Shadows @ Film FestsShadows: Arthouse Films ’03

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More mainstream art films have their own pages.
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last update 20.May.03

back to the top BLIND SPOT: HITLER’S SECRETARY [Im Toten Winkel: Hitlers Sekretarin]
dir Andre Heller, Othmar Schmiderer
with Traudl Junge
release US 24.Jan.03; UK 26.Sep.03 • Sony 02/Austria 1h30 3½ out of 5 stars
See also the dramatised version of the Junge's story: DOWNFALL (2004)
This documentary has a huge historical significance since it's virtually untouched by the filmmakers, who merely assemble raw footage without any frills. It should be seen in a cinema for two reasons: There are no distractions, and it's a communal experience worth seeing with a group. All we see on screen is a woman in her 80s reminiscing about her experiences in the 1940s. There are no archival photographs, no dramatisations, no newsreel footage. But what she says is riveting simply because she worked as Hitler's personal secretary during the last years of his life. She was so close to him that it's like she was in a blind spot where she couldn't see the horrors of what was really going on during the war. Her articulate and lucid comments are startlingly personal, as she describes the Fuhrer both through naive 22-year-old eyes as well as through 60 years of hindsight.
  The mere existence of this film is remarkable, since Mrs Junge died shortly after its first screening. But preserved here for all time is a firsthand account of life in Hitler's bunker during both the Nazi glory days and those final suicidal hours. It's perhaps a bit roughly assembled for most audiences--we long to see what Junge looked like as a hopeful young woman, as well as images of the people and places she describes with attention to personal detail (a haunting memory of the looks in the eyes of the Goebbels children, for example). And her account of what Hitler was like as a man, not a monster, is absolutely fascinating, as is her opening comment about how easy it is to manipulate the public conscience--something we have certainly not learned from history! But perhaps the film's most intriguing aspect is her own attempt to deal with her personal journey, the role she unknowingly played in one of history's darkest chapters. This struggle is vivid and moving ... and deeply unsettling, reminding us that we should never slip into apathy. Or to blindly accept what our leaders tell us. [PG themes] 20.May.03
back to the top BODY WITHOUT SOUL
body without soul
dir-scr Wictor Grodecki
with Pavel Rousek, Vaclav Cernogursky, Pavel Petroci, Martin Maca, David, Marek, David, Matthew, Sawannah, Ota, Jarda, Pavel, Thomas
release UK May.03 (DVD) • 96/Czech 1h36 4 out of 5 stars
This beautifully filmed documentary centres on street hustlers in Prague. It's an emotional rollercoaster of a film--and more than a little disturbing as it quietly gets into the minds of these young men, all in their late teens, who have been lured from street prostitution into gay porn. Their comments are open and fairly gut-wrenching; some are knowing and smart, others completely unaware of what they're doing to themselves. And then the filmmaker centres his camera on local pornographer Rousek, an increasingly scary man who candidly talks about his manipulative methods ... and his day job as a medical examiner. We even go along to work with him as he performs a grisly autopsy, crosscut with the shooting session for his latest porn video.
Director Grodecki shoots this with a stately, warm style that almost makes it look like fiction. Accompanied by classical music, he frames the interviews elegantly, capturing these boys' faces and seeing well behind their eyes as they discuss how they got into the business (most started in their early teens) and their thoughts on money, drugs, Aids, death and the difference between body and soul. Many claim to be straight even as they have all-male clients. Meanwhile, Rousek is talking about how he gets them drunk, makes them sign contracts that give him all the control and then exploits them as much as he can, resorting to violence if he needs to. Grodecki also includes telling fly-on-the-wall footage of gay venues in Prague as well as the film-set itself, which he shoots in a much more artistic and telling way than Rousek would ever imagine. In the end Grodecki gets a bit preachy as he draws out the whole lost youth theme. But there's real power in this important film. [18 adult themes and situations, graphic language, nudity, medical gore] 12.May.03
back to the top THE CRIME OF FATHER AMARO [El Crimen del Padre Amaro]
bernal and talancon
dir Carlos Carrera; scr Vicente Leñero
with Gael García Bernal, Ana Claudia Talancon, Sancho Gracia, Damian Alcazar, Angelica Aragon, Luisa Huertas, Andres Montiel, Ernesto Gomez Cruz, Gaston Melo, Veronica Langer, Juan Ignacio Aranda, Lorenzo de Rodas
release Mexico 16.Aug.02; US 15.Nov.02; UK 4.Jul.03 • 02/Mexico 1h58 4 out of 5 stars
Based on a novel written in 1875 but updated to the present day, this is a powerful examination of the role of the church in society ... as well as a moving drama about one man's descent into moral chaos. Amaro (Bernal) is a handsome young priest assigned to the small village of Los Reyes, where he's working under Father Benito (Gracia). When Amaro meets the attractive young Amelia (Talancon) sparks fly, but both know better. Amelia has a serious boyfriend (Montiel) and, well, Amaro is a priest! But their passion gets the best of them. And one moral infraction seems to open a can of worms for Amaro, who before he knows it is just like all the other priests in the region, quietly going against a religious system that seems to have little to do with the real world ... or real faith.
This is indeed a strong indictment of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico, where political, economic and sexual issues seem to be horribly out of balance. Carrera tells the story beautifully, concentrating on Amaro's central plot but highlighting the issues with the help of a series of telling supporting characters, all of whom are perfectly inhabited by the cast. There's a naturalistic, slice-of-life feel to the film, with frequent comical touches, a realistic view of sex and politics and an honest approach to the moral quagmire all the characters seem to be playing on the edge of (or diving into). Strangely the weakest thing in the film is Amaro, very well played by Bernal as a young man with virtually no convictions, allowing himself to drift into an increasingly grim set of circumstances. As it attacks the hypocrisy in the church and priesthood, the film is more than a little preachy, but by sticking with the personal side of the story it maintains both a balance and complexity that makes it well worth looking out for. [15 themes, language, violence, sex] 15.May.03
back to the top PUBLIC ENEMY
lee and sul
dir Kang Woo-Suk; scr Baek Seung-jae, Jung Yoon-seup, Kim Hyun-jung, Chae Yoon-suk
with Sol Kyung-gu, Lee Sung-jae, Kang Shin-il, Kim Jeong-hak, Doh Yong-gu, Ahn Na-sang, Lee Moon-shik, Sung Ji-roo, Yoo Hae-jin, Lee Jung-hun, Kim Joo-bong, Ahn Jin-soo
release Korea 25.Jan.02; UK 25.Jul.03 • 02/Korea 1h53 3½ out of 5 stars
This energetic and feisty Korean thriller keeps us entertained because we never have a clue what the characters might do next. And more often than not, whatever they're up to will get us laughing. Detective Kang (Sol) is a wild-card cop who nobody quite trusts, and for good reason. Although when you meet his captain (Kang Shin-il) you understand that slapping suspects around runs in the precinct. His latest case is a double murder, a husband and wife brutally stabbed, and he quickly figures out that their handsome banker son (Lee Sung-Jae) did it. But he has no motive ... and no proof. And what follows is a gruesome and increasingly unhinged cat-and-mouse game as Kang shows what a loose cannon he is, while no one believes he's even remotely on the right track.
Director Kang keeps things so lively that the audience is continually on its toes. There are scenes of absurd humour thrown in just to give a bit of texture, as well as a continual streak of black humour. The characters are all bizarre creatures--they don't even understand each other. And their antics make the film take on a life of its own, especially since they're all so well played from the principals to the tiniest supporting actors. This is a loud, brash film in which there's usually someone shouting at the top of his or her lungs, but it's also colourful, funny and full of intrigue. Since we know from the beginning who's guilty, we can just enjoy the chaotic route the plot takes to its rather atypical conclusion. The structure is a bit wobbly--it takes a while to get going then drags badly in the middle--but it's so bracingly enjoyable that you can already hear the bidding war for the Hollywood remake, which will be the same old nonsense, unlike this peculiar gem. [18 themes, language, strong violence] 14.May.03
back to the top SON OF THE BRIDE [El Hijo de la Novia]
blanco, verbeke, nobile and darin
dir Juan Jose Campanella; scr Juan Jose Campanella, Fernando Castets
with Ricardo Darin, Hector Alterio, Norma Aleandro, Eduardo Blanco, Natalia Verbeke, Gimena Nobile, David Masajnik, Claudia Fontan, Atilio Pozzobon, Salo Pasik, Adrian Suar, Alfredo Alcon
release US 22.Mar.02; UK 23.May.03 • 01/Argentina 2h03 4 out of 5 stars
This is one of those rare dramatic films that's completely endearing and involving, nicely directed and played to perfection by an ensemble cast (it was up for the 2002 Foreign Film Oscar). At the centre is Rafael (Darin), a 42-year-old at a turning point in his life. He's just had an offer he can't refuse for the family business, a restaurant his parents started. And after 44 years together his dad (Alterio) has finally decided to make an honest woman of his Alzheimer's-stricken mother (Aleandro). Meanwhile, Rafael is so busy with work that he hardly has time for his cheeky daughter (Nobile), his sexy girlfriend (Verbeke) or a childhood friend (Blanco) who has reappeared after 30 years and seems to be stalking him. Well, Mother Nature has a way of slowing Rafael down....
Argentine director-cowriter Campanella gets the balance just right between comedy, romance and drama. This is a delightful film that makes us laugh and then turns deeply emotional without overdoing the sentimentality ... until a series of sweet endings to each plot thread. But the script is full of insightful and sharp dialog, and the cast is splendid, with stand-out performances from Aleandro, who of course absolutely glows in the role, and Verbeke, who creates something powerfully engaging out of what could've been a typical rom-com character. These are all people we can identify with--even the deeply selfish and preoccupied Rafael--and the film's solid production values and witty touches make it memorable and entertaining. Especially enjoyable is a scene that takes place on a film set, as well as a throwaway line about the pathetic state of Argentine cinema. But on this evidence, there's no reason to worry. [15 themes, language] 20.May.03
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© 2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall