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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
A Grand Adventure
Wes Anderson is one of the most original film makers working today. None of his films can be categorized into any particular genre. His latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which opened the Berlin Film Festival, continues that trend. It is a tale within a tale within another tale. Whilst every shot has been meticulously arranged as though a work of Art hanging in a museum, story wise Anderson has let his imagination run wild. Though the tale (with Tom Wilkinson as the author of the story) and the tale within the tale (with Jude Law as the young author & F Murray Abraham as the mysterious owner of THe Grand Budapest Hotel) have straightforward narratives, the tale within the tale within the tale, which comprises the bulk of the film and is set in the years preceding the Second World War, is a wild uproarious train ride of story telling. It also boasts the cast of a life time: Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson & countless cameos. It will delight Anderson fans but is more likely destined for Art house cinemas as it is too off center for mainstream audiences. The production design and music are outstanding and even the end credits are imaginatively done (and received another ovation from the audience).
Kafka meets Lynch!
Denis Villeneuve, whose last two films were the hugely impressive Incendies and Prisoners, has concocted a real oddity here. If you can imagine David Lynch adapting a Kafka novel, then you will be in the right neighborhood! In Incendies and Prisoners,Villeneuve inserted serious moral and social issues in the context of first rate thrillers' Here he follows the same tradition but the tone is more abstract and absurd. Neverherless, Enemy, adapted from a novel by the Nobel prize winner Jose Saramago, is always gripping and totally fascinating. A man (Jake Gyllenhaal) gets a recommendation from a colleague to watch a particular video. The main actor in the video appears to be his doppelgänger and the two agree to meet. To reveal any more would lessen the enjoyment of this highly original film. Well worth catching.
Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
Rock n Roll Vampires
One knows that a Jim Jarmusch movie about vampires is not going to be like any other vampire film. In fact it would be unkind to class this as a vampire movie. Only Lovers Left Alive is a highly stylized and atmospheric film bemoaning the passing of the great rock n roll and Hippy era. Here we have a vampire couple (Swinton & Hiddleston - both excellent and perfectly cast) living an isolated life in an abandoned house in Detroit, USA. Hiddleston used to be a famous rock n roll artist who has become a recluse collecting old guitars and records. They survive by purchasing blood samples from a corrupt doctor. We also have one of their old vampire friends (John Hurt) living in Tangiers where the blood is specially pure. Things take an unexpected turn when Swinton's mischievous sister (Mia Wasikowska) visits them. Only Lovers Left Alive has cult film written all over it. The music is great too and blends perfectly with the atmosphere. Essential for Jarmusch fans and recommended to others too!
Marg kasb va kare man ast (2011)
Death is My Profession can perhaps be best described as a thriller with a social conscience. It bears a striking resemblance to Yilmaz Guney's Yol and, to a lesser degree, Nuri Ceylon's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Three men try to steal electric cables from pylons by cutting them. Things go wrong. One is electrocuted to death, another kills a guard and runs away and the third one is captured. Then we follow the fate of the two remaining men as one takes on a dangerous journey through the snow covered mountains with his little daughter to escape from the law while the captured one is taken on an equally treacherous journey by a couple of police officers in the village to hand him to authorities in the nearest town. Writer-director Saghafi succeeds in making a few strong statements regarding the plight of unemployed and desperate young men in Iran who have to resort to any means possible to feed their families. At the same time, Death is My Profesions is a tense thriller, strikingly photographed in the Iranian countryside. Well worth catching.
Loss of Innocence in Tehran
Trapped (Darband)is one of the better films in the recent Iranian cinema output. It features a stunning debut by the young actress Nazanin Bayati as Nazanin, an academically bright pupil from provinces who has just entered university in Tehran. She encounters difficulty in finding university accommodation but gets an offer from Sahar (Pegah Ahangarani), a happy go lucky girl working in a ladies makeup accessories shop. While Nazanin is trying to support herself by giving private tuition, Sahar is the polar opposite, partying all night and hanging out with dubious friends. Soon Nazanin is involved in Sahar's problems and the film enters the Farhadi territory of film making. The casting is one of the standout elements of Darband in which each character is perfectly cast. One of the main themes of the film is loss of innocence and that to survive in a big city like Tehran, academic intelligence is not enough and being street smart is an absolute necessity. Recommended.
Man Madar Hastam (2012)
I Am a Mother (Man Madar Hastam)caused some controversy when it was shown in Iran. The reason was that it included a few subjects normally taboo in Iranian films such as characters drinking alcohol & getting drunk and sex between unmarried couples(implied but not shown). The opening of the film where an old lady called Simin (Pantea Bahram) is describing an event to her psychiatrist, is strangely reminiscent of the beginning of Amadeus where Salieri is making his confession. We then flashback to the past where the Simin character has just entered Iran after living abroad for a lengthy period and thereafter we have a social melodrama, very well acted and strikingly photographed in bold primary colors. Both its theme and direction / photography remind one of the films of Douglas Sirk. As the title suggests, its theme is about the sacrifices parents make for their children, with particular emphasis on the Iranian society with its traditions.
Quai d'Orsay (2013)
Quai d'Orsay is based on a comic book by Abel Lanzac (pseudonym for Antonin Baudry) who worked at the French Foreign Ministry (known colloquially as Quai d'Orsay, after its location in Paris) as former foreign minister Dominique de Villepin's speech writer for several years.
In the film we have Arthur (Raphaël Personnaz) , a young speech writer for foreign minister Alexandre de Worms (played with relish by Thierry Lhermitte) who suffers from the minister's continuous barrage of shallow slogans instead of helpful directives. Tavernier has portrayed de Worms as a pretentious, shallow person with few redeeming features who appears to spend all his working hours highlighting quotations by his favorite authors with yellow highlighters. The film itself is a fast moving and reasonably funny farce focusing on the minister's helplessness in encounters at the UN, lunch with a Nobel Laurette, managing crisis at home (where he is ever reliant on the old hand Claude (played by the veteran actor Niels Arestrup) ad so on.
Quai d'Orsay passes the time quite pleasingly mainly thanks to fine acting and brisk direction but is not a high point in Bertrand Tavernier's body of work.
Dast-neveshtehaa nemisoosand (2013)
Disturbing but Essential
Mohammad Rasoulof's film was made clandestinely under highly secretive conditions. Due to its controversial and politically sensitive content, even after its release the cast and crew (bar Rasoulof) remain anonymous.The film has been made with a digital camera using non-actors. The title of the film is taken fro a sentence in Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. Manuscripts... is "inspired" by real events in Iran where a series of intellectuals were murdered in what was called "Serial Killings". These murders have largely remained unresolved. The film treats these events in a very realistic and matter of fact way which makes them even more chilling and disturbing. The two main protagonists assigned with the killings go about their daily life in a very normal manner, one tending to his sick child at the hospital while the other offers prayers to God so that the child can get well soon! Rasoulof's use of camera and sound is exemplary, achieving maximum tension and sustaining it for most of the film. Highly recommended but not for the squeamish.
Crime and Corruption
A police sergeant, driving at high speed to hospital to witness his wife's child delivery, causes a fatal accident. A corrupt colleague who arrives on the scene (a terrific performance by the director Yuri Bykov), offers him two choices: make an honest report and damage your career or we will help you blame it on the other driver (a woman whose child was killed in the accident). There follows a gripping thriller which poses serious moral questions. The Major packs a heavy punch and Yuri Bykov is obviously a name to watch. An atmospheric, beautifully acted film with direction, photography and editing to match. A real find and highly recommended.
Prisoners is extremely suspenseful and equally disturbing. Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, whose last film was the equally spellbinding and disturbing Incendies, builds up the tension from the first frame and does not let up for the full 153 minutes of the movie. Aaron Guzikowski's script, though on the surface a child kidnapping thriller, bucks all Hollywood trends and, as well as being a taut thriller, poses serious moral issues. It also helps that the film has a first rate cast doing outstanding work: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Terence Howard, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello and Viola Davis. Prisoners is not for the faint heated but is likely to feature strongly at next year's Oscars.