Monday, March 19, 2007

New Directors, New Films series.

These films are generally not all that great, but one or two of them managed to get an Oscar® nomination for acting or best foreign film or something like that. sometimes, they're quite good.
The series starts today.

Here's the first batch:

√Glue: Adolescence in the Middle of Nowhere
See the review I did in Miami, posted eariler this month.

The Art of Crying
Final Cut Film 106mins, NR

Directed by
Peter Schønau Fog

Sometimes monsters have human faces, and this is a monster movie, no doubt about it. 11-year-old Allan(Jannik Lorenzen) is not the monster. His father Henry(Jesper Asholt) is. Every night, Mom (Hanne Hedelund) and Dad have a fight over something or other and the latter threatens to commit suicide. So it is up to sister Sanne(Julie Kolbech) to make him happy again and live another day.

One day, older brother Asger(Thomas Knuth-Winterfeldt) returns from university and discover what Sanne exactly does to achieve this result, and everything begins to unravel. Sanne begins to refuse, and Allan must find an alternative method of cheering Dad up.

Dad likes to make funeral orations. So his enemy Grocer Budde (Bjarne Henriksen), son Nis (Tue Frisk Petersen) will die, While this is obviously a coincidence, the death of Aunt Didde (Gitte Siem Christensen) isn’t, and when Sanne gets a boyfriend (Sune Thomsen), Dad uses Allan to wreak terrible revenge. Child abuse and murder are treated in a matter-of-fact fashion, and this makes the whole thing appear somewhat exotic.

What makes this thing work is the acting. Young Lorenzen gives a brilliant deadpan performance, and Kolbech is almost as good as his sister. They have great chemistry together and seem quite natural. But it’s Asholt’s movie. He gets to chew the scenery with wild abandon, but can reign it in when necessary. He does so to perfect effect, and for much of the film, we’re not sure whether he’s just an overemotional fool or something more malevolent. Everyone else is just fine.

All in all, this is a pretty perverse movie, but then this is from Scandinavia, and they do that better than most. It’s the wild-eyed innocence of the thing that make this something special and which might make the quarter-finals of next year’s Oscar race.

Cowboy Angels
Artworx Films 100mins NR

Written and Directed
by Kim Massee

Finding a babysitter in France can be just as hard as it is in any other Western country, and filmmaker Kim Massee has come up with an ingenious solution as to what to do with the kid while she’s out working:
She having him star in her latest film. She must be the envy of stage mothers everywhere.

Massee's son Diego Mestanza plays Kevin, AKA Pablo, the eleven year old son of a drunken whore(Françoise Klein), with whom he lives in a skuzzy hotel in Paris. He doesn’t go to school, just plays video games in a bar, annoying both Mom and the proprietors. Pablo isn’t very happy with the situation, and when Mom decides to split for a while, he decides to step out on his own.

His plan is to hire a chauffeur, who’s going to drive him to Spain, where he will find his long lost father. The driver in question is Louis(Thierry Levaret), a small time hood, who is in a bit of trouble with the local mob for possibly cheating at cards. At first Louis isn’t very willing to go along with the plan, but next month’s rent and some goons trying to break his legs are enough to change his mind.

So what follows is a relatively uninspired road movie, with Pablo and Louis bonding while on the quest for Daddy, and all that disappointment when they finally get there. Then, there’s the the trip back, where we meet mom’s previous boyfriends, none of whom is willing or able to take Pablo on. Then there’s the part about a waitress named Billie(Noëlie Giraud) who’s gratuitously joins the pair presumably in order to pad the film to it’s full hour and a half.

The acting’s fine. Massee managed to pass on her talent to her kid, who does a really good job. Lavarent has a bug up his ass for most of the picture and the sudden bonding is not quite believable. Klein is scary and Giraud is gorgeous, which is why, I guess, they were hired.

While the film isn’t boring, the whole project is quite forgettable and I don’t think this will see the light of day outside of a couple of film festivals in the spring and summer.

√Red Road, Andrea Arnold, UK, 2006; 113 mins,
See my review from Sundance, posted last January.

Iran, 2006; 81 mins,

Directed by
Maziar Miri

Have you heard about the term a “comedy of manners?” Well this is something similar, a “tragedy of manners.” This is a sad film about good people quietly suffering, and thus is a hit on the film festival circuit.

Mahmoud(Mohammad-Reza Foroutan) is a welder working on the railroad all the liveling day. That is until he receives a message stating that his wife Pari(Niloofar Khoshkholgh) is missing and that he should go find her.

So he goes to Teharan and starts looking. His landlady(Maryam Boobani) sure that she’s a nutcase who’s just run away from home, as does his old friend Firooz(Hassan Poorshiraz), who sent him the note in the first place, but our hero can’t believe that, and he keeps on looking until he finds the body of a woman with no face who has a mole in the right area of what remains of her head. There’s a funeral, and the film goes into a second phase, that is until someone claims to have seen Pari and even has her phone number. Guess what?

That’s right.

While it’s all very innocent on Pari’s part, the whole thing seems rather pointless. Why have this big mystery when you have such an innocent explanation? The acting is fine as far as it goes, but the characterizations seem one dimensional and the mystery appears solved too early in the film to make much of an impact on the characters or the audience.

Apparently, the film was reedited and scenes reshot since its debut back in 2005. The press notes reprint a negative review from that time describing scenes that have been cut out. Perhaps they wanted us critics to see how big an improvement was made, and I guess there was, but it doesn’t make it worth looking at, much less pay money for. Forget it.

The Great World of Sound
Plum Pictures 106mins, NR

Written and Directed
by Craig Zobel

They called them “song sharks.” It’s a scam, where thieves pretend to be record producers and they bilk unsuspecting suckers out of hundreds or thousands of dollars pretending to help said suckers start up a musical career.

Martin (Pat Healy) is a 30ish white slacker, who’s had a number of jobs in the radio industry and is currently unemployed and living off his girlfriend
Pam’s (Rebecca Mader), knickknack business, so he sees an ad placed by two sharpsters named Layton (Robert Longstreet) and Shank(John Baker), who hire him to go around the south and audition would-be recording artists and get them to invest a few thousand bucks in production costs for their first albums.

So Martin is partnered with Clarence (Kene Holliday), a middle-aged black man, and he starts his new career as an unwitting conman. It first seems like it’s going alright, and Martin even contributes some of his own money for a promising prospect. Then reality begins to set in.

This is about a moral dilemma. What do you do when you realize what you’re doing is wrong? Do you immediately quit or keep on doing it and hope that you’ll manage to make enough to pay the bills before the boss goes to jail. It’s also about the art of selling. Martin and Clarence get better and better at selling recording time and their pitches change constantly. Also, we get to hear a lot of bad to mediocre music, made by people, who presumably, were lured by the same type of ads that are highlighted in the film. [think the first few episodes of American Idol] This is a disturbing work about how low people will go sometimes and how morality sometimes goes out the window when the wolf is at the door. One can see why it was one of the highlights at Sundance last January.

Once, John Carney, Ireland, 2006; 85 mins,
See my review from sundance that I posted back in January.

What the Sun Has Seen
Poland, 2006; 107mins, NR

Written and Directed
by Michal Rosa

Silesia is Polish-occupied Germany, and in an unnamed town that was once German, a bunch of people live in quiet desperation. It’s All Saint’s Day, and twelve year old Seba (Damian Hryniewicz) is lighting the candles on his dead mother’s grave. Meanwhile, Josef (Krzysztof Stroinski) and his wife (Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak) listen to Marta (Dominika Kluzniak) and the rest of the choir do their thing. After the service is over, Joseph and his wife notice Seba leaving the graveyard and promptly slam their car into something.

Cut to the following summer. Marta is trying to sell stuff in the town square as are Seba and his father(Tomasz Sapryk), while Josef is handing out flyers while wearing a pelican suit. All want to raise money for various projects that seem very important to them. Seba wants a certain tree cut down, Josef wants to get some valuble photographs of his long lost son replaced, and Marta wants out, period.

So we have three stories about three relatively desperate people who’s paths cross from time to time and to whom nothing much happens, except they screw up to some extent and wind up mostly unhappy until the deus ex machina shows up at the very end.

That this is an understated movie is obvious. The characters aren’t very well developed, and while we kind of care about Seba and Marta, they barely rise above one-dimensional cutouts. The reason is because of the acting. It’s surprisingly good, and this is why the movie has any interest at all.

Also, Ms. Kluzniak has one heck of a good singing voice, and she’s probably going to have a very nice career in Eastern Europe. But this isn’t worth the effort.

Crystal Films 105min NR

Written and directed
by Philippe Falardeau

Melodrama is sitcom without the jokes. You have some characters who drift through a predetermined situation while someone decides if these actions have some sort of meaning. It’s a very old form of theater.

In this case, we have Michel(Olivier Gourmet), the engineer son of a famous novelist named novelist Herve(Jean-Pierre Cassel), who after the latter [who has had a stroke] receives an award, learns that he is not in fact the latter’s son, but a bastard given away in a private adoption and is in fact from Quebec.

So our hero leaves dad in the care of his Congolese wife Alice (Claudia Tagbo) [Michel and Alice have a kid named Jules (Arnaud Mouithys), BTW], and heads to the wilds of Canada, where he goes to look for his roots.

After striking out in his quest because the adoption broker couldn’t remember the last name of the mother correctly, a kindly priest (Gabriel Arcand) introduces Michel to Louis(Paul Ahmarani), who’s going to give him a lift. This leads to a bizarre accident, which not only changes the main focus of the film from Michel to Louis, but knocks the viewer for a loop, with the plot doing a 90-degree turn involving electric cars and theft of intellectual property.

The Third act brings the first two together quite nicely, and while it does have a happy ending, the whole thing relies too much on heavy-handed plotting. However, Gourmet and Ahmarani do good enough a job acting to make the whole thing relatively believable and the film itself kind of interesting.

This is the kind of thing that Hollywood is famous for remaking, and they should. It would help.

Suely in the Sky
Celluloid Dreams 90mins, NR

Written and Directed
by Karim Aïnouz

Making money is a bitch, especially in Brazil.

Hermila(Hermila Guedes) knows this very well. Having run off to the big city with her boyfriend, she returns from Sao Paulo in defeat with her toddler son and moves in with her grandmother(Zezita Matos) and Aunt Maria (Maria Menezes) while waiting for hubby to show up.

While she waits, she buys an expensive bottle of Scotch and raffles it off, [it seems that the denizens of this part of Brazil, which is nothing like the Amazon rain forest, but rather west Texas, like to gamble] and takes up with her old flame João (João Miguel) and hangs out with her old friends
Georgina (Georgina Castro) and Marcelia (Marcelia Cartaxo), who work on their backs, a profession Hermila doesn’t really want to get in to.

But when Hubby never disappears in transit, and lets it known through channels that he doesn’t want to be found, Hermilia begins to have second thoughts. Taking the nom-de-guerre “Suley” she begins selling raffle tickets for a new and exciting prize. HER! That’s right, a night with your own private dancer with all the trimmings.

Of course this is a bit of a scandal. While Grandma and Joåo are horrified, most of her friends are all in favor of the idea. This is an interesting concept, and Ms Guedes has a really winning personality, which makes this slightly silly movie watchable. She’s the kind of person we can really root for, even though the prize she’s shilling isn’t one that is quite kosher.

The moral ambiguity of he scheme is offset by the cinematography, which is beautiful. This part of Brazil is nothing like the huge tropical paradise that one is used to from various nature and travel shows. The people are real, not just stick figures, and on the whole this is a rather deep film, although it’s pure melodrama. Worth a look.

Day Night Day Night,
IFC First Take; 94mins NR

Written and Directed
by Julia Loktev

The Terrorist (Luisa Williams) arrives in New York for her mission. Where she came from and why she’s doing what she’s doing isn’t made clear, all we know is that she’s up to no good. She prays a mantra about how everyone dies and foreshadows what’s expected to happen.

She’s met by a mysterious stranger(Tschi Hun Kim), who buys her lunch and drives her to a nondescript hotel, and here she waits…and waits.

This is a film about the minutia of waiting. The cinematographer and the foley artists have a field day making close-ups of many parts of her body and creating sounds in such a way as it appears the audience is listening from inside her head. She cuts her nails, watches TV, takes a shower, naps, goes outside on the balcony…something that makes her omniscient
Commander (Josh P. Weinstein), call and tell her not to do that anymore.

Then they show up. Masked men (Weinstein, Gareth Saxe and Nyambi Nyambi) inspect her and quiz her on her mission. They make a video, Then she waits some more, until she’s taken to get fitted for her bomb.

Then comes the plot twist. It’s a very nice plot twist that is not only unexpected, but in complete keeping with the tone of all that has gone before.

That is on a different subject: frustration. It’s also a tour of the Times Square area, which as the film was shot on HD in the middle of one of the great tourist destinations of the United States, is rather easy to do. It’s quite effective.

Even with a literal cast of thousands [most of whom had no idea they were being filmed], this is a one-woman show. Ms. Williams is in frame almost the entire time, and the expressions on her face, especially her eyes, tell the entire story of the film that is otherwise spare and devoid of meaningful dialogue. This is pure visuals, and would work even if it was silent. This is filmmaking!

Rome Rather Than You
Neffa Films 111m NR

Written and Directed
by Tariq Teguia

Looking back at history, the people of Algeria made a huge mistake in wresting independence from France. Since achieving “freedom” in 1962, they’ve known little save poverty, civil war and despair. Thousands of Algerians attempt to cross the Mediterranean in order to achieve the better lives that liberation failed to provide.

Kemal(Rachid Amrani) wants out. He claims to have been in Europe before, but he doesn’t have a passport, much less work visas, but he has heard of a guy called “The Bosco” [no relation to the chocolate syrup], who can get forged papers. So he grabs his girlfriend Zima(Samira Kaddour), who’s a nurse and isn’t too happy about being stuck in the stifling Islamic atmosphere, and they head off to the seaside resort where the Bosco is allegedly hanging out.

So they look. And they look. They meet some friends. They encounter a Police Inspector(Ahmed Benaissa), who insults and arrests them for the horrid crime of looking suspicious. It all ends badly and pointlessly.

Exactly why this movie managed to get funding is somewhat problematic. This is generally a pointless film. There’s no real story, the characters are barely above the stick figure level and the violence is gratuitous and there’s not nearly enough of it. A good car chase or gunfight is fine if we have some idea what it’s for, but if it comes out of the blue for no reason other than the filmmaker doesn’t know what else to do, then what’s the point? Either there’s action, or there isn’t. Here there isn’t but there’s a promise of it which isn’t actually fulfilled. This is not only disappointing, but frustrating.

There’s nothing to get involved in either on the story or character levels. As there’s no THERE there, don’t go there.

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