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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 3.Dec.23

Fallen Leaves   Kuolleet Lehdet
Review by Rich Cline | 4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
The Zone of Interest
dir-scr-prd Aki Kaurismaki
with Alma Poysti, Jussi Vatanen, Janne Hyytiainen, Nuppu Koivu, Matti Onnismaa, Alina Tomnikov, Sakari Kuosmanen, Maria Heiskanen, Martti Suosalo, Simon Al-Bazoon, Sherwan Haji, Eero Ritala
release Fin 15.Sep.23,
US 24.Nov.23, UK 1.Dec.23
23/Finland 1h21

london film fest

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poysti and vatanen
Observed through filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki's wonderfully deadpan eyes, this sardonic Finnish comedy infuses an offbeat romance with a groovy vibe. So shere's a sense that the world is falling apart, even if pretty much everything these characters say and do is hilarious. The film is shot beautifully, with Kaurismaki's traditional rich colours and deep shadows, plus an endearing canine costar. It's a small, perfectly formed little gem.
On a reluctant night out, loner Holappa (Vatanen) locks eyes with a clearly bored Ansa (Poysti). They agree to meet again, but he loses her number, and both are preoccupied with the issue of survival in an insecure job market. When they do reconnect, Ansa invites Holappa for dinner, then needs to buy a second place setting first. And Holappa doesn't even have a home to go back to. After they fight, Ansa adopts a stray dog, which is easier to have around. But something keeps drawing them back to each other, against the odds.
Scenes are accompanied by radio reports of Russian military atrocities in Ukraine, which continually put Ansa and Holappa's troubles into a global perspective. Both are having trouble holding down terrible jobs, which in Holappa's case is largely due to his nonstop drinking. But he's trying to change. Through a series of seemingly random events, these lonely people remain likeable and sympathetic, so we root for them to find some brightness in the Finnish gloom. Happily, random characters continually appear to drop nutty punchlines in the film's margins.

Ansa and Holappa are sharp and thoughtful, but have had very bad luck in life. They're played by Poysti and Vatanen with delightfully understated charm. Even with only the tiniest facial expressions, they convey layers of wonderful feelings. Each is fiercely independent, which makes coming together as a couple tricky, especially with their personal issues. So while fate continually conspires to keep them apart, it's not so much that they've given up hope as they never had any to begin with.

While telling a gently involving story, Kaurasmaki is pointedly commenting on the cruelty of a culture that encourages zero-hour contracts for workers who are treated with contempt. Ansa and Holappa are 40-somethings who have become accustomed to being alone, but they still feel the need to be around others and to perhaps find a partner. Perhaps if they can put the realities of the world aside, they might find that they are perfect for each other.

cert pg some themes 22.Nov.23

The Peasants   Chlopi
Review by Rich Cline | 4/5
The Peasants
dir-scr DK Welchman, Hugh Welchman
prd Sean M Bobbitt, Hugh Welchman
with Kamila Urzedowska, Robert Gulaczyk, Miroslaw Baka, Sonia Mietielica, Ewa Kasprzyk, Mateusz Rusin, Cezary Lukaszewicz, Maciej Musial, Dorota Stalinska, Malgorzata Kozuchowska, Andrzej Konopka, Sonia Bohosiewicz
release Pol 13.Oct.23,
UK/US 8.Dec.23
23/Poland 1h54

london film fest

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gulaczyk and urzedowska
In a process that took five years, this film was shot using actors then painstakingly animated frame-by-frame by more than 100 painters using a technique similar to filmmakers Dorota and Hugh Welchman's previous work Loving Vincent. Set at the turn of the 20th century when women were essentially bought and sold, the achingly romantic plot cycles through four seasons while a young woman tries to navigate her fate.
As a single woman in a small Polish village, Jagna (Urzedowska) is expected to marry well. And her mother (Kasprzyk) has chosen the old widowed farmer Boryna (Baka) next door. The problem is that his married son Antek (Gulaczyk) has his eye on Jagna himself. And she likes him too. When Boryna offers Jagna land as a dowry, Antek and his wife Hanka (Mietielica) are furious. And Jagna has no choice but to accept. As winter falls, Jagna and Antek'a affair triggers a family crisis. And a violent clash with landowners has further impact.
Incorporating work from Polish painters of the period, the film looks simply gorgeous, a fascinating blend of photorealism and painterly artistry that's brightly coloured, richly textured and packed with astonishing visual detail. As the village gathers to celebrate Jagna's marriage to Boryna, it feels eerily mournful with echoes of intrigue and horror. Although the gossipy old women liven it up. Other scenes are startlingly grisly, sexy and intensely dramatic.

Based on Wladyslaw Reymont's Nobel Prize-winning novel, the characters have a dark complexity to them. Their desires and personalities clash, revealing anger and resentment. And the rumours buzzing around the village stoke harshly divisive opinions. The actors capture these layers of emotions. At the centre, Urzedowska finds engaging humanity in Jagna's battle against rumours and cruelty. We identify with her even as she makes mistakes that cause immense pain. But the way the community unfairly turns on her is terrifying.

Set at a point in history when the long-held rules were shifting, this story focusses in on people who are determined to have more control over their lives. But Boryna's and Antek's angry stubbornness brings all manner of hurt, while Jagna's free-spirited, artistic soul causes her to be ruthlessly isolated by the villagers. Bleak bitterness infects this situation, reminding us that cancel culture isn't a new phenomenon. Then student Jasio (Musial) returns with stories from the world outside this place, sparking some new dreams.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 1.Dec.23

Godzilla Minus One  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
Godzilla Minus One
dir-scr Takashi Yamazaki
prd Minami Ichikawa, Kazuaki Kishida, Keiichiro Moriya, Kenji Yamada
with Ryunosuke Kamiki, Minami Hamabe, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Munetaka Aoki, Sakura Ando, Yuki Yamada, Kuranosuke Sasaki
release Jpn 3.Nov.23,
US 1.Dec.23, UK 15.Dec.23
23/Japan Toho 2h05

See also:
Godzilla 1954 Godzilla 2014

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From the company that made the 1954 original, this sharply well-made prequel's title is a double pun referring to Japan's less-than-zero status at the end of World War II. This thunderous film works on both massive and small scales, packing the screen with action, mass destruction, heroics, sudsy melodrama and terrific effects. So it's of course thoroughly entertaining, even if the cheesier excesses make us roll our eyes.

As the war winds down, Koichi (Kamiki) abandons his kamikaze responsibilities, landing on an island just as Godzilla appears. Paralysed by fear, he and ace mechanic Tachibana (Aoki) are the only survivors. Heading home, Koichi finds Tokyo devastated by war, so he forms a makeshift family with Noriko (Hamabe), a rescued baby and neighbour Sumiko (Ando). A few years later, the city is coming back to life when the now bigger Godzilla threatens new destruction. Still feeling guilty about surviving, Koichi joins his colleague Kenji (Yoshioka) in a plan to stop the monster for good.
Charging along at full speed, the plot rarely pauses as it zings between big action set-pieces and warmly dramatic moments. It's lavishly produced with a strong mix of evocative settings and high-quality effects, with the monster itself rendered to look both enormous and weighty, adding a freaky charge as the tail spikes light up before it emits its cataclysmic heat wave. The sea battles are particularly exciting. So even if the big climactic mission feels bizarrely overcomplicated, it plays out with genuine thrills.

There's also a nice vein of humour running right through the film, in both some absurdist plotting and throwaway dialog. This allows the actors to create likeable characters, each of whom faces some sort of personal dilemma. At the centre, Kamiki has an engaging presence, trying to save his wonderfully offbeat assembled family and banish the relentlessly menacing monster. His earnestness is almost comical, but it works well alongside his earthy cohorts, especially Hamabe's spiky Noriko and Aoki's sardonic Tachibana.

The post-war setting also allows the film to make some pointed comments about the nature of being a nation defeated in battle, trying to rebuild itself against the odds when yet another calamity arrives. So even if the big emotions between the characters are heightened to downright sudsy levels, there's an edge to the story that keeps everything feeling urgent and momentous. Fighting a monster might be heroic, but life is about finding a place to belong.

cert 12 themes, violence 14.Nov.23

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