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An "experimental" film, a category I usually avoid, but this worked out better than expected
I saw this film at the Imagine film festival 2014 in Amsterdam. When reading the synopsis on the festival website, it had all the looks of something "experimental". That had put off many people, I think, as there were only 13 tickets sold (maybe also counts that it was scheduled on a weekday at 11:20 AM). I must admit to usually avoiding movies that are advertised as a novel idea, style or format, but the description had that little something that still attracted me for reasons yet unexplained. And I did not regret my choice, after all.
As Tombville hardly has a feature film length (67 min), the festival had programmed a warming-up with the 25-minute short Syndromeda, sufficient together to fill a standard time slot in the festival schedule. The IMDb synopsis describes Syndromeda better than I can: "Leif finds himself progressively encroaching upon a delirious, hypnagogic mental maze, tugging at the intersection between dream and reality". It was watchable but primarily confusing, just as the IMDb synopsis I quoted. As a warming up, however, it worked perfectly. The Tombville near-feature that was to follow, could not possibly confuse us more than this one. Particularly the lights on the alien ship in Syndromeda he (Leif) thought seeing fly overhead, looked exactly like the ceiling lights in the hospital where he was taken when found naked and collapsed in the woods. This is just an example, but the general idea is that much is left to our imagination what was true and what was not. It could be either way, and still matching what we saw on screen.
I'm not complaining, and was fully prepared for Tombville that was equally and deliberately non-transparent from the outset. Obviously, something dramatic happened in the youth of our main character, causing his peculiar journey where much was left in the dark (literally) and much had to be read between the lines. At first, our main character did not even know his name, but after some pain inflicted on him he suddenly remembered it to be David. He had to borrow some boots (he was bare footed from the start), was unable to pay, and was ominously threatened "or else..." when he would fail to pay back the next morning. He is mostly referred elsewhere at many doors he knocks on. Only some of the time he is asked to come inside.
In all cases he seems to start with the wrong questions. He asks for a phone (we have none), but a few minutes later we hear one ringing, and an ancient model (of course, black) appears on the counter. He asks for a nearby railway station (there is none), yet we hear the sound of trains passing by, the latter repeated several times when further in his journey. It has no useful purpose to continue describing the confusing events, as I hardly understood them myself, and I assume that is all by design. Safely sitting in my comfy chair this was not so much a problem for me. Yet it was far worse for David who was struggling all the time how to proceed, and he only met unfriendly people not very eager to help him out.
All in all, I was surprised that the movie caught and kept my attention for the whole duration, in spite of the dearly missed plot or the lack of purpose for this daunting journey. I'm less pleased with some of the noises without purpose, like the clocks and the trains passing by. And, I think, that it would have been better to reveal part of the underlying plot somewhere in the middle, also offering the opportunity to add some extra scenes to augment the running time. I assume that the same script writer can easily think of some extra similarly mysterious scenes along the same line. The ending is now too sudden and too convoluted to absorb at once. It would be better when handed over in smaller parts, but that is easy for me to say. Anyway, I'm very much alone in my positive attitude toward this movie, as it ranked nearly last (only two scored less) for the audience award.
Ni sisi (2013)
Colourful movie and interesting format to get message across about dangers of tensions along tribal or racial lines, and everyone's responsibilities to prevent escalation
I saw this film at the Rotterdam film festival 2014 (IFFR), where it was part of the Bright Future section. It is a colorful movie (no pun intended) presented in an interesting format, a bit confusing at first but becoming clear later on while getting used to the basic idea. This film is not directed to us outside Kenya, but actually targeted at local people there. It may very well succeed in driving the message home thanks to the format. We see a frame story (play in a play), jumping between these alternate forms. In addition we have a visualized bad dream (we learn in hindsight it was indeed a bad dream, not reality), the latter effectively working as a wake-up call. It served very well to start a timely counter reaction.
The frame story mixes conclusions spoken on a sort of stage (with audience), alternating with things happening in houses or on the street (with us as the only audience). The message at the end is positive, making clear how racial and tribal disagreements start very easily, but can be turned around when people speak out in time, preventing rumors from escalating before it is too late. In other words, this film is intentional propaganda in the positive meaning of the word. The constant humor that is added to liven up the story, will hold our attention all along, and avoids a dogmatic and didactic leftover impression too.
All in all, I don't think there is a better format to get the message across. The film was very well received by the festival visitors in Rotterdam, as it ranked 31th for the audience award (out of 200). The average IMDb score (7.7) is along the same line, though not based on enough votes (15) to draw a solid conclusion.
Liar's Dice (2014)
Road movie thru Indian landscapes on long trip to New Delhi. Slowly changing relations between main characters: woman, child and goat, accompanied by deserter met underway
I saw this film at the Rotterdam film festival 2014 (IFFR), where it was part of the Bright Future section. The venue (687 seats) was almost fully booked for the European première. From the outside we saw a road movie through various landscapes in a series of provinces of India that we pass, eventually winding up in New Delhi. The route is in itself interesting to watch due to the variety in landscapes. All this happens on the lookout for a husband who went to New Delhi as a construction worker. Contact with him was lost 5 months ago. His wife and young daughter were left behind in an isolated small village near the Chinese border.
In the opening scenes we see the whole area covered with snow, and such a journey is far from easy. The things that they see underway, and particularly what happens in the cities they visit, is completely different from what I had imagined. This is actually the core of the story rather than the trip itself. Given reports in the last year we saw in newspapers about how risky it is for women to travel alone, this journey creates extra difficulties. The woman obviously has no clue that such dangers exist, and must be warned many times against going out alone (and of course, she violates the rule a few times when needing food). Apart from men bothering women underway, there are the extra dangers in the form of several borders they have to cross.
All along the journey she and her daughter are accompanied by a deserter (former border policeman), who they accidentally meet near the village soon after their departure. Initially unwilling to allow him to travel along with them, she gradually accepts his support though still reluctantly until the end. He proves to be very street wise, in addition to providing for "proper" male company. The three together look very much like a normal couple with child, preventing a lot of awkward questions and smoothing their passage through border crossings.
The child role is played by a girl who now is 4.5 years old. She has not acted before. They auditioned on many places, but all those girls had already some camera experience and that was showing. All three main characters (woman, man and child) are perfectly casted and perform very well in their respective roles. And don't forget the additional role of the several times changing environment that we see pass by along the trip.
All in all, the relationship between the man and the woman does not develop in the direction of the happy end one could expect superficially. The uncertainty how and where this trip will end, and what they will find in their assumed destination New Delhi, creates a certain tension that is maintained throughout the running time. The story line can scatter in any direction, and extra plot ingredients are amply present underway where many obstacles have to be surmounted. Anyway, festival visitors ranked this film at 57th place (out of 200), which can be deemed average (neither good nor bad). The finale was not totally clear to me, and certainly different from the "happily lived ever after" one could assume from the outset. That unclarity need not be deemed a defect, and it may even be better this way by leaving something to our imagination.
Not the usual about police incompetence or corruption in Russia. Well meant actions to cover a colleague causing a fatal accident, gets out of control despite good intentions
I saw this film at the Leiden film festival 2013 (LIFF). It is not the usual story about the incompetent police force in Russia. Neither is corruption the issue here, also a popular topic in Russian films. Nevertheless, the local police does not leave a positive impression after this, and we cannot know whether this applies only to the city at hand. Anyway, intended as social commentary or not, the people working in the police force show their human nature, precisely that being the cause of all the intricacies we witness in this movie. They mean well, but they weave a tangled web, so to speak.
It starts simply with colleagues wanting to prevent a fellow police officer punished for something he is formally accountable for, namely fatally wounding a child while hastily driving to a maternity hospital after a phone call that his wife was about to give birth to a child. But, given his spotless past plus the obvious reasons for his speedy driving, those colleagues are prepared to bend the truth a little bit.
It could have worked. However, higher echelons insist on a water tight cover up, that can never reach a court. That includes "coercing" the mother of the killed child to agree on a false statement. In spite of everyone's good intentions, with each step it gets more and more out-of-control. There is no easy way out of the mess, getting more problematic by the hour.
All in all, in spite of the depressing view on the Russian police force we see in action, the self-inflicted complications make this into an interesting story. We witness the averse side effects of the well-intended cover-up, and the equally well-intended corrective actions making the situation worse and worse. I'd rather not deal with the police force and their superiors within city hall, such as the ones portrayed in this film. It is comforting that it is in a country far away, and we can safely watch the story explode in everyone's faces from our comfy chairs. The ability to see many other countries and different "political" rules of engagement, is a nice feature of a film festival. This film offered some good insights in that respect, and precisely that defines the positive things about this film. Most festival visitors seem to disagree, however, as this film ranked a lowly 37th place (out of 55) for the audience award.
Avant l'hiver (2013)
Well constructed story about a married middle-aged man courting a younger woman, with just enough complications to make it interesting
I saw this film at the Leiden film festival 2013 (LIFF). This could have been the umpteenth story about a middle aged man courting a younger woman, thereby endangering not only his marriage but also risking the health of his patients while slacking off his daily job as a surgeon. But luckily it is much more, due to some complications interwoven in the script that make it interesting nevertheless.
The daily package of red roses that are delivered throughout the running time of the film, seems important and thus are we eager all the time to know who is behind it. In the end we still wonder who is sending the roses, however, but it does not really matter in hindsight as many other sub-plots take over and keep us interested.
A possible minus point is the shallow role of the surgeon's wife. She has typically not enough on her hands other than waiting for her husband to come home. Her garden is her only daily occupation that keeps her from complete boredom, so it seems. I had assumed more initiative from her side, as she is obviously not the unlearned and meek kind of woman.
All in all, I can only moderately recommend this film. It is not a total failure, however, due to several sub-plots that keeps us interested. But that is all there is. This film ranked a moderate 26th place (out of 55) for the audience award.
Original narration and visualisation of issues around high school bullying and its prolonged aftermath for the rest of people's lifes
I saw this film at the Rotterdam film festival 2014 (IFFR). It is divided in two very distinct parts. The first half shows a reunion party where school mates meet again after 20 years. Our main character, though not invited, holds a strong speech about bullying and shunning, and how it haunted her for the past 20 years. It is not clear upfront that the reunion party, with all ugly details touched upon during our main character's speech, is an art project with a specific purpose leading to the second half of this film. The latter fact is revealed later on, also letting us know that all party-goers (except herself) were actors. For a long time you think it is all for real, and you feel very uneasy when watching it. Her initial speech is only the beginning, yet the least problematic in comparison. It gets much worse when others at the party react on her speech, and she forcefully rebuts all remarks. Eventually, she is thrown out. We can only assume that the happy atmosphere was destroyed for good after she was gone. Alas, it solves nothing, and if this was all that this movie had to offer, we would be inclined to ask our money back.
Luckily, the ultimate purpose of the staged reunion party becomes clear in the second half. It makes this film really interesting, setting it apart from many other movies about the same topic. She approaches several of her real (not the actors) former class mates, to show them the film that recorded the fictitious reunion party, and to talk about it individually within the confines of her home. Many class mates invent all sorts of excuses and don't show up, while some of them do appear and are surprised to see her view on what happened 20 years ago. She even made a visual diagram of a "class hierarchy", showing herself at the lowest level, as a means to illustrate her evaluation of the situation back then. She also went at considerable length to contact some of the unwilling non-responders, even to approach them on their workplace or at their front door, in order to confront them with their common past. It leads to interesting discussions, all of those proving her point that each of them experienced said past very differently.
All in all, my strong feelings of "I'd rather not be here" embarrassment was comparable with seeing Seidl's Hundstage or the more recent "Paradise" trilogy. That applies to the first half (the staged party) as well as the second half (confronting her former class mates). Yet I think that the second half might have achieved a more balanced effect when she had succeeded in getting to appear some of the more accomplished types (in the eyes of their peers), in other words those deemed at the top of the class hierarchy and successful in today's life too. In the first half we saw several who we can assume in that category. When thinking along that line, I got stuck with a feeling of some missed chances for a better end result. Still, a wonderful film with an original twist on the subject. It ranked 32th (out of 200) for the audience award with average score 4.238 (out of 5).
Geograf globus propil (2013)
Inside view in lifes of average Russian citizens and a highschool classroom. Plus an adventurous journey of a teacher and his class through unfriendly nature
I saw this film at the Leiden film festival 2013 (LIFF). Nice inside view in everyday's life of average Russian citizens, and an average highschool classroom. Not sure how "average" it all is, since we have no means for comparison. It is a depressing view, but the interwoven humor softens it all and turns this movie into a digestible package.
The tone is set in the opening scene in a train, where our main character tries to mislead a ticket inspector team by gesturing that he is mute/deaf. Initially they believe him and let him alone, but a few moments later his reflex when his mobile phone rings, exposes him. The remainder of the movie is full of such "small" events.
Do not expect a story with a prologue, a happy end, and the main story in between. The first half is about normal people, a typical cross section of Russian citizens, and how they pass their days. We see neighbors intruding in other people's lives, to an extent we cannot imagine in our Western world where our home is our castle.
The second half is a field trip undertaken by our main character, the geography teacher who was never trained for such a position but he needed the money. He is accompanied by part of his class, who never use his real name but consistently call him "geographer". The field trip actually came forth from a lost card game with one of the students. His prize would have been a "smooth" class for the rest of the semester. It turns out to be an adventurous struggle with nature, combined with the mixed successes he has in dealing with the variety of adolescents in his company.
All in all, though defying all standard rules of storytelling, the net result is very watchable, partly thanks to the humor embedded in the scenario, partly thanks to the variety of participating characters. More people felt this way: this film ranked 3rd for the audience award with average score 4.41 (out of 5).
Dans la cour (2014)
Very commendable showcasing of a micro-cosmos living around a Parisian courtyard, with some peculiar but endearing inhabitants
I saw this film at the Berlinale film festival 2014. It was the international premiere in a venue with more than 1,500 booked seats, in presence of film makers and main actors. There was no Q&A afterwards.
I'm not sure why I liked this one much more than "Long Way Down" that I saw earlier in the same week, in spite of many traits they have in common. Both films are mere entertainment, casting well known actors which will attract many viewers regardless of its contents, neither has an express intention to carry a message or a morale, both will trigger several laughs, and have more than sufficient unexpected turns of events. I assume that the courtyard film had a definite advantage in its diversity and strangeness of the main characters living in the large house, in fact in a micro cosmos, yet not too far fetched and not too artificial, all that working to keep us interested throughout its running time. It has no useful purpose to summarize the plot here. The story line is very easy to follow, the characters are properly introduced and one gets ample chance to get to know them better.
Very compelling story, very well told, populated with believable characters
I saw this film at the Berlinale film festival 2014, where it was part of the official competition. A lot of action plus a lot of yelling and F-words, but that is to be expected given the circumstances. A welcome surprise was that the plot was not confined to a lone soldier lost in a strange and hostile city (as suggested by the synopsis), but luckily went a few steps further by bringing up the topic of good versus bad and who to trust if someone is offering to help. You never knew which side someone is on, and whether there is no hidden agenda, in spite of showing interest in your well being and offering to help you out of a situation you can impossibly cope with on your own devices.
An important additional plot element was that the solider saw something that could have exposed a double agent. From that moment on he was endangered by several parties, some of them prepared to eliminate him in order to prevent exposure of their secrets. That extra bonus made this movie worth while, and provided for sufficient material to fill the 100 minutes running time. Being severed from his patrol unit, and his struggle all night long to get back to them, would on itself not have been enough. But the second half brought enough additional elements to make up a wonderful film, regardless of the underlying war-zone struggles in Belfast that we don't understand anymore nowadays. Nevertheless, such issues are of all times. We see ample similar civil wars elsewhere, also with an undercurrent of religious differences.
In the final scenes we see an internal inquest into what happened, but not all people tell the truth and nothing but the truth. I failed to get a grip on this finale, and could not understand which a**es were exactly covered up by who. It did not ruin my viewing experience, however. This film is not about Action alone, but also about the missing "good" and "bad" delineations inherent to civil war situations. Covering up stupid mistakes and shifting the blame is something of all times, as are double agents working for both sides.
Two Men in Town (2014)
Solid story with sufficient contents and ample interesting characters. Takes its time to develop and needs some trimming back in length and sub-plots
I saw this film at the Berlinale film festival 2014, where it was part of the official competition. It allows us sufficient time to get acquainted with the five main characters: (1) Garnett who is just released from prison after an 18 years sentence, (2) the sheriff whose deputy was killed by Garnett some 18 years ago, (3) an underworld-er who wants to enlist Garnett for a shady job, (4) Garnett's new girl friend who he met after his release while opening a bank account, and (5) last-but-not-least his assigned parole officer who takes her job very seriously, and even ruffles the sheriff's furs when the need arises. We also meet several side characters who are portrayed very well, in spite of their much shorter appearance. Yet, the full two hours running time stretches our patience unnecessarily.
The plot itself is now new in essence (ex-convict tries to keep on track), but this variant offers many novel directions given the ingredients included. The finale is not fully predictable, which is a good thing. Yet, I was not very satisfied with the chosen outcome (no details to avoid spoilers), preferably something more optimistic could be thought of. Further, I'm not sure about the need for some side tracking sub-plots, e.g. Garnett's conversion to Islam, the issues around the Mexican border, and amply showing off the landscape. Not all these are necessary for the core story, maybe even deemed redundant and better left out to get a more concise story.