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My Son (2006)
8/10
A heartbreaking psychological drama
2 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This review may contain slight spoilers.

This is the heartbreaking story of Julien, a young and bright schoolboy from a seemingly normal family. Julien's dad is a hard-working academic at university, his mother a great cook who keeps the household going, and Julien's older sister is about to enter university. We quickly learn that all is not well. Julien's manipulative mother has a major issue with her son growing up and would like to keep him at home, as hers alone. When he starts rebelling and questioning her actions, she starts unraveling, mentally and even physically assaulting Julien. She clearly has serious psychological problems.

His indifferent, remote father is a busy man, who in his spare time escapes home by playing tennis with his mates. Julien's dad turns a blind eye, even when his sister complains to him about the way her spiteful and controlling mother is treating her younger brother. Things get worse, with Julien threatening to commit suicide. Then one afternoon, it all comes to a point...

This is a depressing, unsettling and somewhat manipulative psychological drama with outstanding performances by Julien (Victor Séveax) and his hateful, selfish mother (Nathalie Baye). Great camera-work and excellent, foreboding soundtrack too. 8/10.
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6/10
An interesting film
2 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This review may contain slight spoilers.

Conflict between 'warring', opposing boy gangs is not new and is portrayed in several films. Just think of 'War of The Buttons' ('La Guerre des Boutons') of 1962, the Irish version 'War of The Buttons' (1994) and the excellent Hungarian film 'The Boys of Paul Street' ('A Pál utcai fiúk') (1969). In 'Poletje v Školjki' we meet two gangs from neighbouring villages on Yugoslavia's picturesque Adriatic coast. Our protagonist, Tomaz and his gang are from Piran, and they have a long-standing feud with the lads from Portoroz. When the latter spray-paint graffiti on Piran's buildings, it is like a declaration of war.

Tomaz is living with his mother; his father had left them and lives in the city of Ljubljana. A rather strange element in the film is Tomaz's clever computer who thinks like a human being and provides answers to any questions Tomaz may ask. He even gives Tomaz advice on how to get revenge on the boys of Portoroz.

Some of the families depend on shellfish farming along the coast. When they discover that a few of the ropes with shellfish are missing, the boys suspect the other boy gang to be responsible. Tension rises between the two gangs, until they discover who the real culprits are; a few tourist hooligans with motorcycles who camp nearby. The gangs join forces and with military precision, aided by the computer, they confront the culprits.

The adventurous summer ends on a low note for Tomaz when he learns that his mother has decided to join his father in the city and that Tomaz will have to move too, leaving his mates and girlfriend behind. But will Tomaz move, or will he take matters in his own hand and run away from home?

This is unfortunately not an outstanding film; I found the acting and cinematography rather average. The most interesting part for me was to 'experience' Yugoslavia what it looked like a few years before the tragic Balkan War. From my outsider perspective, a bit of history and era of innocence gone by. 6/10.
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7/10
An enchanting film
2 October 2017
Rasmus is a young boy in an orphanage in rural Sweden during the early years of the 20th century. Every time when potential foster-parents arrive, Rasmus is overlooked. Then one day he just has enough and decides to find his own foster-parents. He just walks out of the orphanage into the wide world. Along the way he meets a tramp, Oskar, who makes his living by playing his accordion at farmsteads and villages he visits in his travels, in return for a few coins or a plate of food. He joins the tramp and together they have many adventures, including crossing paths with a couple of burglars who are dressed as gentlemen. The latter have just robbed a business of a large sum of money during a hold-up. Things get problematic for the tramp and Rasmus when the 'gentlemen' spread word that the tramp and boy are behind the spate of recent burglaries in the vicinity. And almost everybody believed them and suspected the bum and his young accomplice to be the culprits.

It may sound as if this is a film rather thin on plot aimed at younger viewers. However, this movie is not as simple as it sounds and has many quality cinematic elements. The set is lavish and realistic, costumes great, but it is the cinematography in particular that impresses. Beautifully shot pastoral scenes in verdant summer landscapes, contrasted with atmospheric indoor footage. The casting is excellent too; both Allan Edwall (Oskar) and Erik Lindgren (Rasmus) play their roles with distinction. Erik Lindgren's facial expressions alone say more than words.

I score this well-crafted film a good 7/10.
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7/10
An unusual film
2 October 2017
Two teenagers are sledding down a steep snow-covered hill, when one of the boys crash-lands. Bystanders come to his aid. The two lads get invited to the apartment of their young adult rescuers. It all happens against the picturesque back-drop of a snow-covered townscape with revellers celebrating New Year. One gets the feeling that most of the people in the apartment are somewhat bored and just trying to kill time. However, it wouldn't remain quiet for long: The lads would be in for an interesting evening, where they would be introduced to the 'pleasures' of grown-ups: liquor, dope, and, it is hinted, even sexual adventures. And, as in real life, also learn about disappointments.

This film reminds me of the excellent Mexican film, 'Duck Season', where a few bored youngsters try to kill time, and in the process gain experience about real life.

Technically speaking, 'A Night Too Young' is an accomplished work with atmospheric cinematography and soundtrack. I found the acting of the mainly young cast also above average. The film runs for 65 minutes; it is just the right length to keep one's interest.

I score this engrossing little film a good 7/10.
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8/10
Stunning cinematography makes this film a memorable viewing experience
28 September 2017
I have seen quite a few films dealing with the interaction between wildlife and man in the natural environment, and then I am not talking about wildlife documentaries, which seem to get better and better as new photographic techniques are developed. The classic 'Born Free' of 1966, and another film with African background, 'Duma' of 2005 come to mind. And then there is the excellent 'Entrelobos' ('Among Wolves') of 2011. Last night I watched another film in this genre, 'Wie Brüder im Wind' ('Brothers of the Wind'), and found that it compares well with others in this genre.

High in the spectacular Hohe Tauern part of the Austrian Alps, we see how a pair of golden eagles rears two chicks on a narrow rocky ledge, and as is typical with large birds of prey, the stronger of the two chicks forces the weaker one from the nest. The chance that the weaker chick would survive is rather slim, but it is in luck. Fortunately it has not fallen to its death; vegetation cushioned its fall and the bird landed safely on the ground at the foot of the cliff below the nest. Furthermore, shortly thereafter a boy, Lukas, (Manuel Camacho) finds the young bird before predators could get hold of it, and decides to rear it.

Through the narrator, a forester called Danzer (Jean Reno), we get to know Lukas, who lives high in the mountains with his father (Tobias Moretti). Quite early on it becomes clear that the relationship between Lukas and his father is strained; the lad does not speak to his dad, and more often than not hides away in a derelict house, where he lives in his own world. A sympathetic Danzer decides to help the boy and gives advice on how to rear the young raptor.

Can you build a film on such a slim narrative with only three main human characters? Well, after watching the movie, it is clear that you can successfully do so. The main emphasis of the film is on the life of the golden eagle, who against the odds and setbacks survives and grows into adulthood. The growing up of the eagle becomes a metaphor of the coming of age of Lukas, who also has obstacles to overcome.

The strong point of this film is without doubt the astonishing cinematography. The wildlife photography, particularly the action shots and the lingering landscape footage are literally breathtaking. The soundtrack is great too. The actors all do a fine job. Special mention must be made of Manuel Camacho, who seems to have a knack for excelling in wildlife films. He was justly nominated for a Goya Award, and won the Spanish Actors Newcomer Award for his acting in 'Entrelobos'.

I score this lovely film a high 8/10.
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Funny Games (1997)
9/10
Don't give eggs to strangers, or swallow a brilliant director's bait
25 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I watched the original 1997 version of 'Funny Games' a few days ago and haven't stopped thinking about it since. The narrative in short: A wealthy Austrian family, dad Georg (Ulrich Mühe) mum Anna (Susanne Lothar) and their young son Schorschi (Stefan Clapczynski), arrives at their holiday home at a picturesque lake. Soon after their arrival a young man knocks on the door, saying that he is staying with mutual friends and that they ask to borrow a few eggs. Anna lets him in; soon his friend joins him. The home invasion starts. Both intruders Peter (Frank Giering) and Paul (Arno Frisch) initially look open-faced - even their names echo some biblical connotation - but their evil side would soon appear when they psychologically and physically assault the family. The tragedy relentlessly unfolds.

I have seen quite a few truly unsettling films (such as Lars von Trier's 'Antichrist') but 'Funny Games' tops the list. The visuals are not that graphic; we are mostly shown post-violence scenes and not the physical attacks actually happening. Director Haneke clearly avoids sensationalism.

I found this film extremely hard to watch. Yet, I could not look away, sitting mesmerized in front of the screen. Michael Haneke had me hooked. Afterwards I realized how I was being manipulated. When Anna took the shotgun and shot the chubby intruder, his blood splattering the wall behind him and even the face of his mate, I felt elated. Serves him right, that will show the son of a b! I Only when the narrative was 're-winded', with both antagonists now surviving, did I realize that in my initial reaction I had become not much different from the intruders. A shocking realization.

This intelligent and provocative film should be seen by serious movie-lovers. Viewers suffering from psychological stress should be warned that this film may not be for them. I found it profoundly unsettling, but with outstanding cinematographic qualities. 9/10.
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9/10
An ambitious film with a lot of food for thought
30 August 2017
Those of you who haven't seen this film, be warned; it is not the normal run-of-the-mill movie with clear narrative and conclusion. It is a challenging and demanding cinematic experience.

'The Tree of Life' may seem disjointed, with four main sections. More than half of the movie deals with the life of a 1950s Texan family: the rigid paternalistic dad whose ambitions to become a musician were frustrated early on; his fun-loving wife, and three kids. Then tragedy strikes with one child losing his life in an accident. This would have serious consequences for the cohesion of the family.

The remainder of the film is a visually lavish exploration of the cosmos and nature on both dazzling temporal and spatial scale. From prehistoric dinosaurs, otherworldly landscapes and bright yellow sunflower fields, to galaxies in all their magnificence. Bringing these two main themes - the life of the Texan family and the bigger picture cosmic perspective - together gets us to the question the film poses right at the start: Is life all about 'grace' or 'nature'?

The interpersonal dynamics of the Texan family form the backbone of the film, yet other unexpected elements of interaction are also evident. Just think of the dinosaur that could have killed the smaller animal that was lying on its side, but did not do so.

The question of 'grace' or 'nature' is visually underscored by the contrasting images of pristine forests and visuals of our man-made forests of glass, steel and concrete.

Viewers looking for a clear, prominent plot and suspense may be disappointed. The film does have a plot; it deals with the complex relationship of a father with his children and wife, and particularly the love-hate relationship between father and eldest son. But it is much more than that; in a sense it gives us perspective on how important - or rather unimportant - our lives on the 'tree of life' really are. The more adventurous viewers with open minds can just sit back and let this film with its stunning visuals and soundtrack wash over them.

Love it or hate it, the film offers lot of food for thought and source of many a discourse. Just look at the varied reaction on this website. I found 'The Tree of Life' an exhilarating cinematic experience and score this meditative and intelligent work of cinematic art an excellent 9/10.
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8/10
An unusual art-film
24 August 2017
Young Simo's (Johannes Brotherus) older brother Ilkka (Jari Virman) is to start a prison sentence for a minor crime the following day. We share their 24 hours together before Ilkka leaves for prison. Their mother is more focused on her social life than spending this last evening with her sons. Yet she instructs Simo to keep his older brother company. While rain intermittently sifts over grey Helsinki, the two brothers go to the city center for some fun, a drink or two. Back at their apartment a bored Simo goes out and starts chatting with the gay photographer living across the street. He invites Simo in, shows him some Wilhelm Von Gloeden prints and asks to photograph Simo. This would have serious consequences…

This black-and-white film has a nihilistic, despairing mood like few others. This is a film of no hope: "If you're free of hope, you're free of everything", we are informed. Another movie sharing this ambiance is Lars Von Trier's unsettling 'Antichrist'. The theme of hopelessness is also explored in the excellent Macedonian film 'Mirage' (also known as 'Iluzija', 'Eat or be Eaten' or 'Seasons of Hope') by Svetozar Ristovski.

It becomes more than just hopelessness. In a disconcerting misanthropic vision the extinction of man is predicted, with scorpions and other lower order animals taking our place.

This sombre theme of hopelessness is captured effectively in monochrome visuals, where the contrast between light and dark is accentuated, with little grey in-between. Some of the scenes are presented as nightmarish visions, without any chance of escape. Whether you are trapped in a train carriage after the train derailed and plunged into a deep river, or whether you caused serious and irreversible harm to somebody, there is no escape. The nightmare becomes real.

I found the acting quite good. Although Simo is not a very talkative fellow, his body language and facial expressions in particular, say a lot. Simo, an introvert, is a true outsider. The more vocal Ilkka and their mother, and the photographer, give fine performances too. The soundtrack, mostly of classical nature, effectively adds to the gloomy ambiance of the film. This film's strengths however, are the excellent, unusual narrative, and especially the outstanding cinematography. Credit to cinematographer Peter Flinckenberg. Several of the scenes are surreal, such as the footage of the train in the river, with jellyfish swimming past; also the scenes when downy feathers drop from the sky or of Simo wiping the misted-up mirror clean. What attention to detail!

'Concrete Night' offers a lot of food for thought and is a film I will watch again. I score it a very good 8/10.
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7/10
Great Italian neo-realist film about friendship
15 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Mario (Geronimo Meynier), son of a ceramic artist, is unhappy when, after a short absence from school due to illness, he arrives back at school to find that his seat in the class has been taken by a new boy, Franco (Andrea Sciré). Franco is the son of a diplomat and regularly changes schools as his father is transferred to new postings. Mario rather ungraciously accepts the fact that the new boy has taken over his seat. In spite of this poor start a friendship quickly develops between the two boys. Mario is sporty and mischievous while Franco, a smart lad, is still affected by the passing away of his mother some 8 years earlier.

Franco is very unhappy when he learns that he has to move school again as his father was suddenly transferred to Sudan. Mario decides to help his friend and arranges that Franco moves in with his family. That way the boy will be able to continue his studies at the same school.

Mario, good athlete that he is, is convinced that he will win the local cross-country race and even better his previous record. When the Franco unexpectedly beats him in the finals (after Mario started with too fast a pace), it is a bitter pill for Mario to swallow. Mario impulsively starts a rumour about Franco which quickly snowballs into something ugly. Would this mean the end of the friendship?

The film ends on a poignant note, in my view the right ending. I found the performances of both young protagonists quite accomplished while the cinematography of this black and white film and soundtrack by Nino Rota are of high standard.

Although I score this film a good 7/10, it is not quite as good as the similarly-themed 'Shoeshine' (aka 'Sciuscià ') of 1946, a masterpiece by Vittorio De Sica, where we witness how the friendship between two lads is put under incredible pressure. Nevertheless, if you haven't seen 'Amici per la pelle', try to get to get it; it's worth it.
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Angel at Sea (2009)
9/10
A profound and unsettling psychological drama
14 August 2017
Young Louis and his family live in a nice neighbourhood in the picturesque village of Sidi Ifni on the Moroccan coast. His father suffers from severe depression, the impact of which is not fully appreciated by his mother or older brother. His father refuses to get help and withdraws totally into his office where he spends his days working, or more often brooding in silence. One day he shares a secret with Louis after swearing him to secrecy. This terrible secret would have a profound impact on Louis' once happy life. From now on the boy would shadow his father, with major ramifications for the boy.

The title refers to a French poem, as well as the role that Louis tries to play in his father's life.

This is in every respect a well-crafted film. The drama unfolding at home is handled with restraint and subtlety, the acting by Martin Nissen (Louis) and Olivier Gourmet (his father), in particular, is truly outstanding. Their body language and facial expressions say more than words could do. The cinematography is imaginative and reflects the troubled nature of the subject matter. Indeed, the camera-work is some of the best I had seen in quite some time. The soundtrack should be mentioned too, with haunting North African melodies adding to the melancholic ambiance of this outstanding film. 9/10.
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7/10
A Coming-of-Age film with a difference
11 August 2017
Augusten Burroughs (Joseph Cross) comes from an unhappy family. His father (Alec Baldwin) loves his booze, his mother (Annette Bening) is a temperamental aspiring poet with psychological issues, most likely bipolar of nature. Augusten is much closer to his mom than his dad. His mother decides that the family should see a psychiatrist, Dr Finch, to solve their problems. The outcome is that his parents get divorced, mother starts living on her own and poor Augusten moves in with the Finch family, after being adopted by Dr Finch.

Augusten keeps a journal, giving us an indication how the lad tries to cope with this environment, and the people he meets and how they relate and react to each other. For most of the film it makes for engrossing viewing.

If you thought that Augusten's mother had issues, wait until you meet the Finch family: From their stoic mother Agnes (Jill Clayburgh), the nun-like eldest daughter, Hope (Gwyneth Paltrow), the younger rebellious daughter Natalie (Evan Rachel Wood) to the eccentric Dr Finch himself (Brian Cox), they are part of one unorthodox family. To call their household chaotic, would be an understatement. Enjoying the erratic behaviour of this odd family is part of the fun of watching this film. I am not going to add detail and spoil it for those who still have to watch this movie. Suffice to say, if you love the bizarre (including below-the-belt humour), you will most likely enjoy this film.

Technically this is a fine film with great soundtrack, cinematography and set. I just loved that chaotic house with its unimaginable range of paraphernalia.

The character of Augusten is well-developed and three-dimensional. His mother is a more complex person, yet the effect of her bipolar condition is effectively portrayed. Although not playing a major role his confused, booze-loving dad is also well-presented. I found the acting by all accomplished, but special mention must be made of Annette Bening and Brian Cox who really excelled. Joseph Cross also acted well, and this brings me to my only serious bit of criticism, and that concerns the casting. Augusten is suppose to be fourteen and later fifteen according to the book and film, yet he is played by a clearly much older Cross, who was close to 20 when filming took place. A younger actor playing the protagonist would have generated more sympathy for the vulnerable lad; Cross comes through as a less vulnerable, rather independent young adult. The strong points of the film fortunately outweigh this negative aspect.

This is a coming-of-age film with a difference, and worth watching. 7/10.
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Departure (III) (2015)
8/10
A powerful yet subtle film
19 July 2017
Not many directors start their full-length future film careers with powerful films. The few examples I can think of include Jean-Luc Godard with his 'À bout de soufflé' ('Breathless'), Alejandro González Iñárritu's 'Amores Perros', Gus van Sant's 'Mala Noche', Larry Clark's 'Kids' and Xavier Dolan's 'I killed my mother' ('J'ai tué ma mère'). And now there is another one on my list: Andrew Steggall's 'Departure'.

Elliot (Alex Lawther) and his mother Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson) are vacating their holiday home in the south of France. As they are packing, a picture unfolds. Once happy times don't seem so happy anymore. Could the absent husband be part of the problem? It is not that simple. We gradually get to know the mother and her son. Beatrice's life is slowly crumbling away, while Elliot, on the other hand, seems to be living in his own world. Elliot meets a French lad, Clément (Phénix Brossard) a few years older than him and develops a crush on him. Both boys have issues to deal with, influencing their friendship. When Elliot's dad arrives, matters come to a point.

This film has several strong points: The cinematography by Brian Fawcett is outstanding, be it of the forest and river landscapes, or indoor scenes. I found the acting excellent; special mention must be made of the powerful performances of Juliet Stevenson and Alex Lawther. My only negative comment is that the editing could have been a tad tighter, particularly regarding the underwater footage that seems to be over-emphasized. This is only a minor issue and has no serious impact on this rewarding film. I am looking forward to Andrew Seggall's next film. I score 'Departure' an excellent 8/10.
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9/10
A delightful and original film.
26 June 2017
Three years after the birth of Andris (Dávid Vermes), his mother Maria (Mária Varga) took him to get officially registered. It turned out that the official needed the particulars of his father. His mother did not know his detail, not even the man's name or address. She met Andris' father at a performance of the opera 'The Magic Flute' and spent the evening with him. She never saw him again. The official Orbán (Hušak František) assured her that it would not be a problem; he would just write down an imaginary name and address, which he did.

A few years later Andris's mother tragically loses her life in an accident. It seems as if the boy would be sent to an orphanage, as there is no trace of his dad or any other relative. Andris finds his registration document in his mother's drawer, with his father's (fake) name and address, which the poor lad assumes to be genuine. His quest to find his dad begins.

Andris has many adventures along the way; he meets helpful and also some eccentric people, including Orbán, the official who filled out his registration form, who, it appeared, was on a quest of his own. As if this is not enough, Andris enjoys some rather unusual surreal experiences too.

The script is original and well-presented by director Gazdag. It is full of unexpected and delightful twists and turns. It is by no means a simplistic film; it has elements of Mozart's enchanting 'The Magic Flute', giving this film greater depth. The black-and-white cinematography, a combination of hand-held and stationary camera footage, is excellent. Credit to cinematographer Elemér Ragalyi. I found the soundtrack, mostly classical music, adding to the ambiance of this Hungarian film. The protagonist, young Dávid Vermes, gives a great performance of Andris, who at times appears stoical, but underneath the façade is a very uncertain lad. The subtitles are adequate, although the white letters at times are not that clearly visible when seen against a light background. This minor criticism that does not detract from this little gem of a film. 'A Hungarian Fairy Tale' deserves to be seen more widely. 8.5/10.
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Oeroeg (1993)
7/10
An engrossing film
21 June 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This review may contain slight spoilers.

Johan's (Joris Putman) father owns a tea estate in the Dutch colony of the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. The Dutch colonists live a life of luxury, surrounded by servants and workers from the local indigenous communities. Johan's best friend is his buddy Oeroeg (Ramelan Bekkema), whose father works as Johan's dad's personal servant. Together the two best buddies, who call each other blood brothers, would go to school to receive an Eurocentric education, learning all about Holland but little about the island on which they live.

During WWII the island was invaded by the Japanese. Some of the Dutch returned to Holland, whilst a few stayed behind. We meet Johan, now a young man, again in 1947 when he enlists in the Dutch army for duty in Indonesia. There are political uprisings in that country and armed insurgents seem poised to take over. Johan's knowledge of the country and language made him a natural choice and he gets appointed lieutenant.

Back in Indonesia he learns that his friend Oeroeg is now a leader of one of the rebel groups. Shortly after Johan arrived back, his father gets murdered. It seems as if Oeroeg's gang is behind the murder. Johan is determined to find Oeroeg. It seems as if the two erstwhile friends are on a collision course.

I found 'Oeroeg' technically an accomplished film with great cinematography and set. The acting is fine, although not outstanding.

I have seen a few films dealing with the impact of the transition from colonial to self-governing rule on the friendship between kids from both sides of the sociopolitical spectrum. It is specifically the dynamics in relationship between colonists' kids and children from the indigenous population that are highlighted, as their adopted and home country gains independence. Here I think of the excellent 'Cartouches Gauloises' ('Summer of '62') of 2007 by director Mehdi Charef, and 'Quelque part vers Conakry' ('Somewhere Near Conakry') of 1992 by Françoise Ebrard. 'Oeroeg' compares well with them, even though this film's emphasis is somewhat different. 7/10.
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10/10
A profound film about life and art, the inevitability of death, and the burden of regret.
28 March 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Alexandre (Bruno Ganz), a respected writer, received bad news: He is terminally ill and has to enter the hospice tomorrow. It may be his last day. And then the question: "How long does tomorrow last?" He tries to wrap up his life; he only has today to do it. To find a new home for his dog seems to be a priority.

Alexandre has flash-backs to his youth, and becomes quite nostalgic. He visits his daughter, suggesting that she looks after his dog "as he will be going away tomorrow". Fruitless; her husband does not like dogs. He hands his daughter a bundle of letters, all from his wife Anna (Isabelle Renauld), dating back many years. She reads one of her mother's letters to Alexandre, and as she does so, a picture unfolds: An aloof Alexandre not returning his doting wife's affection, too self-centered and preoccupied with his writings. The aged Alexandre's regret is palpable.

On his way home, on this last day, Alexandre spots a street urchin who cleans car windows at stop streets being chased by police. Impulsively he opens the door and tells the young boy to get in. Alexandre decides to help the boy (Achileas Skevis), an illegal immigrant from Albania. He tries to get the boy back to the Albanian border so that the boy can return home in safety. But does the boy really want to go back?

The dialogue between Alexandre and the boy is illuminating. "I see you smiling, but you are sad", the boy tells Alexandre. Alexandre narrates a story that changes into something more: the art of writing and imagination, 'buying' words when you have run out of them. Alexandre realizes he is running out of time; he would like to get the lad safely on his way, and he still has to pay his elderly mother a last visit.

'Eternity and a Day' is a complex film with many elements: It touches on the nature of life and art, regret and the inevitability of closure. The cinematography by Yorgos Arvanitis and Andreas Sinanos is glorious; the sunny coastal scenes, but with discontentment simmering below the surface; the misty landscapes in the mountains close to the Albanian border.

The sound track and effects superbly fit the ambiance of the film. Good work by Eleni Karaindrou and Nikos Papadimitriou. Then the acting: Bruno Ganz gives a powerful performance. Acting by Isabelle Renauld, Achileas Skevis and Fabrizio Bentivoglio is excellent too. 'Eternity and a Day' deservedly was awarded the Palme D'Or. My score: 10/10.
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7/10
An interesting film about a Lithuanian artist looking back on his youth during troubled times.
20 March 2017
Warning: Spoilers
It is the oppressive years just after the Second World War, the last years of Stalin's dictatorship. Young Tadulis is sent to live with his granny and uncle Jokubas on their farm in rural Lithuania, after his father Simonas was exiled to Siberia for being an 'enemy of the State'. His mother did not have the means to look after her son and stayed behind in town.

The boy helps his uncle fish and seems to enjoy quite a happy childhood. He even falls in love with a friend. After a few years Tadulis gets sent back to live with his mother in town, where he is in for a rude awakening. His mother is having a hard time making ends meet, and she has to sell her body to make a living. Among her customers are influential politicians and police officers. The boy is growing up fast and like many kids his age he has a rebellious streak. He breaks a few shop windows, produces a memorable play with a few friends and even has his first sexual experience with a girl 'with a reputation'.

His father gets released from Siberian exile earlier than expected, and back at home discovers that his wife and son had changed a lot. His wife seems to be aloof, even cold. In an indiscreet moment Tadulis hints to his dad that his mother was sleeping with other men. This back-stabbing act would haunt Tadulis the rest of his life.

I found the acting above average. The set and costumes seem truly authentic and together with traditional-sounding music included in the soundtrack created just the right ambiance. A lot can be said about the cinematography. The camera team made extensive use of various colour filters. The yellow and amber hues and greys tend to dominate many of the scenes, and in my view should have been used with a lighter hand. Apart from this minor criticism, some of the scenes are absolutely stunningly beautiful. The highlight for me is the surreal scenes towards the end of the film.

Other films have covered the theme of a Russian (or previous 'East Block') father who joins his family after an extended absence (through imprisonment, for example), and the difficulties to adapt to the changed situation at home. Just think of the excellent 'The Return', director Andrey Zvyagintsev's debut film of 2003, or the 1988 film 'Frangsuz' (aka 'Frenchman' or 'Frantsuz') by director Galina Daneliya-Yurkova. In terms of cinematic quality 'Vilko Dantu Karoliai' is comparable with 'Frangsuz', but not quite as good as the outstanding 'The Return'.

'Vilko Dantu Karoliai' lacks a strong story-line and has little suspense, so some viewers may be disappointed. I however found it a nostalgic and rewarding viewing experience. 7/10.
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Breakin' Out (2001 TV Movie)
8/10
An original and quirky drama
9 March 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Nicholas Guérin's parents are involved with small-scale drug dealing. During a police chase his father crashes his car, killing himself and landing his wife in jail. Thirteen year old Nicholas (Erwan Demaure) gets placed with foster parents, the Delmas family (Christian Crahay and Nathalie Willame), a really nice couple who go out of their way to accommodate the boy. Their daughter Elodie (Stéphane Caillard) is unfortunately the opposite, and quite bitchy.

Nicholas visits his mother Laetitia (Isabelle Habiague) in jail and learns that she may be sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. A very long time by the boy's reckoning. He starts to think of ways to get his mother out of jail. At the jail he meets an older lad, Tanker (Ouassini Embarek), whose father, a gangster, is also imprisoned. The two boys become friends. It looks as if Tanker is a bad influence on Nicholas; they go shop-lifting, although Nicholas has enough money to buy the items. At school Nicholas gets taunted for his mother being in jail and even assaulted by a bully. Tanker comes to his rescue. Nicholas invites Tanker to his 'new' home, where Tanker seems to take a liking to Elodie.

Nicholas is seriously hatching a plan to get his mother escape jail. He decides he will fake his death and at his 'funeral' overwhelm the prison guards who are with his mother, and make a run for it. For 'his' body he will unearth the corpse of another person who died recently, and burn it unrecognizable. He shares his plan with an enthusiastic Tanker. Elodie, who fortunately has become more friendly, hears about their plans and asks to join them. Nicholas reluctantly agrees. They don't have much choice; either that or she spills the beans. She turns out to be quite valuable with practical suggestions. There are a lot to be arranged: a corpse, a get-away car, a gun…

'Breakin' Out' is a delightful film full of unexpected twists and turns. The acting by Nicholas, Tanker and Elodie is quite good, but unfortunately the casting of Nicholas is somewhat off the mark. Instead of a vulnerable thirteen year old, we get a streetwise guy who looks sixteen, and that reduces the impact of the film. The script is lively and that is one of the film's strong points. The sound track and cinematography are above average too. There are a few minor plot-holes which the observant viewer may pick up, but they are pretty insignificant. I still score this entertaining film a very good 7.5/10.
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Nenè (1977)
7/10
A film worth watching
3 March 2017
Warning: Spoilers
It is three years after the end of WWII and things are not easy in Italy. Particularly for one family. The husband is a small-minded and petty bully and regularly physically and verbally assaults his wife and daughter. His young son Ju (Sven Valsecchi) is his favourite and barely gets criticized. It is clear that women are seen as lesser beings than men. The husband runs his household like a tyrant and gives his wife barely enough money to buy proper food. It is more important that his son gets a proper (and expensive) education, than wasting money on food, he argues. The man's brother is gravely ill and the husband agrees that his niece can move in with them. This girl, Nenè (Leonora Fani), is a warm-blooded 14 year old lass who quickly makes friends with a young vagrant of mixed race, a mulatto, who lives with several other homeless people in a derelict building nearby. This young man only has one thing in mind.

Ju is precocious and despite his very young age gets to learn about the facts of life quite early on, Nenè an enthusiastic teacher. He is inquisitive and spies on Nenè when she gets together with her boyfriend. And that is how Ju's father found them...

This is an engrossing film, particularly with the background of post-war political turmoil. The film is funny at times, but the underlying atmosphere is one of sadness at the oppression the women suffer.

I found the acting quite good, but is is particularly the cinematography that impressed. I score this film a good 7/10.
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9/10
Essential viewing for war-mongers
26 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This fundamentally unsettling film, presented in the form of exquisite Japanese animation, had me glued to my chair.

Young lad Seita and his toddler sister Setsuko are left homeless after their Japanese town was fire-bombed during the last months of WWII. Their mother passes away in hospital shortly after the attack. Their father is with the Japanese Navy, somewhere out at sea. The two youngsters move in with their aunt, a very unsympathetic woman who only sees the two kids as a burden. The kids realise they are not welcome and move away to a disused underground bunker next to the river. There they try to manage on their own. When their money dries up, they resort to stealing food. Yet, in spite of their hardship, the two kids seem reasonably happy. Part of their happiness can be attributed to the magical displays of fireflies at night.

Unfortunately, due to malnutrition, Setsuko gets ill, and from there on it is a down-hill run for the kids trying to survive in a country left with little food and even less charity. The tragic ending comes as no surprise; indeed, right at the start of the film we are informed that Seita passed away.

The visuals are breathtaking, and some of the best I have ever seen in an animation film. The soundtrack perfectly fits the subject matter. The subtitles are clear and makes following the heart-breaking story-line easy.

This powerful anti-war film underscores the utterly devastating impact of war on the most vulnerable, the children. It offers a lot of food for thought and, in my view, should be essential viewing for war-mongers. Unfortunately the people who should see this film, most probably won't. 9/10.
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Moritz (2003 TV Movie)
6/10
An interesting film about prejudice against a gay couple looking after a young boy.
22 February 2017
Angela, the single parent of Moritz, is in hospital to have a brain tumour removed. Before being admitted, she asks her neighbours, Ralph and Andi, a gay couple, to look after her son. Meddling neighbours get to hear about it and start a campaign to "save the boy from the pedophiles". The gay couple starts receiving threatening calls and even gets a stone thrown through their window. Then Angela's mother arrives to look after her grandson, the first time in many years that she has seen the boy. She clearly has a very strained relationship with her daughter. Moritz refuses to go with his grandmother; he would rather stay with Ralph and Andi.

As a subplot we have their Swiss village of Aadorf preparing for the visit of the Bundeskanzler, the Federal Chancellor. Members of the community threaten that they will disrupt this VIP's visit to complain about Moritz staying with the gay couple. And indeed, things come to a head during the Federal Chancellor's visit.

The theme of a boy moving in with a gay couple is highlighted in other films as well. Just think of 'Breakfast with Scott' (2003) where we have a young boy, who after his mother's passing away, moves in with his gay uncle and his partner. Another film with a similar theme is the excellent 'Cachorro' (aka 'Bear Cub') of 2004 in which a lad moves in with his gay uncle and his partner when his mother leaves on an overseas holiday, where, incidentally, she got arrested on drug-related charges. As is the case with 'Moritz', in 'Cachorro' the lad's grandmother also pitches up, demanding to look after the boy, and similarly the boy refuses to go with her. The main difference between 'Moritz' and the other two films mentioned, is that the emphasis in 'Moritz' is more on the response of the community to the boy staying with the gay couple.

Although in no way a bad movie, 'Moritz' is not in the same class as 'Cachoro'. I found acting by Jonas Rohr (Moritz), Anatole Taubman (Andi) and Rudolph Straub (Ralph) realistic, while the cinematography is quite good. I have some problems with the script however. Too much time is spent on the subplot, the preparations for the Bundeskanzler's visit, and that diverts attention away from the main issues being dealt with. Nevertheless, I score 'Moritz' an above average 6/10.
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Mirage (2004)
8/10
This unsettling film about alienation is worth viewing
19 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
A Nietzsche aphorism at the beginning of the film gives a good indication what to expect in this sombre film: "Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man".

The backdrop of this film is the Macedonian town of Veles, still recovering from the ravages of civil war. Peacekeeping soldiers and armoured vehicles are very visible. 

Marko is not a happy lad. His father is a drunkard and spends more time with his buddies drinking and playing bingo than at home, his slutty sister is a vicious bully, while his mother is intimidated into silence by her patriarchal husband and abusive daughter. And this is not the end of Marko's problems; at school he is is bullied by fellow students, some from influential families. The only one on his side seems to be his Macedonian language teacher, who, incidentally, originates from Bosnia. He encourages Marko, a smart lad, to take part in a poem- writing competition, the first prize being a trip to Paris. Marko does not waste time, and starts straight away. 

Conditions at home are just not conducive for creative writing, and after some unpleasant domestic violence, he starts spending time in an old carriage in a train graveyard close to home. One day on his way home from school, Marko once again gets physically assaulted by the bullying thugs from his class, when his language teacher, who Marko thought was on his side, came cycling up, saw what was happening, turned around and quickly cycled away. One can't blame Marko for feeling very alone with nobody on his side. 

Then one day he meets a drifter, ironically called Paris, who also moves into Marko's disused train carriage. Paris would teach Marko to stand up for himself, and look after his own interests, even if it means stealing. Eat or be eaten, he says. Under the influence of his new buddy, Paris, Marko becomes more rebellious and even has a few scrapes with the law. It looks like Marko's life, once promising, is now going in totally the wrong direction…

This tense, tragic drama to a large extent shares themes with 'Joe, the King' (1999), Luis Buñuel's outstanding 'Los Olvidados' (aka 'The Young and the Damned') (1950), and the superb 'The 400 Blows' (aka 'Les Quatre Cents Coups') (1959) by François Truffaut, and compares quite well with them. Although I must add, the latter two films are in a class of their own.

I have been impressed by the imaginative cinematography displayed in'Mirage', whilst the character of the young protagonist was made believable through the true to life performance of Marko Kovacevic. The set is excellent too, with Veles, the smallish Macedonian town, as backdrop. I gladly recommend this film. 8/10.
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5/10
A mildly interesting but flawed film
18 February 2017
This is the story of a small and isolated cattle farming community in a remote part of Brazil, in the first half of the 20th century. A roaming cowboy befriends the very young son of one of the small cattle farmers; the boy sees him as a hero. But all is not well in the community. The mayor has a financial stranglehold on the other cattle breeders by forcing them to sell their cattle through him to the abattoir. When the farmers revolt against this, there are dire consequences... The cowboy protagonist, too, unwillingly gets involved in the strife.

It is a rather simple story, with, unfortunately, a predictable ending. Acting is slightly above average, whilst I found the cinematography to be quite good. My biggest criticism against the film is the excessive singing of cowboy songs, guitar in hand. Give them half a chance and they sing, ad nauseam. The syrupy songs detract quite seriously from the film. The copy of the film I saw had subtitles in the worst slangy kind of a-la-American cowboy-English. It may work for a film shot on a ranch in the south of the US, but in this Brazilian film it is totally inappropriate.

My verdict? This is a somewhat interesting but flawed film. I would not go out of my way to find it. 5/10.
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Shivers (1981)
8/10
An unsettling film, but worth watching
15 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
We meet a cultivated and intelligent, independent-thinking family in the strictly communist Poland of the 1950s. The father of the family gets arrested for voicing anti-government opinions, and sentenced to imprisonment. Their young son, Tomek, gets sent to a communist youth camp for 're-education'.

The film depicts the boy's transformation, from initially like his father highly critical of the regime, to a staunch communist who snitches on his fellow students. The boy and his father meet again after his father's release. The shocked father is shattered when he discovers his son's transformation. A chilling turn of events indeed.

'Shivers' is an excellent film with fascinating script and believable performances, as well as above average cinematography. I score this ultimately disturbing film a very good 7.5/10.
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Nocturnes (2006)
8/10
A dreamlike film worth watching
11 February 2017
This unusual black-and-white art-house film has no clearly defined story-line or much action; people who require those elements in a film may be disappointed. Yet, I found 'Nocturnes' a rewarding viewing experience and can recommend it to open-minded viewers looking for something different.

We are introduced to several titled, dreamlike vignettes, taking us through a few months in the life of a French family during the late 1950s and early 1960s, as seen through the eyes of their young son. The young boy is curious and marvels at the world and its wonders, but also experiences uncertainty and even unhappiness at times.

The first vignette, 'Baby Moon', refers to the wonder of the first successful satellite or Sputnik, launched by the USSR, and the awe with which it filled the locals. Yet, the boy also experiences his first traumatic experience with the passing away of his great-grandmother. Furthermore, in the background on the radio we hear about the fighting in Algeria. In the next impressionistic vignette 'Why?' our young protagonist enjoys the Bastille Day fireworks on the beach and inspects the carcass of a beached whale. In 'But Why?' the lad and other townsfolk marvel at a solar eclipse, whilst in 'Decision' we get some idea of the personal life of the family; the boy's father is not happy in his work, and it is suggested they are considering to move, perhaps even to another country such as Canada. In 'Goodbye' and 'Another Country' we discover that they had indeed moved, but to Algeria where his father would work as a medic for the military. But would that be an improvement, and how would that affect our inquisitive protagonist?

This film boasts some of the most exquisitely beautiful black-and-white cinematography I have ever seen in any movie, and that alone makes it worth watching. Particularly the nocturnal scenes are works of art, and, I suspect, this may at least partially explain the title of the film. The musical term 'nocturne', referring to piano music, often evocative of the night and written in a melancholy style, with an expressive melody with broken-chord accompaniment, may also very well, and fittingly, have played a role in deciding on a title for the film. The soundtrack, in perfect harmony with the visuals, is hauntingly beautiful. I score this enchanting work of cinematic art a very good 7.5/10.
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The Slingshot (1993)
9/10
A poignant period drama
8 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Rolle (Roland) is not a very happy boy. He does not get along with his older brother, Bertil, who aspires to be a professional boxer and occasionally uses Rolle as a punching bag, literally. Rolle's socialist father suffers from a painful back and is short-tempered. Rolle's parents are Russian emigrants, and his mother is Jewish, making him a Jew too. His teacher is anti-Semitic and vindictive; their feeling of mutual dislike is palpable. In the eyes of the Stockholm establishment, Rolle and his family are outsiders, and to make matters worse, socialists and Jewish. Rolle is a bit of a dreamer; what if they had stayed in Russia and never moved to Sweden, life surely would have been better?

Rolle has one burning desire; he would love to have a bicycle. When the opportunity arises to buy a second hand one, he jumps. But where to get the money from? There is however a way, enterprising Rolle realizes. He could make use of the new invention, condoms, to earn some money. His socialist and progressive mother has a stash of condoms from which she supplies other women. She surely won't notice a few gone missing. But he has to be careful; condoms are illegal in 1920s Sweden. Rolle is a resourceful lad, but unfortunately his first attempt to make money fails when his mother punctures his display of gas-filled condom- balloons (!), which were bought quite briskly by the other kids before his mother struck. His second effort was even better; he made slingshots, using condoms as slingshot elastic bands; these proved to be particularly popular among the kids. He also repainted and repaired bicycles; his enterprises were going well. If only Rolle's life were that simple… The bicycles he repaired and painted were stolen, but poor Rolle was unaware of this. Fate would once again take aim at Rolle.

This is a wonderful coming-of-age film, which reminds me of the mesmerizing, but thematically different 'My Life as a Dog' by director Lasse Hallström. 'The Slingshot' has several strong points: The set and costumes are so real, within minutes the viewer gets transported to 1920s Stockholm with its authentic cars, trams and shops. Strong performances by Jespar Salen who plays Rolle and Stellen Sarsgård, Rolle's father, add to the film's credibility. Imaginative cinematography, soundtrack and a lively script make watching this film a memorable experience. I score 'The Slingshot' an excellent 8.5/10.
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