Posts Tagged ‘Film & TV reviews’

Film Review: Lola

Mr Bongo Films
DVD on release

By Guy Sangster Adams

lola-cover
One year shy of half a century since its original release, Jacques Demy’s first feature film remains an enchanting cinematic experience. Starring the exquisite Anouk Aimée as the eponymous heroine, Demy dedicated the film to Max Ophüls, in whose last film, Les Amants de Montparnasse (1958), Aimée had also starred, and which is also dedicated to Ophüls as he died whilst it was being filmed. Though Lola also references Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, in which Marlene Dietrich plays Lola Lola, a singer at the titular cabaret. In Demy’s film, Lola is the name under which Anouk’s character, Cécile, performs, primarily to audiences of sailors, in a cabaret in the French Atlantic coast city of Nantes. In a stylistic reference to Dietrich’s character, Anouk’s Lola at times crowns the corset she performs in with a top hat.

Separate from her cabaret persona, Cécile is a single mother who yearns for the return of her first love, Michel (Jacques Harden), who she first met when she was fourteen and who is also the father of her son, but who left her just before she gave birth, promising to return when he had made his fortune. Demy explores his theme of first love and love lost, love requited and unrequited, and the element of chance that is present in love stories, interweaving the characters of Roland Cassard (Marc Michel), whose chance meeting with Cécile, with whom he was close when they were teenagers, reignites his sense of purpose and also his love at first sight for her, Frankie (Alan Scott), an American sailor, and Cécile Desnoyers (Annie Dupéroux).

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Anouk’s Cécile shares her bed with Frankie because in his uniform he reminds her of the first time she met Michel, who was also a sailor, at the fairground in the city. When the paths of Dupéroux’s Cécile and Frankie cross, and they two go to the fairground, it carries a wonderful timelessness, as though this could be a flash back of Cécile and Michel, the present moment with Cécile Dupéroux and Frankie, or a flash forward to the ‘first love’ that the burgeoning romantic Cécile Dupéroux is on the cusp of meeting. Wistful timelessness is key to the film as a whole and is part of the fantasy world that Demy created in his films, drawing inspiration from fairytales and musicals.

Music is also key to the film, from the opening frames of the film with the intentional old style Hollywood glamour of Michel’s return to Nantes in white Cadillac, white suit, and white Stetson juxtaposed with Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, to the original music and songs composed for the film by Demy’s  lifelong collaborator, Michel Legrand.

But in honouring the beauty of this film one must also credit its superlative and legendary cinematographer, Raoul Coutard. Whose work two years earlier on the first film of another Nouvelle Vague director, Jean Luc-Godard’s À bout de souffle, was both ground breaking and has proved enduringly influential. Just as Paris became another character in Coutard and Godard’s first collaboration, Nantes and the French Atlantic coast of Demy’s childhood, become an entrancingly well observed ‘character’ in  Lola. Not least the fluted columns, openwork balustrades, and cherubs of the Passage Pommeraye, a shopping arcade built in the 1840s.

At the end of Lola, three of the characters are on their way to Cherbourg, and one, Roland Cassard (Marc Michel) would reappear in Demy’s Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964), which became the middle film of an informal ‘romantic trilogy’ which began with Lola and concluded with Les demoiselles de Rochefort in 1967.

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Film Review: Casanova ’70

Mr Bongo Films
DVD on release

By Guy Sangster Adams

casanova-70-cover
Casanova ’70 is a notable entry in the lineage of Commedia all’italiana, or Italian-style comedy, the genre which its director, Mario Monicelli, initiated with his film, Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958), and which draws its name from Pietro Germi’s film, Divorce Italian Style (1961). The iconic, and always wonderfully watch-able, Marcello Mastroianni, starred in the latter, as he does in Casanova ’70, which was produced by another heavy hitter of Italian cinema, Carlo Ponti.

Mastroianni plays Major Andrea Rossi-Colombotti, an Italian officer on secondment to NATO, and the film follows his picaresque and increasingly desperate attempts to triumph over his idiosyncratic libido that renders him impotent with women unless his life is in danger. Adventures which lead him from Paris to the Swiss Alps, and along the length of Italy, from the cage of a lion tamer, to posing as doctor to verify the virginity, for which read seducing, of a Sicilian bride to be, with her family just the other side of the door, to climbing into ever higher bedroom windows, culminating in his being tried for the murder of the jealous husband of one of his potential conquests. Conquests who all gather in the court and who are played by a fabulous line-up of Italian actresses including Virna Lisi, Marisa Mell, Michèle Mercier, and Liana Orfei.

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The film, which was released in 1965 and earned a nomination for the following year’s Academy Award for Best Writing, Story, and Screenplay, is very much of its time, and all the more enjoyable for that; super stylish and super fun.

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Television Review: The Avengers – The Complete Series 4

avengers-series-4-cover

(Optimum Home Entertainment)
On release

By Guy Sangster Adams

First broadcast between 1965 and 1966, with series 4 The Avengers entered the era for which it is best remembered and which was also its most influential, as
Diana Rigg, in the role of Emma Peel, took over from Honor Blackman’s Dr Cathy Gale, as sidekick to John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee. Emma Peel’s name, so the story goes, came from ABC’s (Associated British Pictures, the programme’s production company) press officer, Marie Donaldson, saying that the character need to have ‘man-appeal’, which became abbreviated to ‘m-appeal’… Emma Peel.

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The crackling sexual tension that had already existed between Steed and Cathy Gale, was ramped up to become far more overt in Steed and Emma Peel’s relationship. Equally the use of leather and PVC costumes, which had been introduced in series 3 for Cathy Gale, particularly for the fight scenes, was continued and became more body conscious and more markedly fetishistic, with zips and buckles. The fetishism was taken even further in the episode, A Touch of Brimstone, when she is dressed as the ‘Queen of Sin’, in a leather corset, knee-length stiletto heeled boots, and a dog collar studded with six inch spikes. All of which played up the vaunted man-appeal of the character, but Emma Peel also, as with Cathy Gale before her, equally and importantly subverted stereotypical roles for women combining not only brains, beauty, and independence, but also physical prowess; she dispatches her male, whip wielding adversary in A Touch of Brimstone in very short measure. Emma Peel became just as much an icon for women as she did for men. Though the dominatrix look proved too much for the American censors, and the episode was banned in the US.

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With her striking op-art clothes designed by fashion designer, John Bates, Emma Peel also became a key fashion influence. Under the label, Avengerswear, Bates also licensed his designs to a number of manufacturers, and they were available in shops around the country from the moment series 4 aired. Bates’ geometric designs were also groundbreaking in that before their use in The Avengers it had been considered they would not work on the film cameras of the day. Both reflecting the times and setting the times, Emma Peel’s Mod style, replete with Lotus Elan and Vespa 150 scooter, juxtaposes pleasingly with the continuance of Steed’s bowler hatted and furled umbrella, dandy-edged, vintage Bentley driving, English gentleman.

Sexy, stylish, witty, and inventive, this first series of the Emma Peel era of The Avengers remains as influential and enjoyable now, extraordinarily 45 years on, as it was first time around.

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Film Review: Wild Target (Cible émouvante)

Second Sight Films
DVD On release

By Guy Sangster Adams

wildtarget-cover
“I shall be severe, but show affection occasionally,” says fifty-something, professional hitman, Victor Meynard (Jean Rochefort), outlining the terms of the ‘stage’, or internship, he offers to an artless, young messenger, Antoine (Guillaume Depardieu), rather than killing him, after Antoine inadvertently witnesses one of Victor’s hits. Motivated by the fact that is unmarried, and has no heir to whom he can pass on the family business of killing, the perks Victor offers as part of his proposal to train Antoine in the ways of assassination include a Carte Orange (the unlimited travel pass for Paris, which has just been replaced by the ‘Navigo’).

But it seems that Victor’s midlife crisis is gathering pace when he not only fails to carry out his next assignment, to kill a beautiful art forger and petty thief, Renée Dandrieux (Marie Trintignant), who has duped a gangster into buying a fake Rembrandt, but also begins to fall for her, as the seemingly ill-assorted trio go on the run from the gangster.

Wild Target (Cible émouvante) is a masterful black comedy, with a wonderful mix of impressively realised knock about farce, subtle comedic moments, and a gripping thread of menace, which earned its writer and director, Pierre Salvadori, a César nomination for Best First Work, when it was originally released in 1993. Rochefort’s performance is superlative, indeed all three lead actors give superb performances, and the crackling interplay between them, and also with Madame Meynard (Patachou), Victor’s gloriously batty and utterly ruthless mother, creates a thoroughly enjoyable film.

Both the now octogenarian Rochefort, whose career spans five decades, and nonagenarian Patachou (aka Henriette Ragon), are and continue to be much loved and legendary figures of French cinema and theatre. Trintignant and Depardieu, both born into famous French acting families, became favourite actors for Salvadori to work with, taking roles both in his next film, Les apprentis (1995), and again sharing the lead roles in White Lies (Comme elle respire, 1998). Very sadly, both subsequently died at an early age. Trintignant died in 2003, aged 41, of a cerebral edema as a result of being punched by her boyfriend Bertrand Cantat, lead singer with the French rock group, Noir Désir, and  Depardieu died in 2008, aged 37, after contracting severe viral pneumonia whilst filming L’Enfance d’Icare on location in Romania.

A British remake of Wild Target, starring Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, and Rupert Grint has just been released.

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Television Review: The Avengers – The Complete Series 3

avengers-series-3-cover

(Optimum Releasing)
DVD on release

By Guy Sangster Adams

The Avengers: The Complete Series 3 is the second phase of Optimum’s fantastic intention to release the first full restoration of every episode of The Avengers over the course of a year, which began in October 2009.  Where episodes have been lost, they are recreated through stills and commentaries, and the DVDs come replete with a host of fascinating extras.

With series 3 The Avengers established the model for which it is best remembered and the ingredients that have ensured it has remained both highly influential and a classic exponent of the spy-fi genre.

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Filmed in 1963 and originally screened in 1964 in a peak time Saturday night slot on ITV, for series 3 Patrick Macnee’s John Steed, described in the original promotional material as a top level secret agent “who works under cover of his life as a wealthy man-about-town with an aristocratic background,” became ever more dandified, his bowler hat, furled umbrella, and flared cufflink displaying cuffs now omnipresent. Whilst the idea of Steed being aided by alternating amateur assistants in the earlier series was shelved in favour of Mrs Catherine Gale (Honor Blackman) being his partner in each episode. Which also allowed for a crackling sexual tension to be developed between the two characters.

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With her PhD in anthropology and social conscience Mrs Gale was presented as a foil to counter Steed’s more ruthless and louche character traits. Though she equally, and importantly, subverted stereotypical roles for women combining not only brains, beauty, and independence, but also physical prowess; the fight scenes in each episode more often than not displaying Gale’s expertise in Judo. Blackman, as she explains in an interview included amongst the host of great extra features on the DVD, always threw herself wholeheartedly into the action sequences, which in the episode Mandrake, also included here, lead to her inadvertently knocking out the actor playing her assailant for seven minutes. Early in series 3 Gale’s leather outfits were introduced, ostensibly as clothes it would be easier for her to fight in, and became both influential and infamous. They were teamed with knee high leather boots that very quickly gained the widespread sobriquet of ‘kinky boots'; their popularity leading Blackman and Macnee to record the single Kinky Boots in 1964.

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Lobster Quadrille, the last episode of series 3, was originally screened in March 1964, and was Blackman’s last episode as she left the programme to take up the role of Pussy Galore in the James Bond film Goldfinger, which was released in September of that year. Redolent of the humour inherent in both The Avengers and the Bond films which the series undoubtedly influenced, the final scene features Steed bidding farewell to Gale as she sets off on holiday with the suggestion that she might spend her time “pussyfooting along those sun-soaked shores.”

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Film Review: Painted Boats

painted-boats-pack-shot

(Optimum Releasing)
Released on DVD 11 January 2010

By Guy Sangster Adams

During the Second World War both Britain’s deteriorating canal system and the declining number of working boats plying its waterways enjoyed a brief period of revivification. This fascinating, evocative, and beautifully shot Ealing Studios gem, which is available on DVD for the first time, is part drama and part documentary and was filmed along the Grand Union Canal in the summer of 1944, though not released until September 1945. The film centres on two families, the Smiths and the Stoners, who have lived and worked afloat for generations and the love story that unfolds between Mary Smith (Jenny Laird) and Ted Stoner (Robert Griffiths). Whilst also documenting and trumpeting not only the revival of the inland waterways for the war effort but also the history of canals from the eighteenth century onwards.

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Tradition versus progressiveness is also at the heart of Painted Boats, in common with a number of Ealing Studios films and not least with director Charles Crichton’s later film The Titfield Thunderbolt. With Painted Boats this is encapsulated by the juxtaposition between the Smith’s horse-drawn barge Sunny Valley and the Stoner’s diesel-powered Golden Boy, and the extra hardships that refusing to change brings to the Smiths, not least ‘legging’ Sunny Valley loaded with thirty tons of coal through tunnels. Though mechanical horsepower does not inure the Stoners from change either as the increasing dilemma as to how long they can continue on the canals or whether they may have to move ashore hangs over them as it does over all their contemporaries.

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In fact, post war the decline of commercial canal traffic was phenomenally rapid, until by the 1960s only a token number of working boats remained. Of course we are now very familiar with the leisure based reinvigoration of canals, but Painted Boats provides a wonderful insight into the closing chapter of a way of life, and is made all the more evocative by the poetic commentary written by Louis Macneice.

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Film Review: The Lost Continent

thelost-continent-pack-shot

(Optimum Releasing)
Released on DVD 11 January 2010

By Guy Sangster Adams

From the Hammond organ to the fore title track, to the introductory panning shot across the deck of the tramp steamer  Corita taking in a surreal mix of characters, from medieval Spanish conquistadores and hessian robed monks, to twentieth century uniformed merchant seaman and a 1960s white roll-neck jumper-ed blonde siren, it is clear that this 1968 Hammer film is not only particularly redolent of that stable and of its times, but also has all the makings of a cult classic. Compounded by the original trailer which is included on the DVD and wonderfully proclaims that viewers will see “monster weed attack helpless beauty,” to say nothing of “giant molluscs, see them fight to the death.”

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Though in no way as scary as it might possibly have been 40 plus years ago, The Lost Continent, which was adapted by the director Michael Carreras from Denis Wheatley’s 1938 novel Uncharted Seas, is still a very watchable and enjoyable film, not only with a retro loving, tongue in cheek. The film divides neatly into two halves and two genres, the first a thriller on the high seas as the captain of the Corita, played by Eric Porter, embarks on one last trip from Freetown to Caracas, not only smuggling a cargo of highly dangerous explosives, but also with a whole host of passengers with something to hide and a mutinous crew aboard. A hurricane brings all the secrets to a head and also throws the ship and the film into a world of sci-fi horror, a lost continent in the Sargasso Sea, replete with man eating seaweed, enormous killer crustaceans, and the equally murderous descendants of a Spanish Galleon marooned 500 years earlier.

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Of course, as with any film originally released four decades ago the special effects are phenomenally dated, but in this case the datedness adds to the charm of the film. Whilst the release on DVD also affords renewed attention for the soundtrack, not only Gerald Schurmann’s great psychedelic score, but also the theme song by The Peddlers, two thirds of whom were part of Joe Meek’s ‘house band’ The Saints, and who have been recently sampled by genre busting producer, musician, and innovator Luke Vibert.

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Film review: We Live in Public

(Dogwoof)
On release

By Guy Sangster Adams

we-live-in-public-poster

“Andy Warhol was wrong, his view was that people wanted 15 minutes of fame in their lifetime, our view is that people want 15 minutes of fame everyday,” proclaims Josh Harris, the subject of Ondi Timoner’s fascinating, absorbing, and unsettling film, which won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (a prize she also won in 2004 for Dig!, making her the only director in the festival’s history to win the award twice). In the midst of the current cultural dominance of social networking and video sharing websites, interactive talent contests and reality television programming Harris’s proclamation seems an apposite statement of fact. But the fact that he first said it in 1999 imbues his words with the prescience about the internet and the media for which he has been renowned, despite being, as the caption at the beginning of We Live in Public states, “the greatest internet pioneer you’ve never heard of.”

Harris founded the highly regarded internet consulting firm Jupiter Communications in 1986 and then in 1993 founded pseudo.com, the first internet ‘television station’, and to the incredulity of terrestrial broadcasters predicted a time when people would watch their favourite programmes online.  Increasingly through the 1990s Harris moved away from the conservatism of the business world to explore the ways in which new media could and would shape society and fundamentally alter social interaction. His increasingly avant garde, experimental, and conceptual programming and events lead New York magazine to dub him “the Warhol of the Web” and reached their infamous, and highly influential apogee with Quiet: We Live in Public and weliveinpublic.com.

Josh Harris beside the toilets at Quiet

Josh Harris beside the toilets at Quiet

Quiet, which lasted for the duration of December 1999, involved 100 people living in a ‘pod hotel’ in the basement of a disused textile factory in New York, in which all notions and structures of personal privacy were removed. Each pod was equipped with its own video camera and monitor so that everyone could watch everyone else constantly, the only shower was in a transparent, geodesic dome in the middle of the living space, the toilet walls were taken down, and a neon sign constantly reminded the participants ‘we live in public.’ Fittingly, since it pre-empted the cultural shifts of the following decade, it was closed down by the New York Police department on 1st January 2000. They were concerned that it was in reality the headquarters of a cult; for recreation there was a firing range and an extensive armoury of automatic weapons – something which Big Brother has yet to try! But by the time of its closure the behaviour of the participants had become increasingly aggressive and erratic and despite the constant interaction with others many spoke of feeling acute loneliness.

Quiet 'pods

Quiet 'pods'

Following Quiet, for six months in 2000 Harris moved into a flat with his new girlfriend Tanya Corrin which was equipped with motion and sound sensitive cameras covering every conceivable angle – including one in the toilet bowl – so that every part of their life together and every bodily function was under constant surveillance and broadcast on a 24 hour live web feed, with viewers also able to interact with the pair via internet chat rooms. The experiment began with Harris stating that viewers would ultimately watch the couple conceiving their first child live, but ended with Corrin walking out and Harris suffering a metal breakdown.

What Harris was discovering ten years ago, increasingly holds true today, as more and more people trade privacy for intimacy with virtual friends, and the  desire for recognition and celebrity are seen as the gateways both to happiness and to feeling loved, and CCTV surveillance is seen as the key way to create a better society. Both Harris’s projects provide, as does Timoner’s film, a tragic indictment of the price that can be paid for the ever increasing ways in which we live in public. As Harris warns, underscoring this cautionary tale, “The more you know about each other, the more lonely you become.”

Ondi Timoner

Ondi Timoner

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Film Review: Slacker Uprising

(Optimum Home Entertainment)
DVD on release

By Guy Sangster Adams

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Predominantly due to the reputation smearing advertisements organised by the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth (a coalition of Vietnam veterans formed entirely with that objective) and John Kerry’s delay in responding to their allegations, the lead in the opinion polls that he had enjoyed over George W. Bush throughout the campaign for the 2004 US presidential elections had been completely eroded in the closing months. With five weeks left before polling day filmmaker Michael Moore, fearing four more years of the Bush administration, set off on the Slacker Uprising Tour. Through which, with events on college campuses in 60 cities across 20 key battleground states, he aimed to motivate as many of the 50% of the electorate who do not normally vote to register to do so, and in particular 18 to 29 year old Slackers.

With his well judged promotional tool of giving out packs of Ramen Noodles (Slacker sustenance) and Fruit of the Loom underwear (for Slackers too slack to do laundry) to anyone registering to vote, Moore’s tour not only quickly hit the headlines but also lead the Republican party in Michigan to attempt legal action against him, alleging that he was attempting to bribe voters; a lawsuit that was thrown out by the District Attorney’s office as they decided Moore was encouraging people to vote, not telling them who to vote for.

But the serious heart of the tour, and by extension this film, is Moore’s desire to reaffirm, reassert, and protect the rights enshrined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution – freedom of belief, of the press, of speech, and “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Which he felt that in the wake of 9/11 the Bush administration had seriously undermined, not least with the Patriot Act, as he evocatively explored in Fahrenheit 9/11: The Temperature at Which Freedom Burns. As Moore passionately declares in Slacker Uprising, there is a “reason why the founders of this country called it the First Amendment, because without an informed public the democracy ceases to exist.”

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In seeking to redress the balance, Slacker Uprising is also rich in impassioned and poignant erudition from the array of musicians and actors (including Steve Earle, Eddie Vedder, REM, Joan Baez, and Roseanne Barr), diplomats, military personnel returning from Iraq, and the families of those who did not return, who joined the tour. As the tour gathered momentum it is fascinating to see just how troubled the Republican Party became by it (but then the Bush administration had been stung by Farenheit 9/11); Republican businessmen in various states attempted to inhibit the tour by offering colleges anything from $25,000 to $100,000 to cancel Moore’s events.

Watching Slacker Uprising now, even though one knows that as Moore says it “is the story of one filmmaker’s failed attempt to turn things around,” it is impossible not to get caught up in the momentum of the battle – to really believe that Bush would be voted out of office in 2004. Though undoubtedly some of the ability to relax whilst watching the film stems from it now being less than a year since Obama ousted Bush, and hope reignited remains largely intact. Equally it is clear that although Moore terms it a failed attempt, the Slacker Uprising Tour played a large part in engendering the beginning of the end by motivating disillusioned sectors of the electorate, and highlighting that change was achievable; 54 of the 62 stops on the tour went to Kerry, a record 21 million young people voted, and the Republican victory was the smallest in US history: one state (Ohio) and one hundred thousand votes.

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But Slacker Uprising carries a message that should be borne in mind not only across US politics, but also by other nations, most eloquently expressed in the film by actor Viggo Mortensen: “When we as Americans see ourselves as different and superior to peoples from other nations as George W Bush with his go it alone agenda would have us do, we are not freeing ourselves or anyone else, we are not respecting ourselves or anyone else, we are rather enslaving ourselves by willing building the wall of our own prison one ignorant brick after another. It’s not a question of being liked by the world, it’s a question of belonging in the world.”

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Film Review: The Offsiders (Boisko Bezdomnych)

(Tor Film Studio)
Showing as part of Kinoteka 2009

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

offsiders

Battered, bruised, and wearing a Father Christmas hat, Jacek Mroz (Marcin Dorinciski) comes to in Warsaw Central Station. How he plummeted from being an hotly-tipped young footballer on the cusp of a glittering career down to Noclegownia Hades, the evocatively named subterranean hostel to which he is taken by a group of the station’s other rough sleepers, unfolds through the film in parallel to the story of the group’s precipitous climb to become the Polish team in the Homeless Football World Cup.

Just as in a match players are left offside as they become out of step with play, The Offsiders have, through accidents, addiction, mental illness, and trauma, been isolated by the play of life and become out of step with society, much to the confusion, hurt and frustration of their families; as the cliché goes the offside rule is notoriously hard to explain to non-footballers.

Kasia Adamik has delightfully subverted the genre of oddball teams coming together to pull off audacious goals, with its long Hollywood lineage through The Magnificent Seven to Oceans Eleven, and with her own measure of audacity in only her second feature and with a tiny budget has created a highly assured mix of poignant drama, wonderfully observed comedy, and sharp satire which sweeps one up with such cynicism demolition that one ends up unabashedly and wholeheartedly cheering on the ‘Homeless Eleven’ to triumph. Whilst within the ultimate feel-goodness of the film, Adamik has very successfully woven a thought provoking depiction of modern Poland, a country that for so long was left offside through war and politics, and the contradictions inherent in its journey to reclaim and promote an independent national identity.

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Kinoteka Film Festival: www.kinoteka.org.uk

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Film Review: Four Nights with Anna (Cztery Noce z Anna)

(Alfama Films/Skopia Films)
Showing as part of Kinoteka 2009

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

4nightswithanna

In the deracinated environs of a Polish hospital, amidst rain, mud and shattered buildings, and the aura of the reduction to the Dark Ages aftermath of a war zone, love, life and moral boundaries appear to have been forsaken. From burning an amputated hand, to the bloated dead cow slowly floating downstream whilst he is fishing, to the rape of a nurse that he witnesses, memento mori and the brutalisation of society surround the predominantly mute hospital crematorium worker Leon (Artur Steranko). Middle-aged Leon is a disquieting mix of guileful and guileless, and following the death of his grandmother with whom he has been living and caring for, his voyeurism of his neighbour Anna (Kinga Preis) the rape victim, becomes an ever more obsessive infatuation.

Jerzy Skolimowski, in his first directorial role for 17 years, adeptly and unsettlingly, heightens the inherent voyeurism of the audience and makes one complicit in the minutiae of Leon’s machinations to both enter Anna’s bedroom and demonstrate his love whilst she is asleep, from mixing ground up sleeping tablets into her sugar, to cleaning her house after her birthday party which he has observed from afar, to painting her toe nails. Skolimowski has adroitly created a film that is both acutely disturbing and highly compelling, with surreal flourishes and moments of black comedy, for example when the head doctor (Skolimowski himself) questions Leon as to whether the amputated hand was still wearing a wedding ring. Through an innovative narrative thread that undermines one’s perception of the timescale of scenes, Four Nights with Anna forces one to question one’s responses to Leon, might one almost feel a poignancy for his unrequited loneliness or should one be steadfastly steeling oneself against the perceived violable conclusion of his desires; a tension that is artfully increased throughout the film and from which one is only released, for better or worse, in the closing scenes.

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Kinoteka Film Festival: www.kinoteka.org.uk

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Film Review: Traitor

(Momentum Pictures)
On release

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

traitor

From a car bomb in Sudan, to a prison break in Yemen, from the bombing of the US consulate in Nice and a special forces raid in London, to the plot for suicide bombers to blow up 50 buses criss-crossing the USA during Thanksgiving, Traitor is an explosive, frenetically paced action thriller played out through 17 cities across three continents, as Guy Pearce’s character FBI Agent Clayton pursues Don Cheadle’s Samir Horn an ex-US Special Forces, Sudanese-American, devout Muslim, who is implicated as a member of the Islamic terrorist organisation behind the attacks.

The filming of Traitor was equally fast paced, extraordinarily only taking 48 days, although Traitor had been five years in development. Perhaps another surprise, given that he is best known in this country as a comic actor in films such as The Pink Panther, is that it was originally conceived by Steve Martin, who appointed Jeffrey Nachmanoff, previously best known for the screenplay of The Day Before Tomorrow, to write and direct the film.

Traitor is imbued with a grittiness reminiscent of 1970s thrillers like The French Connection, and the immediacy and speed of the filming and story is maintained by the vérité-style camerawork that shudders with each explosion, and the blizzard of short scenes that seemingly splinter any which way from every detonation, through multiple characters and locations. So relentlessly is one carried along, that one begins to wonder whether one will ever be able to compute who exactly is who and what exactly is going on. But just when one reaches crisis point, namely about an hour into the film, Traitor reaches its tilt point and the jagged fragments begin to make sense, although as the subheading on the poster declares: The Truth is Complicated, and Traitor is as much a Gordian Knot as the issues it reflects.

Traitor seeks to meld the dynamism of an action movie with a far more thought provoking cerebral thriller. In the staccato onslaught of scenes multiple points of view are presented on both sides, there is no safe ground of absolute right or wrong as shifting perspectives of treachery to one’s country, one’s beliefs, oneself are all presented, and philosophical epigrams are exchanged as rapidly as violence. In this the film has parallels to Proof of Life, just as Pearce’s performance has echoes of Russell’s Crowe’s, which sought to mix action with a more philosophical insight into kidnapping and the workings of guerrilla groups in Colombia. Proof of Life was written by Tony Gilroy, who also wrote the screenplays for the trilogy of Bourne films which are another clear influence.

Traitor is a brave attempt to create a heightened genre, which ultimately does not quite make its intended coup de grâce. Nachmanoff’s desire explore, to experiment, to present nuance and difference on all sides rather than just a blanket ‘other’ are all highly laudable, but in many ways the combination of styles does not quite work. The relentless pace which is thoroughly exciting, leaves no time to explore the multitude of thoughts and questions raised, and the intention that this should lead the viewer to engender discussion post film is rather let down by the lacklustre, and return to a more traditional Hollywood type closing scene, which leaves one, for all one’s breathlessness, unsated, and engenders more discussion about whether the film works technically than the issue it raises. That said, it is a very watchable film and Cheadle and Pearce are exemplary, ably demonstrating and compounding the superbly accomplished breadth of range of both actor, that has taken Cheadle from Oceans 11/12/13 to Hotel Rwanda, and Pearce from Priscilla Queen of the Desert to LA Confidential.

Links
Momentum Pictures: www.momentumpictures.co.uk

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Film Review: Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame (Buda As Sharm Foru Rikkt)

Contender Films
Released on DVD 10 November 2008

Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams

Baktay is a small girl with a seemingly small ambition: to go to school to “learn funny stories”. But, living in the network of mountainside caves, near the Afghan town of Bamian, adjoining the empty chasms that for nearly 1500 years, until their destruction by the Taliban in 2001, housed the giant Buddha statues, she is a tiny figure dwarfed by the magnitude of the natural and political landscape that surround her. The succession of obstacles that beset her serve to poignantly illustrate both how traditional everyday life manages, completely against the odds, to continue in the battle scarred country, but equally how deeply the conflict has scarred everyday lives.

This hits home resoundingly hard when Baktay is twice ‘arrested’ by a gang of feral boys. “We are the Taliban!” they proclaim, and adjudge her, as a girl going to school, to be an “heathen sinner”. Prior to a proposed stoning, with the shards of the Buddhas’ toenails, they incarcerate her in a cave with three other little girls. In an achingly affecting scene, their heads covered in paper bags with torn eye and mouth holes, their diminutiveness making the image ever more shocking, they share the reasons for their arrest: having beautiful eyes, wearing lipstick, and carrying a picture of a footballer from a chewing gum packet. Later in the film, the gang, now declaring themselves “American”, condemn Baktay’s statement that she is going home with “Die, bastard, terrorist, liar!”. The simplistic pronouncements of these proponents of double-think might be wryly viewed as childish, if they did not so starkly emulate adults at both extremes of the conflict.

But the film overrides this hope collapsing indictment of the damage done to a nation’s psyche, with the stirring message of positivity inherent in Baktay’s epic journey; if one little girl might achieve her ambition through wilfulness, resourcefulness, and a refusal to be cowed, what might a country achieve.

The remarkable nature of Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame is heightened by the fact that it is the first feature from 19 year old director Hana Makhmalbaf, and both the extraordinarily accomplished performances of her child actors, and sumptuous cinematography strengthen this elegiac plea for peace, compounded by Baktay’s plaintive statement: “I don’t like playing war.”

Links
Contender Films: www.contenderfilms.com

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