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40 reviews in total 
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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A quiet storm, 2 July 2017

This is the story of a little girl from Barcelona who is adopted by her aunt's family in the countryside, after her mother passes away. Largely autobiographical, "Summer 1993" is filmed in a very naturalistic style and almost feels like a documentary. The director, Carla Simón, pays special attention to the kind of small details that can make a big difference to a young kid. Although not very much seems to be going on in the surface, one can see that a very important drama, charged with intense emotions, is going on deep in the lives of this little person and the family that has welcomed her. The acting is all very effective and particularly Laia Artigas, who plays the main character, is surprisingly strong and charismatic for someone her age.

"Summer 1993" is one of many Spanish films that observe the world through the eyes of a child. Other examples include the classics "Cría Cuervos", "The Spirit of the Beehive" and "El Sur" or even the more recent "Pan's Labyrinth". The contemplative gaze and relatively slow pace remind me of "En Construcción", a documentary by another Catalan filmmaker, José Luis Guerín.

Julieta (2016)
33 out of 52 people found the following review useful:
Something's missing., 30 April 2016

Based on three short stories written by the Canadian author and 2013 Nobel laureate, Alice Munro, I'd say 'Julieta' is about a woman who struggles with the absence of those she'd like to have closest to her, because she foremost lacks a healthy relationship with her own self. It's an interesting premise, but I feel it wasn't developed enough. The movie didn't quite gel for me. I'm a big fan of Almodovar and love the vast majority of his work. However, this is one of perhaps only two films of his that I haven't liked so much. I didn't get into any of the acting nor the dialogue. There's an elegance in the photography that is typical of the director's later work; his bold, Spanish palette is there; the music is suspenseful and keeps building up... But building up to what? I couldn't see where any of this was leading to, so I lost interest. I was also bothered by Julieta's terrible wardrobe and hairdos. At some point, her tangled, blonde hair reminded me of Steven Adler, the drummer of Guns N' Roses. I tell myself this may have been done on purpose to suggest that she's unsophisticated or that something deep inside of her isn't quite right. Certainly, someone like Almodovar, who can be so playful with style, must have had a good reason to give the protagonist that sort of bad taste. But again, I seemed unable to connect the dots.

The director said in an interview that 'Julieta' may represent the beginning of a new stage for him, in which he replaces the extravagance that he's best known for with a drier, more austere tone. You can definitely see it here and I'm open to this change, if that's where his heart tells him to go. Whatever the case, even though I didn't really enjoy this recent film, I look forward to watching his next work in the cinema. I still think Almodovar is a master filmmaker and I trust that he has more surprises up his sleeve. After all, few people have made as many great movies as he has.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Liberation, through the eyes of innocence, 23 October 2015

'Bloody Beans' is a minimalist, very loose reenactment of the Algerian War of Independence, performed mainly by children. Rather than retelling the history in specific detail, the narrative playfully describes social situations and events through a kind of dream logic. Director Narimane Mari, who is of French-Algerian origin, worked with a budget of only €7,500 (or under $10,000). But her bare bones approach to plot and production has a poetic, surreal quality that is generally absent in more elaborate large-budget films. The electronic music soundtrack provided by the French duo Zombie Zombie is fresh and adds another layer of texture. With the exception of a few adults (including the director herself), the cast is mostly composed of untrained children, who address one another quite naturally, with typically Algerian expressions and mannerisms. The camera observes these kids being kids, which is perhaps why CPH:DOX, one of Europe's most important documentary awards, gave 'Bloody Beans' its top prize (despite the fact that it actually tells a fictional story inspired by historic events). In any case, this is not your average film. If you're open to somewhat more experimental work, you may find it quite rewarding.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Sorry, this is no Raging Bull., 13 August 2015

Based on some of the enthusiastic reviews that I read here (including one claiming that this film "makes Raging Bull look like a kindergarden film"), I was expecting a very raw, potent biopic about José María Gatica, also known as "El Mono" ("The Monkey"), a popular Argentine boxer who fought in the 40s and 50s, whose personal life was undone by excess and decadence. Instead, the film feels stagey and melodramatic. The music is too sentimental. Much of the acting, especially Eduardo Nieva's in the main role, feels forced. I think he tries a bit to imitate Al Pacino or Robert De Niro, but his constant screaming isn't visceral, just annoying. Gatica does come across as an out-of-control nouveau riche (who reminded me a lot of a certain Argentine football legend), but his portrayal of the character isn't compelling enough to keep one interested throughout two hours. I think Erasmo Olivera, who plays the younger Gatica, has significantly more presence on the screen. The photography is sometimes quite powerful, while other times it risks being overly nostalgic. Probably the movie's strongest point, it seems inspired by some of the films of Francis Ford Coppola or Bernardo Bertolucci. I was disappointed by most of the fighting scenes, with one exception, a surreal moment that combines unakin visual and sound elements: on the one hand, slow-motion shots of two boxers resting between rounds, panting heavily, sweating and bleeding profusely, and on the other, the voice of a priest delivering Mass in Latin. It happens unexpectedly and, although hard to explain exactly why, it works like magic. Somehow, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I wish there had been more surprises like that, more unpredictability and mystery. To be fair, this is an undeniably ambitious, probably fairly expensive period film with great production (costumes, cars, etc.) But perhaps the project became too large and complex for the director to pay attention to the details and give life to the characters. Gatica's story is unique and sad, worthy of a biopic. But the film lacks punch, if you'll pardon the pun. I actually found it painful to watch – unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons.

Our Sunhi (2013)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
That girl, 28 June 2015

Sunhi is a pretty film student who returns to her college town after being away for a year. She reencounters several men from her school days, all academic filmmakers who are very different from one another, yet are also hilariously similar in some ways. One of the film's main strengths is its simplicity: all it features is a series of funny conversations between two or three people, sometimes at a park, in broad daylight, sometimes in a bar, where emotions flow more freely. Part of the reason why it works so well is because all the characters are so believable and exquisitely played. The beautiful Yu-mi Jeong carries the lead role with natural charm and comic talent, while Jae-yeong Jeong, Sun-kyun Lee and Sang Jung Kim present an eloquent picture of intelligent men at their most stupid.

The Way (2010/I)
Come On Pilgrim, 31 May 2015

I watched 'The Way' right after having walked the Portuguese road to Santiago de Compostela from Porto. It was a beautiful trip and I felt emotional about it, so I wanted to reminisce and get another perspective. The film takes place in the more traditional road to Santiago, which goes across the north of Spain (also known as the French road, because it begins in the border with France), but I could still relate.

The production feels appropriately low budget, considering that the pilgrimage is traditionally meant to be an inexpensive experience. More important than the cost, however, is whether the film has soul. And I have to say, I was very moved by the basic storyline: an older man decides to walk to Santiago in order to feel closer to his adventurous, freewheeling son, who died while doing the pilgrimage. Both Martin and Emilio Estevez (real-life father and son) achieve good performances. Dutch actor Yorick van Wageningen also conveys emotion and adds some comic relief. Even before I read that the project was inspired by Martin and his grandson's (producer Taylor Estevez's) trip to Santiago, I could tell that there was a strong personal element and that is what I liked best about 'The Way'.

On the other hand, many parts of the film feel forced. One example is the scene in which James Nesbitt's Irish character, Jack, is introduced. He tries too hard to be quirky and this feels disconnected from the Camino experience. The pilgrimage is all about getting in touch with your true self, so any sign of phoniness feels especially out of place. There are other wacky, eccentric characters that are unbelievable or badly rendered, which distract from the more genuine portions. There is also a part in which a gypsy gives a speech about how it is wrong to stereotype his people as thieves, when in reality so many of them are very proud and dignified. I understand that director Emilio Estevez means well and wants to defend the gypsy ethnic group, but the message lacks subtlety and feels too didactic.

I can't quite say that I loved 'The Way', but it certainly has its merits. If you're interested in the pilgrimage, I recommend that you wait and watch it only after you have finished your trip to Santiago, so that you can compare it with your own personal memories.

14 out of 23 people found the following review useful:
Medieval horrors in outer space, 26 April 2015

Beautifully shot in black and white, 'Hard to Be a God' presents a spectacular procession of grotesque medieval imagery. For nearly three hours, its characters battle, spit, fart, urinate and grimace, while bird droppings fall from the sky amidst a curtain of foul steam rising from the ground. This visual vocabulary is used insistently, relentlessly, like a mantra, to the point that it nearly becomes hypnotic. The result is, nevertheless, a tasteful, even elegant, and superbly crafted product.

'Hard to Be a God' is inspired by the novel of the same title, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (which I'm not familiar with). Technically speaking, this is a science fiction story, but expect nothing like '2001: Space Odyssey' or 'Star Trek'. If anything, its aesthetics have more in common with Andrei Tarkovsky's 1966 'Andrei Rublev', which is set in 15th century Russia. The plot goes something like this: In the future, a number of earthlings go to planet Arkanar to observe its culture, which is in a similar state to what was once the Earth's Middle Ages. However, they are not allowed to teach the locals any progressive concepts that might help them reach their own Renaissance. At best, they can protect a few, specific Arkanarians who may be instrumental in the advancement of their society. Some of this is explained in an introduction. The rest, one has to more or less guess, based on the sometimes disorienting action and sparse dialog. There is a lot to take in at once, so I believe a second viewing would be helpful.

The surreal parade of people fighting one another and marching through the mud like madmen is so overwhelming, that it is almost comical during some instances. This said, it is grim to see human beings reduced to pointless violence and physiological functions. The visitors from Earth are more scientifically advanced, to the point that they are perceived by the locals as gods; but they despair as they confront the seemingly endless chaos. Thus, the title. Most Arkanarians are primitive and superstitious, while the scientists are false gods, lacking hope or divine inspiration. Not exactly uplifting, but it's a sight to behold...

Director Aleksei German spent many years working on this elaborate production and died before completing it. His wife and son took over that task and finished it in 2013.

Jauja (2014)
35 out of 43 people found the following review useful:
The voice of the desert, 4 January 2015

I went to see director Lisandro Alonso's 'Jauja' especially because his earlier trilogy blew me away. 'La Libertad' (2001), 'Los Muertos' (2004) and 'Fantasma' (2006) each observe a solitary man – a survivor – roaming through the jungle wordlessly, like a wild animal. (The setting of 'Fantasma' is urban, but can also metaphorically be regarded as a jungle.) A decade later, I am still amazed by the power of those films and by how little they rely on plot, dialogue or props. Alonso's 2008 effort, 'Liverpool', is also minimalist and follows a similar theme, but tells a slightly more specific story.

'Jauja' is more elaborate than any of Alonso's previous work. As in 'Liverpool', there is something like a plot and very limited, but significant dialogue (in Spanish, Danish and French, in this case). A gorgeous, more sophisticated cinematography presents landscapes that bring to mind 19th Century oil paintings. This is a period film that involves realistic costumes and the kind of beautifully crafted tools used by explorers and the military in the 1800s. Also, 'Jauja' features a famous actor, Viggo Mortensen of 'The Lord of the Rings', who co-produced it and co-wrote the musical score. I think this was all a great way for Alonso to try something new and fresh, without giving up his very unique style and aesthetics.

Don't expect a linear, mainstream film or you may be disappointed. This is an art-house Western – a strange, slow-paced ride through the vast, open space of the Argentine Patagonia. It addresses the exhilarating sense of adventure, but also of violence and dread, that one might experience in the hinterland. The story reminds me of Joseph Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness', in that it depicts a struggle between the forces of "civilization" and the primitive, while also drawing a parallel between the wilderness of outdoor nature and our subconscious. (Alonso's film 'Los Muertos', which shows a man travelling along a river, may also have a link to Conrad's short novel.) The film's tempo, surreal situations and the use of places as a reference to states of mind are reminiscent of Tarkovsky's 'Stalker' or 'Solaris'.

We are explained that "Jauja" is a mythical land of abundance, something akin to paradise, whose search in the old days drove many to ruin. Dinesen (Mortensen) aims to establish order in a distant, foreign land, but keeps running into unruly behavior, left and right. It's as if the indomitable spirit of the desert possessed everyone around him and suggested to him – with its dreamy voice, sometimes forcefully, sometimes playfully – that his stubbornly controlling approach towards life is misguided, a lost cause. Perhaps more than in any other film he's made, the director achieves communicating something magical and ethereal, pointing to the deep, enigmatic wisdom that we each hold inside, but are afraid to listen to. The ending may imply that all these characters are, in fact, interconnected, showing different sides of the same stone (much like the "animus" and "anima" in Jungian psychology describe the male and female aspects in every person, for example).

Like Alonso's earlier trilogy, 'Jauja' poetically hints at the magnificence and mystery of human life in God's garden. Its images and sounds seem to come from far, far away, yet somehow feel eerily familiar and close.

The Shadow (1994)
Silly fun, 20 November 2014

If you're looking for an entertaining superhero movie that doesn't take itself too seriously, 'The Shadow' might just be it. The film is based on a character created in 1931, who first appeared in pulp novels and then in a popular radio show. Alec Baldwin plays Lamont Cranston, aka The Shadow, a mysterious hero in 1930s New York City, who has psychic powers that allow him to control people's minds and appear invisible – except for his shadow. It's a cool concept. He's confronted by the villainous Shiwan Khan, descendant of Genghis Khan, (played by John Lone, of 'The Last Emperor') who shares similar powers with Cranston and has a plot to conquer the world! Baldwin is smooth as The Shadow, but less so whenever he wears a long hair wig... I spent much of the time wondering whether Lone's beard was real or not. Either way, he looks a bit ridiculous as Khan. 'The Shadow' ventures into camp territory and is plain silly at times. But it's funny. Much of it is an exercise in absurdity and I was half expecting the actors to suddenly burst out in laughter. The bottom line is that I enjoyed watching it. The cast also includes Penelope Ann Miller, Ian McKellen and a typically kooky Tim Curry.

Guest (2010/II)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Travel diary of a poet, 19 November 2014

When Catalan director Jose Luis Guerín was invited to several film festivals around the world for his movie 'In the City of Silvia', he took the opportunity to document his experiences as a guest in the places that he visited: Venice, Colombia, Cuba, Peru, Hong Kong and Israel/Palestine.

'Guest' offers quiet moments of solitude. We also get to see a bit of the action at some of the festivals. But the main focus is on regular citizens, which Guerín actively engages in conversation wherever he travels. Most of them are poor and destitute and many of the discussions revolve around politics or religion. We are introduced to advocates of both the left and the right and it's not entirely clear whether we're supposed to be more persuaded by one or the other. Instead, I understood the message to be that the poor have it tough everywhere, regardless of the political system. Most of the interviews are powerfully poetic, while a few, in my opinion, could have benefited from a little more editing. In an article for, the director explained that while he's no expert in sociology, ethnology or politics, his main goal was to express his solidarity to these people and to just listen. The contrast in lifestyles between the traveling filmmaker and the subjects of his documentary helps add perspective. At some point one of them asks him about the price of his hotel room and he replies that he has no idea, as it's all paid by the festival. Not everyone gets to enjoy the relative luxury and glamor of the film industry.

Guerin (best known for his excellent 2001 documentary, 'En Construcción') has a special talent for producing lyrical images in black and white of a universe that seems remote, yet very real and authentic. It's a very low-key movie, but one that I will never forget.

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