Saturday, 5 May 2018

RUSSIAN MOVIE REVIEW: LOVELESS

9/10

Some unions are made for reasons other than love. The marriage of Zhenya and Boris   is falling apart. Boris is having a baby with another woman and Zhenya has a rich older lover who can provide for the life she has always dreamed of. The only inconvinience is their son Alyosha. One night the boy hears his parents fighting and disappears the next day. When Zhenya and Boris start a frantic search for their son their conflict deepens, wounds are opened and the final masks are torn off.  How does one carry on in a LOVELESS world?

Russian director Sergey Zvyagentsev is a contradiction. Russian viewers claim that he makes films for Europe and they are very un-Russian with their cold style and unfavorable characters, while the rest of the world sees Russia through the prism of his films. LOVELESS definitely hits the mark while describing Russian middle class, the type of conversations people have, the interests and values. While in LOVELESS all the characters are despicable people, they are universal and it is with a sense of dread you may recognise in some the people you know and even your own less favourable features.

LOVELESS has wonderful cinematography, the story is being told as much through visuals as through the dialogue. Here the camera is detached, coldly observant, many shorts start from afar, slowly moving in onto the scene, some things stay away from view even when the focus is in on them. It is not an easy film to get through, with a running time just over two hours, and there is plenty of heartbreak and anguish on display. While lacking any sort of physical violence, LOVELESS is able to awake the sense of dread similar to the best horror films out there.

Similarly to the last year’s success THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSURI the movie does not give all the answers, and it never is about the missing boy. LOVELESS is about love, its absence and the ones who left behind.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

MOVIE REVIEW: THE PLACE


10/10

In this busy diner there is a table where a man with a black book sits. In fact, he never seems to leave THE PLACE. People come and go. Some sit at his table. Usually the ones who have something to ask for. The man with a black book can make any wish come true. But will you be ready to pay the price?

There’s one thought that occurred to me when I started watching THE PLACE – its set up is so simple and effective, why didn’t I think of it? But with one great idea at its core it’s the writing that makes THE PLACE a great movie. 

Written and directed by Paoblo Genovese, whose latest movie PERFECT STRANGERS (read my review here) made a big splash last year, is interested in the psychology of his characters, their set of values and how they distinguish right from wrong with their backs against the wall. With the fantastical premise of THE PLACE it's amazing how relatable the situations and the people of the movie are with their daily problems and grievances.

THE PLACE is not a thriller, it’s a drama about human nature. Set in one location of a busy Italian bistro where multiple characters come and go, their stories unravel through dialogue. Each and every one of them have to perform a task to have their wish granted. The more difficult the wish the harder the task. The Man has to check his black book each time someone comes with a wish and the black book will reveal the task. Little by little the connection between the characters emerge. Who is the man who grants the wishes? Good, evil? The master of fate? And if there’s any wish the wishmaster wants to come true, what would it be?

With its nuanced performances and clever writing THE PLACE creates a genre of its own. Perfectly balancing the mystery and the drama elements it explores human nature in a manner that is both engaging and satisfying. 

Friday, 20 April 2018

FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: NORMANDIE NUE


7/10

This small farmers’ community in Normandy is under attack. The price of milk plunges, government support dries up and banks are knocking at the doors. Is there a way to turn the situation around?

George Balbuzard, the mayor, believes that nation-wide exposure would help his little town back on its feet. The arrival of American photographer Newman, who makes the crowd photos of nude crowds, may be just the opportunity he needs to put his town on the map of France. But will he be able to break through the stubbornness and prejudices of the town’s people in time for the photo session?

The simple and familiar premise of NORMANDIE NUE lies heavily on the charisma of the film’s lead Francois Cluzet. Here he is a down to earth, trustworthy and sympathetic mayor who has to deal with little grudges and dramas of his fellow citizens who just refuse to see the big picture.

If you have seen Full Monty and Calendar Girls you will know what to expect from NORMANDIE NUE. The collection of quirky characters will have doubts, will laugh, will have fights with each other and eventually come around.  The eccentric American photographer portrayed by Toby Jones fits right in, surrounded by the peculiar(and at times odd) characters of NORMANDIE NUE.

The movie promises simple and lighthearted fun and delivers it, but there was not enough comedy for me. I expected to laugh much more than I did.

NORMANDIE NUE is a little to long for my liking, it does have a French provincial charm, but is slow in its narrative and some of the characters can be silly to the point they are not enjoyable to watch.

It is a solid effort and will surely sell well overseas, but I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that the writers and the director did not have much to offer beyond the  premise that made similar movies popular.

Monday, 16 April 2018

FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW: NUMERO UNE (NUMBER ONE)

9/10

“To be number one in life a man should have three things. Power, money and sex. No one ever has all three.”  This is declared in the film by one of the male characters. But what does it mean to be NUMBER ONE for a woman in a corporate world?

The original name of the movie NUMERO UNE is feminine (it would be  UN for masculine) and really should be translated LADY NUMBER ONE, but the producers probably thought it too long. 

For the main character Emmanuelle (Emmanuelle Devos) to be successful means to realise her potential. Losing her mother in a drowning accident when she was just a child (was it suicide?) she worked hard to build a successful career and never played the feminist card. But as she is offered a position to be the first ever female CEO in the history of France she realises she will not be able to get where she wants to be without some female solidarity.

Struggling with psychological problems, her husband’s tantrums and jealousy and maliciousness of her male colleagues, she navigates her way towards the top and strangely enough manages to stay on track with very little compromise.

If I wanted to assign a certain genre to NUMERO UNE I would call it a drama, although it has elements of a corporate thriller. The strongest point of the film is how genuine it is when the characters and events are concerned. By keeping it real the story never spirals into the extreme and even the baddies show their warm and humane sides.

Director Toni Marshall has “the battle of sexes” thread coming through her many films (read my review to her "LOVE SEX & THERAPY" from French Film Festival of 2014 here), but she is a queen of comedy. NUMERO UNE is a serious film about serious issues, but it never becomes patronising or dull. Emmanuelle Devos is perfectly cast as an elegant but not strikingly beautiful business woman, playing it on the verge of strength and fragility, these two sides of her character are never far apart. 

NUMERO UNE is probably the most measured, complete and well acted film I have seen during the French Film Festival this year. 

Saturday, 14 April 2018

HORROR MOVIE REVIEW: GHOSTLAND



7/10


Pauline (Mylene Farmer) and her two teenage daughters arrive at a creepy house in the country they inherited from their aunt. On the first night there they are attacked by some creepy intruders and vigorously fight back… 

then the story jumps 20 years forward, where one of the girls, Beth, is living in New York with her husband and son, and is a successful horror novelist. One night she receives a call from her sister begging for help. It seems that after all these years she is still being tormented by someone or something. As Beth returns to the house of her childhood she needs to figure out if the horrors that still haunt her sister are real.

I am a big fan of Pascal Laugier, who created MARTYRS – one of the most terrifying, but also meaningful, horror movies of our time. While the story of GHOSTLAND is hardly original Laugier feels at home here with a familiar plot of two women confined in a creepy house, going against each other and the world and ultimately searching for the answers of what is happening to them. 

Half way through, the plot makes a u-turn (similar to Laugier’s previous work TALL MAN) which might be annoying to some viewers, as this forces them to look at the story from a different perspective. For me, however, it only lifted the stakes higher.

The two young leads of the movie are a tour de force, running  around screaming for most of the movie’s length, and the house is a one creepy maze full of broken dolls – the location and the props in GHOSTLAND are spot on. Mylene Farmer (a famous pop diva in France) has a glamorous presence and looks at ease with the gothic atmosphere of the film (her music videos are tiny horror films that made her famous early in her career).

The movie has a “sweaty palms” type of atmosphere of dread and is definitely effective. There’s not much character study, but you do care for the protagonists as they are young girls facing a terrifying ordeal. While the movie is a less impressive work from this master of macabre it is definitely a must watch for horror lovers. 

Friday, 30 March 2018

HORROR MOVIE REVIEW: A QUIET PLACE


9/10

A family of four is living in the middle of nowhere. Night and day they are being hunted by monsters that react to sound. The family learned how to adapt, communicating by sign language and living quietly, but one night all precautions fly out of the window and all hell breaks loose.

If Hitchcock was alive today he could have made THE QUIET PLACE. Director John Krasinsky has never made a horror movie before. As a director there are only three previous credits to his name, including two comedies I had never heard of, plus a few episodes of the American version of THE OFFICE. Sometimes comedy makes a horror movie better, but there are no jokes in A QUIET PLACE. As soon as we are introduced to the family a sense of doom hangs thick in the air and as 50 percent of the cast are children the stakes are raised pretty high from the start. Our protagonists are being hunted down by monsters, but their origins are surrounded by mystery. Don’t expect a back story or detailed explanation. What’s important is the situation at hand. When things go terribly wrong, how will our characters survive?

The psychological element is played simply and effectively, the set pieces come one after another, in different locations of the farmland where the characters live, one situation is more unsettling than the other. The appearances of monsters is cleverly played out, they are always just one glance away and for most of the film you cannot see them up close. When the creatures are finally revealed they are eerie and disturbing. As a horror fan I have seen it all, but these vicious buggers have their own wicked personality. They are creepily spectacular and fun to watch.

I could call A QUIET PLACE a family horror movie, keeping its cards close to its chest as the story unfolds bit by bit, giving each character a mini story ark it is a dark fairy tale that keeps gore to minimum and suspense to the max. The plot still does not forget family values - united any monster can be conquered. It is also an honest and surprisingly moving film. 

The final shot put a big grin on my face. Most importantly A QUIET PLACE is a badass.


FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL MOVIE REVIEW: REDOUBTABLE



10/10

In 1968 France is overcome with socialist ideas, the Cannes festival is about to be cancelled and Jean-Luc Godard, the greatest director of his time, falls in love with his new muse Anne Wiazemsky. But he is also in love with the idea of socialism. Can these two loves co-exist and what imprint will it make on his art?

Making a biopic, especially when the subject is still alive, is a difficult task. The real Jean-Luc Godard apparently said that “this movie is a stupid, stupid idea”. The producers put it on top of the movie poster as a tag line.

REDOUBTABLE is apparently shot the way Godard himself made movies (my film education will not allow me to pick on every nuance). The Oscar winning  director Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) creates the grim painting of civil unrest in France of 1968 with broad strokes, but at the same time focuses on people and their place in society. Filled with memorable details REDOUBTABLE is a very personal film, its characters’ emotions exposed and dissected without sinking into cheap melodrama. REDOUBTABLE is also a very funny film. In one of the scenes Godard and his wife, totally naked in their bedroom, are discussing the redundancy of nude scenes in modern cinema. Them being naked on screen is also redundant and does not serve any purpose, so it is like the characters are “breaking the fourth wall”, without actually addressing the audience directly, telling us how silly this naked scene is. Clever!

Soaking up the atmosphere of the era this is a film for movie buffs but it is also an intimate drama about a relationship, where strong feelings are just not enough to keep it afloat. Just like The Artist, REDOUBTABLE is about a man in creative crisis. It’s about the imprint that art has on society, and the gaping distance between the public perception of the artist and the real man.