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O luna in Thailanda (2012)
Romanian New Wave - love it or hate it
Most of the other reviews of this movie have rightly warned you against it. It clearly belongs to the Romanian New Wave. It is exaggeratedly realistic, has no score, no cliffhangers and hardly any plot to speak of. Radu (Andrei Mateiu) spends one third with his girlfriend Adina with whom he rather unexpectedly breaks up, another third dawdling about and the last third making up with his old flame Nadia.
If you like action-packed thrillers, this isn't for you. If you like laugh-out-loud comedies, not for you. If you believe movies are there to help you wind down after a work day, are tired or not in the mood to follow a plot which is all over the place, again it's not for you. Yes, Radu and Adina have very dull sex in the beginning which might mean their relationship is on the ropes. But then they spend five minutes arguing over what gift to buy Adina's father and that's not connected whatsoever with the rest of the story. Be warned: for the Romanian New Wave, the cinematic tenet "If you see a man with an umbrella, it will rain further down the movie" holds no value, that's not how their scripts are written.
Next time you go with your mates to the pub, take a camera with you and secretly film proceedings. Everyone will be natural, there will be banter and the conversation will swing from Janet's love life to Harry's going to see his uncle in Birmingham. If you stretch it to over one hour and get Hi Film (this movie's production company and a local heavyweight of the new current) to produce it, you might be in for some awards. Just make sure everything is "realistic".
Again I'll have to disagree with the other reviewers who put the acting and directing down. It's really difficult to do long scenes where you read some boring dialogue and have to "act naturally". The actors here pull it off without a hitch and the special award goes to old flame Nadia (Sinziana Nicola at her feature debut) when she complains in the closing scenes about Radu's past treatment of her. Credit also to the director (Paul Negoescu) who kept everyone's acting in line and made it so very "realistic" (I'm abusing this word but it's the Romanian New Wave's trademark).
You need some sort of connection with the movie to make it through its 84 minutes as it is not everyone's cup of tea. Circumstances have clicked for me and in a weird sort of way I enjoyed this movie (I think). It was
Adrian Sitaru is a prize-winning Romanian director who is part of the Romanian New Wave. This particular story is apparently inspired from his own personal experience. A caring son returns from his standalone life in the capital city into his childhood town. There, he supervises the time spent in hospital by his mother who had a minor stroke. He listens to sundry opinions and worries that no treatment will be good enough.
They say in the movie business that one minute of production is precious, that you need to use production time efficiently. Efficiency seems to have been the least of this movie's concerns. We are being told for one hour and forty minutes hours that this particular son is too neurotic for his mother's good (the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the title gives away a lot of the movie). His excessive attention to detail and obsessiveness is clear from the start, we get his character but there is a limit to it and to what's significant. To fill in space, the story has to add friends who discuss Jesus and resurrection and a masked girl in the hospital who have no relevance but just make it hard to follow and digest.
The son is in every frame and he is seen mostly through the viewpoint of other characters. That's not consistent though as sometimes viewpointing is randomly abandoned and there are scenes when the son is on his own and viewpointing becomes impossible.
The movie has no score, a feature I've seen in other New Wave productions.
All in all, it's a movie which used its production time very profligately and could have told the same story in a short.
House of Sand and Fog (2003)
just poor research
I quite got the movie. I was reasonably on board with it. I got the immigrants vs. locals incongruence, Ben Kingsley's old-style righteousness which wasn't going to lead anywhere good, the incompetence of faceless authorities wrecking a certain modus vivendi, even the more philosophical spur of a moment, nervous fingers-on-the-trigger, to ruin so many lives.
But the very foundation of this movie, Kathy losing her house to the council which then sells it on the cheap to a family head bent on getting rich, is all built on the wrong premise. If Kathy owes the council $ 500, and the council sells her house for $ 45,000, the council will keep its $ 500 and return $ 44,500 to Kathy. Maybe Kathy doesn't know it, maybe even the local council doesn't get it, but as Kathy gets a lawyer, that's too much to swallow that no one really understand how the collection system works.
I can't believe that neither the author nor the so many people involved pre-production at the studio didn't get it, it's elementary. This is very poor research and understanding of things you write or make movies about. Because of such an upfront slap, I really struggled to enjoy the movie.
Lisa Cohen, brilliantly played by the rebel-looking and rebel-acting Anna Paquin, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after having the victim of a bus accident die in her arms. Additionally, she thinks she caused the bus accident, so she also has to struggle with her remorse. The movie ends, conclusively, with the character giving in to the stress she accumulated and sobbing with abandon on her mother's shoulder during an opera performance.
All fine with the starting and ending points. The thing when making a movie about psychiatric disorder is that you can fill it with anything, it doesn't have to make sense. And that's what the script of "Margaret" does, unfortunately. Little of what Lisa Cohen does in-between makes sense. Further on, little of what most of the other characters do add to the story. Special mention here goes to Matt Damon's half-baked character, who plays one of Lisa's teachers and is stupid enough to sleep with her, though we don't know why or how does he come to muster the courage to ignore her afterwards.
The main character's lack of direction is certainly understandable in the post-traumatic stress disorder context. However, that doesn't make easy viewing. You cannot identify with the character, and none of the other characters anchor the story. The movie meanders through two and a half hours of senselessness which struggles to retain the viewer's attention.
I hope the characters portrayed do not exist in reality, but I fear they do
I thought "Requiem for a dream" (2000) described the trough of human condition. "Precious" manages to take the artistic representation of this trough a lot lower. I spent most of the film hoping that the characters portrayed do not exist in reality, but fearing they do exist outside the movie-going world (yes, I believe in the power art has to make us want to be better human beings). What the script throws at Claireece is so vile, I felt like turning it off a couple of times. And yet, in the unrelenting torrent of life, the character finds the power to keep going.
I realize the film is supposed to end on an optimistic note, but not for me. Nothing humane can justify what Claireece "Precious" suffers. Much like "Requiem", it's not a film I can say I "liked" and tell friends to watch. It is a very dark film, but whose technical representation I appreciated.
Felicia, înainte de toate (2009)
a psychological experiment meticulously built
If you want a movie in Hollywood's sense of entertainment, this is not it. The pace is slow, and over the whole of the 2 hours very little happens. There is no spy catch or car chase. To stick to realism, the film has no score.
If you want a psychological experiment, well... You are knocking on the right door. This is a voyeuristic "big brother" into the intimacy of a family. An ideal family, as you might think towards the beginning of the movie. The parents are old now, the father is afflicted by illness, but even so, they talk nicely and support each other. The younger daughter lives in the same city and we understand remains in close contact with her parents. The older daughter, Felicia, has left a while ago, but still comes back regularly to the nest. You can't but be impressed by the amount of motherly love she receives. And then it only takes a missed flight for things to turn upside down. Is there such a thing as "too much motherly love"? The film would argue that "yes". At times, I felt like screaming at the mother "give her a break!". With a mother who is too busy to give waves and waves of what she thinks is "tender loving care", but it's only done for her to feel satisfied, with no regard for the subject, the daughter's character ends up broken: she cannot assert herself, has a failed marriage and broken and superficial relationships. All painstakingly revealed scene after scene, in the film's flawless construction. The culmination is in Felicia's outburst at the end, which I'm glad I had the patience to stay and watch.
This is not a film for everyone, and even then, it's not for every mood.
Jodaeiye Nader az Simin (2011)
right or wrong. right and wrong.
I wouldn't have been more glued to the screen if I watched a blockbuster action movie. I've seen too many of them, I forget them before the credits roll. Now, it's a film without any nudity, crime lords, drugs or swearing to pin me down for a breathless, profound two hours.
What is morally right? What is morally wrong? What is legally right? What is legally wrong? It depends, is the film's answer. And do you know what? I agree. I agree with this answer from a film that comes from the other side of the world, from a country which I perceive to have religion and politics utterly different from mine. Because the film transcends the detail, it just shows the essence of being human. The characters just keep on trying to do the best for them or their family in credible situations which can apply to anyone and anywhere, but the choices they make will conflict at one time or another with some moral or legal tenet. The husband, the wife, the daughter, the old man's carer, the carer's husband, the daughter's teacher, even the judge they all want to do the right thing, but they don't. Or do. Or don't. Or do. The beauty of this film is that it just tells the story. It doesn't take sides. It doesn't force on us an opinion on whether the choice was right or wrong. If it tried, I probably wouldn't have liked it as much, because it would have to conflict with some of my own views. Everyone has firm opinions, until life carries you to situations like this film's, and then nothing is black and white any more.
For as long as there are creators like the director and writer of this film, there is hope for the independents. A story like this will beat any Hollywood-esque film to the punch. It's flawlessly played and it's technically well done. It doesn't need more to move me.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
How low can you go?
As the credits rolled, I took a deep breath, and I thought "what a moving film!". I tried to recommend it to friends, but I couldn't bring up the words "this is a beautiful film". This is an intense, stirring, thought-provoking film - yes. It is about doing drugs. About being addicted, into the deep pits of obsession.
It is the mark of a great director to provoke the sensorial impressions of this film: quick frame succession, surreal look, obsessive soundtrack - the imagery and sound closely explore what we think we know about hallucinogens.
The question I found emerging as the film moved on was "how low can you go?". It is a crescendo - of seasons, of scenes, of pace. And the answer the film gave me was "lower, and lower, and lower..." - addiction has no end to how much human degradation it can bring.
La journée de la jupe (2008)
some social and some thriller, with a disappointingly predictable ending
The moment the teacher kidnaps her students and then gets into a hotchpotch of moral dilemmas which make her character ambivalent - obviously she had good intentions but goes the wrong way to achieve them, you would expect her to die in the end. It is disappointing to see that you are not disappointed - yes she dies.
The whole film starts from a very strong and challenging premise - the difficult assimilation of the Muslim immigrants into the French society - and just builds towards the inexorable death of the heroine. It didn't grip me though, and I found the pace slow. In its quest for social exploration, it lost the elements of the thriller. And as a social drama, it had too much thriller recipe to allow for the proper exploration of any of the characters.
It also doesn't have a credible thread. In a high school where students shout at and threaten the teacher, carry revolvers and film the rape of their colleague, you would expect the soft looking, elegantly dressed woman to give up her high ideals at the first bullying or beating. She is not congruent with anything around her. Mouss, the other pupils, the minister representative - they are all half-baked characters, you only wonder why do they do what they actually do. The good-cop policeman is probably the worst construed - we understand vaguely he's got some family troubles in the background, but we can't really understand what drives him. With his superior not objecting to what is presumably a clear violation of procedure, he goes in for a heart-to-heart talk with the armed terrorist, he keeps protecting the teacher despite pressure from everyone around him etc. His motives get too little air time to be credible.
Yes, Adjani acts very solidly, the rest of the cast is on and off. But for a film to be enjoyable, it takes a lot more than that.
Attack the Block (2011)
British slums and slang of universal appeal
The producers of this film have earned their bragging rights with "Shaun of the Dead". As it is safe to stick to a recipe that works, "Attack the Block" is another spoof horror, which this time brings together inner-city youth and blood-thirsty aliens. It's hard to say which of the two are scarier though, given how grittily the film portrays the slums.
This movie is not a Hollywood-style corny passage to redemption. The teenagers who rob a girl at knife point at the beginning of the film do not go the full journey of becoming likable characters - there is no return from where fate has placed them. They only half-heartedly do some good, enough to keep the label of comedy on this film. The appeal of "Attack the Block" is driven instead, much like in "Shaun of the Dead", by the surrealism of the situations ordinary characters are involved in.
There are a few essential elements which drive the film and can be read as very British: the dreaded council estate and its residents, both excellently portrayed here, and the language, which is a highlight and sounds inner-city enough to be funny. This does not prevent the film's general appeal: slums and slang are everywhere, and British humour has proved its universal character over and over again.