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18 out of 46 people found the following review useful:
Hollywoodisation of European history, 2 October 2009

I watched this film last night at its Latvian premiere. It was a relatively big event owing to the fact that it was the first ever Hollywood production shot entirely on location in Riga. The film's theme is without any doubt an important one and the real life Irena Sendler definitely deserves to have a film made about her life. I'm just not sure that this was the film It is, of course, one thing that they shot the film in Riga, Latvia and not in Poland. Before the screening, one of the producers claimed that it was no longer possible to make a film about the Warsaw ghetto in Warsaw since everything had been destroyed during the war. That may be true, still others have managed. I understand that this film has been made for the American audiences who wouldn't be able to tell the difference between Madrid and Reykjavik but let's be honest, it didn't actually feel very Warsawy. Riga went through similar events during WWII, so the events depicted in this film didn't feel inaccurate against the actual background of the city of Riga but it just wasn't Poland.

However, that wasn't the biggest problem. Mediocre and unconvincing acting aside, everyone not only spoke broken English (plus they had public signs in English!!!) but they also spoke the way Americans do in Hollywood productions - I love you, son - I love, daddy. Excuse me but no one actually speaks with each other like this in real life in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else really for that matter. And what was it all about with this sudden outburst of cautious randiness in the closet? Yes, of course, we need a bit of fully clothed and well-tempered romance to make the Hollywood mission complete.

In many ways, this film tried to be Schindler's List. They even put some real life footage of Irena Sendler at the end of the film, just like they did it in Spielberg's film. But both these films, while touching upon very serious and important matters, flop entirely in terms of authenticity and believability. In other words, cheap Hollywoodisation of European history.

4:30 (2005)
11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Study of loneliness, 28 September 2009

Royston Tan's second feature 4:30 is a study of loneliness and inability to break what is often just a shell created by circumstance and mounting bitterness towards fellow human beings as well as failure to communicate. The film's central characters are Xiao Wu, an 11-year-old Chinese latchkey boy left to fend for himself after school while his mother is away on never-ending business trips and Jung, their thirty-something suicidal wreck of a tenant from Korea. The obvious obstacles to any communication between the two, such as the language barrier and the age gap, do not deter the boy from constantly attempting to establish a link to Jung. Just like a warmth-seeking missile, he never seizes to direct his attention towards him – he smells his chopsticks to find out what he had for dinner, he takes a photo of both of them together while Jung is asleep and even secretly cuts one of his pubic hairs – all to be entered into his journal which is entirely dedicated to documenting Xiao Wu's observations of the tenant. Occasionally, he tries to get under Jung's skin by putting on his boxer shorts and mimicking his daily routines, including shaving. Thus, his obsession with Jung becomes his own daily routine, a routine which he takes very seriously. Every night at 4.30, woken up by his several alarm clocks, he conducts his nocturnal forays into Jung's bedroom. While the tenant is lying unconscious in his bed after yet another night of heavy drinking, no doubt aided by the pills which he also abuses, Xiao Wu inspects what little there is to inspect, searching for future entries into his journal.

Jung seems oblivious to Xiao Wu's childish attempts at communicating with him. His own mind is grief-stricken by the loss of his girlfriend and he chooses to ignore even the boy's unimpeded attempts at provoking a reaction from him. In a rare moment of actual interaction between the two one night on the stairs, the only thing Jung can think of is to offer the 11-year-old a cigarette while tears are welling up in his eyes. He even tries to say something to Xiao Wu in Korean, only the viewer doesn't get any translation of what he says, just to emphasise the impenetrable wall between the two.

Leading a lonely existence in an adolescent world disconnected from the rest of the society, Xiao Wu is a typical product of surroundings which have little time to spare for one another. Growing up mostly on his own and feeling alienated in school, his only role models are fictional characters on TV shows whom he knows so well that he simply mimics every word one of them, ironically a disgruntled housewife, has to say. Unwittingly, Jung becomes his other role model being the only other person around. One of the focal scenes of the film has Xiao Wu reading out loud a composition he was supposed to write as part of his homework. The title of the composition is My Hero. In a somewhat shaky voice he presents Jung as his Korean father who has a distinct smell of beer and Johnson's baby powder but also someone who loves him and cares for him and meets him every day after school. And herein lies the all too powerful distinction between the two – although they are both intrinsically lonely, their loneliness has been arrived at on two different levels which are never to meet. Most of the time, the two protagonists wear white shirts and tops. While in the boy's case the white colour might symbolise his innocence, Jung's white shirts resemble mostly a white flag. Xiao Wu is seeking human contact while Jung has given up on it.

Royston Tan's art direction is impressive and his cinematography has a hypnotic, almost mesmerising effect. Although obviously not to everyone's taste, 4:30 can be a rather meditating experience with sparse dialogue and long silent scenes where the viewer is given the opportunity to submerge in the significance of the seemingly insignificant. The film is also filled with subtle humour portraying everyday life of an extremely bored pre-adolescent boy. It cannot be recommended to any viewers craving action or wrapped-up explanations since much of the interpretation is left to ourselves but I would say that it's exactly what gives this film a little extra to chew on after the credits are gone.

La león (2007)
17 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
River tango for two while harvesting reed, 13 July 2009

It is easy to become mesmerised by the hypnotic landscapes of the Paraná Delta where the main river splits into several branches forming a complex labyrinth of subtropical wetlands. It must be this hypnotic effect that makes the inhabitants appear somewhat drowsy and definitely not very talkative. Each word that is uttered seems to come out due to sheer necessity and not for the pleasure of conversing. Forget all about the alleged Latin American temper and fast-paced living! People's lives here are a far cry from the Brazilian samba – if anything, it's a tango with some very slow steps. And some kind of bizarre tango of two bulldogs at each other's throats is exactly how I would describe the growing tensions between Álvaro and Julio, nicknamed El Turu, the self-proclaimed guardian of the island's traditions and values.

Álvaro is a soft-spoken gay man with big puppy eyes who makes his living harvesting reed and restoring books for a library on the mainland. He spends his free time boating the canal-like branches of the river fishing and occasionally engaging in sexual encounters with visiting strangers in the woods where his sexual escapades are observed by some migrant labourers from Paraguay, illegally felling trees on a private property. Apparently not particularly judgemental, these misionaros, as El Turu scornfully refers to them, form a special bond with Álvaro. Being an outsider to a certain degree himself, he doesn't share El Turu's assessment that these people have come to destroy their community by taking all their work from them and flooding the village with their families. Actually, he couldn't care less about these allegations. El Turu, on the other hand, whose position in the community apparently comes from being the captain of La León, the only boat connecting the village with the outside world, is full of contempt and hatred towards the migrants. Throughout the entire film, El Turu tries to persuade his fellow villagers "to do something about it". His bigoted frame of mind comes to the viewers' attention already in one of the opening scenes when he refuses to believe that a young man from the village committed suicide over some girl, claiming instead that the misionaros are surely behind his death. But the danger from the outside is in his eyes well aided by the danger within, namely Álvaro's apparent homosexuality. In a community like this one, you are usually left alone if you go about your "non-traditional" sexuality quietly and aren't caught out but unfortunately, there also always tends to be the odd bigot, the self-proclaimed defender of virtue who will try to catch you out and "teach you a lesson". However, since the question of homosexuality preoccupies and troubles such people so much, it is also quite legitimate to assume that there is a very good personal reason for that – their own latent queerness. And El Turu is no exception. The two axes of confrontation in the film – the one between El Turu and Álvaro and the other one between El Turu and the misionaros reach a climax when El Turu himself, boiling in his frustration, tips the afore-mentioned balance.

The impressive black and white cinematography of "La León" is somewhat reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch's "Dead Man" – the panoramic loneliness set against the river calmly flowing by, while the minimal dialogue in the film bears resemblance to the moody style of his pal, Aki Kaurismäki. Nevertheless, this feature film debut from the hand of Santiago Otheguy has its own unique signature and I'm certainly looking forward to his future work.


Pantasya (2007)
6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Lonely guys daydreaming, 10 July 2009

The plot summary for this film on this site is actually quite misleading. The film isn't about men in uniforms at all. It was probably the film's international distributors who insisted on a more sell-able title in English. 'Pantasya' is about loneliness, desire to belong and the daydreaming that comes as a result.

The film consists of five monologues presented by five lonely guys in their 20's. Each one of them has a situation-based fantasy. Most of them involve their own jobs (taxi-driver, pizza delivery boy, guard). And it's hardly so that they are dreaming about having sex with themselves. Another one longs to become part of a basketball team or any other closely-knit group of people for that matter. The closest we get to the supposed premise of the film is in the second segment where the guy has a dream of getting it off with a couple of workmen who've come to his house to do some repairs, also easily the cheesiest segment of all five.

Occasional uniforms in the film are only the physical expression of the protagonists' social status, their drab lives. They aren't necessarily here to trigger somebody's fantasies.

I agree that the lighting is fairly poor. It is a low budget film. However, at least in part it could have been intentional since daydreaming is supposed to be somewhat hazy and blurred. When it comes to the musical score the director must have been inspired by soft-core skin flicks. However, it makes me think of Twilight Zone more than anything else. Given the lighting, it might also be appropriate! I believe that the film's main problem is that it fails to engage. All the narrators seem to be sad and miserable, albeit somewhat uplifted as a result of their daydreaming but still not interesting enough to actually care. Some of the erotic scenes are more convincing than other but don't expect any actual porn here. The focus isn't on sex, it's on longing.

The Bubble (2006)
12 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Impossible love in Israeli context, 26 September 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Since the advent of literature, people of all nationalities have been fascinated and easily touched by accounts of unhappy love. Even more fascinating have always been the tales of impossible love, love that cannot be. The Israeli filmmaker Eytan Fox' latest film „The Bubble" is about that. And then it is also not. The title of the film refers to the „bubble" that is Tel-Aviv set against the background of the political realities of Israel. The country's cosmopolitan and unofficial capital city doesn't have much in common with Nablus, a city in the Palestinian West Bank which also features in the film. It doesn't have much in common with the tense and hateful atmosphere at the Palestinian checkpoints. Actually, it doesn't seem to have much in common with anything surrounding it. The „bubble" of Tel-Aviv allows people to have a lifestyle which isn't much different from what you may expect in any Western city. Teenage girls looking for Britney Spears' records, a lifestyle magazine editor looking for a sexy cover for his next issue, trendy people sitting in trendy cafes discussing trendy things over cups of cappuccino and other similarly trendy drinks, while those at home are watching the local edition of Pop Idol. It is this „bubble" that also has the potential to lull one's mind into a false sense of reality.

The film evolves around the lives of three young Israelis who share a flat and, for the most part, try to stay out of politics. Yelli, the camp owner and manager of „Orna & Ella", a hip cafe, rarely leaves the city and prefers not to think about the „crap that surrounds them". Noam, a soft and easygoing employee of a slightly avantguard record store, seems to be equally unwilling to engage in long political discussions and contemplations. Lulu, the only female of the lot, is on the contrary linked to the Israeli Left, although her political activities seem to be confined to „raves against the occupation". Yelli and Noam naturally don't object to participating in these. Lulu and her political friends make t-shirts with the rave's logo, put up posters and hand out booklets advertising it in the neighbourhood. Their main concern seems to be that there are never any actual Palestinians participating and that the police might come and spoil all the fun for them again. The closest they come to an actual confrontation is when they get into a scuffle with some not so Palestinian-friendly locals who try to prevent them from handing out the leaflets. In other words, predictable products of the „bubble".

The opening scenes of the film take us to a checkpoint on a road to Nablus where we also find Noam doing his reserve duty. A group of Palestinians is being thoroughly checked before entering Israel, among them a pregnant woman who suddenly goes into labour and gives birth to a stillborn child despite the best efforts from Noam and the doctor who eventually arrives in an ambulance. The woman is comforted by a young man who later turns up on Noam's doorstep in Tel-Aviv with his ID which the latter obviously dropped during the ordeal on the border. His name is Ashraf, he's Palestinian and he's gay. And he hasn't just come to hand back the ID, he has come to see Noam. Without a permit to live in Israel and despite the initial hesitation from Noam's flatmates he stays. He soon gets a Jewish name and a job at Yelli's cafe. Having grown up in Jerusalem with Hebrew, he doesn't have an Arabic accent which makes it possible for him and his newly found friends to conceal his identity. The sky is light blue and the air is sweet. But it cannot last. For he has become part of an equation which was never meant to be.

At one point, Noam and Ashraf watch a play called Bent about two prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp who have a love relationship which can never become physical or visible to the surrounding guards. They find a way of being together on another level, a metaphysical one, a level where no one else has access. This is also where our couple arrives in the end. And it couldn't have been much different for them, not in today's Israel.

„The Bubble" is a political statement about the bubble that bursts when confronted with the political realities of today's Israel set against the background of a beautiful and awkward love story involving an Israeli and a Palestinian, the impossible love story in a divided world where no such things as compromise or other colours than black and white exist. „The Bubble" is also a beautiful film about people, gay and straight, inhabiting that strange city, Tel-Aviv, shown through the eyes of people who really care about them. The film's premise may have its flaws and the fatal chain of events may seem somewhat construed, but its strong message and emotional impact will not leave you untouched.

15 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
A murder thriller and a love story, 11 September 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Keillers Park is a Swedish film made in 2006 which is loosely based on the story surrounding the tragic death of a 37 year old man in the aforementioned park in the middle of Gothenburg in 1997. His death was a homophobic killing, and although the victim's boyfriend was accused of his murder initially, the real perpetrators were later found and convicted.

What might have been another hate crime story actually turned out to be a film about the belated sexual awakening and coming out of Peter, a 30 something Swedish civil engineer of Latvian origin (yes, isn't that an interesting twist to the story?) who finds his entire existence turned upside down after a chance encounter with Nassim, a gay free spirit born in Algeria, longing to open a "tabac" in Paris, but stuck in the cold climate of Sweden. Giving in to his desire, Peter soon loses the perfect Swedish middle class life he has been leading hitherto - his girlfriend understandably enough walks out on him, his stock conservative father disowns him and throws him out of the family business he was soon to inherit. His former friends want nothing to do with him anymore and he finds it difficult to adjust to the new ones that come with the new territory. However, the personal happiness that seems to have come with the changes in his life still makes up for the losses. Or so he thinks. After a quarrel, Nassim is gone for several days and when he calls in the dead of the night asking for his bag, Peter discovers a plane ticket to Paris in Nassim's name. Shortly thereafter, the police storm Peter's flat, take him into custody and charge him with Nassim's murder.

The story of the two men's relationship is revealed through Peter's interrogation by the police using flashbacks and is never boring, albeit painful to watch at times. The storytelling is strong and somewhat convincing, but I must say, only somewhat. I believe that it's possible to keep such an essential part of one's personality as sexuality at bay for many years, then something triggers one's true essence to come forth and lo and behold - here he is - sharing his bed with another man. I must admit that it sounds slightly out of this world, but yeah, what the hell, I can believe such premise - people are, after all, strange and often inexplicable beings. What I did find a lot less convincing was the apparent ease with which the change came. It may be down to the cliché non-expressive facade of the Nordic people, but it just seemed like Peter really didn't find it particularly hard to, in all essence, lose the ground he had been standing on. Also the culture clash between the orderly mind of a Swedish engineer and that of a free North African spirit was to be expected but I found the way in which it was shown rather perplexing. Nassim simply explodes one night because he's had enough of Peter. The build-up to the scene is simply not sufficient to make me believe such a sudden outburst, especially Peter's reaction. It is instrumental to the plot but it certainly does nothing to present the characters in a more realistic fashion.

Another flaw with the story is that Peter's surroundings in Sweden of our day and age all seem to be so homophobic and prejudiced, especially taking into account that the story takes place in Gothenburg, Sweden's second largest city. The police interrogating Peter make homophobic remarks, his former friends are horrified that he's gay and his father completely abandons him. Although even in Sweden all of this could have happened, the totality of it all doesn't feel all too real. Actually, I could see this film set in Latvia to a higher degree than in Gothenburg, hence the irony of the main character being of Latvian origin. In a way, one could say that this is the first film ever made about a gay Latvian and in that respect the tragedy of it all only seems appropriate. Or not.

Susanna Edwards' first attempt at a full length feature film comes across as solid. The acting is mostly good and the camera work deserves a big compliment. Despite some flaws, Keillers Park is certainly worth watching. It's a murder thriller and it's a love story. With a Swedish noir feeling about it.

95 out of 102 people found the following review useful:
A dreamlike reality or a realistic dream?, 11 September 2007

The Swedish filmmaker Roy Andersson's latest film You, the Living is not easy to review. One of the reasons is that in his own words he has broken with the Anglo-Saxon tradition of story-telling, in all essence the template of most Western film productions. Another reason might be that although Roy Andersson is somewhat heavy on symbolisms, his, unlike those of, say, Andrei Tarkovsky, are of a more elusive nature. It took him 3 years to complete this 86 minute long film and it wasn't because he was forced to have long breaks between shootings due to financial troubles or problems with the actors. The film consists of 57 vignettes shot mostly by a still camera, and it was the careful design of each of these scenes which required much time. The imagery of this film which is closely related to the director's previous film Songs from the Second Floor is of utmost importance to the story, thus this story is told to a great degree by the surroundings and the environment in which the characters of Andersson's universe dwell and interact. Before each scene was finally shot, there would have been no less than 10 different test shootings with different actors, colors, dialog etc. The result is a dreamlike version of the surrounding world which most of us would recognize and if the setting is like a dream, why not dream a little? Just like in Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, when somebody says "Last night I had a dream", you get to watch it. But then again, what is perceived as reality here is not very much different from the dreams.

Despite the fact that the film lacks a plot in the traditional sense of the word and there are no main characters as such, the different characters who appear and reappear in different scenes still meet each other and their stories are inevitably intertwined. What most of these characters have in common is their apparent loneliness despite being surrounded by other people. The trailer trash chain smoking and binge drinking woman who dreams of having a motorbike so that she can get away from "all this crap", her corpulent and mostly silent boyfriend and his frail and seemingly gentle but rather absent-minded mother, members of a brass band whose skill improving efforts at home aren't getting a favorable reception neither from their families nor their neighbors, the depressed Middle Eastern hairdresser and his arrogant customer on his way to "a very important business meeting", an elderly man having a nightmare about bombers in the skies, a young girl dreaming about marrying the young rock star that she is so madly in love with. It's all about dreams and nightmares versus reality but it works as much as a statement in support of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's claims that "all human communication is miscommunication". People speak to each other but it is as if they speak past each other. They try to reach out to the others but shut the others out when those try to reach them.

You, the Living is a poetic film set physically in Stockholm but yet universally applicable. The society it portrays is Sweden, its artistic language and the people displayed are generally unmistakably Nordic. Yet, the subject it deals with, namely, the misery of the humankind in a selfish world, reaches far beyond this hemisphere. Despite the seriousness of its theme, the film itself seems a lot more cheerful and laden with humor than one might have expected. But in the words of the director himself "living is so complicated to each one of us that the only thing that saves us is our sense of humor". Hence, this film is a tragic comedy or a comic tragedy, depending on your sensitivities, and not a depressing black reality tour of the human nature. It is unusual in its language and structure, but if you can think outside the box and enjoy it, you will certainly find this film both entertaining and meaningful at the same time. It was shown at this year's Cannes festival as part of the Un Certain Regard program which offers "original and different works" outside the competition. After the film was shown in the Salle Debussy, the 1,000 strong audience gave it a standing ovation for several minutes. Do I need to say more?