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|Shadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreign, docs and shorts...
|See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 8.Sep.23
The Count El Conde
Review by Rich Cline |
VENICE FILM FEST
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Taking another fiendishly pointed look at Chile's Pinochet era, Pablo Larrain creates one of the most original vampire movies in years. It's a bracing exploration of heartless politicians and boundless greed that continually catches the audience by surprise. Pitch black comedy infuses even the most grisly sequences involving these vivid characters. And it's shot like a timeless classic, reminding us that none of these villains are new.
It turns out that Pinochet (Vadell) is a 250-year-old vampire who stole a ghastly souvenir from the French Revolution, then had his own reign of tyrannical terror in Chile. He faked his 2006 death, assisted by his butler cohort Fyodor (Castro). His wife Lucia (Munchmeyer) knows the truth, as do their five middle-aged children, who arrive at the isolated house seeking their inheritance. They've hired accountant Carmen (Luchsinger) to sort through the loot, but she's actually an exorcist nun sent by the Catholic Church to purge Pinochet and grab the money for their coffers instead.
Narrated in a plummy English accent by Gonet, the film has a special gift up its sleeve for British viewers with a hilarious revelation that sparks a frenzy of murderous plotting in the final act. As Pinochet observes, love doesn't last, so if he can't kill himself as intended he'd rather have the cash than his family. All of this is luxuriantly shot in black and white by Edward Lachman, with amusing references to Dreyer, Bergman, Welles and more, plus a witty nod to The Godfather. Connecting greedy officials throughout history, the film's references continually strike raw nerves.
Performances are deadpan as these desperate people circle each other in this limbo-like location. None of these people have a soul, and the performances skilfully capture the true intentions without being obvious. Vadell and Munchmeyer have a wonderfully exhausted imperiousness, and the five ace actors playing their kids ooze entitled laziness. Meanwhile, Castro's sharp stare pierces every room and Luchsinger projects false innocence before a moment of soaring bliss.
The other major touchpoint is King Lear, as the spoiled kids squabble over their withering father's legacy. Pinochet is so fed up that he stops eating and hopes to die, until Lucia sparks a new dream. Where all of this goes is utter carnage, as everyone descends on each other with power and money on their mind. Through all of this, the film points a lacerating finger at politicians all over the world who plunder their citizens for their personal wealth while hiding behind ideological principles.
Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
VENICE FILM FEST
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Absolutely gorgeous on the big screen, this French classic is directed with skill and cheeky humour by Max Ophuls. The script is knowingly meta, while performances ripple with witty banter, deep discussions and lusty chemistry as the narrative circles through romantic entanglements between 10 characters. This is a timeless classic, essential for anyone who loves movies and gorgeously restored as part of the campaign to save London's Curzon Mayfair.
As the sparky narrator (Walbrook) spins his carrousel back to 1900 Vienna, we meet Leocadie (Signoret), a streetwalker who woos soldier Franz (Reggiani). He quickly moves on to Marie (Simon) at a dance. And she finds more affection from her bosses' son Alfred (Gelin). Now sexually awakened, he pursues the married Emma (Darrieux), whose husband Charles (Gravey) has his eye on 19-year-old Anna (Joyeux). But she likes chatty playwright Robert (Barrault), who's pursuing leading lady Charlotte (Miranda). And she's romping with a young count (Philipe). Then after a drunken night, he wakes up with Leocadie.
Round and round love goes, always just around the corner, the narrator says with a sardonic smile as the tricky extended opening take follows him from stage to film set to Vienna's streets. He pops up in a different guise in each segment, pushing the action along and adding hilarious asides to the feisty banter between characters who have varying reactions to romance. There's a lot of smooching going on, and Ophuls wryly cuts away from anything saucier, at one point literally.
Some characters are easily led, while others are definitely in charge, so power switches between cold men like Franz and Charles and hot women like Charlotte and Leocadie. Gelin's likeable young Alfred is smitten by Marie until he gets what he wants ("I feel 10 years older!"), then moves on to someone equally forbidden who's in his social class. It's understandable why Darrieux's Emma can't resist him. And while Joyeux's ditsy-tipsy Anna blames the "naughty champagne", she's clearly in control.
It's unnervingly easy to identify with people looking for love, or something like it, then moving on to the next possibility. "Don't worry, I'm here," Franz reassures Marie, who replies that this is the problem. If someone is shy, is it easier to win them over with chocolates, alcohol or a discreet apartment? And impotence is an issue more than once in this fiendishly clever screenplay. Because the narrative plays out with such a charming smile, its darker ideas hit us without notice. A masterpiece.
Rotting in the Sun
Review by Rich Cline |
dir Sebastian Silva
prd Jacob Wasserman
scr Sebastian Silva, Pedro Peirano
with Jordan Firstman, Catalina Saavedra, Sebastian Silva, Mateo Riestra, Martine Gutierrez, Juan Andres Silva, Alberto Rafael Cortes, Gustavo Melagarejo, Anajo Aldrete, Beltran Horisberger, Gerardo Sierra, Vitter Leija
release US 8.Sep.23,
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
From Mexico, this offbeat genre mashup features Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Silva in a lead role as a version of himself alongside influencer Jordan Firstman. There are elements of quirky drama, mystery and crime comedy all woven together into a film that refuses to fit into a box. As always with Silva, the film is also a ripping satire of classes in the various Americas, especially where celebrity is concerned.
In Mexico City, filmmaker Sebastian (Silva) uses drugs to escape from everyday noise and frustration. Death seems preferable, but he decides to further distract himself with sex at a nudist beach. After nearly drowning, he meets American social media star Jordan (Firstman), a big fan who wants to work with him on a new project. Sebastian tries to keep up with the whirlwind of Jordan's life, as he casually indulges in sex and drugs for entertainment. Then when Jordan comes to the city, Sebastian is missing. And Sebastian's maid Vero (Saavedra) is concealing the truth.
Amusingly, Sebastian offers pointed criticism of Jordan's vapid Instagram content, but Jordan's rapid-fire banter overrides him, refusing to accept that Sebastian doesn't know him. But Jordan has a point that Sebastian is deeply ashamed of himself. Indeed, Sebastian struggles with just about everything. Then when the story turns, Jordan searches for Sebastian, referring to him as "my husband". And because he had been talking about suicide, everyone fears the worst. Only Vero (and the audience) know what has happened.
The doc-style filmmaking makes performances feel messy and realistic, and Silva throws himself fully into a rather unflattering portrait of an artist whose work has turned stale. In a more complex role, Firstman is initially exhausting, then as he becomes the story's protagonist he becomes more grounded, even as his rather full-on personality continues to bubble over. Meanwhile, Saavedra portrays Vero as a woman who is having her own private odyssey. Her deadpan performance is simply wonderful, emerging as the heart of the film.
Jordan says, "You can't hurt me, because I'm happy" with a smile, shifting to a nasty snarl to shout, "Why don't you like me?" Throughout the film, there's a bracing tension between the distinct experiences of various people who are going through this situation with very different information. With the added social media element, Silva once again finds remarkable insight in between the often random things people say when they're not quite listening to each other. And the use of Google Translate is genius.
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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows
on the Wall
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