infused with a yearning quality that echoes through encounters that repeat and mirror each other. So when Matschenz's almost eerily clinical Johannes turns up later, the contrast between these men is intense. And it flips the story into a journey that's challenging and meaningful on an almost primal level.
Petzold beautifully leads the audience through this unusual story, putting us into Undine's perspective so forcefully that we can feel even her most surprising thoughts. This allows the comical and fantastical elements to take on additional meaning, while stirring a subtle layer of suspense right into the core of the romance. The story's ripples are often heart-stopping, adding unexpected emotions to a narrative that holds us in its grip, refusing to take an expected route.
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Antoneta Kastrati
prd Casey Cooper Johnson
scr Antoneta Kastrati, Casey Cooper Johnson
with Adriana Matoshi, Astrit Kabashi, Fatmire Sahiti, Mensur Safqiu, Irena Cahani, Vedat Bajrami, Shengyl Ismaili, Bislim Mucaj, Cun Lajci, Ilire Vinca Celaj, Remzije Shala, Aurora Berisha
release Kos 21.Sep.19,
US 10.Jun.20, UK 2.Apr.21
TORONTO FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
An intense psychological drama set in rural Kosovo, this film quietly pulls the audience into its world, layering in elements that are thoughtful and disturbing. Using wry humour and churning tension, director Antoneta Kastrati creates a wonderfully earthy vibe. It's also fascinating story that finds meaning in a collision of tradition, superstition and history with profoundly human emotions. The narrative sputters now and then, but it's darkly engaging.
Suppressing memories from the war 10 years ago, Lume (Matoshi) is unable to conceive a child with her husband Ilir (Kabashi). And it doesn't help that they live with his pushy mother Remzije (Sahiti), who pressures Lume to visit a magical healer (Cahani) and a showman doctor (Safqiu) who says she needs to be exorcised. Remzije also threatens to bring in a younger second wife for Ilir. And the entire village tries to step in to help them. But to Lume, it begins to feel like the past itself won't let this family move on.
This is a story about the ripples of both war and unresolved grief. Lume and Ilir lost their only child, 4-year-old Zana, in an attack, so it's understandable that Lume is having nightmares and struggling with everyday realities, as if she's sleepwalking through life. The film is a skilful blend of grittiness and more surreal elements of magical realism, always seen through Lume's observant eyes. Although this is also what makes the pacing feel uneven from time to time, spiralling along with her inner pain.
As Lume, Matoshi has a superb authenticity, stone-faced and haunted, but full of strongly sympathetic emotions. Her connection with Kabashi's frustrated but kind Ilir is vividly played, with a grounded sense of chemistry between them even as both struggle to cope with the devastation the war brought to their family. The way these two begin to discover themselves is beautifully played, as is the wary warmth between them. And Sahiti provides a continual sharp contrast with her dry wit and controlling ways.
This is a remarkably sensitive exploration of the impact of trauma over many years. Indeed, time is needed to even be able to approach a sense of perspective. And as the events unfold, details emerge from the shadows that dramatically fill in the back-story, expanding to speak to women who are powerlessness to make their own decisions. And while the film is rather repetitive and slow, it's also unsettling and often deeply troubling, with a spark of tenacious hope.
See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL
© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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