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Liverpool (2008)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Investigations about Farrel, 23 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Some crew members are playing a video game, just to while away the time that is getting long on a ship journey such as this. In the background, a guy, probably in his late 30s, is sitting quietly, having a smoke. He does not participate in the game, does not even care to listen to the exclamations of his comrades. In fact, he does not do anything. After some time, seemingly bored, he gets up and leaves the room, unnoticed.

This scene, right at the beginning of Lisandro Alonso's 4th feature film, already says a lot about Farrel. He is a man that nobody cares about and, conversely, that does not care about anyone either. Or does he?

Does he have any passions? In his cabin, there is just one picture on the wall, probably cut out from a magazine, showing an Asian beauty. What is the connection between her and Farrel? The only thing that we now know for sure now is that he is a far-traveled man.

Does he have any human relationships? A few days later, we find out that he obviously has a daughter, a mentally handicapped one, called Analía. She lives in a remote part of Patagonia, together with her demented grandmother and an older guy called Trujillo who apparently looks after both of them. Where is Analía's mother? Has she left the country like her father did?

Because Farrel, and so much is certain, has definitely left the place of his childhood and ventured out into the big world even before his daughter was born. He became a seaman and has never felt the urge to come back and assume responsibilities. Until one day his ship approaches his native Patagonia again, and availing himself of the opportunity of its resting at the harbor of Ushuaia for a few days, he asks his superior for leave in order to find out "whether my mother is still alive."

Ushuaia, considered the world's southernmost city, is shown as an inhospitable place, abounding with frost and snow. The place, as well as the surrounding countryside, may well be seen as an effigy of Farrel's soul which is equally cold and uncommunicative. He is never seen in a friendly conversation with anyone or even trying to establish a contact that goes beyond a mere asking for the information that is needed in order to continue his journey. It is a significant scene when he is waiting to get a lift, a young woman, Mariela, is waiting in the same room, watching TV, while he is sipping a coffee. Then the truck that will take them is announced, and for a little while they are walking alongside towards it, but not a single word is exchanged. Mariela is then allowed to sit in the driver's cab, while Farrel has to content himself with the load floor. This physical separation is another indicator for Farrel's estrangement from humanity.

His behavior when finally at his home village is rather peculiar. Instead of revealing his identity, he prefers a secret approach, hiding himself in a shed. Just before freezing to death, he is found by Trujillo and brought into the house, where he slowly recovers but feigns to be unconscious when Trujillo addresses him, showing his recognition but also his disdain towards Farrel.

While his dying mother is unable to recognize her son, there is some indication that Analía has an understanding of the fact that she is confronted with her father. When Farrel places a freshly bought loaf of bread on the kitchen table, she does not touch it but instead requests some money, a demand that the visitor eventually grants her. Why should he do so? Is it a feeling of guilt that determines his actions? After all, he shirked his responsibility for the family when he decided to leave the village without leaving any trace.

Apart from the money, Farrel hands over another gift to the girl, before disappearing forever into the remoteness of the landscape: a key-chain, whose letters form the name of an English port city: L-I-V-E-R-P-O-O-L. It is unlikely that the retarded Analía knows the significance of this word, so it is up to the spectators to provide some meaning to it. Farrel has obviously bought it on one of his journeys, and more than just leaving a personal item of his as a sign of attachment it also conveys a message: It stands for his conscious decision to leave the limitations of his village and his family life behind and find a new destination - a resolution whose moral implications have to be judged individually by each viewer.

1 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
Racing through the novel at top speed, 23 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This film being released only two days ago, I haven't been able to read any reviews yet, so these first thoughts about my vision of it can be considered as absolutely virginal, so to speak… First of all, "Catching Fire" being a literary adaptation, the audience should be divided into two groups, the "virginal ones" who haven't even touched the novel and the so-called experienced readers. I count myself to the latter group, having read the book two years ago and even re-read the summaries of each chapter that I had written at that time as a sort of preparation for the movie session. It goes without saying that I also read the first part of the trilogy (twice) and seen the first movie (four times).

Profiting from all this expertise I was able to find my way through the new film easily. I got involved, or even "caught fire", right from the beginning, when, in a hunting episode, an appalling visualization of one of Katniss's nightmares was set on screen: when targeting a prey, she suddenly sees a tribute victim that she had killed in the past Games instead of the animal and gets a nervous breakdown.

As the traumatizing process of the protagonist was a big concern of the novel, this can be considered a good start of the movie. But later on the film does not really dwell on that, because there simply is not enough time. I can recall only one scene, when, being on the train, Katniss wakes up in the middle of a dream and shouts for help and is then comforted by Peeta, who crawls into her bed.

Then there is a quick cut, and we move on to the next scene. Almost all important elements of the novel are at least mentioned, but not given the due time to be fully developed. As an example, let's just take Katniss's "torn-between-two-lovers-conflict", which is sufficiently explored in the novel by the means of introspection but which for the "virginal" group of movie spectators must feel like pretty much unexplainable.

The same happens to the characters. They are mostly present in the movie, though maybe at a low scale. Important new protagonists like Finnick and Johanna Mason are introduced in short key scenes which correspond exactly to the words of the novel. You get a good impression of Johanna's rebellious character when you see her undress in the elevator. But then there is not much room for further development, and minor characters like Wiress or Mags do not even get that kind of exposition and sadly do not leave a great deal of mental imprint in the end.

The problem is that the movie has hardly got more than two hours at its disposal in order to tell the whole story. It should have run at a slower pace, allowing itself to create more atmosphere. The first part of the trilogy, directed by Gary Ross in 2011, was better at this, for instance when it depicted the mood of decadence that was reigning in the Capitol in a way that even the Suzanne Collins novel was unable to perform.

Fortunately, the "Mockingbird" dish will be served in two mouthfuls. I can only hope that this decision was not motivated by economical reasons but by the intention to pay true cinematographic respect to an epic masterpiece.

Jîn (2013)
14 out of 22 people found the following review useful:
Innocence Lost - or an Innocent Girl to Save the World?, 31 March 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

17-year-old Jîn takes part in the Turkish-Kurdish conflict as a Kurdish guerrilla fighter. But she wants to leave it all behind and seek refuge in another part of the country...

But more than a documentary observation about an actual war conflict, "Jîn" can be taken as a universal story…

According to the director's own declarations in the Q&A session following the screening of the movie at the 63rd edition of the Berlin Film Festival the title giving name has two different meanings: in Kurdish "Jîn" means "Life", while in Turkish, although without the circumflex, it means "Woman".

Therefore an explanation of the film could be given on various levels. Of course, Jîn, although not yet of age, is first of all seen as a woman, and, more than that, as a Kurdish woman, who - traveling alone – is considered an easy prey by the males that surround her. Several attempts of rape occur, and it is significant that Jîn always defends herself like a fierce animal in order to keep her innocence intact.

Innocence is lost nevertheless. This, however, is shown not by the girl herself, but by the landscape in which she has to survive. Being on the run and having no friends to save or protect her, Jîn is often seen as a lonely inhabitant of the forest or the mountain. But these apparently inhospitable places, in which for any human soul it would seem difficult to stay alive, develop into a kind of enchanted realm in which a secret communication takes place between the protagonist and its local dwellers: birds, sheep, turtles… and even a bear. It is in this kingdom of animals that Jîn finds the protection that the human world cannot offer her.

The destruction of war, however, does not stop at the frontiers of paradise. When the detonations of artillery and bombs strike the remoteness of the land, we witness the bewilderment of the animals – as if they could not believe their eyes. Paradise all of a sudden is smeared by the sin of human insensitivity. Is all hope gone?

Fortunately Jîn, this time with the circumflex, is the owner of a speaking name and therefore opposed to the forces of death and destruction. She shows this by not killing the Turkish soldier, when she is alone with him in the forest. Her taking care of and eventually healing him, which took her a great deal of pain and effort, was not understandable to some parts of the audience: Why did she not take the chance to take revenge? After all, her father was killed by the Turks, when she was only two, and all the trouble of her life started back then!

But such an action would just provoke a continuation of the spiral of violence and not lead to a good end. It is thanks to film makers like Reha Erdem and the fictitious character invented by him that we are shown a pathway into a better world. Jîn, that innocent girl, at the end of the movie – though heavily wounded – is not dead. It is only up to the people in the world to revive her – so that she finally will get what she always wanted and what she fully deserves: a "Life".

39 out of 44 people found the following review useful:
A quiet drama that slowly turns into a shout, 1 May 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Some people seem not to have liked this film. After seeing it myself I read a strange half-sentence by a renowned film critic, writing for an even more renowned international newspaper (I will not give away the name of the person in question, for his own benefit!), declaring that "Just the Wind" was accompanied by an unbearable sluggishness and confusion.

Such apparent misjudgment made me speechless at first, but then I simply recalled my own viewing experience. Although very far away from the screen, sitting just below the roof of the sumptuous Berlinale-Palast, there was never a second in which I was not absorbed by the action of the movie, feeling actually very close to the characters and by no means indifferent or confused. After the screening was over I remember walking through the streets without a purpose, just lost in thoughts and overpowered by a feeling of extreme sorrow for the fate of the protagonists and sheer helplessness against the ugly faces of racism.

"Csak a szél" is a very quiet drama that slowly turns into a shout. In a little Hungarian village the last day in the life of a small Romani family is shown, a family that only consists of the mother, her two children and the grandfather, because the head of the family has already emigrated to Canada, a place to which the others will follow as soon as they have raised the money. They all try to live a fairly normal and discrete life, at least the mother who is working as a cleaner in two different job places, and the girl who is conscientious about the necessity of attending school, whereas her younger brother is playing truant and prefers to play video games in the house of a neighborhood family or simply to roam about in the forest.

The film was inspired by an authentic case of racist attacks in Hungary which took place a few years ago and in which eight people lost their lives in less than a year. But it tells a fictitious story in which the artist decides to concentrate on the chronological events, however unimportant they may seem, of an entire day, from dawn to dusk. Soon we learn that a neighbor family has been killed, without apparent motive, just for racist reasons. The authors of the crime have not been found, and the police is not much of a help either. On the contrary, in the one scene where police agents are present, we witness that at least one of them is a racist himself. It is therefore not surprising that the whole place is dominated by a pogrom-like atmosphere manifesting itself by ugly little incidents, such as when a bus driver obliges a Romani member to run a few extra metres because he did not stop the bus at the exact spot where she was waiting.

However, there is but a quiet rebellion against these visible signs of discrimination. It may be a climate of lingering fear that impedes action. For example, when a girl is raped on the school toilet, Anna, the Romani girl, will do nothing but silently steal away without denouncing anybody. Has she been raped too? When a little later her father asks her in a video internet conversation whether she is pregnant, she leaves the question unanswered and can only speak about the fear that has invaded her.

In another key scene a suspicious looking black car is slowly following Rio, the boy. Rio halts and tries to hide behind some bushes unable to do anything else. His violent reaction comes out a little later when he is in the deep forest, running alone, cutting himself an aisle through the undergrowth. It seems to be something like a shout of despair, an outcry against the overwhelming menace, which sadly can only be heard by the film audience.

As in Bence Fliegauf's previous film "Womb" nature symbolism plays an important role. But instead of the boundless sea we find here the forest as an area of limitation for the human spirit of which to break free seems to be an almost impossible task. And nobody on this planet should claim that he does not consider himself concerned. Speaking of Germany, there is a recent series of neo-Nazi attacks against Turkish citizens whose swift clearing up was apparently impeded because of sheer negligence of the authorities so that Chancellor Angela Merkel had to publicly apologize.

But then, of course, there is also the wind. When the family members are huddling against each other in bed, at the end of the day and some noise is heard outside, the mother tries to comfort them by saying that it is "just the wind". And me in my cinema seat have got the strange thought that if the film ended just now, everything would be just fine. But the world is not like that, not even in the twenty-first century, in which the wind of racism is still around, arbitrary and blind, destroying the good nature of life and all the ambitious dreams that go with it.

Ben X (2007)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Ben X and Scarlite, or how an autist can survive in a hostile world, 25 February 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Ben X" is a word pun in Belgian Dutch and could also be read as "ben niks", which means "I am nothing" in English. In fact, Ben, the teenage protagonist of Nic Baltazar's first feature film, has lost contact to the world that surrounds him and does not want to play any role in it. He lacks communication skills, and does not seem to be bothered by that. The sad result is that he is bullied by his classmates in the most atrocious ways, a treatment that he does not even try to resist.

On the other hand there is Scarlite, a beautiful girl, that seems to be in a way connected to Ben. When two of his classmates, Desmet and Bogaert, have taken his mobile phone away from him during another bully attack, they find a picture of Scarlite and a message telling him that she is going to meet him the next day at the train station. They are full of surprise: how could a guy that does not speak to anyone have such a lovely girlfriend? The answer is that Ben has created a parallel world of his own, playing online games. In cyber space he has met a girl who uses the name of "Scarlite", and who has become a collaborator in his adventures and even a kind of confidant or friend who intuitively guesses what is behind his plan to play the so-called "endgame": he is planning to commit suicide, and almost instantaneously she volunteers to be his "healer".

But the meeting in the real world turns out to take shape in the only way that seems to be possible for a guy that is suffering from the Asperger syndrome: Although Ben sees Scarlite at the train station, he is unable to communicate with her. It is as if suddenly a barrier has appeared which he cannot penetrate. The girl finally walks away, but Ben forces himself to follow her and steps into the train that she takes and even manages to sit down next to her. Then, noting that he is in some sort of pain, she simply asks him if he is fine. Ben again cannot respond in a way a non-autistic person would do, and he hurriedly escapes from the train and loses track of Scarlite.

Is this the end? In the next scene Ben is seen on a platform ready to jump. But when a train arrives and he is about to carry out his plan, he is miraculously saved by Scarlite who pulls him back. As it later becomes clear, this second appearance of Scarlite, in which she proves to be the "healer", preventing him from suicide, is no more than a construction of his imagination: Scarlite is present throughout most parts of the remaining footage, but she is never seen interacting with members of the real world, for instance Ben's parents, and in the final scene she virtually disappears, after seemingly having had a conversation with Ben the moment before.

It therefore seems as if Ben is sitting alone and talking to himself. Strange situation, but thinking about it well, this must be taken as the only possible solution for his life. As it is difficult to establish a well-working human relationship for most autistic people, the salvation could lie in the imaginative forces of the mind.

We might even call it love. Although the idea that autists are able to develop such a feeling must be new even to experts, the facts of the film are quite clear: Ben has become attached to Scarlite - or the idea of Scarlite - and after she saved him from suicide, he accepted her as a kind of personal healer. He has failed to approach her using the patterns of social behavior that a non-autistic person would use, but nonetheless nothing is lost. Using the forces of imagination, from that moment onwards Scarlite will be a part of his life. He will not stop loving her, and this imagined relationship might even prove to be more stable than a real one.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Lies and betrayals all around – Is it still good to be born?, 17 December 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"4 luni, 3 saptamâni si 2 zile" is a film about betrayal and about a society in which a climate of fear prevails, and in which betrayal is regarded as a necessary weapon against it.

Right at the beginning a recurrent symbol for betrayal is introduced in a close shot: the cigarette. Throughout the movie it is never purchased legally, only on the black market, and is often used as means of bribe. Logically, all the movies' protagonists are heavy smokers…

But smoking, especially when done by women, is also criticized at one point. When Otilia, the ever-present female protagonist, attempts to smoke at her boyfriend's mother's birthday party, she is reprimanded by a guest of the family for lacking respect. As a matter of fact, the same man later reveals that he was also against his son "dodging conscription"…

He seems to be the only one who is condemning betrayal and, naturally, he is unable to impose his will. All other people are stricken with the disease, and occasionally show this in an absurd, sometimes comical way. For instance, Otilia and her friend Gabita, whom she helps to procure an abortion, both go to different bathrooms at different stages of the movie, but both do the same thing: they open the tap and let water run, without using it, only for fake. They do that, of course, because they are overwhelmed by the situation and can't cope with it. Gabita, because she knows that the malicious Mr Bebe, who has been engaged to carry out the abortion procedure, as a form of payment for his services is going to have sex with first Otilia and then herself. Otilia, later at the birthday party, because while having to confront all these people she is not allowed to reveal anything of the nightmare she has just gone through.

And although she will later speak in private at least about the abortion to her boyfriend Adi, she is committing another, even more serious betrayal at the same time: not mentioning the form of payment she agreed to with Mr Bebe. Confidence, after all, is shaken, and after Otilia's rather abrupt departure it is foreseeable that her relationship to Adi will never be the same as before.

There are betrayals all around, and it is significant that even the most repugnant character feels betrayed. Mr Bebe is upset by the facts that he is not met personally by Gabita at the first point of encounter, but by Otilia, whom he mistakes for Gabita's sister, and that he has to perform the abortion in a different hotel than he had wished. The spectator, not knowing anything yet about his preferred "form of payment", even feels a little bit sorry for him, especially when he learns that Bebe might have to go into jail, because, after having found out about another of Gabita's lies, it becomes obvious that the fetus he is asked to extract is older than three months.

Lies, betrayals, cheating – there is no end to it, and not everything can be said, for there is a length limit to this article. But one character, and because of the choice of title obviously the most important one of the movie, should at least be mentioned. 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, that is the age of the unborn fetus, which Otilia (and, a little later, the spectator) sees lying on the bathroom floor, helpless and dead, and not even covered. There is a human shape, there are eyes and a tiny head. It seems to sleep peacefully and will never wake up. Isn't that the utmost betrayal, to be deprived of life?

But then again, we see Otilia running around in the darkness of Bucharest, with the fetus crammed in a bag, trying to get rid of it and finally dropping it on the trash chute of a high rise building. Before that we see her gasping in panic as a stranger is following her. Dogs are howling menacingly, there seems to be no escape. It is a scene taken right out of hell, worse than our worst nightmares can imagine, but on the other hand also a fair reflection of Ceausescu's Rumania. A state of fear and loathing, based on betrayal and lacking the most basic values that could help to create a climate of trust and understanding. An icy and relentless society into which nobody wants to be born that easily.

Hotel (2004)
11 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Into the Deep Dark Forest, 9 February 2008

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As in her previous film "Lovely Rita", Jessica Hausner creates a universe in which warm communication and deep understanding between human beings seems to be impossible. Irene arrives at the hotel, set right in the middle of a deep dark forest. She replaces an employee that has mysteriously disappeared… Those could be the core elements of a classic horror movie, but then we find out that "Hotel" is something more than just that.

The camera follows Irene closely on her lonely walks along the corridors of the hotel basement, into the forest or while she quietly breaststrokes in the deserted hotel swimming pool. But only once an unusual, "creepy" event takes place which could be typical for a horror movie: After one of her swims Irene finds her glasses on the floor, partly broken, and her chain, which she uses as a lucky charm and which a little earlier she had refused to lend to fellow employee Petra, has disappeared.

But there aren't any dramatic consequences. The chain reappears without much explication – it is said to have been found in the forest. This place, however, takes on a central significance in the film. People say that it is inhabited by a mysterious witch, although there is no actual evidence for that being more than just a legend. At least the witch can be seen as a puppet in a glass case somewhere in the hotel.

So the real horror is not a monster coming from the outside. It therefore must be innate in humans – just as Simon would put it in William Golding's famous novel "Lord of the Flies". But here the particular bad nature of mankind does not manifest itself in violent actions that can be seen on the surface. In "Hotel" humans behave in an even meaner way: their relationships are marked by the almost complete absence of warmth and mutual comprehension.

Nobody in the hotel is interested in establishing a friendly connection with Irene that goes beyond mere labor bonds. Being a newcomer in the hotel she nevertheless does not attract the curiosity of her companions. None of them wants to know anything about her circumstances of life. Irene, on the other hand, shows a longing for friendship, but is incapable of finding any fulfillment. On one occasion, she cannot find sleep because of some noise from the outside, and she eventually gets access to a room in which three people, Petra among them, are listening to music, drinking and smoking, pretending to have fun. But no real communication is going on, these people seem to be nothing more than ghosts. Finally Irene sits down in an armchair and falls asleep. When she wakes up, she finds those people gone, leaving behind nothing but the garbage they produced.

Another time, Irene is dancing alone in a disco, beside her a guy is doing the same, apparently longing for physical contact but unable to establish it. When later he has finally succeeded to do so, it becomes obvious that a physical connection is easier to have than an emotional or spiritual one. Some kisses are exchanged, significantly while exploring a deep dark cave, but not many words are spoken. So the relationship eventually is a failure and Irene's longings left unsatisfied.

Being deprived of a true love relationship and failing in her attempts to establish some kind of relationship to a colleague of the same sex, Irene decides to take a weekend off and return to the safe haven of humanity that might be represented by her parents. But also this attempt disappointingly breaks down. From a phone call to her parents, of which we can hear only Irene's part, it becomes evident that they are not exactly desperate to see her.

Bearing all this is mind, the final events of the movie become easily explainable. During an evening control walk in the hotel basement, Irene steps out into the fresh air to smoke a cigarette as she has done on previous occasions. And as also happened before, when she wants to get back inside, the entry door has mysteriously closed. But this time it is also locked… What is there to do? Instead of screaming for help or trying to find another entrance, Irene chooses a different solution. Without reluctance or hesitation she walks into the dark forest, a place that throughout the movie has been portrayed as haunted and dreadful. But apparently this is a better way out than having to return to that cold and inhospitable place that is represented by the hotel. A place in which human ghosts walk alongside each other without even the remotest touch of what all humans deep in their heart long for: true love and understanding.

7 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
One Magic Moment, 13 April 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Zemestan" ("It is Winter"), one of the two Iranian movies in this year's competition section of the Berlin Film Festival, certainly did not satisfy everybody of those who were around to see it and did not win any of the major prizes either. That was, in my opinion, only partly due to the film's pessimistic undertones. To a much higher extent this negative reception should be explained by the fact that mainstream viewers and critics are still not familiarized enough with the essence of Iranian film-making and therefore unable to fully grasp the value of certain techniques which are typical for this kind of cinema.

For example, the correspondent of Spain's principal newspaper EL PAIS, after having complained about the apparent lack of "swiftness" of the movie, even went a step further and denounced "this endogamous style of a certain type of Iranian cinema which pretends that ellipses or silences are worth more than a thousand words." But is this really all that bad? Or is it not, on the contrary, an artistic achievement of the highest value? An achievement which can best be understood in that memorable "two-second-scene of happiness". But for those who haven't seen the film or don't remember it well enough, I might just recap the storyline a little bit.

It's all about the current situation of the Iranian underclass, where people find it difficult to find work and position themselves in life. Same problem as elsewhere, we might say. But here conditions seem to be particularly crude: It is winter, and the world presents itself just as that, a cold and inhospitable place. A father of a small family has lost his job and emigrates to another country, leaving his wife and little daughter behind. He does not come back, does not write any letters, nor does he send any money – his mission seems to have turned out to be a complete failure. A migrant worker arrives from the North, looking for some work as a car mechanic, but here in the South conditions are equally bad. And still, he somehow manages to find a small job which is poorly paid. He is without a woman, a situation which in Iranian society apparently is particularly despised and placed little value on. He meets the emigrant's wife, finds out that this woman lives alone with her daughter and concludes that she must be a widow. He tries to court her, but she is not an easy prey.

Then, suddenly, the magic moment arrives. You can see that they are talking together in a friendly way, from afar, without being able to hear what they are saying. The scene barely lasts two or three seconds, and then, in the next scene we are already at the registry office, but we see nothing more than the corridor. For another two seconds.

Of course, it is not necessary to be told any more than this. All the rest wondrously develops in your mind. Every spectator can invent his own version of how the two fall in love. And we remember: the same happens or happened in plenty of other Iranian movies which have been acclaimed in the past. Just take Kiarostami's unforgettable "Through the Olive Trees" where cinematographic proceedings present themselves in an even more radical way, for not only don't we witness the moment of love between the two protagonists, we don't know either if a love scene has taken place at all. Therefore we become the most autonomous spectator possible, creating our own film ending, just as we think befitting.

In "Zemestan", as we have seen, the time of happiness is cut away almost entirely. What remains are ninety minutes of sadness and sorrow. A sadness that inexorably gains the upper hand over the happiness. The mechanic also loses his jobs and considers emigrating. That's when suddenly the ex-husband returns, walking on crutches, having lost a leg. He does not enter his old house, does not want to reveal his misfortune. He dies before having uttered a single word. The new husband, on the other hand, finally recoils from taking the train that could have taken him to a new destiny. He stays behind, lost in the white immensity of snow, pitiless reflection of a cold and uncaring universe. It's winter, definitely.

Stay (2005/I)
0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The Relentless Truth, 9 March 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

At the last Berlin Film Festival I also watched "Stay", which was included in the "Panorama" section. It is one of those movies highly loaded with tension and mystery, in which you impatiently wait for the end, when hopefully everything will get solved, same as any picture of Night Shyamalan, or "The Others", that intriguing ghost story signed by Alejandro Amenábar.

A psychologist has to attend a patient who reveals to him that in three days' time he is going to kill himself, precisely on the day of his 21st birthday. He is an arts student and young painter and apparently wants to imitate a certain Tristan Rêveur, an imaginary artist who, according to the student, shot himself a bullet through the head, in the middle of Brooklyn Bridge. But then things get more complicated and gradually there appear things that by logical standards simply cannot be, and slowly you start to wonder which is reality and which is purely dream.

Although this is quite a commercial picture and destined to a mass audience, it is also clear that it requires an active and creative spectator, and therefore people who are just looking for entertainment as a means of evasion should abstain from attending the cinema.

So everybody is free to establish his own interpretation. At the beginning the message of the film's title seems to be clear: the psychologist does not want his patient to kill himself, he wants him to "stay" in this world. "If this is a dream, the whole world is inside it!" is his argument. He wants to underline the world's attractiveness, knowing that many suicide candidates insist on having the right to escape from the world, simply because it does not seem real to them.

You are kept in suspense all time, especially because you want to know how it all ends, and if the mystery will be solved. And also because you fear that the long-awaited solution finally might turn out to be a silly one that will never convince you. But fortunately this is not the case, in the end everything becomes clear, and everything turns around in such a way that you wish to watch the movie another time, for you perfectly know that you will watch it then with completely different eyes. Same happened with "The Others", although, if you think well about it, "The Others" was much more trivial than "Stay".

In the end you find out that the title's meaning has undergone a slight change, it has become more universal. Now there is not only one unfortunate man that we want to keep with us, but all people on earth, who are all destined to die. And although we know that we cannot do anything to change the unshakable laws of nature, we will never be able to accept the relentless truth.

Isabella (2006)
10 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
The Perpetuation of Love, 5 March 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The final one of the sixteen pictures that I saw in this year's Berlin Film Festival strangely enough was the one I liked most. Which does not necessarily mean that it was also the best or the most widely acclaimed. But it was the one that took the most direct way right into my heart.

In the end it has gained only one of the major awards: best soundtrack. And deservedly it was, an amazing combination of sound and picture, and when in the end the immortal Amalia Rodríguez adds to it, singing her famous "O gente de minha terra", that really put the dots on the i's.

Why is there a Portuguese song in a Chinese film? Well, in fact, it is not purely Chinese, it is from Hongkong with the action taking place in Macao, in the year of the return, 1999. Therefore, the Portuguese are in it, and there is also a corruption plot that deals with them, and in which the male protagonist, police inspector Shing, is involved.

But this is very much on the outside of what the film really wants to tell. Its title is "Isabella", but that does not give us a clear hint either about its message. In a way this is even pretty misleading. It seems to refer to the name of a disappeared dog, but then again this dog does not play a big part in the development of the plot. Then surprisingly, when you happen to have a look at the casting list, you find out that the main actress is called "Isabella Leung". Now that must be a complete novelty in the history of cinema, just imagine that "Citizen Kane" would be renamed into a simple "Orson". Strange stuff.

Really this is a well developed love story that goes straight to the heart. Inspector Shing, a bachelor who must be in his mid thirties, wants to forget his problems in the arms of a young girl of about 17. He is given a snub, but nevertheless the girl sticks to him, just to surprise him by announcing that he actually is her father! Yan's mother has died of lung cancer (the movie is also a plea for a sane life without smoking!), and the girl is now moneyless and has therefore got kicked out of her flat. Shing begins to remember his past: when he was 17, he had left his pregnant girlfriend. He regrets what he has done and wants to change his life. But first he has to go into prison, because of the corruption affair.

As is also revealed, Yan's mother has had an abortion, and Yan's father actually is somebody else: a man from the neighborhood, without strong affective attachment to the mother. But what counts is love, and the mother has never stopped loving Shing, and Yan has taken account of that.

The film is mainly about the coming closer together of Shing and Yan, first due to Yan's taking the initiative, then also because Shing finds relief in this beginning relationship, which could be called platonic love. Or something more than platonic, but this is not quite evident at the end. Yan promises to wait until Shing will have completed his two-year prison sentence, and that's how the movie finishes. It seems as if the love of the mother has been perpetuated in the daughter.

This at last is a lovely story in the midst of all this misery. It brings on a flash of hope which lets you leave the cinema with your head high. Many people have compared Pang Ho-Cheung stylistically to Wong Kar-Wai, but while his fellow director incessantly and yearningly speaks of lost or inaccessible love, Pang tells us a much simpler story projecting a world in which the most daring dreams are likely to be fulfilled.

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