Reviews

8 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
The Wave (2008)
8/10
Fascism is still possible and alive
29 September 2008
Die Welle details how a project on autocracy gradually leads to disastrous results. Initially without enthusiasm to teach the topic, Rainer Wegner conducts an unorthodox experiment to demonstrate to his students (equally lukewarm to start with) what life would be like under fascism. Neatly structured by days, the experiment begins with simple disciplines and grows to become an exclusive cult named "the wave" with its own uniform and salute.

Similar to his 2004 film "Before the Fall" which concerns the Nazi's seduction of youth, Dennis Gansel probes the individual psychologies that bring about uncontrollable collective movement, and how personal life is transformed by it. It offers a balanced view on an organisation like "The Wave" by enquiring whether it is a crystallisation of the students' class-free utopia (at the cost of losing individuality) or a community for those in need of belonging and empowerment.

What is frightening is that many (though not all) of them voluntarily follow the conformity through reasoning. Ironically, the mob mentality engulfing the students is what they condemn formerly; even the "anarchist" Rainer finds himself intoxicated with his increasingly idolised status.

An engaging and powerful film with a sense of humour, suspension (terror arises when the light goes off during Karo's anti-Wave poster distribution), twist (Rainer's concluding speech), believable characterisation and excellent acting (Jürgen Vogel, Max Riemelt, and Frederick Lau). Inspired by a true event in California , this intelligent film merits attention particularly because of its non-preaching and humanistic treatment of a heavy subject.
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7/10
A love it or hate it extreme cinema
29 September 2008
Premiered in 2002, Philippe Grandrieux's controversial second feature film La Vie Nouvelle opens a new type of experimentation with form while at the same time challenging the viewer's tolerance. This film is not used as a means to reflect, but a device probing deeply into the desires and states of mind of the characters. Grandrieux's usual styles - shaky images, techno music, and impulsive camera position (for viewers to approximate the characters' complex and intense emotions) remain. Sex scenes are often shown in darkness and even infra-red, leading the viewer to ponder upon the suggested but unseen violence.

Contrary to the forward-looking title, the new life is a bleak one. At a brothel-like hotel in an East European city, the young American soldier Seymour (Zach Knighton) encounters and becomes obsessed with the prostitute Mélania (Anna Mouglalis). After an initiatory traumatic hair cutting scene, the human trafficker Boyan transforms Mélania into a commodity (she is carried around like a piece of weightless luggage). In this degraded urban space, men's bestiality merges with that of dogs. It is the disfigured bodies and gestures, instead of usual conversation or screams, that depicts the horror. The sensitive Seymour eventually attempts to purchase Mélania outright. Signing a pact with Mélania's infamous master, Seymour is left with a handsome price to pay.

This is a love it or hate it auteur film about control, evilness, objectified bodies, internalised fear, and extreme cinematic expression, with morally-suspect moments bound by Grandrieux's highly perceptive vision and atmospheric images.
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6/10
Transcending tango music but a cursory glance at the art of tango
29 September 2008
CAFÉ DE LOS MAESTROS is not simply a live performance given by the veteran tango masters at the sumptuous Teatro Colón. It is an introduction to the once globally-popular form of music and dance, and an account of its impacts on the emotions of the remaining Argentinean tango stars of the golden age (the 1940s and 1950s). Contrasting Buenos Aries' past (through archive footage) and present (young couple kissing and tourists on the crowded streets), this film yields a sense of nostalgia. The ending in which a musician plays alone amid the vastness of the Teatro Colón, in stark contrast to the earlier festive boisterousness, makes the film a poignant one with similarities to Wenders' Buena Vista Social Club. The music gives us access to solitary artists' thoughts. The frequent jump-cuts between the musicians' on-stage performance and off-stage studio scenes, linked by the tango melody, paint a humorous and amiable picture of these extraordinary artists. But more context (the Montevideo part, and the dance element, is neglected) would help connect the fragmentary narrative of this music-driven documentary.

This film, however, is entertaining and is for everyone, as those uninterested in the musicians will quickly be captivated by their legendary performance at the Teatro Colón. The transcending power of the concert itself makes this documentary a must-see. It is also a valuable cultural project initiated by the Argentinean-American Gustavo Santaolalla and touching testament to the resilience of the human spirit of which tango is an indispensable constituent. Vive la música!
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Heavy Load (2008)
7/10
Bing punk is all about staying up late!
27 September 2008
If you think punk is about extreme haircuts and body-piercings, then you have not seen HEAVY LOAD. With his gripping narration, Rothwell shows how the unlikely band overcomes various trials and proves that punk culture, social activism, and learning disabilities are not exclusive to one another. Indeed, the term punk is proudly redefined as an attitude of being true to oneself and living a life one really desires.

The band is seen as not only a group of music-loving performers but also people who fight against stereotypes and learning difficulties, and even act as spokesmen through their "Stay Up Late" campaign for those who are cognitively disabled. Relying mainly on a HDV camcorder, this film provides an intimate portrait of the members of this band (particularly the drummer) who refuse to be pitied and whose version of Kylie Minogue's "Can't Get You Out of My Head" is absolutely remarkable.

Like his "Deep Water" which focuses on the anti-heros of a sailing voyage, Rothwell offers something different in this rockumentary – the presence (or the intervention?) of himself. Uninterested in producing a standard observational documentary, Rothwell's merging with the story, however, makes us ask whether this film is more about the band, or Rothwell's journey through his depressed state. Barely a film about happiness as it claims, HEAVY LOAD is about struggle through difficulties as it captures how the band works its way up to a mainstream music festival. Like Michael's question to Rothwell, we wonder what is next for the ensemble.
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10/10
An abstract film about a city, its women, and a romantic obsession
27 September 2008
After arriving at a city, an artist waits at an outdoor café and anticipates Sylvia's appearance. He then proceeds to follow a girl, but it turns out to be a mistake.

Without much dialogue or dramatic genuflections, viewers may find that José Luis Guerin's latest film takes some time to absorb. Pushing the clichéd man searching for woman narrative aside it is possible to interpret the film from several view points. It is an abstract film about Strasbourg (almost unidentifiable as several languages are heard), it is about observing women (mediated through the male gaze), and may also be seen as simply tracing an obsession.

The title is somewhat misleading as Sylvia remains absent and emerges only as an image (a combination of all the women "elles" the man has sketched) throughout the film. Even the subheadings (the first, second, and third night) are ambiguous as most scenes happen during the daytime. Yet the three parts are ingeniously linked by the café waitress with slightly different but highly related scenes. The ending in which the man follows the waitress suggests a continuation of his romantic search. The narrative ambiguities are successfully compensated by Guerin's reinvention of cinema as a tool to record and provide a vision beyond one's naked eye. Other details, such as the repetitions (the same graffiti and wallet peddler, even the girl's gesture resembles the advertisement model's), sound effects (the woman's footsteps), and use of off-screen space further generate pleasure for perceptive viewers of this light piece.
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Año uña (2007)
9/10
An experience of time in a highly intimate and original style
26 September 2008
Who said that one must have a screen play first and then add the images to make a film? How about having visual images first and then thinking about what narrative can build out of the images? Well, the Mexican director Jonás Cuarón's first feature AÑO UÑA is exactly such an experiment. This, however, is not the only refreshing aspect of this film. Unlike other experimental films which can be disturbing, AÑO UÑA demonstrates that an experimental film can simultaneously be light (a love story between a horny teenage Mexican boy Diego and a twenty-something American girl Molly) and personal (Diego is Cuarón's younger half-brother and Molly Cuarón's girlfriend). With thousands of pictures he took during a year of his life but no prewritten script, Cuarón was totally free to compose the narrative. Viewers have to remain patient for the first few minutes (as the film begins slowly with a sequence of his beautifully shot photos) before the story gradually unfolds. By literally imposing a fictional narrative onto reality (spontaneous slices of daily lives), Cuarón's AÑO UÑA makes us rethink the relationship between fabrication and reality. Composed of only photographs and dialogues, AÑO UÑA is probably not considered a film. Strictly it is not a film. It is more than a film, as it offers us an experience of time in a highly intimate and original style. The delightfully funny comments about the cultural differences between America and Mexico as well as about growing up are assets of the film.
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8/10
Mission Incredible instead of Mission Impossible
26 September 2008
Directed by James Moll and narrated and executive-produced by Matt Damon, RUNNING THE SAHARA is a uplifting and socially aware documentary chronicling the 111-day run coast to coast across the Sahara Desert completed by a team of three experienced runners (Charlie Engle from America, Ray Zahab from Canada, and Kevin Lin from Taiwan).

Initiated by Ray simply because no human being has ever done it before, the three agree to undertake this challenge together. Each has their character and motivation, but they accomplish the expedition collectively. This film details the journey's physical and emotional impact on the runners. It is about team-spirit, challenge, discovery, and most importantly believing and materialising one's dream.

The group's incredible voyage which covers 6 countries is met with various problems (the heat, sand storms, unknown visa and terrorist situation, injuries, and even self-doubt). Yet their strenuous experience is not without joyous and touching moments such as the arrival of their family, encouragement from friends, and the village children's greeting and running along with them.

This character-driven film provides a complex picture of culturally-vibrant Africa – its mysteriously beautiful but extremely merciless desert, and its acute water problems (evidenced through the 7-year-old boy left alone in wilderness to wait for the return of his water-searching parents, and the primitive well-digging method). With the charitable H2O Africa campaigning for clean water being a component of the expedition, it is for sure that to ease the water crisis in the Continent will no longer remain a unfulfilled mission impossible.
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Hei yan quan (2006)
8/10
Warmth and Hope in Sorching and Smoggy Kuala Lumpur
23 May 2007
What would you do l if you had to share an old flea-ridden mattress with a stranger in a scorching hot and humid Kuala Lumpur? How would you feel if you think you are sleeping with the person whom you feel attached to but realise that your rival in love is also in the bed? It's true that "I Don't Want to Sleep Alone", Tsai Ming-liang's 9th film and the first set in his hometown in Malaysia, is not a pleasant film to digest on a tranquil weekend. Yet I'm sure the gloomy reality won't prevent Tsai's fans or sensitive filmgoers from finding some hopeful and frivolous moments in the film. Superficially this slow-paced film explores the lives of lower-middle class workers and examines the reality of Kuala Lumpur as a multilingual and multiracial city. The best part of the film does not rest in the vivid representation of the workers and the city, but Tsai's passionate concern for human beings, especially their extremely simple wish to be loved and their fear of loneliness. Homeless Xiaokang (Lee Kang-sheng, the director's alter-ego) was robbed and beaten by swindlers in a rundown area of Kuala Lumpur, and brought home by Rawang, a Malay construction worker who is superbly played by Norman Atun. The kind Rawang lets Xiaokang sleep on an old mattress that he picks up from the street. Parallel to Rawang's nursing Xiaolang is the teahouse waitress Qi (Chen Xiangqi)'s taking care of the bed-ridden paralysed son of the teahouse owner (Pearly Chua). Unlike Rawang who finds stability and happiness in taking care of Xiaokang, Qi is desperate to seek for a new life, more than ever after her encounter with Xiaokang who awakens long repressed desires in her. The repressed middle-aged female teahouse owner is also attracted to the young body of Xiaokang, but astonishingly realises that Xiaokang's appearance bears resemblance to her son. Unexpected heavy smog from Indonesia begins to attack the city. In the seriously-polluted city, it is the common "syndrome" combination of loneliness, desire and longing for love and being loved that bring all the characters together. The chosen music is a significant supplement to the limited dialogue. The multi-racial background of immigrants in Kuala Lumpur is introduced through an aural mosaic of Malay folksongs, Chinese songs, Cantonese operas, and Bollywood music. You can easily identity the workers' ethnic background from what they listen, though of course also from the way they eat and dress. Even the rhythm of daily life in Kuala Lumpur is revealed through the sound. The noise from water-inserting in the building site where Rawang works is placed against the vague sound of Alazan from a Mosque. The local-styled coffee shop (kopitiam) is boisterous with mahjong playing sound, Malay news reporting, multilingual chatting sounds from the customers, and even the sound of plastic bags when the waitress Qi wraps up takeaway food for the customers. The lively scene on the ground floor is in drastic contrast to the silence of the first floor where the shop owner's comatose son (also played by Li Kang-sheng) lies motionlessly. The Cantonese love-story opera and the old Chinese love song ingeniously reflect the forlorn characters' emerging desires. Caught either in a poor or repressed situation, the characters all wriggle with intense desire, and endeavour to build connections with people. Despite all the alienations (Rawang is isolated from his peer workers and sticks to Xiaokang) and frustrations (Qi and Xiaokang's clumsy attempt to make love in masks), there is always a solution. After all, happiness can be enormously simple, such as merely owning a mattress and nursing a stranger until he recovers. Bearing Tsai's familiar stylistic conceits such as long takes and a static camera, usual concerns on the alienation and yearning of human beings and must-have scenes such as running water and sex, "I Don't Want to Sleep Alone" however treats isolation as part of human nature, instead of a syndrome caused by the ultra-modernised environment as in Tsai's earlier films. Once again, Tsai proved he is one of those love-him-or-hate-him auteurs as applauses and criticisms were both heard when I walked out of the cinema. If I were to choose between the two poles, I would go for the former simply because of Tsai's minimalist techniques and meditative sensitivity. Despite not as amusing as "Hole", or as tense as "Wayward Cloud", "A Don't Want to Sleep Alone" is easily Tsai's most warmhearted film to date.
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