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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 9.Nov.23

Anatomy of a Fall   Anatomie d’une Chute
Review by Rich Cline | 4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
Anatomy of a Fall
dir Justine Triet
scr Justine Triet, Arthur Harari
prd Marie-Ange Luciani, David Thion
with Sandra Huller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado Graner, Antoine Reinartz, Samuel Theis, Jehnny Beth, Saadia Bentaieb, Camille Rutherford, Anne Rotger, Sophie Fillieres, Julien Comte, Pierre-Francois Garel
release Fr 23.Aug.23,
US 13.Oct.23, UK 10.Nov.23
23/France 2h30

43rd Shadows Awards
Sandra Hulller


Is it streaming?

huller and arlaud
Bracingly ambitious, this French drama is written, directed and acted with a huge amount of skill, holding the audience in rapt attention for two and a half hours. Because filmmaker Justine Triet so carefully hones in on the lead character's point of view, the complexities of the narrative are utterly riveting, raising some eerily big questions about human nature while telling a story that's packed with huge emotional kicks.
In Grenoble, it's 11-year-old partially sighted Daniel (Graner) who finds his father Samuel (Theis) after he falls from their chalet's attic, dying on the ice below. His mother Sandra (Huller) wakes from a nap to his screams. But because Samuel has a head injury, the police charge Sandra with murder. Her lawyer friend Vincent (Arlaud) and his partner Nour (Bentaieb) step in to help, and the trial unfolds in a charged atmosphere as the smug prosecutor (Reinartz) interrogates Sandra, Daniel and others on the stand, trying to simplify the family's nuanced relationship for the jury.
Details are relayed through emotive conversations, while pointed flashbacks explore differing points-of-view. There are overlapping issues at the centre of Sandra and Samuel's relationship, including professional jealousies as both are writers. And their mutual affection is tinged with bitterness about the accident seven years earlier in which Daniel lost his sight. The way the prosecutor tries to boil this down to one emotion is chilling.

Because the script takes Sandra's angle, we root for her. Huller plays her with just the right mix of prickly honesty and underlying compassion, a woman trying to communicate in her second and third languages (dialog is in English and French, while Sandra is German). Young Graner has a major presence in the film, and he plays the role with remarkable insight into this young boy's perceptions. Arlaud is excellent as the old friend with a very deep connection, and flashbacks with Theis reveal staggering layers in this marriage.

Even the minor roles have a complexity that's unusual in cinema, bringing unexpected attitudes and humour from their lives outside the frame into the middle of the story. Over the epic running time, this allows Triet to deepen and broaden the narrative in often breathtaking ways, revealing underlying facts without the need to overstate them. It's a bracing depiction of how difficult it is to truly know another human being, and an important reminder that getting to the truth will often require listening to a gut reaction.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 25.Sep.23

Gurkha Warrior  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5
Gurkha Warrior
dir Milan Chams
prd Suman Rai
scr Milan Chams, Giriraj Ghimire
with Ritesh Chams, Vijay Lama, Rebika Gurung, Kabita Ale, Shishir Bangdel, Siddharth Singh, Purna Nepali, Rear Rai, Suraj Tamu, Sumeen Gurung, Birup Ghale, Shila Khanal
release UK 10.Nov.23
23/UK 1h55

Is it streaming?

There isn't much subtlety in this rousing military adventure, which traces the odyssey of a Gurkha in 1949 Malaysia. It's well-shot on location with a young cast that rises to the physical challenges. So it remains exciting and involving even if rah-rah heroics and hideous villainy eliminate nuance. Indeed, it's clear that acclaimed Nepalese director Milan Chams set out to make a film that honoured these fierce soldiers.

A unit of Gurkhas is sent into the jungle to rescue comrades who have been captured by rebels. But a skirmish leaves them cut off from headquarters. As they seek a route to safety, they see signs of the enemy and divert in that direction to carry on with their mission. This leads to a series of ambushes and counterattacks, during which teams leader Birkha (Chams) is separated from his troops but perseveres with intent, single-handedly taking down a large number of rebel soldiers before reaching the encampment of their monstrous, short-tempered boss (Singh).
Framed by a sequence gorgeously filmed atop the Himalayas, the story is set out as told from an old man to his grandson. So we never worry whether resourceful Birkha will return to his wife (Gurung) and mother (Ale), who wait in melodramatic cutaways for news from the front. Meanwhile, action scenes are gritty, grisly and skilfully staged but shot and edited in a way that's tricky to follow. Gurkhas are inventive and relentless, while bad guys are cowardly and cold-blooded. So of course the epic final showdown is thrilling.

Performances are nicely grounded, bringing even smaller roles to life with throwaway comical moments. This makes several characters vivid and engaging, but the film belongs to Chams. Birkha's odyssey is almost outrageously heroic as he wipes out entire platoons with silent efficiency, turning any tool into a weapon, including his own teeth. So the fact that he remains sympathetic is impressive. We know his wife adores him, as Gurung is required to do little more than sob uncontrollably.

No one would deny that Gurkhas have a well-earned reputation as brave and intrepid members of the British armed forces, but the filmmakers state this with such force that it almost undermines our admiration. A more textured approach across the board might have helped, as the side figures who are struggling with personal failures are far easier to identify with, even if their stories get lost in the end. That said, this film is meant as a celebration, and it accomplishes that mission with style.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 9.Sep.23

The Zone of Interest  
Review by Rich Cline | 4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
The Zone of Interest
dir-scr Jonathan Glazer
prd Ewa Puszczynska, James Wilson
with Christian Friedel, Sandra Huller, Stephanie Petrowitz, Martyna Poznanski, Johann Karthaus, Luis Noah Witte, Nele Ahrensmeier, Lilli Falk, Julia Polaczek, Andrey Isaev, Max Beck, Medusa Knopf
release UK Oct.23 lff,
US 15.Dec.23
23/Poland A24 1h45

43rd Shadows Awards
Sandra Hulller

london film fest

Now streaming...

Inventively recounting a devastating narrative, writer-director Jonathan Glazer skilfully puts the audience through a moral and emotional wringer. Unlike other Nazi death camp dramas, this film keeps much of the horror off-screen; what we see in our minds is even more powerful. This is expert filmmaking, shot with precision and accompanied by a ruthless sound mix and flat-out performances from Christian Friedel and Sandra Huller. It's absolutely unmissable.
Just outside the wall around Auschwitz, the camp's commandant Rudolf Hoss (Friedel) has built the perfect home for his wife Hedwig (Huller) and their five lively children. They all love living here, and have become accustomed to tuning out the steady drone of screams and gunshots behind the wall, as well as the plumes of smoke blackening the sky. Rudolf takes his children out birdwatching and fishing, and they host elaborate parties around the pool in their garden. So when Rudolf gets a promotion to Nazi headquarters, Hedwig flatly refuses to leave this idyllic place.
Glazer tells this story with such a clear eye that it's instantly alarming. Scenes are shot in crisp sunlight, with static camerawork that unblinkingly observes the tiniest flickers of behaviour. The Hoss children play like normal kids, although teen Claus (Karthaus) is sometimes wearing his Hitler Youth uniform. The servants (including Petrowitz and Poznanski) bustle around amid unthinkable threats. Ashes are sprinkled in the garden to encourage plants to grow. Then the scene cuts away to thermal images of a teen girl leaving food for prisoners. Occasionally the screen simply turns black or red.

Performances are also unnerving matter-of-fact. Friedel's Rudolf is a gentle man who defers to his wife but has a preening confidence in work meetings where he's tasked with dealing with an increasing number of "pieces" that need to be burnt. Huller is quietly devastating as a woman living her best life. She knows exactly what is going on over that wall, but is proud to be called Queen of Auschwitz as she sifts through bags of clothing and furs delivered from the camp.

These juxtapositions are presented so straightforwardly that they cut through our defences, forcing us to see ourselves in this situation. Shooting with multiple cameras, cinematographer Lukasz Zal finds unusual banality in an extraordinary situation, while Mica Levi's gutsy score makes our stomachs rumble. So it's impossible to watch this film passively. It reminds us that atrocities are happening all around us right now, and yet we continue to focus on our own happiness.

cert 15 themes, violence 13.Oct.23 lff

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