Film FestivalFilm Festival Reviews: London ’02

46th London Film Festival: reviews are listed alphabetically
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Back to the SHADOWS FILM FEST page • FESTIVAL SHORTSlast update 7.Nov.02

back to the top BLUE CAR
dir-scr Karen Moncrieff
with Agnes Bruckner, David Strathairn, Margaret Colin, Frances Fisher, Regan Arnold, Sarah Buehler, Dustin Sterling, AJ Buckley, Mike Ward, Wendy Lardin, Wayne Armstrong, Michael Raysses
release UK Nov 02 lff; US Apr.03 • Miramax 02/US 1h36 3 out of 5 stars
Bruckner and Strathairn Introspective and emotional, this first feature from writer-director Moncrieff is fairly chilling, heavy stuff! It's about an 18-year-old Ohio girl, Meg (Bruckner) struggling to cope with life after her father leaves the family ... in a blue car. But her mother (Colin) is having trouble making ends meet, and her little sister (Arnold) is demonstrating rather more serious problems. Meanwhile, Meg's English teacher (Strathairn) is encouraging Meg to find her poetic voice, to enter a writing competition and to spend perhaps a bit too much time with him after school hours.
Immaculately produced and bravely performed, the film is startlingly honest, event though it never tries to get all earthy and gritty on us. Every character is seriously damaged, doing all the wrong things even though they know better. Indeed, the most startling thing about the film is the way it presents each character as an imperfect person we can identify with, even if they do the most reprehensible thing imaginable (like take advantage of a very vulnerable teen girl!). Bruckner is remarkably strong at the film's centre, with Colin and Strathairn tackling very difficult roles around her. Meanwhile, Moncrieff directs in a sunny, realistic way--no hip edginess or earth-tones. We are in the real world here, instantly identifiable and all the more unsettling as a result. The voyage of self-discovery each character takes is cleverly and subtly examined without resorting to easy moralising or simplistic answers. It's a raw, open wound of a film ... that actually goes some way to finding some truthful healing. [themes, language] 21.Oct.02 lff
dir-scr Elia Suleiman
with Elia Suleiman, Manal Khader, Nayef Daher, Amer Daher, Jamel Daher, Nazira Suleiman, Emma Boltanski, George Ibrahim, George Khleifi, Avi Kleinberger, Salman Nattor, Menashe Noy
release UK 17.Jan.03 • 01/Palestine 1h32 3 out of 5 stars
on the border... Almost impossible to describe, Suleimon's film is a collage of characters and scenes that's both a black comedy and a searing political statement. There are several plot threads, but it all revolves around Suleimon himself. First in Nazareth, we meet his father (Nayef Daher) and watch as the neighbours wage a small war against each other, which engulfs him and puts him in the hospital with a heart attack. Meanwhile in Jerusalem, Suleimon is meeting up with a Palestinian young woman (Khader) at the Jerusalem-Ramallah checkpoint, which he can pass over, but she can't. Together they sit in his car watching the increasingly ludicrous antics of the Israeli border guards and having a very quiet, almost imperceptible romance.
That makes it sound so straightforward! But the film is virtually silent, full of surreal sequences and symbolic "action" that's both funny and very telling. From the routine of day-to-day life to the unpredictability of violence, the film is both insightful and expertly directed to capture the comedy in each scene, either because we can see what's going to happen or because of a surprise we couldn't predict. Suleimon sharply sets up each gag and pays it off brilliantly, almost without using words at all. Some of this is as simple as a Buster Keaton film; other scenes are complex and layered--music and dance, Crouching Tiger style action and sci-fi effects combine for the most absurd sequence (which is almost too pointed). The film crosses a line now and then, coming down far too hard against the Israelis just when its subtle jabs are working best. And I'm sure Suleimon's more astute comments are lost on those of us who live outside the conflict. But we learn a lot here, and the final pressure-cooker image may be obvious, but it's also unforgettable [15 themes] 4.Nov.02 lff
dir-scr Guy Maddin
with Zhang Wei-Qiang, Tara Birtwhistle, CindyMarie Small, David Moroni, Brent Neale, Johnny A Wright, Stephane Leonard, Matthew Johnson Keir Knight, Stephanie Ballard, Sarah Murphy-Dyson, Jennifer Weisman
release US 14.May.03; UK 12.Dec.03 • 01/Canada 1h13 3˝ out of 5 stars
Birtwhistle and friends Experimental Canadian filmmaker Maddin has a go at Dracula with the help of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Mark Godden's staging of the Bram Stoker classic. The result is fantastic--strange and bold and unlike anything you've ever seen. The entire story is here, told without dialog (although there are titles and intertitles) using the expressive faces and bodies of the cast. The story starts with the virginal Lucy (Birtwhistle) and her suitors ... and of course her mysterious late-night vampyr visitor (Wei-Qang). When she starts acting a bit odd, Dr Van Helsing (Moroni) is called and he follows the scent to the young Mina (Small), who has tracked her fiance (Wright) to the Castle Dracula.
The ballet itself is simply gorgeous, staged and designed with real passion and artistry, blending old and new and injecting plenty of wit as well. And Maddin films it like it's an ancient silent film--grainy, colour-tinted monochrome with spots of red blood (and other things). The sets are fantastic, as is the sumptuous Mahler score, and Godden's choreography is electric. All of this combines to make the film feel like a timeless classic--mesmerising and magical, with sexy gargoyles and floating death dances, a hint of sadomasochism here, a breath of camp comedy there. Yes, it's all rather violent and gruesome, but it's also romantic and, ultimately, unforgettable. [12 themes, violence] 29.Oct.02 lff
dir-scr Rebecca Miller
with Kyra Sedgwick, Parker Posey, Fairuza Balk, Mara Hobel, David Warshofsky, Tim Guinee, Lou Taylor Pucci, Leo Fitzpatrick, Seth Gilliam, Joel de la Fuente, Josh Phillip Weinstein, Kaluska Poventud, David Patrick Kelly, Patti D'Arbanville, Ron Leibman, Wallace Shawn
release US 22.Nov.02; UK 28.Mar.03 • United Artists 02/US 1h25 3 out of 5 stars
Posey as Greta Miller's second feature is three virtually unrelated stories about women making important decisions in their lives. It's involving and quite moving, but more like watching three shorts than a fully-involving film. Delia (Sedgwick) has three kids and a very violent husband (Warshofsky), who she finally finds the courage to leave. After staying in a shelter, she moves in with an old school friend (Hobel) and tries to get back her power. Greta (Posey) is a fiercely ambitious editor with a nice-guy husband (Guinee) who doesn't satisfy her raging libido, especially when she starts succeeding career-wise, much to the delight of her equally ambitious, and voracious, father (Liebman). And Paula (Balk) is a teen running away from commitment to her loving boyfriend (Gilliam), a pattern that's repeating itself. She picks up a badly damaged boy (Pucci) on her way home to mother, which shocks her into confronting her own life for the first time.
Shooting on DV, Miller takes full advantage of the medium, using Ellen Kuras' award-winning photography to capture starkly natural situations that are nicely underplayed by the cast and astutely edited to take us beneath the surface. This introspective approach makes the themes and ideas spring to life organically in the material. Most of this touches on the idea that each of us has our own personal velocity, the speed at which we move through life and the depth at which we engage with the people around us. The middle story is the most effective; it could have been expanded to a feature all its own. Greta is a terrific character, brilliantly played by Posey, and her arc is something we are genuinely interested in. There are also more characters here, adding complexity and layers of both storytelling and meaning. Meanwhile, Paula's much shorter and simpler journey seems almost wispy by comparison, while Delia's story is almost too heavy for the brevity of her segment. Overall, there are excellent themes at work, thoughtfully touched on without being one-sided or overtly girly--these are fully fledged characters who are not mere victims or heroes, they're real people who make mistakes and learn from them. [15 adult themes and situations, language, violence] 22.Oct.02
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© 2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall