Film FestivalFilm Festival Reviews

Reviews are listed alphabetically.
Festival films that get a general release get their own review pages.


Back to the SHADOWS FILM FEST page • last update 30.Apr.02

back to the top THE CAT’S MEOW
dir Peter Bogdanovich • scr Steven Peros
with Kirsten Dunst, Edward Herrmann, Eddie Izzard, Cary Elwes, Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Tilly, Claudia Harrison, Ronan Vibert, James Laurenson, Victor Slezak, Claudie Blakley, Chiara Schoras
release US 12.Apr.02; UK 4.Jun.04 • Lion's Gate 01/Germany 1h52 3½ out of 5 stars
hermann, dunst, izzard and lumleyREVIEW BY RICH CLINE
What really happened on William Randolph Hearst's yacht off the California coast in November 1924? One person ended up dead, but nobody ever told the full truth. This film is based on the accepted version of events (although it still contains the "all characters and events are fictitious" disclaimer). Here, Hearst (Herrmann) is good-hearted and paranoid that his mistress, the actress Marion Davies (Dunst), is having an affair with notorious lothario Charlie Chaplin (Izzard). Meanwhile, a struggling studio head (Elwes) is trying to negotiate a business partnership with Hearst, while carrying on with an actress-mistress of his own (Harrison). The story is narrated by the British novelist Elinor Glyn (Lumley), who delights in baiting the brash New York journalist Louella Parsons (Tilly). When something awful happens, everyone is forced to examine their fame ... and what it costs.
  With its focus on thematic subtext and bedroom bingo, this feels more like a play than an film, carefully examining the characters and period with a studious blend of fact and fiction. The result is thoroughly entertaining and utterly fascinating for anyone with even a passing interest in film history. The constant chatter, sneaky liaisons and outrageous antics are all orchestrated beautifully by Bogdanovich. It also helps to have an ensemble cast this good at bringing out the subtlety or wit in every line. A few scenes are absolutely hilarious, while others resonate with black humour. Strangely, the film was made in Germany and Greece, and this shows in some rather wobbly accents and awkward staging. But as a glimpse of early Hollywood decadence--and even more importantly, as an expose of how easy it is to jettison morality when in pursuit of success--this is wickedly good stuff. [12 adult themes and situations, language] 26.Oct.01 lff
back to the top HAPPY MAN [Szczesliwy Czlowiek]
dir-scr Malagorzata Szumowska
with Poitr Jankowski, Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak, Malagorzata Chajewska-Krzysztofik, Roman Gancarczyk, Mieczyslaw Grabka, Beata Kozikowska
UK release 17.May.02 • 01/Poland 1h24 3 out of 5 stars
Jankowski and ChajewskaREVIEW BY RICH CLINE
Young filmmaker Szumowska shows a remarkable level of skill on her debut feature--an assured sense of character and narrative. Janek (Jankowski) is nearly 30 and is still unemployed and living with his mother (Jankowska-Cieslak), who takes care of him. Then she gets cancer and he slowly develops a sense of responsibility, looking for ways to help her feel better about him. He's interested in Marta (Chajewska-Krzysztofik), a single mother working in a nearby factory, so he pursues her as well as a money-making scheme. But does he really have the personal skills to make his life better? Or to even take care of himself? Yes, the title is just a wee bit ironic. But Szumowska's strong camera work and clever script help us stick with these characters through their ordeal. The film has a classic look to it--like the work of a master filmmaker who can get to the bottom of a character or situation without needing lots of words or obvious signposting. These are not particularly likeable people, which makes it a bit hard to get involved with them. Janek is such a lump that we never understand why Marta is interested in him at all, let alone why she sticks with him when things get messy. And both Janek and his mother are such bundles of stunted emotions that you can understand how they've arrived at this communicative impasse. But the cast deliver clear, uncluttered performances that make these earthy, real people come alive in meaningful ways. [themes, language] 31.Oct.01 lff
back to the top HOW HARRY BECAME A TREE
dir Goran Paskaljevic • scr Goran Paskaljevic, Stephen Walsh, Christine Gentet
with Colm Meaney, Adrian Dunbar, Cillian Murphy, Kerry Condon, Pat Laffan, Gail Fitzpatrick, Maighread Ni Conghaile
London Film Fest Nov.01 • 01/Ireland 1h40 4 out of 5 stars
Based on a Chinese folk tale, this earthy story is effectively reset in 1924 Ireland. Harry (Meaney) is a bitter and twisted farmer who believes a man is measured by his enemies. So he chooses the village pub owner George (Dunbar) as his nemesis, then proceeds to search for (or invent) reasons to hate him. He's so cranky and stiff-necked that in his dreams he actually transforms into a tree. The problem is that this engulfs Harry's nice-but-dim son Gus (Murphy), who is in love with George's maid Eileen (Condon). He's going to have to make a deal with George to secure the marriage. And this is only going to make him even more angry. The gutsy story is full of vivid characters and situations that ring so true it's almost frightening. We can feel Harry raging against thin air--he has lost his wife and older son, and is mad at the world, venting at George and causing havoc for all around him. But he's powerless to change. Meaney is fantastic in the role, lending just the right amount of pathos to a man willing to ruin his family before letting his "enemy" get the upper hand. We can tell from the start that the story is heading for tragedy--but for whom? And even if Harry's relentless bile is a bit much, the other equally strong characters and the multi-layered story can handle it. As can Paskaljevic, who films with a raw beauty, capturing a dark beauty in the misty, rain-soaked landscape. It's a gorgeous film in every sense--visually and thematically. [adult themes and situations, language, violence] 29.Oct.01 lff
back to the top THE LADY AND THE DUKE [L’Anglaise et le Duc]
dir-scr Eric Rohmer
with Lucy Russell, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Caroline Morin, François Marthouret, Leonard Cobiant, Alain Libolt, Laurent Le Doyen, Serge Wolfsperger, Daniel Tarrare, Charlotte Very, Rosette, Marie Riviere
release UK 15.Feb.02; US 10.May.02 • Pathe 01/France 2h05 2½ out of 5 stars
Dreyfus and RussellREVIEW BY RICH CLINE
At age 81, Rohmer is like the grandfather of French cinema. He keeps innovating, yet his films are infuriatingly French (that is, talky and pretentious). This period drama is based on the memoir of Grace Elliott (Russell), a Scottish woman (the film's original title ironically calls her "Englishwoman," as the French called Elliott) who made a career as mistress to the English and French aristocracy. But in the late 18th century, the revolution in Paris makes her position is rather precarious indeed, as all her "sponsors" are under threat of execution from an increasingly angry public. Her closest ally is the Duc d'Orleans (Dreyfus), with whom she disagrees politically but keeps as a friend. The film tracks their relationship through three very turbulent years. There are flashes of brilliance as Rohmer uses period paintings for all the exteriors, placing his characters in the artwork and animating the scenes. Combined with the odd-looking digital photography elsewhere, this makes the entire film look like a cross between a moving painting and a play with painted backdrops. The staginess is also apparent in the episodic script, which skips from event to event without filling in the gaps and focusses on the performances, which are subtle and nuanced. The problem is that, except for one astonishing crowd scene, nothing actually happens on screen. Everyone just sits around talking endlessly (after all the subtitles, we feel like we've read a complete Laclos novel in the process!), often about nothing terribly relevant, sometimes about exciting goings on we never get to witness. Themes of idealism and political reality, respect and antagonism are nicely touched on. Rohmer's playful style is often good fun. And Russell is especially compelling. But honestly, it's fairly hard going. [PG--adult themes] 26.Oct.01 lff
back to the top LAN YU
dir Stanley Kwan • scr Jimmy Ngai
with Hu Jun, Su Jin, Li Huatong, Lu Fang, Zhang Yongning, Li Shuang, Zhao Minfen, Zhang Fan
release US 3.Jul.02; UK LFF Nov.01/LLGFF Apr.02 • 01/HK 1h26 2 out of 5 stars
There's an intriguing and moving romance at the centre of this otherwise episodic, melodramatic film, which is based on China's most popular internet novel, Beijing Story. Handong (Hu) is a 30-something businessman in the late 1980s, making a fortune with his fast-growing company. He has girlfriends, but it's the country boy Lan Yu (Su) who catches his eye. Lan Yu is in Beijing to study architecture, and as their relationship develops Handong insists that it's just casual. But Lan Yu is serious, and it takes years--during which Handong marries a sexy interpreter--before they are able to sort out their feelings properly. The film is very well shot--sleek and bright, using clever camera work to contrast Beijing's wealth and poverty, as well as the gap between the two lead characters. The emotional connection between Handong and Lan Yu is palpable. We want to get involved in this relationship, but the film is too choppy, jumping from scene to scene over nearly a decade. At the beginning their intimacy is earthy and real, but Kwan never again shows us the closeness they must enjoy. It looks like they're falling apart, even as the script keeps trying to tell us they're coming together. This is a very bad misstep, and the film is further weakened by a soap opera-like storyline that jumps from one big emotional moment to another. Along the way there are some remarkably well-filmed and well-played scenes (the cast is superb), but it infuriatingly refuses to let us in. [adult themes and situations, nudity, language] 31.Oct.01 lff
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© 2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall