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Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

Recent films from the U.K.

pride-main

In my post two days ago, on French trade unions and strikes, I had occasion to mention—twice—the British coal miners strike of 1984-85. This naturally reminded me of the film ‘Pride’, which I saw at the cinoche back in fall 2014 but didn’t get around to writing a post on. Did anyone not like this movie? Was it even possible not to like it? It was certainly the most heartwarming, feel-good movie of that year, no doubt about it. Not even a die-hard Thatcherite would disagree.

If one doesn’t know the pic, it’s based on a true story from 1984-85, when a group of gauchiste gays and lesbians in London formed an association, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, to raise money and collect food for the strikers, that being a gauchiste thing to do back then. As they couldn’t just send the money to the miners union (NUM)—PM Thatcher having ordered the sequestering of the NUM’s funds—the gays and lesbians had to take it directly to the miners themselves, to the Welsh mining town Onllwyn. And so they did.

Talk about a clash of cultures: of London LGBTs—who had never seen a coal miner in their lives or been anywhere near Welsh coal mining country—and those in Onllwyn, who were, needless to say, not even aware of the existence of LGBT activists and had never encountered anyone in their lives who admitted to being homosexual, not to mention one from London (or anyone from London for that matter). That the striking miners and their entourages would initially view the gays from London with circumspection goes without saying, though not all did. The barriers eventually did fall and with solidarity prevailing, bien évidemment, though this wasn’t just for the movies. It really did happen. On this, the ending scene, of the big 1985 London rally, where miners and LGBTs united in fraternity, will jerk tears of joy in even the most unsentimental Thatcher partisan.

On this level, the film did not overly lay on the ideology or political parti pris, though the latter is clear enough. The name of the NUM’s Stalinist dinosaur leader, Arthur Scargill, was not mentioned once, nor was Margaret Thatcher’s uttered so far as I recall. The subjects were the miners themselves: the men who stood to lose their jobs and livelihoods, and with their families and community in the same boat. And how could one not sympathize with them? Thatcher may have had the stronger argument in her bras de fer with Scargill, the British coal mining sector may have been structurally unprofitable and with pits destined to close, and with coal mining being a shitty occupation anyway, but still. Once the miners lost their jobs, that was it for them employment-wise. There was nothing else—and certainly not at their union-negotiated wages—and not in their company towns. So it wasn’t just the fate of the individual miners but of families and entire tight-knit communities, of towns where everyone had been born and raised and knew everyone else. If such has been one’s life since birth, to suddenly lose it is just terrible; it is not something people from the well-to-do classes can easily comprehend.

As cinema—directing, acting, screenplay, all that—the film is good. The director, Matthew Warchus, was unknown to me, as was the cast, Dominic West (McNulty in ‘The Wire’) excepted (he played one of the LGBTs). US reviews were tops, as were French. Trailer is here.

There are several other films from the United Kingdom that I’ve seen over the past couple of years that I haven’t posted on, most of which were very good to excellent. Here are brief mentions of each, in no particular order.

’71, by first-time director Yann Demange. This is a terrific film, making my Top 10 best of 2014 (‘Pride’ was an honorable mention). It’s set in Belfast in 1971, in the early, terrible years of The Troubles. Soldier Gary Hook (actor Jack O’Donnell), who’s part of a British army company staging a raid in the Catholic Falls Road area, gets separated from his men as they hightail it out following a riot—and with Provisional IRA gunmen shooting at them—loses his weapon, and is left behind. So he tries to make his way out of hostile territory, with the Provos hot on his trail—they know he was abandoned by his men—and with discovery and capture meaning certain death, and no doubt preceded by hideous physical abuse. This sequence, which takes up much of the film, is incredibly riveting and tense. During his escape, Hook—who’s just an ordinary soldier and regular guy—comes into contact with Protestant Loyalists who aren’t totally on the level themselves, is offered protection by a Catholic family—at great risk to their own physical integrity—who want to turn him over to the regular IRA, who won’t kill him, though he would possibly have to worry if he fell into the hands of a secret British counterinsurgency force that is engaging in underhanded actions in the area. In short, Belfast in 1971 was hell. One didn’t know who was who and with cold-blooded killers on all sides. This is one of the best films I’ve seen on urban civil conflict with multiple armed actors. It may be set in Belfast but could be a lot of places. Both US/UK and French reviews were tops. Trailer is here.

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‘The Selfish Giant’, by Clio Barnard. This is another terrific film, which opened everywhere in December 2013 and that I saw a few weeks after. I was initially going to skip it and despite the top reviews in both the US/UK and France (titre en France: ‘Le Géant égoïste’), plus it being inspired by Oscar Wilde’s children’s short story of the same name, but seeing that my friend Guillaume Duval, the editor-in-chief of Alternatives Économiques, had praised the film to the heavens in a social media post, I decided to see it illico. Here’s a brief description from this website (and with my parenthetical additions)

An official selection at the [2013] Cannes Film Festival, The Selfish Giant is a contemporary fable [set among the lower classes in Bradford, in the English Midlands] about 13-year-old Arbor (Conner Chapman) and his best friend Swifty (Shaun Thomas). Excluded from school and outsiders in their own neighborhood, the two boys meet Kitten (Sean Gilder), a local scrap dealer [most of the characters in the film are Gypsies]. Wandering their town with just a horse and a cart, they begin collecting scrap metal for him [which mainly involves stealing telephone, railway, and electric power cables and copper wire]. Swifty has a natural gift with horses while Arbor emulates Kitten – keen to impress him and make some money. However, Kitten favors Swifty, leaving Arbor feeling hurt and excluded, driving a wedge between the boys. As Arbor becomes increasingly greedy and exploitative, tensions build, leading to a tragic event that transforms them all.

The two youthful first-time actors, Connor Chapman and Shaun Thomas—who manifestly issue from the couches populaires—are great. Check them out in this short interview. What to say, I really liked this movie and recommend it to all and sundry. Trailer is here.

the selfish giant

‘Testament of Youth’, by James Kent (en France: Mémoires de jeunesse). This one I saw more recently, some three months ago. Initially dubious, I was swayed to see it by the positive Allociné audience reviews (invariably more reliable than those of the critics, though these were good too for this one). And I did not regret. I was totally, completely absorbed in and captivated by the film, to the point where it made my Top 10 best of 2015. Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times got it exactly right in his review

From first to last, “Testament of Youth” sweeps you away. Unapologetically emotional and impeccably made in the classic manner, it tells the kind of potent, many-sided story whose unforeseen complexities can come only courtesy of a life that lived them all.

Based on Vera Brittain’s deeply felt 1933 memoir of her World War I experiences, a modern classic that has never gone out of print and kept Virginia Wolfe up all night reading it, “Testament of Youth” is an attempt to write history in terms of personal life that is wrenched out of its author’s very soul. Only that way, Brittain wrote, “could I rescue something that might be of value, some element of truth and hope and usefulness, from the smashing up of my own youth by the War.”

To read the rest of Turan’s review, go here. Vera Brittain is played by Alicia Vikander, who merited an Oscar nomination for her performance. I won’t say anything more about the pic except that I really liked it. It’s top notch entertainment, particularly for those over a certain age. UK/UK reviews were very good on the whole. Trailer is here.

testament of youth

‘Locke’, by Steven Knight. This one, which opened in 2014, I saw a year ago on the small screen. It stars exactly one actor, Tom Hardy—who plays the protag Ivan Locke—and takes place entirely inside a car at night—Locke’s BMW—on the M6 motorway between Birmingham and London, with him at the wheel and talking on the phone. The film is billed a thriller and, believe it or not, it is. Here’s the description from this website

The day before he must supervise a large concrete pour in Birmingham, construction foreman Ivan Locke learns that Bethan, a colleague with whom he had a one-night stand seven months previously, has gone into premature labour. Despite his job responsibilities and although his wife and sons are eagerly awaiting his arrival home to watch an important football match, Locke decides to drive to London to be with Bethan during childbirth. Locke never forgave his father for abandoning him as a child, and he is determined not to make the same mistake.

Over the course of the two-hour drive from Birmingham to London, Locke holds a total of 36 phone calls with his boss and a colleague, Donal, to ensure the pour is successful, with his wife Katrina to confess his infidelity, his son, and with Bethan to reassure her during her labour. During these calls, he is fired from his job, kicked out of his house by his wife, and asked by his older son to return home. He coaches his assistant Donal through preparing the pour despite several major setbacks, and has imaginary conversations with his father, whom he envisions as a passenger in the back seat of his car. When he is close to the hospital, Locke learns of the successful birth of his new baby.

I had no idea this was going to be the film before seeing it, that it would be just a guy talking calmly on his mobile phone while driving his car. And it works. It’s quite a good film and that never loses one’s attention. The family members with whom I saw it agreed. One thing that intrigued me was Locke’s accent, which is British but regional and that I could not identify. A Google search afterward revealed it to be Welsh, but which is not the way Tom Hardy normally speaks. He did it for the movie. US/UK reviews were very good on the whole, French ones not bad. Trailer is here.

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‘Snow in Paradise’, by first time director Andrew Hulme. This one I saw last spring. One reviewer called it a “spiritual take on the Cockney gangster pic.” The plot, in a nutshell

Dave’s a petty criminal living on drugs and violence in London. When his actions kill his best friend, he’s propelled into feelings of shame and remorse. Discovering Islam, he begins to find peace but his old life comes back to test him.

It was probably the Islam subplot that piqued my interest in seeing the pic, which was a mistake, as I did not care for it. Every last character is an unsympathetic lowlife and with many of them given over to extreme violence. I’m always game for seeing a good gangster movie but this one wasn’t it. I was not entertained and forgot about it almost as soon as I left the cinoche. US/UK critics, who have given it mixed reviews overall, are clearly on the same wavelength as moi, and while their French critics were more positive, Allociné spectateurs have been less so. If one still has the slightest interest, trailer is here.

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Two films from Tunisia

على حلة عيني

على حلة عيني

Last Thursday was the 5th anniversary of the end of the Ben Ali dictatorship in Tunisia, climaxing that country’s famous Jasmine Revolution—so designated by the Western media—and which launched the so-called Arab spring—or, rather, the Arab winter, as The Economist calls it—that swept the Arab world over the subsequent months, notably in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen. Of the countries that witnessed popular uprisings during that exhilarating, ephemeral historical moment, only Tunisia has succeeded in effectuating a transition to democracy, or at least to a non-authoritarian political order this is incontestably preferable to the regime it replaced. Two analyses by Tunisia specialists writing on the anniversary’s occasion get it exactly right, one by the excellent journalist Thierry Brésillon—who did some of the best reporting from the country during the transition period—in the CCFD-Terre Solidaire’s Paix et Conflits website, the other by Tunis-based political scientist Laryssa Chomiak, in a post on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog. There is also Al Jazeera’s 25-minute reportage-debate, aired on January 15th, “Where is post-revolution Tunisia heading?,” with specialists Amel Boubekeur, Youssef Cherif, and Simon Mabon.

As for me, I will recommend a terrific Tunisian film I saw the other day, À peine j’ouvre les yeux (English title: As I Open My Eyes), by youthful, up-and-coming director Leyla Bouzid, that is set in the summer of 2010, half a year before the onset of the Jasmine Revolution. In lieu of describing it myself, I will cut-and-paste the review by Variety’s great critic Jay Weissberg, who knows Maghreb cinema better than any critic writing in any language, who saw the pic at one of the film festivals where it debuted (Dubai, Venice, Toronto), before hitting the salles in France last month

A headstrong young woman in Tunisia bucks her parents and her repressive society in Leyla Bouzid’s impressive debut.

On the eve of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, a young woman struggles against family and society to pursue a singing career in Leyla Bouzid’s impressive, generally nuanced debut, “As I Open My Eyes.” Sharply yet subtly capturing the atmosphere of fear fostered by the dictatorship of President Ben Ali, this skillfully made drama is especially attuned to the myriad forms of surveillance, from the prurient to the political. Showcasing a stand-out lead perf by first-timer Baya Medhaffer, with intriguing compositions by Iraqi musician Khyam Allami, “Eyes” will open eyes to several new talents and could see a small international rollout.

There’s an appealing youthfulness about the film: the characters’ ages, of course, and the indie music, but also the fluid lensing and the irresistible freshness of Medhaffer’s slightly pouty face, her fixed determination giving character to doll-like features. The actress plays Farah, an aspiring thrush in a new band about to perform their first gig. The young woman has just graduated with honors, and everyone expects her to go on to study medicine, but she’s more interested in musicology.

That doesn’t sit well with mom Hayet (singer Ghalia Benali), once a free spirit herself but now determined to do everything she can to “protect” her daughter from making wrong choices. Life in this middle-class Tunis household is tense, owing to both Mom’s overprotective nature and the frustration that dad Mahmoud (Lassaad Jamoussi) lives in the center-west city of Gafsa, unable to get a transfer to the capital because he refuses to join the ruling party.

Farah is in a heavy-petting relationship with fellow band member Borhene (Montassar Ayari), a cool lute player with sensuous hands that caress her skin. They try to keep their liaison hidden, but the moment a man touches a woman or vice-versa, people notice and stare. Their band is poised for a breakthrough, and the preview gig goes over like gangbusters, especially the new song “My Country,” with its line, “Oh my country, land of dust/Your gates are closed and bring misfortune.”

That sort of lyric makes the authorities wary, and Hayet receives a visit from old acquaintance Moncef (Youness Ferhi), an Interior Ministry employee who warns that Farah is drinking and hanging out with people known to the police. Hayet flips (she’s given to over-dramatization) and makes her daughter swear she won’t go to the gig, but Farah locks her mother in and does the show. Professionally things seem to be going so well, but then manager Ali (Aymen Omrani) wants the band to censor themselves, and tensions mount from every corner: How can Farah fulfill her dreams as an independent young woman in a society that allows only a semblance of freedom?

Helmer Bouzid brings so much shading to the script that the more cut-and-dried last quarter is a slight letdown, as if she felt things had to suddenly be made starkly clear when they already were powerfully drawn. Similarly, wedging in a few scenes about worker tension at the phosphate mines of Gafsa (where unrest was one of the sparks leading to Revolution) feels unnecessary, but these minor quibbles don’t compromise the film’s overall impact, which skillfully conjures the pressure-cooker atmosphere lying just below Tunisia’s surface during the waning days of the dictatorship in 2010.

Especially striking is how the pic evokes the illusion of normality, which makes the roadblocks Farah stumbles over that much more disturbing. This is a society where informers are discovered in unlikely places, and expectations for women, even among the young and hip, run counter to self-expression. With his long hair and easy projection of nonconformity, Borhene seems like a guy happy to see Farah be the fearless woman he praises, but when she draws attention to herself at a party, his traditional concept of woman’s place takes over: Women should not make a spectacle of themselves. This emphasis on the gaze carries an enormous impact: As a free-spirited young woman, Farah is the target of censure from everyone, including her mother, whose past gutsiness has been deformed by a state that rules through fear and coercion.

Benali’s gutsy perf as Hayet fills the screen with highly-charged energy, so it’s to Medhaffer’s enormous credit that the novice so potently holds her own. As both singer and actor, she projects an outer fragility consistently overpowered by heady determination, making Farah a deeply satisfying character. D.p. Sebastien Goepfert, who worked on “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” has a sensual feel for figures and textures, and the top-notch lensing exhibits a pleasing freedom of movement, with smooth pans and gliding camerawork. Allami’s songs have a biting insistence.

Weissberg gets it exactly right. A few comments on the film. First, the two lead actresses, Baya Medhaffer and Ghalia Benali—the 18-year-old daughter (Farah) and mid-40ish mother (Hayet), respectively—and who dominate the film, are absolutely excellent. And it’s apparently the first cinematic role for both, though with Benali being a well-known Tunisian singer. While Medhaffer is spunky and pretty in a youthful way, Benali is maturely beautiful and sublime. She’s fabulous (and on this, two mid-40ish female colleagues/friends—so far the only persons I know who’ve seen the pic—entirely agree with me). Secondly, the family dynamics are just right, in the relationship of mother with daughter, father and daughter—and he’s a good man, the father—and the couple with one another. They’re middle class educated, were clearly opponents of the regime in their youth, but have been beaten down by the system and made their compromises with it—the father only up to a point, though in the end he finally throws in the towel on his passive resistance. Thirdly: though the milieu portrayed in the film is liberal and Westernized, the deadweight of patriarchy and social pressure in regard to gender weighs down on everyone, as Weissberg suggests. It’s really hard to break with prevailing social norms when everyone is watching over and judging you. Fourthly, the workings of the Ben Ali police state, of the mechanisms of its surveillance and control over the population, is brilliantly depicted. And—spoiler alert!—the interrogation sequence of Farah by the secret police is chillingly realistic. If one wants to know what it’s like to live in an authoritarian regime, to (innocently) test its limits—even if one is not overtly political—and have a run in with the authorities, see this movie. Fifthly, people want to be free. They don’t want to live in a fucking dictatorship and with the constant threat of being suddenly hauled off by the mukhabarat, detained in some secret interrogation center, and tortured and sexually abused at the slightest transgression. Sixthly, the music—original, apparently composed for the film—is quite good IMO. As a singer Medhaffer has talent. And seventhly, the ending was just right. I feared one that would mar the film but happily this was not the case.

Indiewire and Screen Daily gave the pic the thumbs way up. French reviews of the film are also very good, with Allociné spectateurs particularly enthusiastic. The Huff Post has an interview with director Bouzid. Trailer is here.

Another good Tunisian film seen recently—last spring, actually—is Le Challat de Tunis, a mockumentary by Kaouther Ben Hania, another youthful, up-and-coming feminist director from that country. Here’s the description by Hollywood Reporter critic Stephen Dalton, who saw it at the 2014 Cannes film festival

This playful blend of real and fake documentary uses a bizarre true story of unsolved knife attacks against women to examine gender politics in newly democratic Tunisia.

Offering a wry feminist critique of macho chauvinism in Arab culture, Tunisian writer-director Kaouther Ben Hania’s second feature is an intriguing addition to the boom in low-budget filmmaking inspired by the recent wave of Middle East revolutions. (…)

Challat of Tunis takes a real event as its starting point. In 2003, a mysterious knife attacker rode through the Tunisian capital on a motor scooter, slashing the buttocks of women on the sidewalk. Nicknamed the “Challat” [“slasher” in Tunisian Arabic], the assailant was never caught, but he achieved a kind of folk-hero notoriety, particularly among religious and social conservatives who believed women in jeans or short skirts were being rightfully punished for not dressing “respectfully.”

Ben Hania has examined the gap between European and Arab cultural values before, in her well-reviewed 2010 documentary Imams Go To School. Indeed, she initially planned to make a straight non-fiction film about the Challat, but soon came up against the bureaucratic brick walls of the old regime under former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Following the Tunisian Revolution of 2011, however, she reworked the project into a playful docu-drama hybrid that uses the Challat story to interrogate the sexual politics of her newly democratic homeland.

Shooting in hand-held mock-doc style, Ben Hania straddles the line between director and actor. She interviews slasher victims, prison guards, detectives, lawyers and ordinary citizens — some clearly fictionalized, others apparently real. She finally meets a young man who claims to be the Challat, Jallel Dridi, a hotheaded mummy’s boy who models himself on Al Pacino in Scarface.

The film’s most powerful sections are the vox pops with real Tunisians. One man suggests the knife attacks were “a sign of virility” and “part of our Arab culture.” A religious cleric even claims women with “beautiful hair” are sent by the Devil to tempt and corrupt helpless males. The Challat’s female victims, meanwhile, share grim memories of shame, suicide and sexual molestation by the police. “I felt as if I had been attacked by the whole society,” one recalls. Predictable enough, but still sickening. (…)

Variety’s Jay Weissberg, calling the film “audacious” and “hilarious,” also gave it a thumbs up review, as did academic film critic Shelagh Rowan-Legg—for whom the pic is “brilliant and disturbing satire”—on the TwitchFilm website. French reviews—critics and Allociné spectateurs—were good to very good. Trailer w/English s/t is here.

UPDATE: Francis Ghilès has a well-informed article in OpenDemocracy (January 29th), “Something is rotten in the state of Tunisia,” which paints a somber, indeed pessimistic, portrait of the situation in the country.

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The Hateful Eight

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My first movie of the year. And so far the worst. It is identified in the opening credits as Quentin Tarantino’s “8th film.” Two I have yet to see—the ‘Kill Bill’ series and ‘Death Proof’—but the others I have. The verdict: I loved ‘Jackie Brown’, thought ‘Inglourious Basterds’ was a hoot, ranked Django Unchained one of the Top 10 best pics of the year it came out, and did anyone not give the thumbs up to ‘Pulp Fiction’ and ‘Reservoir Dogs’? All this has ergo made me a more or less unconditional fan of Tarantino. After this latest one, I will need to make that conditional. Now I did not downright hate the movie—it merely disgusted me—or get bored or impatient at any point, despite its unreasonable running length of 2 hours 48 minutes (already 20 minutes shorter than the original version), which is without justification. If a movie is going to take up more than two hours of a moviegoer’s time, it should have a good reason to do so. There was none whatever for this.

The problems with the pic: First, it is unoriginal as far as Tarantino films go; stylistically and dialogue-wise, it’s a continuation of Django. Now some of the numerous critics who liked it did find the dialogue and storyline fresh and original. GMAB! We’ve heard and seen it all before from Tarantino. And stripped of the goofy characters, incessant trash talking, and copious use of the N-word, it’s just another Western. Secondly, a certain tedium does set in toward the middle, during which the characters—all unpleasant—drone on with their trash talk (N.B. most of the film is set indoors, in the single room of the lodge-saloon). I successfully staved off falling asleep over some twenty minutes, though felt I wouldn’t have missed much if I had. Thirdly, there’s the violence. One expects violence in a Tarantino film, which tends to be campy, indeed absurd, and not to be taken in the first degree. But it’s on another level in this one and from the outset, and exploding into a pornographic orgy of gore toward the end. And it’s gratuitous, not offbeat, tongue-in-cheek, or at all funny, and gets old fast. Tarantino may be trying to épater la bourgeoisie with graphic scenes of people—including nice, innocent ones, who are introduced in the latter scenes—getting their heads blown to pieces and sex organs riddled with bullets but he’s more likely to turn them off, if not repulse them (as he did me). Fourthly, Tarantino clearly wishes to convey a message about America’s history of race relations but it is not at all clear, not to me at least, what that message may be. And I don’t care about it. Ça n’a pas d’importance. And didn’t he already do this in Django?

In short, ‘The Hateful Eight’ is a nihilistic, pointless film to be avoided by all but the most unconditional Tarantino fans. For pertinent reviews, see A.O. Scott’s in the NY Times (mixed) and Lou Lumenick’s in the NY Post (thumbs down). The film opens in France on Wednesday (I’m presently in the US), where the critical praise is sure to be effusive.

UPDATE: Wow, Le Monde, in its issue dated Jan. 6th, has reviewed the film over an entire page, totally trashing it! Zero stars out of four: On peut éviter (one may avoid it).

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Best (and worst) movies of 2015

Voilà my annual list of the best and worst movies of the year (for last year’s list, see here). The movies here opened commercially this year or in late Dec. ’14 in France or the US. All have posts on this blog or eventually will. N.B. Several well-reviewed US movies released in the past three months—and that figure on the “best of” lists of US critics—are opening in France after the new year, so I have yet to see them (and I have not seen ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ or ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’).

TOP 10:
Marshland (La Isla Mínima)
Our Little Sister (海街dairy)
Sicario
Son of Saul (Saul fia)
Testament of Youth
The Lesson (Урок)
The Measure of a Man (La loi du marché)
The Rooftops (Les Terrasses السطوح)
The Second Mother (Que Horas Ela Volta?)
Titli (तितली)

HONORABLE MENTION:
Aferim!
Bridge of Spies
Casa Grande
Fatima
Fly Away Solo (मसान Masaan)

BEST MOVIE FROM ESTONIA:
In the Crosswind (Risttuules)

BEST MOVIE FROM ICELAND:
Rams (Hrútar)

BEST MOVIE FROM GUATEMALA:
Ixcanul

BEST MOVIE FROM MOROCCO:
Much Loved (الزين اللي فيك)

BEST SHORT MOVIE FROM ALGERIA:
The Days Before (Les jours d’avant قبل الآيام)

BEST SCHLOCKY BUT FUN ACTION MOVIE FROM ALGERIA WITH MIKE TYSON IN A CAMEO ROLE:
Les portes de soleil: Algérie pour toujours

BEST POETIC MEDITATIVE MOVIE FROM ALGERIA ABOUT AN ALGERIAN JOURNALIST NAMED IBN BATTUTA WHO TRAVELS THE ARAB WORLD SEEKING TO UNDERSTAND ARAB REVOLUTIONS:
Zanj Revolution (Révolution Zendj ثورة زنج)

BEST MOCKUMENTARY FROM TUNISIA:
Challat of Tunis (Le challat de Tunis شلاط تونس)

BEST WILD-AND-CRAZY MOVIE FROM ARGENTINA:
Wild Tales (Relatos salvajes)

BEST RUSSIAN MOVIE FROM KAZAKHSTAN WITH NOT A WORD OF DIALOGUE:
Test (Испытание)

BEST FRENCH MOVIE FROM TURKEY ABOUT ADOLESCENT GIRLS WHO SAY NO TO PATRIARCHY:
Mustang

BEST MOVIE FROM IRAN THAT HAD TO BE SHOT IN GREECE BECAUSE IT COULD ABSOLUTELY NOT BE SHOT IN IRAN:
Red Rose (گل سرخ)

BEST MOVIE FROM THE CZECH REPUBLIC ON SPORTS DOPING IN CZECHOSLOVAKIA DURING THE COMMUNIST ERA:
Fair Play

BEST MOVIE FROM GERMANY ON AN UNFORTUNATELY FAILED PLOT TO ASSASSINATE ADOLF HITLER:
13 Minutes (Elser – Er hätte die Welt verändert)

BEST MOVIE FROM GERMANY ON GERMANY’S POSTWAR RECKONING WITH THE CRIMES OF ADOLF HITLER:
Labyrinth of Lies (Im Labyrinth des Schweigens)

BEST MOVIE FROM ITALY ON THE TRAGEDY OF AFRICAN MIGRANTS WHO SUCCEED IN MAKING IT ACROSS THE MEDITERRANEAN TO EUROPE:
Mediterranea

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ON THE TRAGEDY OF AFRICAN MIGRANTS WHO DO NOT SUCCEED IN MAKING IT ACROSS THE MEDITERRANEAN TO EUROPE:
Hope

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE ON THE TRAGEDY OF HOMOPHOBIA:
The Imitation Game

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE OFFERING AN IRONCLAD ARGUMENT FOR WHY A STEEP ESTATE TAX IS NEEDED ON FILTHY RICH PEOPLE:
Foxcatcher

BEST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE WITH JULIANNE MOORE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Still Alice

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH CATHERINE DENEUVE IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Standing Tall (La tête haute)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH CATHERINE FROT IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Marguerite

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH ARIANE LABED IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Fidelio: Alice’s Odyssey (Fidelio, l’odyssée d’Alice)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH OLIVIER GOURMET IN THE LEAD ROLE:
The Night Watchman (Jamais de la vie)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH FABRICE LUCHINI IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Courted (L’Hermine)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH ALBERT DUPONTEL AND CÉCILE DE FRANCE IN THE LEAD ROLES:
En équilibre

BEST MOST POWERFUL DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE GENOCIDAL MASSACRES COMMITTED BY THE KHMER ROUGE REGIME IN CAMBODIA:
The Missing Image (L’Image manquante)

BEST MOST POWERFUL DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE GENOCIDAL MASSACRES COMMITTED BY THE MILITARY REGIME IN INDONESIA:
The Look of Silence

BEST TOTALLY EXCELLENT DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE SAGA OF THE GREATEST ICE HOCKEY TEAM IN HISTORY:
Red Army

BEST ENGAGÉ DOCUMENTARY ABOUT A NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY EMPLOYEE WHO BECAME A WHISTLEBLOWER:
CitizenFour

BEST OVERLY LONG DOCUDRAMA FROM ISRAEL ABOUT THE ASSASSINATION OF YITZHAK RABIN:
Rabin, the Last Day (רבין, היום האחרון)

MOST FORGETTABLE FRENCH MOVIE FROM ISRAEL THAT ENDS WITH THE ASSASSINATION OF YITZHAK RABIN:
Atlit (Rendez-vous à Atlit)

MOST CURIOUS INDIE MOVIE FROM PALESTINE THAT PRACTICALLY NOBODY HAS SEEN:
Love, Theft and Other Entanglements (الحب والسرقة ومشاكل أخرى)

MOST OVERRATED HOLLYWOOD MOVIE ABOUT RACE RELATIONS ON AN AMERICAN UNIVERSITY CAMPUS:
Dear White People

MOST UNFORTUNATELY FLAWED HOLLYWOOD MOVIE ON THE ETHICS OF DRONE WARFARE:
Good Kill

MOST HEARTWARMING COMEDY FROM FRANCE ABOUT A ZANY DEAF FAMILY OF DAIRY FARMERS IN RURAL ANJOU:
The Bélier Family (La Famille Bélier)

BEST MOVIE BY RIDLEY SCOTT:
The Martian

BEST MOVIE BY AVA DUVERNAY:
Selma

BEST MOVIE BY J.C. CHANDOR:
A Most Violent Year

BEST MOVIE BY BILL POHLAD:
Love & Mercy

BEST MOVIE BY JAFAR PANAHI:
Taxi

BEST IMPERFECT MOVIE BY JACQUES AUDIARD:
Dheepan

BEST OKAY MOVIE BY ARNAUD DESPLECHIN:
My Golden Days (Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse)

MOST UNDERRATED MOVIE BY RUSSELL CROWE:
The Water Diviner

MOST ABSORBING FLAWED MOVIE BY JOACHIM TRIER:
Louder Than Bombs

MOST DISAPPOINTING MOVIE BY FATIH AKIN:
The Cut

MOST INCOMPREHENSIBLE MOVIE BY MIGUEL GOMES:
Arabian Nights: Volume 1, The Restless One (As Mil e Uma Noites: Volume 1, O Inquieto)

MOST REPREHENSIBLE MOVIE BY CLINT EASTWOOD:
American Sniper

MOST MENDACIOUS MOVIE BY ROBERT GUÉDIGUIAN:
Don’t Tell Me the Boy Was Mad (Une histoire de fou)

WORST MOVIE BY PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON:
Inherent Vice

WORST MOVIE BY PHILIPPE GARREL:
In the Shadow of Women (L’ombre des femmes)

WORST MOVIE BY LOUIS GARREL:
Two Friends (Les deux amis)

WORST MOVIE BY MAÏWENN:
Mon roi

WORST MOVIE EVER BY WOODY ALLEN:
Irrational Man

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Son of Saul

saul_fia

I’ve seen many movies on the Holocaust but this one, by Hungarian director László Nemes, has to be the most horrific. One imagines with difficulty a more nightmarish commission than that of a Sonderkommando at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The film is a tour de force, as is the performance of Géza Röhrig, who plays the protagonist Saul (and is in almost every frame). French reviews (tops) are here, US-UK reviews (also tops) are here (and also here). If you have the opportunity to see the film on a wide screen, do so. And if you can on 35 mm, so much the better. Trailer is here.

UPDATE: Christopher Orr, principal film critic at The Atlantic, has a review, dated January 17th 2016, “Son of Saul and the intimate mechanisms of genocide.”

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Mustang

Mustang

Turkey being in the news lately, this is a good moment to do an overdue post on this fine Turkish film that opened in France in June to top reviews and audience acclaim—it did exceptionally well at the box office for a movie entirely in Turkish—and is France’s official entry for the Academy Award for best foreign language film. That’s right, France’s entry, the selection committee here considering it French, as it is a French co-production and director Deniz Gamze Ergüven has lived in France for most of her adult life (a good, engaging film though it is, this is ridiculous IMO, as the pic is 100% Turkish—there’s not a thing French about it—and there is one French film this year that should by all rights be France’s Oscar entry).

The story is simple. Five orphaned sisters in their teens and tweens live with an uncle, aunt, and grandmother in a big house in a village on the Black Sea somewhere near Trabzon. They’re sassy and full of life—and all pretty—but when their patriarchal uncle—who no doubt votes for the AKP—learns via village gossip that they’ve been flirting with boys after school and are, generally speaking, too free-spirited, he decides—with the willing assent of wife and mother—to pull them out of school and lock them in the house—allowed out only when closely chaperoned—so as to preserve the family honor, i.e. the girls’ virginity, until they can be married off (the uncle, who so fears his nieces’ putative sexuality, is naturally a pervert and rapist himself). The sisters, who are as close to one another as siblings can be, develop all sorts of schemes and strategies to break out of their prison. Some good and amusing scenes here, but also tragic ones. The sisters, all played by non-professional actresses, are great.

The film is a paean to feminism and the struggle against patriarchy and idiotic codes of honor regarding female sexuality in societies that have not entirely completed the transition to modernity (if one wants an explanation of the French Oscar choice, there you have it). But while the conservative family guardians and other villagers are frozen in archaic ways of thinking about gender, not everyone is. The sisters have sympathizers, indeed allies, on the outside. It’s a Turkish story. Two of the sisters, led by the youngest one—and the most audacious and rebellious—12-year-old Lale (actress Güneş Nezihe Şensoy; A Star Is Born…), dream of escaping to Istanbul, 1000 km away—Lale’s last schoolteacher, a feminist (who certainly votes CHP, maybe even HDP) is there—and (spoiler alert!) ultimately do. Istanbul symbolizes freedom—freedom being another of the pic’s leitmotifs (and thus the title, mustangs roaming free on the plain…). One feels the girls’ exhilaration as they cross the Bosphorus bridge at dawn on their long bus trip from the world they’re fleeing. US critics who saw the pic at Cannes last May, though noting minor issues, all gave it the thumbs up (more than one made reference to Sofia Coppola’s ‘The Virgin Suicides’—which I have not seen—and Pride and Prejudice). US and UK release should happen early next year. Trailer is here.

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Sicario

CNJsJO7

In yesterday’s post I dumped all over Woody Allen’s latest film, which I saw last night. In the interest of cinematic fairness and balance, I want to give a shout out to this first-rate thriller by French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, which I saw three nights ago. If one doesn’t know by now—as the pic opened in the US last month to wide release—it’s about Mexican drug cartels and US law enforcement, set in Arizona, Texas, and across the border in Mexico (sicario means ‘hitman’ in Mexican drug cartel slang). It’s high-octane, edge-of-your-seat, with one great set piece after another, and excellent acting: Emily Blunt is terrific as straight arrow FBI agent Kate Macer—she should receive at least an Oscar nomination for her performance—Benicio del Toro as the shadowy killer Alejandro, who works with the Americans (and for himself); and Josh Rogin as the equally shadowy secret agent Matt Graver (CIA? who knows?). And the pic has no significant flaws, except for maybe the traffic jam scene at the border (isn’t there a VIP lane on that bridge?). There have been a number of Mexican drug cartel movies over the years—some quite good (e.g. Miss Bala)—and that graphically depict the violence and cruelty of the Mexican gangs—whom ISIS has nothing over when it comes to this—but this one is much the best, as it also has an implicit political theme: of the lawless behavior of the US government and its agents as they pursue the (endless, impossible) war against the drug cartels. It’s not par hasard that several of the badass US agents served in Iraq, the link between the war over there and the one here being made more than once. As the cynical Matt Graver informs the naïve Kate Macer, it’s a new world out there and with new rules, i.e. none really.

US reviews of the film are tops (81 on Metacritic; see, in particular, the ones by Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter and Scott Foundas in Variety), as well as in France (4.0/4.0 on Allociné). Trailer is here.

I saw and liked Villeneuve’s 2010 ‘Incendies’ but missed his last film, ‘Prisoners’. I think I should now see it.

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