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Entries in foreign films (306)

Wednesday
Apr272016

Dark Comedy or Sick Nihilism? "The Mother" and "High-Rise"

Tribeca is over and we're almost done catching up with reviews. Here's Nathaniel on a potential Oscar submission from Estonia and a twisted thriller from the UK.

Mother
The festival described this crime comedy as Fargo-like and that's true to a degree. It takes place in a small town where everyone seems to know each other...ish. The local customs are amusing or peculiar to the outsider (namely, us). There's also a noticeable undercurrent of 'and all for a little money' despair about the human condition that tugs at both the red herrings and the true crime. A young ladies-man teacher named Lauri (Siim Maaten), something of a slacker/dreamer as he had big plans but never moved out of his parents home, has been in a coma for months following a shooting. While his long suffering mother attempts to care for him alone (the father is no help), a parade of visitors including friends, lovers and policemen keep bursting in to bear their souls or search his room on the sly. The director Kadri Kousaar (yay for female filmmakers!) keeps the camera as invasive as the guests, and we're often looking where we shouldn't be behind doors or curtains or seeing things from odd angles. One of the best sustained jokes in this deadpan comedy (it's not really a movie for guffaws but heh-heh touches) is that no matter how many times there's a knock at the door, the parents are surprised even though their house has become Grand Central Station.

But who is responsible for the shooting and why is everyone acting so suspicious or guilty about their history with Lauri? While the story revolves around the mystery surrounding the son, the mother is the star of the picture (in case the title didn't clue you in). Despite a difficult character to dramatize with Elsa being barely verbal and moving throughout like a resentful silent martyr to her drudgery, Tiina Mälberg is terrific in the role. And it's her first movie! She makes the character alternately funny and intriguing and, in the odd moment here and there, when her mostly surpressed emotions bubble up Mälberg earns the reveals and keeps the character cohesive. Grade: B/B+

P.S. The Estonian film industry is tiny, producing a couple handfuls of films a year so we have to take any release that makes its way to American festivals seriously as a potential Oscar submission. The country enjoyed its first nomination in the foreign language film category with Tangerines in 2014 (a joint production with Georgia). 

High-Rise
Another film where the laughs land uncomfortably -- because boy is this nihilistic -- is Ben Wheatley's adaptation of J.G. Ballard's "High-Rise". The allegorical satire takes place (almost) entirely within a high-rise apartment building where the 1% (Jeremy Iron as the architect) lives at the tippity top and everyone else is more or less at his mercy and subject to suffer for his follies if things don't work quite right in the building. Doctors like Tom Hiddleston's Laing, a brain surgeon, are somewhere around the floor and so on down to lower floors where families (Elisabeth Moss & Luke Evans) with seemingly endless children struggle to get by. The eventual societal breakdown is revealed from the very first image which is rather an odd choice; it kills what might have been gut-churning momentum. We already know the downward spiral will have the adults going  Lord of the Flies on each other and Laing will be living in shambles  as one of the society's only survivors. 

If you can get past the nihilism and poor treatment of animals, the film has plentiful pleasures including a smart performance from Hiddleston and rich filmmaking from every department. Clint Mansell contributes another intriguing score but the MVP is the eye candy from fascinating production design through to the very attractive cast. A crisp white shirt has never looked so pornographic as it does here on Tom Hiddleston but he's also wearing a lot less, which his fellow resident (Sienna Miller - yes her again) notices and appreciates straightaway immediately spinning the interpersonal web of craziness that will grow and grow from the moment Laing moves in on every floor. Ballard's novel was written in the 1970s but the film never plays it like a period piece really despite the flare of some clothing and hair and prop details, which helps keep it out of time and universal; the film isn't going for realism but allegory anyway. Not all of this works, the pacing is a particular sore point since the film gets mired down on its way to where we know its already going and he doesn't quite stick the landing, but I left convinced that director Ben Wheatley is someday going to make a great film. Grade: B

 

Tuesday
Apr262016

Mad Miller & the Cannes Jury

Oscar-robbed George Miller is back! Well, not in movie theaters (alas) but as president of this year's Cannes Film Festival competition jury. The announcement of the jury is always a cause for excitement since the list provides an annual eclectic mix of international artists both behind and in front of the camera. For 2016 we have:

President
George Miller (Writer/Director/Producer, Australia) fresh off of his across-the-board triumph Mad Max Fury Road

Jury Members (Alpha Order)
Arnaud Desplechin (Writer/Director, France) His current release is My Golden Days (our interview) and he's also responsible for the sublime double of Kings & Queen (2004) and A Christmas Tale (2008) which are must-see feats of intricate storytelling & actressing

Kirsten Dunst
(Actress, US) Little Kiki has long since grown up though she's the youngest member of this jury at 33. There seems to be a renewed appreciation for her talent out there, for which we have Fargo season 2 to thank. But really the artistic renaissance goes back to All Good Things (2010). Though she was all but wasted in Midnight Special (just discussed) she has exciting projects coming including the remake of The Beguiled.

Valeria Golino
(Actress/Writer/Director/Producer, Italy) Though Golino hasn't been a major presence in Hollywood since the late 80s/early 90s (Rain Man, Big Top Pee Wee, Hot Shots!) she's kept the career going in her homeland -- recently winning Best Actress in Venice -- and branched out to be a multi-hyphenate threat.


Mads Mikkelsen (Actor, Denmark) we've loved him since his early Danish films and now the whole world does. This is rarely acknowledged but he's the reigning face of Oscar's Foreign Film category having starred in more nominees than anyone else in the past ten years (After the Wedding, The Hunt, A Royal Affair). And 2016 is another big year: he'll chase jury duty with two probable box office behemoths: Rogue One and Doctor Strange this winter. 

László Nemes
(Writer/Director, Hungary) has had an incredible year 12 months. His film debut Son of Saul took the Grand Prix last summer at Cannes and then an Oscar and now he's in the jury. What a swift rise. We wonder what he'll do for an encore. He's the second youngest member of the jury - he and Dunst are the only members under 40. 

Vanessa Paradis
(Actress/Singer, France) Her most recent film success was with Jean Marc Vallée's Café de Flore (2011) and she's still recording music. You can listen to her on Spotify if you so choose. Do you choose? Most famously (at least stateside) she's Johnny Depp's babymama. Her son with Johnny is only 13 and since he's named after Johnny (John Christopher Depp III) he'll have to go by his middle name or his nickname "Jack" if he wants to follow daddy into showbiz. Their 16 year old daughter has, of course, already started her acting career.

Katayoon Shahabi
(Producer, Iran) We aren't familiar with her but she's apparently a mover and shaker in international distribution and Irandian documentaries. Also her company produced the masterpiece A Separation which you know we worship here.

and...

Donald Sutherland
(Actor, Canada) Over 50 years in front of the camera now with classics occasionally peppering that gigantic resume. With over 180 credits we assume he just lives on sets.

What do you think of this year's jury? 

Friday
Apr222016

Every Dog Has Its Day: Iñárritu, 16 Years and 2 Directing Oscars Later

Eric here to discuss cinema’s currently-most-celebrated director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. As Nathaniel has noted previously, all six of Inarritu’s feature films have gotten Oscar attention in one way or another, and of course much has been written about his being the first filmmaker since 1950 to win the Best Director Oscar two years in a row. He's also just been named to the Time 100 "Icons" List.  So there’s no better time than to look back to Inarritu’s first feature, 2000’s Amores Perros, to see where he started and where he’s landed.  

Watching Amores Perros (2000) for the first time since its initial release, I was struck by how even at the start of his career, Inarritu picked extraordinarily difficult environments to shoot in.  The logistics for Amores Perros can’t have practically been much easier than the ones we are all sick of hearing about with The Revenant.  His debut feature has him shooting all over Mexico City (inarguably one of the world’s most chaotic cities), with a colossally large group of actors, and constructing a large-scale and crucially precise car wreck sequence that pays off to all three of the film’s narratives in different ways.  Plus throw in a lot of very difficult (and legally tricky) scenes with huge groups of dogs fighting, bleeding, and getting shot.  Inarritu’s self-masochism was alive and well from the very start. [More...]

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Apr212016

Cannes Announces Its Critics' Week and Classics Selections

Cinephiles across the globe collectively held their breaths last week wondering whether the new Olivier Assayas or Lucretia Martel would make it onto the 2016 Croisette – his did, hers didn’t – as Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Frémaux unspooled the Competition, Un Certain Regard, Midnight Screenings, and Outside Competition line-ups. As if the promise of new adventures with Almodóvar, Dolan, and Park Chan-Wook weren’t enough, the recent announcements of the Critics’ Week and Cannes Classics sidebars present a whole host of new gems and old treasures to discover.

Let’s start with Critics’ Week, where a coterie of freshmen and sophomore directors compete for their own Nespresso Grand Prize. That would make this the branded stadium for spring-boarding international talents, such as Iñárritu (Amores Perros), Wong Kar-Wai (As Tears Go By), as well as Andrea Arnold and Jeff Nichols who are contending in the Main Competition this year with American Honey and Loving, respectively. The Critics Week features competition includes a number of films that examine schisms in national identities, and a closing selection of shorts featuring the directorial debut of human mystery box Chloe Sevigny. And speaking of people that could always be lurking over your shoulder; this is where David Robert Mitchell’s sexually transmitted horror film It Follows debuted back in 2014.

Critics’ Week 

  • Albüm – directed by Mehmet Can Mertoğlu (Turkey)
  • Diamond Island – directed by Davy Chou (Cambodia/France)
  • Raw – directed by Julia Ducournau (France)
  • Mimosas – Oliver Laxe (France)
  • One Week And A Day – directed by Asaph Polonsky (Israel)
  • Tramontane – directed by Vatche Boulghourjian (Lebanon)
  • A Yellow Bird – directed by K. Rajagopal (Singapore)

    Opening Night: In Bed with Victoria - directed by Justine Triet (France) 

Cannes Classics
The festival also hosts restored films from the international canon. This year they'll feature honors for documentarian and institutional excavator Frederick Wiseman, as well as a master class with raconteur and all-around mayday man William Friedkin. In addition to that Friedkin talk, Cannes Classics will screen the divisive Sorcerer, his 1977 remake of Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear – a film that sets a long fuse for a series of gut-wrenching flare-ups, a rattling exercise in tension. Ivory’s Howard’s End, Parts 5 and 6 of Kieślowski’s Decalogue, Gordard’s current repertory release Masculin feminine, and a bunch of other exciting classics will remind us why we were drawn to the cinema in the first place.

Any ideas how we could all split the cost of a yacht to the south of France this year?

Wednesday
Apr202016

Interview: Alba Rohrwacher on the Gender Politics of 'Sworn Virgin' and the Actresses She Loves



Jose
here. In the ancient Albanian tradition of “burrnesha”, a woman takes a vow of chastity in exchange for having all the freedom of a man. Once she swears eternal virginity in front of a group of elders - all men of course - she is allowed to live in the community under a new male name that also brings benefits that will allow her to carry guns, drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, work, play music and be in the company of other men. By the time we meet Mark (Alba Rohrwacher) in Sworn Virgin, he has pretty much forgotten who Hana, her former identity, was. Feeling incomplete, he decides to leave his isolated village to visit his sister (Flonja Kodheli) in Italy, where he discovers he is living within a prison of his own making.

Sworn Virgin
is director Laura Bispuri’s debut film, but one wouldn’t guess that from the boldness with which she tells her story and especially because of the performances she gets from her actors. Rohrwacher, who is on a roll, having premiered Virgin at the Berlin Film Festival in 2015 after winning the Volpi Cup for Best Actress for Hungry Hearts, a few months before, gives her finest performance to date. I had the opportunity to talk to her about her recent films (both Virgin and Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales open this week in New York), working with Bispuri and some of her favorite actresses.

Read our conversation after the jump.

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Feb272016

César Winners: Mustang, Fatima, Michael Douglas and More...

Busy awards weekend, huh? The Spirit Awards commence this evening (Murtada will graciously live blog so yours truly can reserve last fumes of energy for Oscar night) but France's own Oscars, the Césars were already held. (We discussed their nominations earlier right here.)

<-- The glorious Juliette Binoche graced the poster for the big event and also presented best picture. Michael Douglas was the honorary winner (they love their Hollywood stars at the Césars in that particular way).

It turned out to be quite a Ladies Night as three films about women battled it out for supremacy: Fatima, an immigrant drama was the surprise Best Picture winner; Marguerite an operatic musical/comedy (based on the same story as Meryl Streep's forthcoming Florence Foster Jenkins) was the nomination leader and won multiple tech trophies and Best Actress; and, finally, the great Mustang (France's Turkish-language Oscar nominee and on my top ten list) took Screenplay, First Film and Editing prizes

The full list of winners and ceremony photos are after this amazing picture of 3 giants of French cinema: Kristin Scott Thomas, Juliette Binoche, and Emmanuel Béart

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Feb212016

Interview: Ciro Guerra on the Must-See Oscar Nominee "Embrace of the Serpent"

Embrace of the Serpent, Colombia's great Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee took so long to arrive in theaters it may have well have arrived by rickety wooden boat after its grueling journey on the Amazon. But it's finally in theaters in select cities and just in time for the Oscars. Do NOT miss it.

I had the pleasure of speaking with the director Ciro Guerra about this cinematic triumph ... which I'm guessing was harder to make than The Revenant.

NATHANIEL: This is an extremely ambitious effort for a filmmaker as new as yourself. It's only your third film. How long have you been working on this?

CIRO GUERRA: I worked on it for about four years before we started shooting. I had done just two very personal films that were close to my experience, and my past, and my culture. So I wanted to go the opposite way, and take a journey into the unknown.

NATHANIEL: You did. It's hypnotically strange.

CIRO GUERRA: For us Colombians, the Amazon is the most unknown thing. It’s half of the country, but clearly we don’t know much about it. So, I had always been intrigued and fascinated and it had been a lifelong dream to do a film in the Amazon, and you know, these are the kind of films you can only do while you’re young. [More...]

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