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last update 11.May.03

back to the top IN THE NAME OF BUDDHA
dir-scr Rajesh Touchriver
with Shiju, Soniya, Jyothi Lal, Amit, Jayasurya, Pamela, Sunil Kudavattoor, Edison, Sherry Roy, Biju, Pushpa Kallayi, Sreeja, Kalyani, Anuradha
release UK 16.May.03 02/UK 2h26 2 out of 5 stars
shiju and soniya confront the commander Intimately examining the three-sided violence that has plagued Sri Lanka for 20 years, this film's title isn't descriptive; it's a plea for peace. And there's nothing subtle about it! And this all-encompassing attempt to get a message across undermines the film's drama even more than the uneven production values. The film opens as Siva (Shiju) flees his country and travels to London, where he applies for refugee status. We then watch events unfold in flashback back home, where Siva is studying medicine with plans to work with his father (Jayasurya) in a government clinic. He also plans to marry his sweetheart Geetha (Soniya). But all around them war is raging between the Lankan army and the Tamil rebels. Both sides use brutal methods in their cause; both claim a higher calling. And when India arrives with a peacekeeping force, it seems everything will finally settle down. Not even close.
There's a vital, important, urgent story here that needs to be told, but a dramatic film like this can't stand up under the weight of such strong sermonising. The dialog is so preachy that it undermines every scene completely. This is a pity because the characters are compelling and interesting, and quite well-played too. And while Touchriver's camera work is often stunningly beautiful, his direction is amateurish and often quite indulgent, with random cuts and simple errors that make it hard for us to keep track of who's fighting whom. There's a strange mix of excellent technical work with awkward clumsiness in things like makeup, music and dubbing. And thematically, Touchriver milks every scene for all he's got. You can hardly blame him for being so heavy handed in his approach, but a lighter touch would be far more effective. And a clearer focus on the characters and their own personal situations would draw us in much more urgently. If the filmmakers want to tell the whole story (and they should!), maybe they'll make a proper documentary and leave nothing out. [18 themes, language, strong violence] 8.May.03
back to the top THE LEOPARD [Il Gattopardo]
delon and cardinale
dir Luchino Visconti; scr Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Massimo Franciosa, Enrico Medioli, Luchino Visconti
with Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, Rina Morelli, Paolo Stoppa, Romolo Valli, Lucilla Morlacchi, Serge Reggiani, Ida Galli, Ottavia Piccolo, Pierre Clementi, Carlo Valenzano
release Italy 28.Mar.63; reissue UK 2.May.03 Fox 63/Italy 2h55 5 out of 5 stars
Visconti's Palme d'Or-winning masterpiece gets a restored print for this 40-year anniversary, and it's a real stunner--one of those rare epics that works both on the grand scale and in the intimate moments. Prince Salina (Lancaster) is only 45 years old but is already feeling like part of a world that's disappearing. It's 1860s Sicily, where revolution is underway to unite Italy as a republic, which would leave his noble class useless. In an attempt to guide the next generation, he helps his favoured nephew Tancredi (Delon) romance a beautiful and eligible girl (Cardinale), even though it leaves his daughter (Morlacchi) heartbroken. And while political tides shift around him, he tries to maintain his calm, cool exterior, knowing his world is at an end. The leopards and lions are being replaced by jackals and hyenas ... and they all think they're the salt of the earth.
If that plot summary sounds grand, just watch! This is one of the most gorgeously produced films in history, with sweeping scenery, sumptuous sets and costumes, and a cast of thousands. And it all works to tell a deeply personal story. Visconti marshals all of this impeccably, keeping the scale epic and the drama intimate. With a fine attention to detail, he takes us right back to the place and time, filling each scene with throwaway humour and authentic touches, drawing out the script's subtleties and keeping the emotions right where we can feel them. It's breathtaking cinema on an amazing scale that never loses sight of real life. Even the sight of Lancaster, Delon and Cardinale dubbed into Italian (with English subtitles) somehow doesn't distract from the story, probably because the acting is so solid and the characters so well-written. This is a moving family drama framed against a sharp political and cultural background that actually means something. This is essential cinema. [PG themes, violence, language] 30.Apr.03
back to the top SEX IS COMEDY
parillaud, colin, mesquida
dir-scr Catherine Breillat
with Anne Parillaud, Gregoire Colin, Roxane Mesquida, Ashley Wanninger, Dominique Colladant, Bart Binnema, Yves Osmu, Elisabete Piecho, Francis Seleck, Diane Scapa, Ana Lorena, Julia Fragata
release UK 25.Jul.03, US 22.Oct.04 Canal+ 02/France 1h34 3 out of 5 stars
With this gentle drama, Breillat has basically made a fictionalized behind-the-scenes movie about filming one of the sex scenes in her last film, A Ma Soeur (Fat Girl). It's a comedy in the classical sense--an absurd slice of life as a film director (Parillaud) tries to juggle the on- and off-screen relationships of an actor (Colin) and actress (Mesquida, who played this scene in A Ma Soeur) to get her movie made. There are tensions on all sides as she copes with the actor's self-aware hesitance and the actress' moody sullenness, but most of all with her own self-doubts. She's helped by her game-for-anything assistant (Wanninger) and the entire crew to get the scene on film.
There are several brilliant moments in this film that catch you off guard with their transparency and meaning. It's an insightful glimpse into the mechanics of filmmaking, especially at the point where a difficult and emotional "nude scene" needs to be shot. There's a clever opening sequence involving the filming of a kiss on the beach--it's supposed to be summertime, but it's absolutely freezing. The extras won't stop shivering and the lead actors are unsure of each other. Then we move to the main studio-based scene and the tensions are highlighted in a new and intriguing way, right up to the astonishingly emotional ending. Along the way we get far too much ponderous French wordiness (everyone analyses everything endlessly!), but as Breillat unravels the creative process of acting, writing and directing, she really says some important things here. The performances are terrific, and work on several levels, while Breillat keeps the film looking natural and real, avoiding the temptation to play film-set tricks on us (there are a few). But it captures both the exhilaration and tedium of the filmmaking process--and of looking for and finding passion wherever it might be. [18 themes, language, nudity, adult situations] 29.Apr.03
back to the top SHIRI
dir-scr Kang Je-gyu
with Han Suk-kyu, Choi Min-sik, Kim Yoon-jin, Song Kang-ho, Derek Kim, Yoon Joo-Sang, Park Yong-Woo
release US 8.Feb.02; UK 2.May.03 99/Korea 2h05 4 out of 5 stars
This ambitious Korean thriller beat Titanic's box office record to become its country's biggest blockbuster. And you can see why: strong storytelling, emotional resonance ... and Western-style filmmaking. It's a complex thriller about two South Korean agents (Han and Song) on the trail of North Korean terrorists who will stop at nothing to force the two Koreas to reunite like the rivers the shiri fish swims in. Even if it means blowing up half of Seoul in the process. Literally. Their leader is Park (Choi) and their prime operative is the unseen and ruthless assassin Hee.
It's all a bit complicated to watch, especially with a growing ensemble of characters and increasingly confusing situations. But there's a strong centre to the film that carries us through, and eventually involves us completely. There are scenes of unbearable tension (even though they resort to tired count-down cinematic techniques, they still work!), and some surprisingly moving emotion as one of the agents tries to protect his fiancee (Kim), who runs an aquarium shop. This is a big, bold, amazingly satisfying film, and writer-director Kang keeps the atmosphere colourful, the effects and stunt work astonishing, the human drama intimate and the political subtext palpable. In other words, it's bound to be remade by Hollywood into a mindless action movie that won't hold a candle to this film. See the original if you can! [18 themes, strong violence, language] 22.Apr.03
back to the top WINGED MIGRATION [Le Peuple Migrateur]
pelicans on the move
dir Jacques Perrin; scr Stephane Durand, Jacques Perrin, Francis Roux
narrator Jacques Perrin; with albatross, condors, cranes, doves, ducks, eagles, egrets, gannets, geese, grebes, gulls, macaws, pigeons, pelicans, penguins, puffins, robins, sparrows, starlings, storks, swans, terns
release US 18.Apr.03; UK summer.03 Sony 01/France 1h29 3 out of 5 stars
This gently meandering film nabbed a Best Documentary Oscar nomination this year. Not exactly major competition for Bowling for Columbine, but the technical achievement is so startling that it's worth a look. From the same team that produced the brilliant 1996 life-in-a-meadow doc Microcosmos, this ambitious film took some three years to make and involved flying in micro-light aircraft alongside the birds over all seven continents. It's astonishing imagery that takes the breath away; you can hardly believe there's not a digital effect in the whole film, but there isn't. It's 89 minutes of breathtaking footage of birds traveling over cities (New York and Paris), coastlines, deserts (the Sahara and the American West), open seas, snowy mountains, the Amazon, the Arctic, Antarctica. All in such extreme close-up that you think the birds will whack the camera with their wings at any moment.
the bike-cam The main achievement here, like in Microcosmos, is that the cinematography is so up close and personal that we can actually see the personalities of the birds, which makes their activities much more engaging. The filmmakers also creatively bring in the human element, as we see the birds interacting with hunters, farmers, fishermen, road traffic and even Eastern European industrial blight. Minimal narration and brief captions identify the birds and where they travel each year. Strangely, there is never an explanation of why birds migrate (if I was a bird, I'd just go to the tropics and stay there--better weather and food all year round!), and the background music is a bit goofy at times. But the film is full of clever, witty and dramatic moments all shot and edited with precision. It's so accomplished that you'd love to see the filmmakers get their hands on an Imax camera. Although that might be even more overwhelming. [U some suspense and nature violence] 1.May.03
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2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall