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Måste gitt (2017)
Seemingly impossible plot to turn into a good story, yet it worked out very well after all. Many unexpected turns of events. Ample humor as icing on the cake
Saw this at the Rotterdam Film Festival 2017 (website: https://iffr.com/en). After having read the synopsis on both the festival website as well as the distributors website (see: http://mastegitt.indiansummerfilm.se), I assumed the plot to be far-fetched and next to impossible to make a good story out of it. I was wrong with this a-priori assumption and I stand corrected.
The story develops very well, and unexpected turns of events are coming one by one. And as soon as you think that all possible surprises are exhausted, there is another one you did not see coming. Keeps your attention all the time, with a lot of humor as icing on the cake. Small but beautiful and useful roles of the father (seen a few times in flash-backs) and the mother (having an important effect at a pivotal moment), all of them having their logical place in the dramatic developments. Still more important are the fundamental laws of the street, where trust is of utmost importance and betrayal is severely punished.
Though not having won the VPRO Big Screen Award for which it was nominated by the Rotterdam film festival, it scored relatively high for the audience award, getting a deservedly 13th place (out of 172) with an average score of 4.322 (out of 5).
Un bacio (2016)
My minority viewpoint: disappointing contents, faulty storytelling, and emphasis on wrong scenes whereas other scenes seem neglected
Seen at the Movies That Matter film festival 2017 in The Hague. Disappointing, storytelling-wise as well as how the fantasies of main protagonists were visualized. The clearest example of the latter is Lorenzo's arrival at his new school. We see him drop his backpack and dance his way into the building with the other pupils applauding. Another example, not much better than the former, can be found in Lorenzo's dialogues with his dead brother.
Plot and developments overall are not involving, and as such not as moving as the film makers apparently had hoped for. The composition of the threesome is a bit artificial, seemingly only setup to expose and thus emphasize their differences, their sole binding factor being that all three were treated as outsiders by their peers.
The story around Blu does not receive the attention it deserves. It leaves unclear why she still hangs out with one of the guys who filmed her while she was sedated and seduced by him and his three friends, something that appears later to be a full-fledged gang-rape, less consented than Blu herself tells everyone repeatedly. The rest of the school has earmarked her as "easy to get", words like sl*t are graffiti-d on walls all over the area. The footage itself was not made public, yet the seduction was known all along by other means (gossip?? hearsay??). Near the end of the movie when Blu happens to see the whole footage and learns what really happened with her and the foursome "friends", it triggers her to take formal steps against them, together with her parents and eventually involving the police. How and why that developed is covered in only a few minutes, hence left us wondering.
When our three main protagonists are taking a swim at a deserted place outside, Lorenzo makes his move to Antonio and touches him, something that Antonio apparently does not take well and he leaves without saying anything, despite Blu calling after him to learn why he left. I cannot reveal further developments, in fear of spoilers. But in the end, also somewhat artificial, we see the very same scene where Lorenzo touches Antonio, with a totally different outcome, leaving us outguessing how it will develop. This is where the movie ends with showing the final credits, leaving us wondering again.
All in all, I feel a bit lost because of the generally positive reviews, by non-critics as well as critics. None of them even touches the objections I outlined above. In other words, this is a minority viewpoint. Most probably, my age (67) will be deemed the culprit.
Arranged marriage as per Pakistani traditions taking unexpected turns within a reasonably integrated family living in France
Seen at the Movies That Matter (what is in a name?) film festival in The Hague in March 2017. Perfectly written script with ample interesting and unexpected dramatic developments, keeping your attention for the whole duration. The synopsis on the festival website described the premise perfectly: "She has a good relationship with her Pakistani parents until they decide to marry her off to an unknown man. An unwanted pregnancy forces her to make a difficult decision". An extra interesting element is the lenience of her parents towards Western customs, allowing her to choose freely between three marriage candidates via Skype sessions. We even witnessed sort of a marriage ceremony over Skype. Very commendable but that is as far as it goes with adapting to our culture. Choosing a local boyfriend for marriage is not negotiable; however, he must be someone from Pakistan to follow-up on ancient traditions.
Upfront, this movie has all appearances of a traditional fairy-tale-like story, predictably starting with lots of tears, via heavy discussions and threatening to flee away from home, getting permission eventually to marry a local boy albeit reluctantly, thereby ending with everyone living happily ever after. Luckily, this is certainly NOT what this movie intends to show. Several unforeseen turns of events make this story very different, and it keeps your attention throughout. We see Zahira continuously torn between her family and her European environment. Her dilemmas are shown perfectly, and also her inclination to go along with her parents until a certain point. But it is still not enough as far as her parents are concerned.
One extra plot line comes from Zahira's sister, who has complied with ancient traditions, and repeatedly says that she is very happy about it, after all. Sister's quote: "Of course, this is unjust. But they are men, and we are women". A second, even more important plot line comes from her brother, who supports her in many ways and often acts as an intermediary or adviser, but he still insists on following her parent's wishes in the end. Apart from these two co-protagonists, a special mention for the parents is in order, as they act believable in their desire to uphold Pakistani's traditions. It may seem strange in our eyes, having lived in Europa already for many years and running their business amidst people of many cultures. Of all people, they should be aware that their tradition is not the only one.
All in all, although the plot line seems to go along the downtrodden path that the parents eventually give in, after lots of tears and threatening to leave home, this story however will head in a very different direction. The parents seem very flexible at first, yet maintain their persistence that ancient traditions are to be followed. Despite many unexpected turns of events, the movie is very compact overall by condensing all this in 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Happy Hunting (2017)
The Horror genre label may be misplaced, so also a good watch for fans of other genres. Splendid casting and acting, in addition to original plot and unexpected developments
Seen at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival 2017 (website: www.bifff.net). Starting with an original premise, it has even more original developments in its favor. Of course, the prey has slim chances to survive as per the initial setup of the hunting "game", yet it takes some time for the villagers to learn that the prey this time does not give in so easily as in previous years. In a series of scenes, switching from prey to prey, one falling after the other, yet this time with victims on both sides. Luckily for us viewers, it all went differently from previous years. Alcohol plays an important side role, primarily (of course) for main character Warren throughout the running time, but he also makes productive use of alcohol near the finale.
Entertaining throughout, apart from Warren's alcohol addiction and related cold turkey phenomena, and despite the unnecessary violence, the latter not shown in all gory detail yet suggested with not much left to outguess. For example, when someone's head is beaten with a baseball bat, the movement of the bat is clearly shown but not the ultimate effects on the receiving end. A concession towards content advisory ratings?? It won't help, as the whole movie is riddled with unmitigated violence all over. But it is not Horror in the old-fashioned and literal sense of the word, so no dark corners nor ancient buildings, no monsters nor ghosts, only ordinary (yet redneck) people operating in broad daylight (or some at night) with destructive intentions.
All in all, casting and acting make this movie stand out in the first place, in addition to the original plot with many unexpected developments.
Movie starts mysteriously promising. Yet after half an hour the film makers got overly obsessed with mixing reality and fantasy. They lost the story line, and lost us viewers
Seen at the IMAGINE film festival 2017 in Amsterdam. Despite technically nothing wrong with this movie, I fail to find anything remarkable in it, no logical dramatic development, and no plot whatsoever. I assume that the film makers were so obsessed with the basic concept of mixing fantasy and reality, that they forgot to add a comprehensible and edible story. The "help" given to Aloys for breaking out of his loneliness, went past me and I cannot imagine it offering any escape nor a solid path to achieve that goal.
All in all a pity, as the first half hour is mysteriously promising. After that, the jumps between reality, fantasy and the mix between what could be true and what seems fantasy, make you soon lose interest, particularly as it has no clear effect on the psychology of main characters and their future life. I don't think Aloys will improve his quality of living, and the life and motivation of the woman is unclear to such a degree that I cannot tell what her future looks like either.
The Transfiguration (2016)
This movie leaves the viewers as confused and lost as both main protagonists are with respect to the world around them. Keeps your interest nevertheless and is not boring
Seen at he IMAGINE film festival 2017 in Amsterdam. The story flows all the time and keeps your interest, but overall the dramatic developments are minimal, and the atmosphere embedding the two main topics, violence and social commentary, does not provide for anything new that we haven't seen already in many other movies.
The only novel element is that Milo is a vampire, this time not someone who has to avoid daylight, and he also does not sleep in a coffin. Milo lives a more or less normal life with his older brother, who has apparently nothing more to do than watching TV all day long. Milo marks days on a calendar that he has to go "hunting". We saw a handwritten book with rules of engagement, e.g. that the victim must come instead of chasing him, but that was only a small fragment of a heavy stack of paper. We also see him several times bite randomly chosen victims, after which he is always somewhat nauseas, seemingly inherent in the process. How he became a vampire, is left in the dark (no pun intended), and what we see of his brother does suggest that is not something that runs in the family.
We see less of Sophie, not even her house from the inside, when she e.g. lets Milo wait for her door when she has to pick up something, very different from her having access to Milo's house and even stays in his room for a few days. Not clear what it all means, if anything. Both walk outside the house like a couple, e.g. holding hands, but there is no sex involved as far as we see, despite of sleeping in the same bed and kissing each other frequently.
All in all, if it really was the intention of the film makers to leave us confused, just as confused as both main protagonists are with respect to the world around them, this movie is a success however without a silver lining. It does not make us any wiser through the added elements of social commentary nor does it about violence or NYC's atmosphere, being important topics as suggested by the movie's website but I missed all of it.
Chez nous (2017)
Contemporary "Our land first" issues proficiently packaged in dramatized documentary, nicely showcasing all pro/con arguments and still offering edible drama
Seen at the Rotterdam film festival 2017 (website: www.iffr.com/en), where it was part of the Big Screen Award competition. It is a documentary in the good sense of the word, showcasing all sides and pro/con arguments, in a dramatized way, such that we can remember all the relevant issues better. Nevertheless, it still offers edible human drama and a consistent story line.
At the same time we obtain an insightful picture how difficult it is to keep your hands clean when getting involved in politics, and how sneaky it can happen that you alienate family and friends by taking a stance where nuances are bound to get lost in translation. This is especially the case when the party line takes over, needed some of the time in the interest of the greater good (they say), and to keep their long-term goals upright (they say). A candidate running for office may thus seem to change into a mere puppet on a string, hiding her own opinion where that may differ from the official program of the party she represents.
What we also see here are the side effects on her family and relationships. None of them are prepared to be thoroughly screened. Most notable are the cases of her father, who was a former communist, and her lover who is (in secret) a member of sort of a "security force" (mind the quotes). Her children are forewarned that remarks against their mother are bound to be made, and that they better ignore them. Also, while still working as a nurse before she was elected and loved by everyone, she suddenly was not welcome anymore in some of the areas where she worked before.
All the different plot lines are mixed together and combine splendidly into the overall story. Her daily work as a nurse is portrayed very well too, also showing how things change after her face appeared on TV and she became sort of tainted. Of course, nothing of what is presented in this movie is new or unexpected, but the showcase is still interesting and remains relevant nowadays. I like this category of documentaries, much better than the ones where a scholarly voice-over tells us what we should think.
All in all, a good overview of pro/con arguments around "Our land first" issues in combination with hatred against all foreign elements, be it fugitives from abroad, people with a different (non-Christian) religion, or any lifestyle out of the ordinary. I gave the maximum score 5 for the audience award when leaving the venue, as many others must have done, because it ranked 19th (out of 172 movies) with an average score of 4.306 (out or 5).
Raving Iran (2016)
Partly interesting (first half, in Iran) moving over to a less interesting half (in Zürich). Very relevant final scene whether or not to stay in Zürich
Saw this movie at the festival Movies That Matter (what is in a name?) in The Hague in March 2017. The first half, in Iran, was interesting, especially their visit to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, when trying to find out what was allowed and what not. For example, they showed a draft CD cover, after which they learned that English texts were forbidden, unless unavoidable for very specific reasons, like proper names. Also complicated were the rules around setting up a concert and still complying with current laws, like women were to appear only in the background, and several more such intricacies. They finally outstayed their welcome, and did not dare to ask any other questions, despite having much more they wanted to know (and we too, for that matter). After that we witnessed a tour along print shops which offered a similar picture, many but's and however's by the owners, all that in fear of the police shutting down their shop when apprehended.
An actual concert they were preparing was also interesting because of many obstacles to surmount while renting equipment, finding a concert location (finally wound up in the desert), transporting instruments and equipment to the place where the concert was to take place, offering many informative facts along the line. It gives a rough insight in the oppressiveness of Iranian society, something you won't notice as a tourist while wandering through one of the major cities. The movie defies what we derive from the superficial vision that shows Iran to us with all the appearances of a modern country, technically well advanced, with a streetscape not much different from ours. We are inclined to assume that the only thing that makes Iran stand out from an average Western country, is seeing women on the street with scarfs and many dressed in black.
Most of the movie's second half, in Zürich, was not interesting at all. The only relevant thing to report happened in the last scene, where they pack their belongings, check-out of their hotel, and get a cab to drive them to the airport. They seem fully prepared to return to Iran. Were they really in the mood to return to Iran, or not?? (no answer here because of spoilers). Even their mother, in a phone call, was hinting that staying in Zürich may be a good idea, which is indeed a difficult thing to say for a mother. All of this, condensed in the final minutes of the movie, offered food for thought, contrary to the rest of their stay in Zürich that was anecdotal at best.
All in all, apart from its first half plus the final scene, the movie was mildly interesting. The first half demonstrated unclear laws and regulations, intentionally left unclear as I learned from other Iranian movies. It's a country in a continuous state of transition, something unavoidable when hosting numerous cultural, linguistic and ethnic groups, as well as several religions. The latter counters our false notion that Islam is the one and only recognized religion in Iran. This diversity may however not apply to the countryside, but it is certainly a fact of life in the main cities. It makes any movie from Iran interesting, regardless of having passed the censors or being smuggled out of the country. I regret to say that this one is not the best showcase to enlighten us about Iran, possibly interesting for the music which does not match my taste so I ignored that.
Der kommer en dag (2016)
Deplorable circumstances, like in Oliver Twist, yet a different approach focusing on personal developments of two boys who carry the story. Two hours seem long but well spent
Of course, like in Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, the circumstances in such institutions are horrible and deplorable. No one seems to care as long as no complaints are registered and nothing of the abuse and slavery comes out in the open. The story in this movie is different, however, due to demonstrating that not only management and teaching staff have their faults, but also the boys themselves maintain some sort of hierarchy. For example, we see "lower" boys tasked with e.g. collecting cigarette-ends and being bullied when set targets are not met. As such we see a self-contained ecosystem, where survival of the fittest is the norm, alongside with evading visibility (playing "ghosts") and not attracting attention. Painful scenes are intermixed with moving moments, as could be expected.
The developments take their time, but that does not mean that the whole movie is boring in any way. Each time you think that you can predict the outcome, you are proved wrong. That is why this drama needs its nearly 2 hours running time to develop in full, and to explore all sides of the problem. Contrary to every description I've read about head master Heck, as being sadistic, the impression left behind is that he means well, in spite of his harsh methods. In other words, removing all sharp edges of inherently uncontrollable boys, is his way to harden and prepare them for the outside world. All of this is best illustrated by him asking, begging nearly, after having signed the dearly -wanted letter that confirms the boy is discharged, whether he (the boy) is prepared to speak out that the school has done him a lot of good, after all.
All in all, casting of main protagonists is perfect and all of them perform very well. A special mention is needed for the two boys who carry the story from start to finish. We also see how difficult it is to interest TPTB for the problems at the orphanage. Interesting and unexpected developments succeed in keeping the viewer interested all along.
Voir du pays (2016)
Commendable attempt to show how PTSS can haunt soldiers afterwards, but failed halfway by changing the dramatic line to things happening with men and women anywhere
This movie intends to give us some insight in the problems faced by soldiers when returning from the battle field, augmented with the modern trend to use virtual reality to support healing from PTSS and related aftermath. The first half of the movie did a good job in this respect, by demonstrating that decisions on the battle field that were deemed good or at least optimal given the circumstances, can conversely be considered bad by others, for good reasons in hindsight. Of course, one can argue whether the group therapy setup works well. We see and hear several of them keeping up appearances. Other issues crept in, like venting that women are not suitable in any battle situation.
The second half of the film, a road trip outside the hotel, was triggered by an invitation towards the two main woman protagonists, originally intended to visit the neighboring village and take part in some festivities there. We were shown an obvious cliff hanger when we saw a rifle covered under a blanket in the car trunk of the two men who initiated the excursion. A second cliff hanger was visiting a border crossing point and telling about the dangers on the other side. From this point on, the story could go anywhere. But nothing along those lines happened. Finally, they reached the village and mingled more or less with the locals, thereby consuming lots of alcohol. What happened during and after the village festivities deviates from the central theme. It's a pity. All of it could happen everywhere and anytime when man and women get drunk and have differences in expectations how the trip should end. I consider it a missed chance, and would have preferred to keep focused on PTSS and other army related issues.
All in all, I'm left with mixed feelings about this movie. The message it tries to bring is commendable. Most of the soldiers we saw are believable and sufficiently diverse in character and background. In other words, the collection we encounter seems a realistic cross section. The fact that some of them did not have another life outside the army, seeing no other job prospects in the near future, may be deemed worrisome but seems realistic too. A problem in the plot line arises by continuously hinting that a dramatic, or even deadly, ending is bound to follow. Alas, it never worked out to turn into a real fatal drama, by eventually confining itself to a "normal" men versus women difference in expectations, something that could happen in conclusion of an evening out anywhere, inside or outside the army. Yet, not all is lost, due to the first half of the movie, that shows us how PTSS may come about, and how reliving past events on the battle field can become a burden lasting for many years thereafter.
Not the usual coming-of-age problems, instead showing some other interesting topics develop
Seen at the Film Fest Ghent 2016 (website: filmfestival.be/en). Despite earlier resolutions to never see coming-of-age movies again, I booked tickets for this one as it looked different, and it indeed was different too. Of course, the usual pubertal problems were not avoided, but did not stay in the foreground too much, thereby not overwhelming the real issues this movie was about, as outlined in the IMDb synopsis, plus some other interesting topics as an extra freebie.
The total running time of over 2 hours is well spent, and is really needed to explore the relevant topics and the insides of the main protagonists. Part of the time is devoted to related problems in the environment of the two young men. One example is Thor's divorced mother, also Christian's parents as a second example, each with their own set of problems. All this combines nicely together in the main story line, taking care of a welcome deviation from the central theme that some may consider not heavy enough to stand on its own feet. Thor's sister as well as the two young women who are the obvious candidate partners for Thor and Christian, have their own useful role, yet are a bit sidelined in the overall story.
All in all, it is obvious that Thor and Christian are the main protagonists, who succeed very well in carrying the full story from A to Z. Apart from aforementioned threesome girls (Thorn's sister plus two) being portrayed a bit too stereotypical, the rest of the cast performs very well in their respective roles, be it large or small. All of them act believably and none are cardboard characters. And finally, can we deem Island's nature to be an additional protagonist, perfectly casted and playing very naturally??
King of the Belgians (2016)
Road movie in disguise, covering contemporary topics, like role of a king, Brussels as EU capital city, and much more. Characters becoming more and more likely
Seen at the Film Fest Ghent 2016 (website: filmfestival.be/en). It is very unlike the usual road movie, where the trip is used as a vehicle to glue a series of local shots together, and merely showcases landscapes, folklore, noteworthy customs, foreign phenomena, and nothing more. This one stands out for several other reasons, of which I can mention at least four from the top of my head.
Firstly, it includes contemporary issues like countries joining and/or leaving the EU, a difficult trip through the Balkan crossing many borders and meeting all sorts of people, officially and semi-officially. Secondly, the premise that Belgium and in particular Brussel as capital city of the EU, are the victim of a country falling apart when Wallonia declares its independence. Thirdly, an important role of the king is to visualize unity, but alas this time he is far away when sh*t happens, and circumstances prevent him from returning to his country ASAP. Fourthly, the foursome (or five, when we include the film maker, who has more roles than just recording events) will be forced to drop, albeit reluctantly, their original roles, eventually forgetting protocols and other things they had to uphold until this moment. A nice element is that all members of the party of five are equally important in maintaining progress or rescuing them from nasty situations when appear one after another on their trip home.
On the other hand, this company of five has incredible sorts of luck underway, be it that stubbornness and sheer determination also play an important part in the proceedings. And there are also the down-to-earth problems of cash and batteries that are neglected and incredibly never seem to occur, albeit both problems are mentioned by the film maker on only two occasions: time to recharge batteries (once he should film but he doesn't find the spot of any value), and once when their last cash was handed over to buy a boat.
All in all, although the whole situation is utter nonsense, it serves very well as a framework to link several hilarious situations together, also including some contemporary issues as icing on the cake. The party of five allows all its members to gradually drop their original roles, and to rescue the situation at several instances one by one. Even the dubious past of the film maker is partly revealed (or at least suggested), making his role carrying more weight than the proverbial fly on the wall. There is progression in the story all the time. Impossible to predict any of the turns of events we get presented, so expect to witness the unexpected. Finally, does the King get the chance to write his first speech ever without consulting "the palace" and the prime minister?? It would be a unique occurrence, but he surely will be able to pull it off once given the chance to be himself, not encapsulated in protocols and political considerations.
After lifelong avoiding corruption, how attractive can it be to counter your principles in an exceptional case when a child's future is at stake
Seen at the Film Fest Ghent 2016 (website: filmfestival.be/en). In the last four years, I've seen several depressing movies about corruption in former Communist countries. It seems a popular topic in the area, as can be readily derived from noteworthy examples like Durak/The Fool (Bykov 2014), Dolgaya Schastlivaya Zhizn/A Long And Happy Life (Khlebnikov 2013), and Leviathan (Zvyagintsev 2014). Even though the movie at hand follows suit on the same path, it however winds up being not that depressing as the others. Especially the final scenes brought some silver lining for the country's future, albeit that I'm not so sure it is the actual message that the film makers try to drive home.
Anyway, the running time is more than 2 hours, but I could not spot any boring or redundant scene. Everything included in the script was necessary and useful, emphasizing how convoluted the tangled web became as woven by the various protagonists. It made abundantly clear that one step causes the next step, and so on and so on, until the point that no backpedaling is possible anymore. In other words, the original policy of our lead character Romeo may not have brought him wealth or influence in the past, yet his route was straightforward and devoid of complex deals deserving counter deals to make the circle round.
The threesome family seemed a happy family from the outset, which proved gradually untrue in small steps. The case was not that their problems were unnatural or far-fetched, therefore it took its time for the cracks to become visible. Progress developed slowly but steadily. It was a surprise, for me that is, that there was some sort of resolution in the end. It countered the assumed morale of this movie (my assumption), that there is no middle road in corruption: either one steers clear of it, or one gets involved in complex arrangements from which one cannot get loose once started.
All in all, two hours well spent while watching my favorite theme develop on screen, at the same time asking myself what I should have done in similar circumstances. Such thought provoking plots are very welcome, mostly also carrying an existential takeaway message hidden under an exercise for the viewer. We were taught that Honesty Is The Best Policy, but the plot of this movie lets you get doubts underway.
Personal Shopper (2016)
Despite not labelled as Horror movie, expect several cold shivers. Perfect example that good Horror movies are indeed possible, avoiding the usual clichés
Seen at the Film Fest Ghent 2016 (website: filmfestival.be/en). Despite not advertised as Horror (possibly to not scare viewers away, as Horror has a bad name), certain cold shivers could be felt several times, though I do not understand why. All the usual "ghostly" effects were absent, no blood, no gore, no creaking doors, and so on. Well, there was a large empty manor with a lot of rooms, stairs, doors, dark corners, and so on. Only once or twice we saw an unclear moving image appear on the wall, and only once a moving skeleton hanging from the ceiling. But that were only the minor nail-biting experiences, as these sorts of things are to be expected in a deserted house.
Other "Horror look-alike" instances, now in clear daylight and in a normal house or hotel, had more subtle effects and hence were much more effective. Various nice ideas are included, most of these impossible to describe or to explain what is so special about it. An example yet a possible weak point is the hefty texting dialogue between our main character and someone unknown. The back-and-forth dialog is shown to us while it is building up. It is indeed something very scary when it would happen to one of us. Still, I think a better alternative should have been found that better fits a tense movie, but that is easy for me to say. I could provide other eerie examples from the screenplay at hand, but that would involve spoilers which I want to avoid at all cost.
The story gets complicated halfway, showing a victim different from the one we assumed in the first place. In other words, an unexpected turn of events. More of these are to follow suit. It makes us wonder who is behind some unexplained phenomena. Everything is cleared up in the end, with just one exception where we are left in the dark (literally) what is going on, that being the moment when the final credits appear and we are left wondering whether there is more to come. The latter is not a complaint, however, just confirming that a happily-ever-after ending was impossible with these ingredients.
All in all, the horror genre may have a bad name, but this is a counter example showing that the genre is really alive and finding new original ways. The movie has its faults, but the net result is interesting and shows promises for the horror genre. I know that this film is not labeled as a Horror, but that may be done on purpose to not scare away people with memories of B-film horror's, ad nauseam filled with zombies or vampires.
Rester vertical (2016)
Unorthodox story with convoluted relationships, crossing borders between straight and gay
Seen at the Rotterdam Film Festival 2017 (website: iffr.com/en). Unorthodox story with convoluted relationships. The film title gets a double meaning at the very end with an original twist, although the rest of the movie is also a matter of staying alive and well, hence suits the various stories very well. With one female and four male main protagonists, gay relationships can be expected albeit very different from the mostly one-to-one overload we saw in predecessor L'Inconnu du Lac / Stranger by the Lake (2013) by the same director. On the other hand, the relationships in the latter were relatively straightforward (due to the "straight" in it, not the best choice of words, no pun intended). In any case, "Stranger by the Lake" followed standard rules with respect to cruising and making love, contrary to this "Staying vertical" that extends the forming of couples far beyond that. It also shows that gay and straight are not black and white orientations in distinct parts of the relational world, thereby very well demonstrating that people can switch easily between both, and be happy òr unhappy in either circumstance.
Overall it is not clear what it is that these people do tick. Except for the father and daughter couple who herd sheep for a living, no one else seems to have a real purpose in life, nor are they otherwise involved in serious business. The movie opens with a scene where our main protagonist stops his car while spotting a young man on foot along the road, he compliments him about his appearance and asks him whether he might be interested in a screen-test (the usual excuse). The young man flatly refuses and disappears from the scene. When asking around, this young man lives in a house nearby, but does not answer when called, and his father sitting on a bench before the house flatly says that it is no use calling further as contact is not desired. Of course, our main protagonist is not prepared to let go of someone looking so attractive, and returns later for a new attempt.
In the meantime, he parks his car and crosses the landscape with his backpack on the lookout for wolves. He encounters a woman herding sheep, who explains him why wolves are bad news. They chit-chat a bit further, so a new connection seems on the agenda. It becomes more complicated, however, after returning the sheep to their stable later that day. Of course, he is invited for dinner and meets her father. Relationships do not develop along the usual lines, and be aware that more unusual turns of events are to follow. The common borders between hetero/homosexual are to be blurred severely, as are the common demarcations in relationships between generations. All sex is on a consensual basis, albeit some rather out of the ordinary.
All in all, less interesting and informative than 2013-predecessor Stranger By The Lake, yet the unexpected relationships and unorthodox ways to have sex, make this movie a good watch, all that augmented by showing what is involved in herding sheep and keeping wolves away. My 7-score (out of 10) is contradicted by the average festival visitor who awarded this movie a lowly 139th place (out of 172).
El bar (2017)
Depressing to see how far people go to save their own live at the expense of others. Very tense 1h45min story with many unexpected turns of events
Seen at the Berlinale 2017. Turns out to be a knockout competition, something like And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little N****rs) by Agatha Christie. Since the whodunit becomes clear after 15 minutes, further proceedings are very different from said book in all respects, except for the fact that someone dies at regular intervals. Key question: How far will you go to save yourself at the expense of others, especially when those others are strangers. And is the choice very different when it involves someone who nauseated you at first sight, or had some prejudice against for whatever reason?? We see it all happening, in many variations, in this tense thriller. There are a few comedy elements to alleviate the tension from time to time, but the depressing core conclusion is that humans are self-serving by definition, and only care for others when they expect to get something in return.
The starting point is nothing out of the ordinary. A random collection of people, most of them strangers to one another, who happened to pass by and came into the bar for a variety of reasons. They suddenly find themselves against a common but initially unknown enemy. Our religious upbringing taught us that everyone is basically good, and prepared to help others in need. But our natural attitude changes in reverse as soon as we feel threatened. So this becomes the very opposite of a "All for one, one for all" story. Of the most remarkable observations in this movie is how drastically people change when they get hold of a loaded gun. We see that a few times, each time with other people, but the net effect is similar for all of them, even for people who we thought to be above sheer egoism.
There is no need to spoil what is going on and what will happen after that. Trust me that subsequent events are unpredictable, and makes one wonder if even a single one of the bar visitors will survive. And to test your own conscience: if there would be one survivor, who would you prefer to be the lucky one, versus who would you consider not worth living any further and better die in the process?? Prepare yourself for a very tense 1h45min. The whole running time is full of surprises. There is no time to consult your watch, as not a single minute is wasted. The final question is left for the viewer: would you have behaved much better than anyone in this group??
Looks like a realistic portrait of Congo nowadays, interesting for that reason alone, but offers much more. Depressing core story, some welcome relief every now and then
Seen at the Berlinale 2017, and part of the official Competition for the Golden Bear. Better still, director Alain Gomis won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize, awarded by the Berlinale 2017 International Jury. I assume that lead performer Félicité (Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu) has also something to do with delivering such a compelling movie, despite its minor imperfections (minimal budget? non-pro actors?), and losing most of its steam after the hunt for money to pay the hospital bills.
Apart from personal dramatic developments, I have all reasons to assume we get a realistic portrait of contemporary Congo. What we see in hospitals, on the streets and in shops looks like what we can expect, still informative to have it spelled out on screen. Three main protagonists carry the story very well, though the son does not talk much (with reason). I propose to count Félicité's fridge as fourth protagonist, by showing odd behavior and bringing people together who would not meet otherwise, thereby several times causing some welcome relief from the depressing core story.
It is remarkable that Tabu does not expect sexual favors in return, or at least it is not shown. Yet, Tabu has a special role in addition to getting Félicité's son out of the hospital, and he does that by interacting with the son and making him feel alive and useful again, despite the crutches he must live with for the rest of his life. It is understandable that the son is in a severely low mood after his release from hospital, and it was not easy to get him out of it.
All in all, Félicité's tour in and around the city to raise money for her son's operation, is depressing but very nice as a touristic tour around the city, also serving as social commentary on its inhabitants. A personal note: I was distracted at first because of everyone calling each other Mama and Papa. It took some time to get used to it. It seems to be the standard shorthand forms for Mr and Mrs in Congo (or maybe a less formal form, like Heer and Vrouw as we remember from the dialect in our youth, a side remark that can be understood by native Dutch speakers only). I had no problems at all to sustain the 2 hours running time, as something interesting happens all the time, especially the money-raising tour that covers a considerable and important part of it.
Helle Nächte (2017)
Shallow story, lots of clichés, and landscapes did not rescue the movie. Father role won Best Actor prize from Berlinale 2017 International Jury, but I wonder why
Seen at the Berlinale 2017, where it was part of the official Competition for the Golden Bear. Not a spoiler, as no secret anymore: The father role, played by Georg Friedrich, won the Silver Bear for Best Actor awarded by the Berlinale 2017 International Jury. I myself and several others were surprised about this prize, so I would like to hear the motivation of the jury, none of which was revealed at the Award Ceremony, so I wonder.
As an amateur film viewer, my conclusion is different. Even worse, I see no reason for any prize whatsoever. This movie simply had too little content overall. The plot and setting were nice, so the landscapes and the environment worked as icing on the cake. However, it did not rescue the movie as a whole. I'm not sure even, whether father and son really bonded together eventually. Maybe only some groundwork has been prepared for smoother future contacts.
The road movie through forests and hills, a few lakes, and more forests and hills, does on itself not offer ample landscape material to make it worthwhile as a sightseeing tour. The people we encountered were not really introduced and thus not really part of the road movie, just tapestry and probably added to un-shallow the story, or merely to fill the nearly one and a half hour running time.
Illustrative for the core story is how father and son start on the wrong foot. Father mentions that he had no car for three years, not needing one in Berlin where he lives. The son finds it boring, saying that as soon he comes to some money he will buy something cool like a BMW or a Mercedes. Apparently, they speak on different wavelengths and come from different worlds, not surprising given their age difference, the many years they did not see each other, and being unaware of each other's circumstances.
One can construe this talk about cars to be a cliché, but it paints a picture that will remain effective during the rest of the running time. I saw more such clichés along the story, like the talk about The Lord Of The Rings, as the father has read the book (boring!) and the son saw the movie (I'm not sure the saw the complete trilogy). The latter example came forth from a side remark triggered by the landscape around them, but disappeared from the dialogue due to some new wavelength difference between the two.
In the opening scene we see that the current partner of the father got a job offer in Washington for a year, and she has already decided in her heart to accept the job. Nowhere further in the story is this item returning, so was this just another way to extend the running time?? Or a way to let us get acquainted with one of the main protagonists, so part of the initial exposition of characters?? This breakfast table topic in an early scene is nowhere re-appearing in the story, so WTF??
All in all, as said before, not a prize worthy movie for a lot of reasons. No substantial story, a lot of clichés about father/son differences in age and topics of interest, and more such mildly interesting things that are no guarantee for keeping you awake.
Three mystery tours through Johannesburg, not to sightsee architecture but rather how people there interact, mostly self-serving their own interests but not always
Seen at the Berlinale 2017, where it was part of the Panorama section. After reading the synopsis about three people going to Johannesburg, or Joburg for short, none of them prepared for what to find there, we can expect sort of a mystery tour through the city. Better still: we get three such tours, a few times crossing each other's paths, while following three people (four, as one has a little girl with her). Their respective backgrounds as well as their mission in Joburg are shown to us in some introductory scenes, demonstrating most of all their unpreparedness for their tasks ahead.
In the seemingly lawless parts of the city, it looks very well as if our protagonists are all doomed to end nastily, or at best to return "tail between legs" healthy but missions unfulfilled. They are going downhill from the start, and get deeper in trouble with every step. The world where they come from, is very different from what they find here in Joburg, where survival of the fittest is the norm. In short, the very opposite of the "one for all, all for one" principle. Initially they don't see their problematic situation yet, and trust the people they meet as they are used to do where they came from. Important in this context is to note that, the whole movie long, there is no sight of any authority, police force, or anything else that can enforce laws and other rules of engagement.
All in all, an interesting sightseeing tour, not so much for the architecture but rather the people living there and how they interact, most of the time self-serving their own interests, yet a few times helping each other but not as a matter of course. The screenplay is well designed, even the man in the phone booth who we see appear a few times in the beginning, despite his initial defiant attitude, gets an important and positive role in the end. Finally, two small facts I learned from the Q&A. A lot of stories are combined in this movie, so "based on true stories" is true but it is not possible to provide for a solid reference to one book or some such. The title Vaya translates to: Go Away.
Una Mujer Fantástica (2017)
Gripping thriller. LGBT issues relevant but not main course. Berlinale 2017 jury awarded Silver Bear for best screenplay
Seen at the Berlinale 2017, where it was part of the official Golden Bear Competition. Orlando and Marina are a couple who are living together in Orlando's apartment, not married yet but clearly in the mood for making future plans together. Two things make Orlando's ex-wife and children unhappy, one of which is their age difference of 20 years. Another and more prevalent issue is that Marina underwent a sex change operation recently. That process is not yet finished, obvious for a knowing observer. Apart from that, Marina is still a man formally, as her ID-card shows. When Orlando suddenly and unexplainedly dies, things take a bad turn for Marina. The police gets involved, and a persistent detective chases Marina and is not prepared to let go easily.
Orlando's family, a diverse mixture of personalities, takes a lot of trouble to make Marina uneasy. Explanations for their attitude are diverse. It can either be just pestering her out of the way, in any case out of the apartment, as a starting point to make clear that Marina has no rights in the legal sense. Either that, or they rather have nothing to do with her anymore, because of her sexual identify confuses them. Finally, more down to earth, they may assume that Orlando was planning to marry Marina, thereby reducing the inheritance they were possibly counting on.
A gripping story develops from above ingredients. There were a few details that escaped me, however. (*** spoilers ahead ***) For example, there is a locker key that we see many times, which purpose is withheld until one of the final scenes. Nevertheless, we get not even a glance at what was behind the related door, hence unclear what Marina's subsequent and sudden decision was all about. A second example of missing details are the frequent apparent appearances of Orlando, usually in near-dark places (like a dancing), something that gradually led me to believe that his death was a cover-up to give him a new identity. Later, however, nothing came about that such was the case. So we are led to assume that Marina hallucinated these appearances. Did it became a fact when we saw that Marina witnesses his body being shoved in the furnace of a crematorium, a scene that confused me completely, so I was lost here again.
All in all, despite some unresolved issues, the story keeps its drive from begin to end. No minute of the running time is wasted. Very good performances overall. This movie won the Silver Bear for best screenplay, awarded by the Berlinale 2017 International Jury. The LGBT elements are not too prevalent, but help to introduce some extra plot pieces that take good care of leaving unclear what is really happening, just what a good thriller needs.
Crime thriller hidden under struggle against needlessly hunting animals. Berlinale 2017 jury awarded it deservedly with Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize
Seen at the Berlinale 2017. Though it was marked "out of competition" for the Golden Bear, it deservedly got the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize anyway. Lead protagonist Janina is retired but still teaches English at a local school. Her pupils admire her, contrary to the school board who is less happy. She is a convinced vegetarian and frowns on hunting, which is the favorite sport of nearly all local villagers. Apart from her continuous struggle against needless hunting, there are also crime thriller elements involved when people are found dead from time to time without any tracks or other useful clues to help the police.
The movie is structured in chapters following the hunting calendar, something we see Janina stealing from the police office. She has frequent contacts there to file complaints over violations of same calendar. It is useless as the police does nothing about it, understandable with high placed policemen who are heavily involved in hunting themselves. Janina is persistent in her struggle for animal welfare, but her complaints are ignored. Her evenso persistent inclination to involve astrology in everything, hampers her believability and is often an excuse to send her away. And being an independent and retired woman (some think: useless) does not help either.
This movie is apparently about corruption, a popular theme in movies in former communist countries. It is a broader theme than only lust for money or a high position. Self-serving bureaucrats or bending rules for egoistic reasons, are also forms of corruption, maybe weaker variants but still. Clearly, the authorities (mainly the police) does not care much about enforcing rules around hunting, being heavily involved in hunting themselves, just like everyone in the elite. This includes the priest, who explains in one of his sermons how useful hunting actually is, actually a divine right given to humans. But Janina is not guiltless herself either, when she organizes a class "excursion" (that is what she calls it when a school administrator has comments) to find her missing dogs. It took place in the dark and within a forest, that is why her superiors are not amused. It may be a weaker form of corruption, I admit it, but still deviating from the rules and putting children unnecessarily at risk to serve her own private interests.
Director Agnieszka Holland won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize for "opening new perspectives", awarded by the Berlinale 2017 International Jury. I'm at a loss what those "new perspectives" can be, maybe the fact that we are watching a whodunit thriller without noticing it along the way, that is until the nasty truth hits us near the finale. However, don't construe my being lost that I'm against this reward. The compelling story line throughout a bit over 2 hours, as well as how the lead performer carries the story, deserve a reward, whatever its earmark.
Seto Surya (2016)
Well-designed screenplay showing things may seem to have changed in Nepal, but the old caste system and former political differences still persist
Seen at the Rotterdam film festival 2017 (website: iffr.com/en). It was a well-designed story showcasing that things may seem to have changed in Nepal (e.g. a new constitution) but that old differences in caste's and political demarcation lines still exist, all of that despite peace being the new norm where everyone should live together as a new nation. Choices for or against a particular political party that someone made 10 years ago, are still held against you nowadays. This is best illustrated by the two brothers, who cannot help continuing to argue while carrying their father's body to his grave.
Nice icing on the cake is what we get to see about burying rituals as per ancient traditions. It takes a considerable part of the running time, yet it is interesting for us to watch and certainly not redundant.
A new constitution is underway. This is clearly hanging in the air throughout the story. We hear the announcement that it passed all legal procedures and now became effective near the end of the movie. Less pronounced but still a topic covered by the screenplay, is that the position of women did not change, despite everyone being considered equal under the new constitution. All such things are cleverly interwoven in the story without ever monopolizing the proceedings.
Last but not least, I cannot avoid a special mention for two children roles. They add an extra dimension to the story by asking pertinent questions at times, or just by providing assistance for Chandra, persistent in spite of being sent away several times.
Dnevnik masinovodje (2016)
Good job of incorporating a heavy subject in a comedy. Interesting how train drivers react on the suicides they have to cope with. No sick jokes, no blood, no loose body parts
It is a comedy indeed, contrary to my questions beforehand why this movie was labeled such. But the heavy subject is handled very well. It is not so that the train drivers make jokes about their "victims", rather the opposite, as they even remember them all in detail. They consider it a fact of life that it happens every now and then, knowing they can do nothing about it.
The comedy elements revolved around a stepfather going to every length to prevent his adopted son to follow in his footsteps by becoming a train driver too. His resistance delayed the inevitable but worked out very badly on both. Eventually, after several unexpected and surprising turns of events, the son becomes a real train driver, but has to wait many months before his first "hit". That period in limbo worked out badly on everyone as well. In a well-meant attempt to rescue the situation the stepfather even volunteers someone who was about to end his life by jump from a bridge, and persuaded him to change his suicide plan by lying down on the rails at 14:32 where his stepson was scheduled to come with his train.
The above example illustrates best, in my opinion, how this heavy subject can be changed into a comedy. The remainder of the developments and turns of events are not important for understanding why this movie is worth seeing. Don't worry, there is no blood to speak of. No loose body parts are shown on screen, and there are no sick jokes about suicides.
Tickling Giants (2016)
Informative movie showing how the climate for satire in Egypt changed over the years. Though showing hope at first, the final takeaway message is depressing
Saw this at the Leiden International Film Festival 2016 (LIFF, website: leidenfilmfestival.nl/en), where it was part of a program Humor in Islamic Countries, in addition to The Lizard (Kamal Tabrizi, 2004) shown earlier that day. Luckily, there was an introductory speech that explained some aspects we would easily have overlooked otherwise, some of the advantages of a festival above a "normal" screening in a cinema around the corner.
A few weeks earlier, before and after the screening of Clash (original title: Eshtebak) at the Film Fest Ghent 2016, we learned from director Mohamed Diab that humor is a normal vehicle for Egyptians to escape from bitter circumstances, even at funerals or other sad moments. Knowing that, both Clash and Tickling Giants leave us with the impression that satire is Egyptian history for now. Humor may still serve its purpose in-house, but it cannot be used anymore against authorities or governmental institutions.
Back to Tickling Giants: Spanning several years, it gave a good impression how the political climate in Egypt changed, and how little elbowing room there was eventually left for satire or critical remarks against authority. Opponents of Youssef's talk show argued that it was a feeble time for upcoming democracy in Egypt, that trust in authority was better not disturbed. In other words, later there will come more room for free speech. We cannot have it now, certainly not at this very moment with a fresh democracy under construction.
The TV network broke under the pressure and even sued the presenter (cannot imagine why, but they said he broke his contract), though the president stated on TV that this premature ending was not his doing. Who are we to believe?? This is certainly the morale of this movie, even if we refuse to see conspiracies all around. We know of countries where you can be locked away nowadays as a journalist because of doing what you are paid to do. It is something we previously thought was typical for underdeveloped third-world countries. That is not true anymore.
Demonstrating influence of Communist Party in the 80-ies, with corruption and power abuse as main issues. Leaves us wondering whether it really has disappeared in modern times
Saw this at the Leiden International Film Festival 2016. The exposition of characters is very original, but it confused me in the beginning and made me wonder where the story was heading. The following may serve as heads up for subsequent viewers. In alternating short scenes, we observe a school building at daylight with students, and the same building at night with parents inside. In hindsight, we see a meeting of parents as the main course, and it is precisely that meeting that carries the story line. The parallel illustrations with scenes in and out of school are necessary to bring the core message home.
Several movies from former communist countries drive the message home that corruption and power abuse is a major issue. We start getting an idea what the problem is, when the teacher in question, on her first day, asks all students what their parents do for a living. It gradually grows on us that her interest is not seeking background information about the students, very commendable if that was the case, but foremost that she is planning to make effective use of their potential.
An example: One of the fathers is said to work on the airport, and she immediately sees an opportunity to smuggle bakery to her family abroad. Later on it appears that the airport employee in question is working as a sales clerk, and has no contact at all with plane crew personnel. So he can only make a feeble attempt to hand it over to passing plane personnel. It does not work due to everyone ignoring him. He is stuck with the cake, and sees no other way out than eating it by himself and not facing the music when coming home with it. This is just an example, but serves well as an illustration what this movie is about. Said teacher uses parents and children for a variety of domestic tasks, and passes information in return which parts of their home work should be studied in depth, as an examination about that particular material can be expected the next day.
The meeting called by the school director does not progress as smoothly as planned. The majority of the parents do not dare to speak out that they feel "used" by the teacher too, or either see no harm in it "everyone does it". It all comes down to the fact that high marks for the children are very important for their future, and parents are prepared for anything to accommodate that. At first, the screenplay focuses on two families in particular, who are very outspoken they will sign the petition. We see various scenes in class and at home to illustrate the problem very thoroughly. Alas, for a considerable part of the running time these two couples are alone with their complaints, and no other parents seems prepared to follow suit. It takes some time for a few (very few) others to join in, and we hear their stories as well via scenes at home. This approach with scenes alternating between locations and protagonists works very well, and is useful for keeping our interest.
Nevertheless, the meeting falters and most parents leave without having signed the petition. Yet, a very surprising outcome is to be expected, after all (no details, no spoilers). Apart from an indictment against people in a powerful position who may abuse their official position for private purposes, it also reminds us that corruption is still a major issue in some of the former Communist countries, as can be readily derived from recent movies like Durak/The Fool (Bykov 2014), Dolgaya Schastlivaya Zhizn/A Long And Happy Life (Khlebnikov 2013) and Leviathan (Zvyagintsev 2014). Those issues are not eliminated, apparently, and we still read about power abuse, self-serving bureaucrats and other forms of corruption in contemporary newspapers. On the other hand, similar issues exist in our Western countries as well, and the fact that papers, books and movies are not so outspoken about is, cannot be construed as a reason to believe that we are very different off here. Situations like the ones demonstrated in this movie, are feasible everywhere. I think this is the central theme of this movie, letting us stay awake and not lean backwards while thinking such problems only exist in far-away countries.