English title: ‘Our Children’. The reviews of this film, a Belgian-Luxembourger-Franco-Swiss production that premiered at Cannes, have been almost all positive in France (here), as well as by US critics who saw it at film fests, e.g. here, here, and here. French movie goers have also given it the thumbs up (here). As sometimes happens, I am in the minority on this, as I didn’t like it too much. It certainly holds one’s attention and the cast is tops, but the story—for details, see here—wasn’t believable to me, and particularly the ending. The whole thing made no sense: the relationship between the Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup characters, the young couple living chez the latter and with four kids one after the other… But in reading about the pic afterward (I rarely read reviews before seeing a film), I learned that it was based on an actual fait divers in Belgium—where the film is set—from five years ago. The story really did happen. Trop bizarre. I must have heard about it at the time but given the number of crime stories coming out of Belgium and involving children, it’s hard to keep track. I won’t not recommend the film. One may see it and judge for oneself.
A few films I saw this summer I do not recommend. One is Michael Winterbottom’s ‘Trishna’, based on Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Ubervilles, a novel I will admit to having never read, though I did see Roman Polanski’s screen adaptation—31 years ago almost to the day, in a cinema in London’s West End—, which I found engrossing. This one, set in contemporary India (Rajasthan and Bombay), received mixed reviews in both the US and France, but I decided to see it anyway, what the hell. The cinematography is great—one long tourism promo to visit India—and Freida Pinto, who plays Trishna, the simple girl of humble origins, is as beautiful as ever—her beauty partially distracting from the fact that she doesn’t have much depth as an actress. The first half of the film was absorbing enough but it went off the rails in the second, when the Riz Ahmed character—Trishna’s rich boy lover—is transformed from Mr. Wonderful into a jerk, and then a downright ogre. So why did Trishna stay with the SOB and follow him back to Rajasthan, instead of dumping him and pursuing her promising career prospects in Bombay? I didn’t get it. And I hated the ending, causing me to leave the theater in disgust. I had invited my 18-year old daughter and her best friend to see the movie with me but fortunately they had other plans that evening. Having to apologize for dragging people to lousy films is something I really don’t like doing.
Another film one may pass up: Israel-Palestinian director Sameh Zoabi’s clumsily entitled ‘Man Without a Cell Phone’ (the French title, ‘Téléphone arabe’, is better). It’s a light comedy, set in the director’s home village near Nazareth, about a relay tower a mobile phone company plans to install next to the village and the mobilization of the village elders against it, less out of fear of radiation from the tower than the improved cell phone reception it will provide, enabling village guys and girls to more easily communicate with one another and away from parental supervision. The film is a lighthearted treatment of inter-generational and gender relations among the Palestinians of Israel, but also of relations between the latter and the Jews. Again, the operative word here is light. If one is looking for a hard-hitting social or political critique, one will have to look elsewhere. It’s an inoffensive film but amateurish, both the acting and execution. French reviews were mildly positive overall and the film was apparently well-received at film fests. Chacun son goût. It seems that it has not yet opened in Israel. Trailers here and here.
One film that should definitely be passed up is ‘Last Days in Jerusalem’ (in Arabic: تناثر), by Tawfik Abu Wael, also Israeli-Palestinian (from Umm al-Fahm and who, like Sameh Zoabi, studied filmmaking at Tel Aviv University). This one is set in East Jerusalem and among the well-to-do class there, of a thirtysomething stage actress (played by Lana Haj Yahia) married to a medical doctor considerably older than she, with a playwright lover, and her états d’âme about staying with the former or going to the latter. Apart from the obligatory checkpoint and wall scene, there are no politics. Just as well. The film is just so pointless and insignificant. Though a mere 1 hour 20 minutes in length I was impatient for it to end, as it became obvious in short order that the film was going nowhere interesting. French reviews weren’t too good. Trailer (s/t in French) here. It’s nice to see young Israeli-Pal directors out there. Let’s hope they raise their directorial game in the future.