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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 9.Nov.22

Final Cut   Coupez!
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Final Cut
dir-scr Michel Hazanavicius
prd Noemie Devide, Brahim Chioua, Michel Hazanavicius, Vincent Maraval, Alain de la Mata, John Penotti
with Romain Duris, Berenice Bejo, Gregory Gadebois, Finnegan Oldfield, Matilda Lutz, Sebastien Chassagne, Raphael Quenard, Jean-Pascal Zadi, Lyes Salem, Simone Hazanavicius, Agnes Hurstel, Charlie Dupont
release Fr 17.May.22,
UK 11.Nov.22, US 14.Jul.23
22/France 1h52


Is it streaming?

duris and oldfield
French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius creates a playful satire that blurs a movie and a movie within that movie, all within another movie. The surreal approach is utterly bonkers, with nonstop action so meta that the audience is never sure whether to be frightened or to laugh. But Hazanavicius uses a range of filmmaking styles to knowingly nod at the genre, while coaxing amusingly layered performances from an up-for-it cast.
On the set of his zombie horror movie Z, director Higurashi (Duris) is furious that his cast isn't scary enough. But lead actors Ken and Chinatsu (Oldfield and Lutz) and makeup artist Natsumi (Bejo) are creeped-out because the abandoned location was once the site of Japanese experiments during the war. Indeed, crew member Hosoda (Gadebois) seems to be undead, and the condition is spreading. Higurashi is now happy that his movie is looking much better, but the ensuing carnage leaves everyone unsure who's alive and who's a flesh-eater. And behind-the-scenes, there's even more chaos underway.
After depicting this zombie mayhem, Hazanavicius cuts back to the director's previous project, an over-emotional melodrama, after which Japanese producers hire him to make their zombie movie, shooting it in a single 30-minute take. What follows is the making of that opening film, complete with pressures from the bosses to remain closer to a shooting script that must be continually abandoned due to last-minute casting changes and a whole new level of craziness taking place behind the camera.

Each actor is playing characters within characters, which makes everyone rather cartoonish and impossible to sympathise with, even if they're enjoyably manic. Duris is hilarious as a cool-headed guy holding things together while playing a frazzled director who has no sense of reality. Bejo finds terrific textures as his wife takes on the role of a no-nonsense crew member. Oldfield adds witty balance between his earnest actor and the hapless leading man he's playing. And Lutz has fun as the hysterical scream queen.

In yet another twist, Hazanavicius' own daughter Simone plays the director's quick-thinking daughter, who is visiting the film set. As everything gets increasingly shambolic, the story begins meandering into slapstick wackiness. It's fiendishly clever, but far too messy to hold the audience's attention, let alone make us care about anything that happens. Still, as a depiction of art imitating life and vice versa, and how a movie can sometimes be a happy accident, there's plenty to enjoy here.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 7.Nov.22

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5  
dir Shinzo Katayama
scr Shinzo Katayama, Kazuhisa Kotera, Ryo Takada
prd Yoko Ide, Akira Yamano, Koji Harada
with Jiro Sato, Aoi Ito, Hiroya Shimizu, Misato Morita, Shotaro Ishii, Izumi Matsuoka, Toko Narushima, Toru Shinagawa, Katsuki Suzuki, Masaki Naito
release Jpn 21.Jan.22,
UK Oct.22 leaff, US 4.Nov.22
22/Japan 2h04

london film fest

Is it streaming?

sato and ito
Complex and twisty, this riveting Japanese drama centres on an offbeat father and daughter who become entangled with a friendly serial killer. Beautifully directed by Shinzo Katayama, the story unfolds in layers that spiral back to reveal layers of motivations. Nodding at classic movies, the filmmaking defies expectations at every turn, bristling with messy connections and wrenching emotions, plus situations that have a blackly comical edge to them.
In Osaka, teen Kaede (Ito) is exhausted by her loveable loser father Satoshi (Sato), who always seems to be in trouble. Both are grieving the death of Satoshi's wife Kimiko (Narushima), which resulted in the closing of the family's ping pong club. Then just after he claims to have met notorious wanted murder Terumi (Shimizu), Satoshi disappears. Kaede suspects Terumi has stolen his identity. But the truth is far more complex, tapping deeply into Satoshi's sense of grief and guilt over Kimiko's death. And getting out of this situation is going to require a miracle.
After this initial set-up, the film spins back three months to fill in some details, then it goes back a year to add more background. So by the time it catches back up with itself, everything we thought we knew has changed. What's revealed are a series of relationships that are far more nuanced than expected, delicately balanced and deeply meaningful. Katayama shoots everything with a striking sense of style, catching edgy interaction while dropping in details that are both hilarious and darkly chilling.

The actors maintain a remarkable consistency through the story's various moods, giving the humorous interaction a surprisingly moving foundation. Each character has his or her own motivation for their astonishing decisions, often in an attempt to break free from control and decide their own fate. Sato is a force of nature on-screen, likeable even when he's being shifty. His scenes with both Ito and Shimizu bristle with unsaid thoughts and feelings. Most powerful is how Sato and Ito play the emotions that get in the way between them.

Where this story goes is often unnervingly violent, taking on enormous issues, such as boldly blurring the lines between murder and assisted suicide. And through all of this, Katayama maintains a sweet and sad undercurrent that's genuinely wrenching, largely because it's impossible to predict if anyone will make it out alive. So the ironies that flood through the plot actually have a powerful resonance. And the film's fiendishly clever final scene is simply gorgeous.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 23.Oct.22 leaff

The Sparring Partner  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
The Sparring Partner
dir Ho Cheuk-Tin
prd Philip Yung
scr Frankie Tam Kwong-Yuen, Oliver Yip, Thomas Leung
with Alan Yeung, Mak Pui-Tung, Louisa So, Jan Lamb, Michael Chow, Gloria Yip, David Siu, Nicky Wong, James Au, Chan Kam-Fung, Chu Pak-Him, Xenia Chong
release HK 27.Oct.22,
UK 18.Nov.22
22/China 2h18

london film fest
Bifan fest

Is it streaming?

mak and yeung (in foreground) with the jury
A sensational real-life 2013 double murder case is brought to the screen with edgy style. Using spiralling flashbacks, director Ho Cheuk-Tin assembles the story in small pieces, with a bracing focus on the characters. This gets into the minds of the killers before the crime and then follows them through the trial. Along the way, sparky relatives, lawyers and jury members also engage as they take their own journeys. The level of detail is riveting, even if the film feels both rushed and overlong.
Hong Kong police catch Henry (Yeung) when he boasts about killing his parents on social media. And soon they also arrest his cohort Angus (Mak). Confessing in gruesome detail while blaming his harsh upbringing for his actions, Henry comes across as cold-hearted and over-confident. By contrast, Angus seems so clueless that he's almost mentally unfit ti stand trial. As a result, their lawyers (Lamb and So, respectively) suggest different defence arguments that dig in to their troubled pasts.
Shifting from colour to black and white, and also between past, present and various fantasy sequences, the script delves into Henry's mindset. At his core, he is frustrated by his inability to find work, so he drifts into a neo-Nazi group and hones his hatred. The murder itself is depicted as a sudden burst of horrific violence that feathers out into events both before and afterwards, raising unexpected questions about both motives and reactions, especially with the various added religious and societal angles. And in the end, the most haunting idea is that it's often impossible to actually get to the truth in these kinds of cases.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 27.Oct.22 leaff

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