Adrift (Chơi vơi)
I have not seen a film as aesthetic as The Scent of Green Papaya (by Anh Hung Tran, Vietnamese: won awards at Cannes – 1993, and in 1994 was an Oscar nomination and won César Awards) until I saw Adrift. The natural is sensual, gestures and glances speak volumes, and daily routines become both desolately ordinary and circumspect.
After a three-month courtship, Duyen marries Hai; two-years younger he is sexually naïve, unremarkable and coddled by a persistent mother. Duyen visits her best friend Cam and tries to hide the fact that her marriage is not what she had imagined (unconsummated)… ahh… to appease her un-relinquished and unspoken lust, Cam sends Duyen on a (scam) mission to lustful Thor. Which takes Duyen on a deceptive trip to the seaside that seeds infidelity, tragedy, and remorse, while Hai’s experience through their neighbor Mien, becomes more one of awareness.
Director Bùi Thạc Chuyên and his crews’ work are exquisite: beautifully framed shots with slow pans (nice to see) to empathize, enchanting music, a strong storyline softly unwound with an almost tactile sensitivity to audiences’ awareness, exemplary art direction and splendid acting supports the psychological intricacies of the film.
Britain must be acquiring a name for no-hope movies and Clio Barnard’s feature film debut ensures her a place in this tradition. Indeed, she is nicknamed ‘the new Ken Loach’ for her way of exposing Britain’s sores.
In the late ‘80s a young woman from the northern town of Bradford grew up in a dysfunctional family but managed to have a series of plays shown in London’s West End. One of them was made into a movie, for which she wrote the screenplay. This young woman, Andrea Dunbar, died at the age of 29, leaving three young children to grow up in the same poverty stricken area. Ms. Barnard’s film concentrates on the eldest of the three children, a girl whose father was Pakistani and who suffered from racial intolerance from her neighbours. An all too predictable life of alcohol, drugs and illegitimate children followed.
Why did Ms. Barnard choose to concentrate on the daughter whose baby died of a drug overdose, instead of the mother? How could a teenager with very little schooling manage to write plays worthy of being shown on the London stage? To concentrate on Andrea rather than the sad daughter would surely have produced a more interesting film.
The movie was filmed in the very street where Andrea (Christine Bottomley) grew up and where her daughter (Manjinder Virk) committed her dreadful crime. The Dunbar’s living room is shown as a three piece sofa and a TV, set on a patch of grass. Present day occupants of the street look on as actors fight and swear at each other portraying the characters in Andrea’s plays. The real Dunbar family is shown in interviews, flashbacks and newspaper photographs. I wonder if they were invited to this movie’s premiere and, if so, what they thought of the dismal lives they appear to lead. (JM)
The Child Prodigy
In 1929 André Mathieu is born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, to a father who composes music and a cellist mother; both teach to make ends meet. Rodolphe forbids his son to play, so with younger sister Mimi in tow they go to neighbors with a piano and for 5-cents André plays songs they want to hear. Rodolphe acquiesces: at the age of four André begins composing, at six gives his first recital playing his own compositions and a year later, in 1936, he receives a grant from the Quebec government.
That year the family travels to New York City: Julliard offers him a full scholarship but it does not include the family, so they go to Paris where André performs his works at Salle Chopin-Pleyel, which impresses even the renowned Rachmaninov. Parisian critics love him, declaring André Mathieu to be the "little Canadian Mozart". WW II sends the family back to New York in 1940; in 1941 André wins a competition whereby he plays with the N.Y. Philharmonic Orchestra and in 1943 at Carnegie Hall, all the while performing to sold-out concerts around the world. Cut to 1950, Paris, and at the height of his career 21-year old André begins his slippery slide into the depths of alcoholism.
André tells his sister, “… uninspired, gutless – I’m washed up” when he returns to Montreal, and the clutches of a possessive interfering mother; Mimi warns against his staying. To a friend he confesses, “Being the breadwinner of the family at 11 is a bit hard”. Teetering, eventually André tries to re-establish his career and a personal life, but familial obstructions and drink, combined with his participating in radio Piano-thons and time-outs at detox centers leaves André with few friends in the circle that can make a difference. Mathieu is only 39 when he dies in 1968, albeit he leaves behind a repertoire of more than 100 works.
With perceptive convincing performances from Patrick Drolet, Marc Labrèche, Macha Grenon and Karine Vanasse, the film is beautifully shot and editor Jean-François Bergeron’s complex superimposition montages recap and entertain visually as we listen to Mathieu’s stupendous music. Directed and written by Luc Dionne, The Child Prodigy is a rapturous tribute to a great, lesser-known-until-now composer.
The First Beautiful Thing (La prima cosa bella)
Livorno, Italy’s most famous bathhouse bestows the honor “Miss Mama 1971” on gorgeous, unassuming Anna Nigiotti. Young daughter Valerie glows, her prepubescent son Bruno glowers and husband Mario, she quickly realizes, is jealous. After one of his particularly invidious eruptions, Anna leaves Mario with the kids. Her parents do not assist, so Anna puts her wits and beauty to work in order that they can survive, and stay one step ahead of Mario. Cut: present day. Bruno, a trade-school teacher and deficient life-partner to Sandra, lets Valerie coax him in to visiting their terminally ill mother.
1980 is the third interwoven temporal plain, when Valerie and Bruno arrive at yet another new flat and school. Bruno’s 17-year-old classmates are à gaga at Anna’s still sumptuous beauty; Bruno hears a chance boast, together with misinterpreting Anna when she tries to talk to him, and decamps. 2009: ornery, vibrant and still tenaciously optimistic despite the doctors dire predictions, Anna lives life unashamedly, which forces Bruno to do some painful soul-searching to come to terms with their chaotic past, and the mother who still confounds him — albeit with love, he finally realizes. Paolo Virzì’s (director, screenwriter, producer) family saga is a beautifully made film, wonderfully acted and well worthy to be Italy’s Oscar© nomination for 2011.
Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
Tamra Davis, who directed this documentary, knew Jean-Michel when he rose to fame and then to cult status. She has made a fast-paced movie, which is as brightly coloured and fragmented as any of his paintings. Gallery owners, personal friends, including director and artist Julian Schnabel, who made a film about Basquiat in the ‘80s, talks directly to the camera about the radiant child who was clearly a very charismatic person. Their comments are illustrated by Basquiat’s paintings.
The child of an accountant who grew up in a comfortable middle class home somehow became a teenager living on the streets who painted graffiti on doors and walls. He was befriended by a waitress, moved into her flat, was given some canvases and a large warehouse to work in for free and soon caught the attention of the pop art world’s high priest, Andy Warhol. For a few short years Basquiat’s paintings sold out on the first night of his exhibitions. The prices they reached clearly reflect the money floating about in the affluent ‘80s.
Ms. Davis has capsulated the short life of a young man who was in the right place at the right time, painting the right pictures and selling them to eager buyers with an eye to investment. Time will tell whether Basquiat, who was only 28 when he died of a drug overdose, will be remembered for his art or his charisma.
Sweet Evil (L' enfance du mal)
Sitting on the outside porch balustrade, 15-year-old Céline watches Judge and Mrs. Van Eyck enjoying their dinner before she returns to their garage where she squats. One night the Judge discovers her there and consequently his wife insists on making up the guest room for her, for the one night. Céline garners the Van Eycks’ pity when they learn her mother is in prison; what she does not tell them about is her best friend Romain, equally dodgy and with a perverse hobby involving dogs. Compliant with the Mrs., “innocently” suggestive with the Judge, Céline slinks into their home, lives, and psyche. Circumstances degenerate until it is the Judge sitting on the balustrade — wary, watchful, and protective. Just not wary enough.
Sweet Evil, directed and written by Olivier Coussemacq, is strong in production values, especially Sarah Murcia’s music, as well as the actors’ performances. How could two smart, affluent, well-positioned people let something like this happen, I wondered, until I thought about The Bad Seed, truly memorable and frightening; directed by Mervyn LeRoy in 1956 with Patty McCormack as the evil first-grader Rhoda, and equally unforgettable Henry Jones as Leroy the deranged custodian, it made me realize how this film pales in comparison as a psychological drama.
It seems that British film directors have captured the market in light-hearted semi-black comedies and Stephen Frears, of My Beautiful Launderette fame, is a master of the genre. The setting is Dorset, Thomas Hardy country, and a group of authors gather for a writers’ retreat hosted by Nicholas (Roger Allam) and held together by his much put upon wife.
Along comes Tamara who drew up in a house neighbouring the writers retreat. She plans to renovate it, sell it and continue with her glamorous London life. Tamara is played by Gemma Arterton, the actress known to every British TV viewer as Tess from Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which the BBC recently serialised.
Tamara was an ugly duckling when she was growing up but a nose job has transformed her into a beauty and three men compete for her affection. One of these is Nicholas who gets his just desserts for his abominable behaviour before the movie is over. Briskly paced, funny and light-hearted with the added bonus of Dorset’s glorious countryside as a backdrop, Tamara Drewe is a very entertaining movie.
This is the first feature movie of a young Turkish immigrant who studied at the art academy in Ghent and then in England. He has worked in TV in Belgium and has made music videos but Turquaze suggests that he has a distinguished future ahead of him.
Kadia Balci, the director, used his brother to play Timur, the middle of three brothers living in Ghent. They returned to Turkey for their father’s funeral. When their mother decides to stay in her old home in Istanbul her friends fear that her sons won’t be able to manage without their dominant father and that they will marry Belgian girls.
Timur (Burak Balci) is a guard in an art museum and his girlfriend is, of course, a Belgian girl. Timur has an uncomfortable meeting with his girlfriend’s parents and then faces hostility and anger from his older brother Ediz, who wants Timur to marry a Turkish girl, as he did. Timur eventually discovers that Ediz is a hypocrite who is having an affair with a red-headed Belgian woman. He decides to go home to visit Mum in Istanbul and consider his future.
Meanwhile, Sarah (Charlotte Vendermeesch) travels to Timur’s home, meets his mother and visits the grave of the young woman whose photograph is kept in Timur’s wallet. Will love conquer all we ask ourselves?
Mr. Balci’s movie takes an optimistic look at the modern problem of intermarriage and implies that it shouldn’t be considered a problem at all. The close up shots of the main character’s faces in the movie are full of colour and light and remind one of impressionist paintings. His debut film is both clever and enjoyable.
A Useful Life
How can a movie shot in black and white with a tiny cast of characters and very obviously made on an extremely tight budget be so captivating? The answer is the strong storyline and the clever acting of the leading character.
Director Federico Veiroj drew on his own experiences to bring the character of Jorge to life. Jorge (Jorge Jellinek) has been a film archivist in Montevideo for 25 years and is beginning to realise that life is passing him by. A grant to keep his cinema open is withdrawn when audience attendance keeps on dropping and Jorge finds himself out of work.
A lesser man might crumble, but Jorge has a haircut, dumps his briefcase and goes after the girl. Paula (Paula Venditto) lectures in law at the University of Uruguay’s law department and Jorge has long been working up the courage to get to know her better. It’s now or never and the underdog is about to prove himself in time-honoured film tradition. Boy meets girl to a background soundtrack of the US cavalry riding to the rescue.
Mr. Veiroj’s movie takes an optimistic view of a lonely man’s attempt to change his life and move with the times.
Valerie, a young woman, has just arrived from a long trip and now is alone in the cool and modern Berlin apartment belonging to her lover. She starts talking to him via a video camera. For six months already he is in a coma in hospital. Valerie will eventually have to return to her work in Tokyo but wants her video message played to him in her absence, hoping against hope that her voice might draw him back to life.
Thanks to the accomplished actress Franka Potente (Run, Lola Run) the audience is kept fascinated by her voice and subtly changing facial expressions. Without the clever camerawork of Benedict Neuenfels it could have easily drifted into the area of a homemade family video. He adds substance with still photos and experiments with a changing colour scheme.
This small budget film is the last part of a trilogy produced by Hubertus Meyer-Burckhardt. The script for this intimate play was written by Roger Willemsen from his first novel Small Lights (Kleine Lichter).
An intricately woven tale of the different shades of love, betrayal, disillusionment, growing up and growing wise, fate, hope and magic, the focus is on 11-year-old Marek’s dream of a summer holiday to Venice, Italy just as war breaks out in 1939. Hustled off to his aunt Veronica’s countryside villa for what most think will be a short war and surrounded by other relatives, all he can think is, “I don’t want to be here. I don’t”. Even his older brother showing up does not bring satisfaction.
Months later when the basement floods, Marek’s imagination is sparked. A close call when enemy planes fire on soldiers and civilians moving along a country road sends Marek to the cellar, where his aunt finds and comforts him: as the sun dances on the water through the dust covered windows, she asks, “Do you see it”? “I do, Venice”, he answers. His excitement is contagious and with creativity and determination the transformation is completed and eventually fortifies all asunder family members’ fantasies and hopes, even as the horrors of war swirl around them. Until a neighbor brings a German propaganda minister to their Carnival… with the repercussions, Marek’s heart again cries, “I don’t want to be here”. But his mother hears: then it is 1945.
Beautifully executed with attention to detail, director Jan Jakub Kolski molds a stellar cast in to unforgettable performances. And best sums up his film: "Only a viewer can tell you a truth about your film, so there is no sense in advising him what your story is about, what is important in it and what is not... So what is my 'Venice' about? It is about love awakened by... a lack of love. About growing up. About myself." -- Jan Jakub Kolski.