Shadows @ Film FestsShadows: Arthouse Films ’03

Send Shadows your reviews!On this page: THE CLAY BIRD | COWBOY BEBOP |

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last update 2.Sep.03

back to the top THE CLAY BIRD
dir Tareque Masud; scr Tareque & Catherine Masud
with Nurul Islam Bablu, Rokeya Prachy, Jayanto Chattopadhyay, Russell Farazi, Soaeb Islam, Moyeen Ahmed, Abdul Karim, Lameessa Reemjheem, Mohammed Moslemuddin, Shah Alam Dewan
release UK 4.Jul.03 • 02/Bangladesh 1h38 3½ out of 5 stars
This moving and powerful drama takes us on a multi-layered tour of Bangladeshi culture. Set just before the revolution in 1971, then-East Pakistan is a bundle of religious and political tensions. In a rural village, the orthodox Muslim Kazi (Chattopadhyay) sends his son Anu (Bablu) to madrasa, an Islamic school where he befriends the class outsider Rokon (Farazi), and the two struggle to fit in with the other students. Meanwhile, back home Anu's mother (Prachy) is getting increasingly fed up with her husband's stubbornness, especially when their daughter (Reemjheem) gets ill and he won't consult a doctor. She's drawn increasingly to her more open but more politically active brother-in-law (Islam) as upheaval threatens to spill from the cities into the countryside.
This is a gently effective film, slowly letting us get to know the characters and the various ways of thinking--strands of Islamic thought unfamiliar to many Western audiences--as well as the intriguing mix of Hindu and Muslim cultures. Against the sweep of history and the collision of conflicting religious opinions, there are several deeply personal stories about people trying to find the path that's right for them. Most moving is Anu's mother, and Prachy plays it beautifully--a restrained, emotionally transparent performance we really feel for. Meanwhile, Anu's journey from childhood to self-awareness is complex and beautifully traced through his relationships with his parents, uncle, classmates and teachers, each of whom has a different approach to both religion and politics. Masud's direction is understated as well, capturing the lush natural beauty with moments of humour, pain and colourful community life. There are a couple of amazing cast-of-thousands sequences, as well as some confusing flashbacks and choppy editing. But this is mostly an intimate, minimalist film that makes a subtle, well-articulated plea for understanding. [PG themes, language] 12.Jun.03
back to the top COWBOY BEBOP, THE MOVIE
spike, jet, faye ... and ed
dir Shinichiro Watanabe; scr Keiko Nobumoto
voices Koichi Yamadera, Megumi Hayashibara, Unsho Ishizuka, Aoi Tada, Tsutomu Isobe, Ai Kobayashi, Mickey Curtis, Hitoshi Hirao, Renji Ishibashi, Akihiko Nakajima, Tsutomu Taruki, Miki Nagasawa
release US 4.Apr.03; UK 27.Jun.03 • 01/Japan 1h55 2½ out of 5 stars
Based on the 1998 TV series, this Japanese anime boasts amazingly detailed imagery and some pretty vivid characters, but never really comes to life on the screen due to its overcomplicated story. Spike (voiced by Yamadera) is a bounty hunter in 2071 Mars who thinks of himself as a Wild West cowboy. He works on the ship Bebop with Faye, Jet and the techno-brat Ed (Hayashibara, Ishizuka and Tada) to track down criminals in Alba City, and after a grisly terrorist attack they set their sights on the perpetrator (Isobe) and a mystery woman (Kobayashi) who's connected with him. There's some big plan afoot involving some sort of germ warfare.
cowboy bebop Everything on screen looks so good that it's frustrating the story isn't more engaging. The problem is that the characters are simply colourful icons. There's plenty of personality but not enough depth to draw us in, so we just sit there trying to get involved, but never feeling anything at all. And as the story gets more and more complicated, we get lost in the mayhem. At least it's a feast for the eyes, with virtual "cinematography" that looks absolutely stunning. Alba City looks like a futuristic New York, with the same kind of multi-cultural mix and, strangely, buildings and bridges more than 100 years old (huh?). There's also a lot of eccentric music on the score. Apparently there's an English-dubbed version out there, which might bridge this gap (more Western style vocal emotions, less anachronistic music). But it still seems rather stilted, because while we never get tired of looking at the astonishingly gorgeous animation, the filmmakers miss the chance to either draw us in or draw out the Wild West parallels. Perhaps they thought continual Star Wars references would do the trick! [12 themes, violence, language] 11.Jun.03
back to the top THE CUCKOO [Kukushka]
Juuso, Haapasalo and Bychkov
dir-scr Aleksandr Rogozhkin
with Anni-Christina Juuso, Ville Haapasalo, Viktor Bychkov, Aleksei Kashnikov, Mikhail Korobochkin
release US 11.Jul.03; UK 28.Nov.03 • 03/Russia 1h39 3½ out of 5 stars
This intriguing and very quirky drama gets back to the basics with its back-to-basics examination of people interacting on the simplest levels. Veikko (Haapsalo) is a cuckoo, a Finnish sniper captured by the Russians at the end of WWII, chained to a rock and left to fend for himself. As he tries to free himself, he sees two Russian officers transporting the Russian prisoner Ivan (Bychkov) when they're attacked by a pair of planes. The officers are killed, the prisoner survives and is rescued by Anni (Juuso), a Lapp woman who takes him home and horses him back to health. When Veikko arrives at her lakeside hut, the three become an uneasy, awkward sort of family. They each speak their own language only, so all their conversation falls on deaf ears. And their situation is heightened by the fact that Ivan thinks Veikko is a Nazi. And Anni hasn't seen her husband, or any other man, for four long years! Who will she pounce on first?
There's a disarming innocent charm here that belies the sophistication and worldliness of the three characters; these are lost and lonely people thrown together by a situation they have no control of, and each is trying to make the best of it somehow. The humour is constant--misunderstandings, innuendo, acting at cross purposes and even a heavy dose of irony woven into the screenplay by Rogozhkin, who directs in a straightforward 1940s-style that lets the setting and the characters to the talking. The scenery is stunning, distinctly capturing the isolation as well as the human interaction, which is shown almost at an sideways angle. (For example, we never see any sex, even though this is quite clearly the only thing on Anni's mind!) The performances are open and very honest, and the minimalist production values serve the story perfectly. There's a bit of a derailment in a surreal sequence near the end that's beautiful and evocative, yet takes us out of the story at hand. Otherwise it's a comical and surprisingly light and entertaining little fable that's well worth a look. [12 themes, some violence] 2.Sep.03
back to the top THE MAN OF THE YEAR [O Homem do Ano]
abreu and benicio
dir José Henrique Fonseca; scr Rubem Fonseca
with Murilo Benicio, Natalia Lage, Claudia Abreu, Jorge Doria, Jose Wilker, Agildo Ribeiro, Carlo Mossy, Andre Barros, Perfeito Fortuna, Moska, Lazaro Ramos, Andre Goncalves
release Brasil 1.Aug.03; UK 29.Aug.03 • 03/Brazil 1h55 3½ out of 5 stars
In muscly Brazilian style, this tale of one man's descent into moral chaos is involving and powerful, effortlessly mixing humour with tragedy. Stuck in a mundane life in Rio, Maiquel (Benicio) dyes his hair blond on a bet and emerges a new man. He's also now in love with his hairdresser Cledir (Abreu)! His pent up bitterness explodes when someone insults him and he kills the guy, who turns out to be a notorious criminal. This turns Maiquel into a local hero. In addition to gifts from his neighbours, he acquires the dead man's 15-year-old girlfriend (Lage), who has nowhere else to turn. And from here the flow of life just takes over. Maiquel becomes a vigilante hitman, cleaning up the city's rough streets, spurred on by a trio of businessmen (Doria, Wilker and Ribeiro) and a bent cop (Mossy). But the crime bosses don't like this much, and life becomes increasingly complicated when Cledir gets pregnant.
This is a telling portrait of a life drifting into soulless brutality in the name of doing good. Writer-father Rubem and director-son Jose Henrique combine their talents here beautifully--a snappy script and visually arresting direction get well beneath the surface of the characters and situations. This is a funny, violent, sexy and moody film that plays with ideas of morality and integrity as Maiquel struggles to balance his new triple-life as a father, a killer and a celebrity with all that means, good and bad! The entire cast is superb, but the film runs out of steam in the middle when it tries to generate more emotion and energy than is strictly necessary. This makes it drag badly until things start cranking up for the finale. When everything turns back in on Maiquel, the film shifts into a more thoughtful gear--messy, shocking and quite sad. It becomes a startlingly effective parable about how difficult it is to go against the flow of life. And how fighting against that flow is the only way to survive. [15 themes, language, violence, sex, drugs] 26.Jun.03
back to the top TOGETHER WITH YOU [aka Together]
Liu and Tang
dir Chen Kaige; scr Chen Kaige, Xue Xiaolu
with Tang Yun, Liu Peiqi, Chen Hong, Wang Zhiwen, Chen Kaige, Zhang Qing, Chen Qiang, Liu Bing, Kim Hairi, Li Chuanyun, Tang Ruyun
release US 30.May.03; UK 12.Dec.03 • 02/China 1h57 3½ out of 5 stars
Chinese filmmaker Chen Kaige rebounds from his camp British thriller Killing Me Softly with this involving but flawed father and son drama. Xiaochun (Tang) is a 13-year-old violin prodigy in the provinces, brought to Beijing by his father Cheng (Liu) to find a teacher. Through sheer persistence, he gets Xiaochun a place with Professor Jiang (Wang), an old world-style teacher who lives with a menagerie of mewling cats. Meanwhile Xiaochun befriends a neighbour lady (Chen) who happens to be a high-class prostitute, and Cheng sets his sights on a more competitive and commercial professor (played by director Chen). But can destiny smile on a country boy without connections?
Chen directs the film with a natural yet brightly colourful tone that draws us into the story and characters--humour abounds, as do intricate interrelationships and lots of narrative complications. The central theme of art versus commerce is handled lightly and cleverly, making way for more intense father-son issues, while a deep love of music infuses the film from top to bottom (and is rather reminiscent of the Chinese chapter in The Red Violin). Where it falters is in the final third, when all this has to come together in a flare of overwhelming emotion and teen rebellion, which is simply too overstated and sappy to grab us. And the big cathartic finale, while well-conceived and seriously touching, is played out in a maddeningly manipulative way. There's also the problem of the first-time actor Tang in the pivotal role; he's mostly quite good as a surly boy, but struggles with the scenes of emotional openness. The surrounding cast is superb, adding textures to the film that make it intriguing and entertaining. A powerful film that should have been much better. [PG themes] 18.Jun.03
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© 2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall