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last update 18.Apr.03

back to the top DEEP BREATH [Le Souffle]
dir-scr Damien Odoul
with Pierre-Louis Bonnetblanc, Dominique Chevallier, Laurent Simon, Jean Milord, Maxime Dalbrut, Jean-Claude Lecante, Stephane Terpereau, Thierry Benoiton, Pierre Lasvaud, Laure Magadoux, Francoise Masset, Yvon Reperant
release UK 11.Apr.03 01/France 1h17 2 out of 5 stars
simon and bonnetblanc This coming-of-age drama has a timeless quality reminiscent of other French classics, partly because of its style (filmed in gritty black and white with lots of surreal cutaways) and also because of the rural, old-world setting. It's the story of 15-year-old David (Bonnetblanc), spending the summer on a farm owned by his Uncle Jacques (Clevallier). Like most urban teens, David is bored to tears by the country, longing for the city, overwhelmed by his hormones, impatient and feisty. Then Jacques has his friends over for a barbecue (fresh lamb!) and they decide to let David have his first alcohol experience. But sexual frustration, restlessness and drunkenness take David on an odyssey with a friend (Simon) that neither boy may recover from.
Odoul's filming style is fascinating, drawing us into David's mind with swirling dream-like imagery that lets us glimpse his obsessions, fears and anxieties. The monochrome cinematography captures this superbly, using land, water, wind, hay and so on to fine effect. And the amateur cast is realistic and edgy; there are quirky side characters galore, while the tension between Bonnetblanc and Simon is extremely well played. On the other hand, there are problems with perspective, as Odoul cuts away from David's experience too many times to show us what the old men are up to--this unnecessarily weakens the central themes, snapping us out of the teenage mindset. It also drags on a bit, which is surprising considering the brief running time. But there's quite a lot or repetitive or vague imagery that lets the plot slip subtly from Odoul's grasp. Still, there's a spark of talent here that will keep us looking forward to his next film. [15 themes, gore, nudity, language] 25.Feb.03
back to the top MOSTLY MARTHA
gedeck and castellitto
dir-scr Sandra Nettelbeck
with Martina Gedeck, Maxime Foerste, Sergio Castellitto, Ulrich Thomsen, August Zirner, Sibylle Canonica, Katja Studt, Diego Ribon, Antonio Wannek, Idil Uner, Oliver Broumis, Jerome Ducornau
release US 16.Aug.02; UK 16.May.03 02/Germany 1h45 3 out of 5 stars
This gentle German comedy is the latest in the food film genre, cute and charming and so delicious-looking that you don't dare go on an empty stomach. Martha (Gedeck) is a lonely young perfectionist whose job as the top chef in a trendy restaurant is her whole life. She even cooks elaborate meals for her therapist (Zirner). Then her sister dies suddenly and she becomes guardian to her 8-year-old niece Lina (Foerste). Needless to say, a little girl does not fit into her workaholic life, especially when she now has a new staff member, the freewheeling Italian cook (Castellitto) to contend with at work and a bemused new downstairs neighbour (Thomsen). Won't Lina's long-lost father please come get her?
Of course, we know exactly what will happen here--that Martha and Lina will bond, and that Martha will find love with one of the new men in her life (it's not much of a mystery which one it'll be). There's enough of a plot to hold things together, but the film is basically a series of anecdotes about the softening of all the characters--self-discovery, learning how to rely on each other and finding that they don't have to take everything so seriously all the time. It's relaxed and very warm, extremely well played by the cast and full of tender humour, good-hearted wit and even a bit of sassy attitude. What we don't have is an examination of grief or loneliness (there doesn't seem to be any time to mourn the loss of a sister/mother). The side characters aren't terribly well developed. And there's more than a little schmaltz involved. But it's so charming you can't help but enjoy it. But eat something first! [PG themes, language] 6.Feb.03   Remade as: NO RESERVATIONS (2007)
back to the top NOWHERE IN AFRICA [Nirgendwo in Afrika]
Nowhere in Africa
dir-scr Caroline Link
with Juliane Kohler, Merab Ninidze, Sidede Onyulo, Matthias Habich, Lea Kurka, Karoline Eckertz, Peter Lenaeku, Silas Kerati, Julia Leidl, Steven Price, Gerd Heinz, Hildegard Schmahl
release US/UK 7.Mar.03 02/Germany 2h20 3 out of 5 stars
This sweeping historical epic brings to mind Out of Africa in more ways than one, as it traces a Jewish German family's exile in Kenya during WWII. Walter (Ninidze) knows something horrible is coming in Germany, so he heads off to East Africa and in 1938 sends for his wife Jettel (Kohler) and their young daughter Regina (Kurka, then Eckertz). Life isn't easy, but they get on with it, and after initial resistance, Jettel finds Kenya to be very much home, while Regina befriends the family cook (Onyulo), who opens up the local culture to her. They follow news from home by radio as things get much worse. The British government interns them, they lose touch with their family, and when the war ends they must decide what to do next.
The film has a ring of truth to it that's captured in the realistic cinematography, honest characters and elegant but unflashy direction. It's also intriguing enough to keep our attention for the overlong running time, even though it could easily have been trimmed by a half hour or so (it's quite repetitive as they go back and forth between Nairobi and their rural farms). The performances are excellent all around, and there's a nice arc to the relationship between Walter and Jettel that's unexpected and touching ... and intriguingly hinges on external events. Where writer-director Link falters is in the point of view--we have narration from Regina, but much of the story is through Jettel's eyes. The characters all have very different experiences in Africa, often leading to disagreements, but it's hard to develop any emotional connection as the film tries to be so even-handed. We desperately want to feel some passion and get involved, but the film keeps us at arm's length as observers. At least it's an interesting story to watch. [12 themes, violence, sex] 4.Feb.03
hu jingfan
dir Tian Zhuangzhuang; scr Ah Cheng
with Hu Jingfan, Wu Jun, Xin Baiqing, Lu Sisi, Ye Xiaokeng
release UK 13.Jun.03; US 14.May.04 02/China 1h56 3 out of 5 stars
Like Far From Heaven, this is a very modern film shot in the style of a 1950-vintage morality drama (although this is actually a remake of Fei Mu's 1948 classic). The cast includes only five characters living in post-war China, trying to rebuild their lives after the shattering Japanese invasion. Liyan (Wu) has been left physically drained by the events (it's like he has Gulf War syndrome!), and this has taken its toll on his marriage to Yuwen (Hu). Their relationship is friendly and respectful, but lacks the spark of love. They live in the bombed-out family home with their lifelong servant Huang (Ye) and Liyan's teen sister Xiu (Lu). Then Liyan's old friend Zhichen (Xin) arrives for a visit. For the past decade he has traveled the country, being trained as a doctor and working in Shanghai. And it turns out that he and Yuwen were old flames who parted before the war and never resolved their relationship. Naturally, they are very tempted to get back together now, perhaps with Liyan's blessing.
The heavily stylized approach is fairly difficult for Western audiences unfamiliar with 1950s Chinese cinema. Not only is the film extremely insular (we never see another person), but the performances are mannered and unnatural, sometimes feeling amateurish and awkward, like young theatre students rehearsing a period piece in which they play characters much older than themselves. On the other hand, this lends the film a dramatic feel--these people are indeed much older than their years! And it also helps augment the old world/new world clash of cultures; the sedate Yuwen and Liyan seem from another age entirely to the bright young Xiu and the sophisticated and slick Zhichen. Meanwhile, the film is so beautifully directed that it draws us in quietly, gently, surely to the emotional power of the story. Tian's intriguing sets and meaningful staging give the film a hypnotic beauty, almost obscuring the technical genius of his constantly drifting camera and long, complicated takes (the drinking game scene is astonishing!). All of this gives the film a superficial beauty and an underlying tension that builds stunningly to a haunting climax. Yes, it's a very specific cultural experience, but the story and artistry make it well worth sticking with. [U themes] 13.Feb.03
back to the top SUMMER THINGS [Embrassez Qui Vous Voudrez]
the ensemble
dir-scr Michel Blanc
with Charlotte Rampling, Jacques Dutronc, Carole Bouquet, Michel Blanc, Karin Viard, Denis Podalydes, Clotilde Courau, Vincent Elbaz, Lou Doillon, Sami Bouajila, Gaspard Ulliel, Melanie Laurent, Mickael Dolmen, Ed Stoppard, Mathieu Boujenah, Barbara Kelsch
release UK 20.Jun.03 02/France 1h43 3 out of 5 stars
This sprawling ensemble romantic comedy from France is thoroughly entertaining, even as the plot gets increasing tangled and the themes get increasingly melancholy. It's virtually impossible to summarize the various plot strands, which centre on three couples taking a summer holiday to the coast. But all of them end up in places they never thought they would. Bertrand and Elizabeth (Dutronc and Rampling) spend the week apart, Bertrand wants to see someone else and Elizabeth gets the chance to figure out who she is. Lulu and Jean-Pierre (Bouquet and Blanc) struggle to cope with Jean-Pierre's consuming jealousy. And Veronique and Jerome (Viard and Podalydes) try not to let anyone know they're flat broke, much to the embarrassment of their teen son (Ulliel), who has a romance of his own. There are other singles along as well: Julie (Courau) begins what she thinks is a lasting relationship with a handsome married man (Elbaz). And in Chicago, Bertrand and Elizabeth's daughter (Doillon) is on holiday with her illicit boyfriend (Boujila).
Discovery is the theme, and every character finds out something important about themselves and the person they love (or think they love) along the way. It's very bright, smart and often quite funny, with sharp performances from everyone. Highlights in the cast are Rampling (of course) and Bouquet, two radiant actresses who seem to get better and better with age. The more reflective comedy is much more effective than the broader slapstick elements (especially writer-director Blanc's one-note performance as the seriously disturbed Jean-Pierre). It's perhaps a bit too comprehensive, trying to touch on every conceivable relational wrinkle. And it's a bit annoying that all the men are selfish and useless, while the women are loving and rather helpless. There's a fun coda at the end involving a post-holiday party that wraps up all the loose ends. This is a bit too tidy perhaps, but it's also sharply thoughtful and serious. A strange way to end a comedy by getting us thinking about ourselves? Hmmm. [12 themes, language, sex] 17.Apr.03
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall