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Entries in foreign films (283)


The Oscar Foreign Film Submission List - We're Almost There!

With the "official" statement still to come from the Academy (expect it in just under a week) we know the titles of 71 contenders for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar thus far. Last year 83 countries, a record, submitted. The latest titles to be named from countries still waiting on their first nomination include Jalal's Story (Bangladesh), Men Who Save the World (Malaysia), You Carry Me (Montenegro), and Heavenly Nomadic (Kyrgyzstan). Infrequently nominated countries like India (Court) and Iran (Muhammad, Messenger of God) have announced controversial chocies.

As for traditionally bigger Oscar players, we're still waiting on Italy and Spain (Spain has narrowed it down to three films) but now we have the titles from Canada (Felix & Meira) and Denmark (A War). 

• Current Predictions plus all time stats/trivia
• Afghanistan through Estonia  18 official 
• Ethiopia through The Netherlands 30 official
• Norway through Vietnam 23 official 


NYFF: Mia Madre & No Home Movie

Manuel on an unlikely double feature he’d like to dub “How I Mourned Your Mother.”

In his TIFF coverage, Nathaniel mentioned that film festivals sometimes offer you random thematic threads born out of unlikely juxtapositions. This was the case when I caught Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre and Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie almost back to back. Both films are concerned and inspired by the death of the respective filmmakers’ mothers. The results are as widely different as you’d imagine and fascinating for wildly different reasons.

Moretti’s Mia Madre opens with a scene of laborers rioting against their factory’s owners. Workers chant and fight against armored policemen in riot gear. And then Margherita (an effectively understated Margherita Buy) yells “Stop!” She’s shooting a film, as it turns out and she’s not too happy with the framing she was getting. We slowly learn her personal life is taking a toll; she’s broken up with her boyfriend and her mother is slowly dying at the hospital. You can almost imagine the press about that shoot (“Director’s Personal Issues All But Ruined the Production”). [More...]

Click to read more ...


TIFF: Baba Joon, Dégradé, Much Loved

on the set of Baba JoonAmir files our last TIFF report on three films, one of them hoping for Oscar...

Baba Joon (Israel)
Israel’s Oscar submission is quite a unique experience: the lives of Iranian Jews who have left their homeland to live in Israel—and are consequently not allowed to re-enter Iran because of the two countries’ bitter relationship has never been portrayed on screen. In Yuval Delshad’s debut feature, the titular character and his clan—a son, his wife and their son—all live on a small turkey farm in rural Israel and live with very modest means. The tensions between multiple generations of the family, and the melancholia of living at once at home and away from home are the film’s central themes.

Baba Joon’s storytelling and the emotional beats are familiar. There is nothing in the strained father-son dynamics, troubled by decades of repression, that we haven’t previously seen on the big screen. The film’s abrupt but rather predictable ending lends it a saccharine flavour that might sit well with the Academy, but undermines the film. When the story’s resolution is presented so neatly with a gift wrap, very little is left for the audience to ponder. Still, this is a heartfelt film of genuinely well intentions, with a sizable novelty factor, whose fresh look at ethnic minorities in the Middle East is quietly delightful.

Dégradé (Palestine/France/Qatar)
This debut film from eccentrically named brothers Arab and Tarzan Nasser, shows similar irreverence in depicting ethnic tensions with Israel. Part Almodovar-esque comedy of women on the verge of nervous breakdowns, part a thriller revolving a hostage situation, their film, which stars Hiam Abbas and Maisa Abd Elhadi, is based in a hair salon in Gaza, where the clientele hail from different social, religious and political backgrounds. As they wait their turns to be beautified, the salon becomes increasingly like a microcosm of Gaza’s society, and the world beyond the confines of the building is engulfed in violence.

Dégradé is an interesting look at life in the occupied territories because it broadens the conversation beyond the Israel-Palestine binary. In the film’s view, the community is rife with tensions and chasms, all exacerbated by the atrocious limitations of living in occupation. Yet, the image is much richer and layered than normally shown on screen, breaking the monolithic view of Palestinians in favour of a more complex perspective. That the film manages to convey these intricacies while remaining consistently entertaining is a significant accomplishment, and one that promises much more from the filmmaking duo.

Much Loved (Morocco/France)
The most daring film among the bunch comes from the more experienced hands of Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch. Ayouch surveys the night club scene in Marrakech, a world filled with sex, drugs and rampant decadence. Home to tourists from Saudi Arabia and Europe, the city’s nightlife is bustling and its sex industry is ever active, almost completely removed from the crisis-ridden country that surrounds it. Almost.  Following Noha (Loubna Abidar) and her entourage of less experienced escorts, Much Loved is as intimate a film as it is provocative.

Ayouch has had to field a lot of controversy, mostly due to the explicit displays of sex in his film; and while the murky release prospects of the film in the Arab world are understandable, it’s unfortunate if sex becomes the only talking point. This is the rare film that intertwines the lives of sex workers with socio-economic issues without becoming patronizing. Morocco’s complicated relationships with Europe and other Arab countries, and its tenuous political situation are subtly worked into the plot of the film. It’s intimate and superbly acted—mostly by amateur performers— and a film that's heartbreaking, humorous and evocative in equal measure. In a festival that is never short on big films from big directors, Much Loved was a true discovery.


TIFF: Two More Foreign Language Oscar Submissions

2015's TIFF has concluded and we tried to catch a few of the Foreign Language Oscar submissions while we were there. We've already written about Colombia's Embrace of the Serpent so here are two more official entries from Norway and Portugal

Oscar Trivia Notes: Portugal holds the sad statistic of being the country with the most annual submissions (32 in total) to have never been nominated. This category was established as an annual competitive event back in 1956 and Portugal began submitting in 1980 - they've missed only a few years of the competition since. Norway has fared better. Though Israel, Mexico, and Belgium, lead this particular statistic, Norway is stuck in a tie for fourth place with Greece for "the most nominated country that has yet to win the foreign film Oscar." Norway has been nominated five times. More fun stats here. I'd suggest that The Wave didn't have a prayer of being nominated except that the last time Oscar went for a Norwegian film it was a similarly conventional mainstream adventure (Kon-Tiki) so who knows.

The Wave (Norway, Roar Uthaug)
The best thing one can and should say about this disaster epic from Norway is that it's just as good as your average American entry in this crowded genre and it does that with a significantly lower budget while sticking closer to plausible science in its action sequences. It keeps things more intimate, keeping a tight focus on one family and a group of coworkers, and building slowly to the money shot disaster. The tsunami doesn't happen until well into the running time but The Wave keeps you interested regardless.  It's no surprise that Norway submitted it since it is a massive blockbuster there. According to the director's intro at the public screening over half a million people at home had already bought tickets to it in less than a month. (Can you imagine 10% of the US population going to any single movie in a month's time frame? It just doesn't happen. I think American Sniper could argue it got there but not in one month's time!) Still The Wave has the same ugly problem of valuing one blond family's welfare over everyone else's entire existence that got The Impossible into trouble with critics. Although The Wave has a better excuse for its total whiteness since it's Norway (which is very white) not Thailand! But The Wave is even more ruthless about placing the sanctity of this one family's unity and love and survival above anyone else, though I shan't spoil why that is. Nevertheless the movie is exciting to watch, the three principal actors are charming (including Ane Dahl Torp who also starred in Norway's submission last year 1001 Grams) and Norwegian movies can always be counted on for sublime scenery -- even when that scenery turns malevolent -- but boy is this thing cliche-ridden and predictable! B-

Arabian Nights Volume 2: The Desolate One (Portugal, Miguel Gomes)
I attended the middle feature of this trilogy, the one that was Oscar submitted because the director claims you needn't see the three films in order, with Nick and Amir as my final film of TIFF. They both emerged from the screenings with missionary zeal about its brilliance. Nick considers the trilogy the movie event of the year. I'm not as gaga for it though I admit that part of that may well be that I a) didn't get it and b) I have a well known lack of tolerance for artists that can't self-edit and long running times and a 7 hour three part movie in which every sequence (that I've seen) has dead space pushes these buttons for me in a big way. I'll let Amir review the trilogy proper since he's a true fan but I will say despite my reservations on the length of the project as a whole and even this third of it (which is itself over 2 hours long) it is often quite funny and provocative in its pile-up of politics, storytelling idiosyncracies, and nonsensical events (as an example of the latter at one point a character turns invisible and seems to teleport with a muscle flexing grunt and this has nothing at all to do with the story or the scene or the narration or the political content as far as I can gather) 

Dixie is a born starMiguel Gomes, who previous directed the whatsit Tabu (that critics were also besotted with), is in his own way as weird and singular an auteur as Thailand's Apichatpong Weerathasakul. His movies could not be accidentally mistaken for anyone else's and that, should you be in doubt, is a huge compliment. This trilogy is NOT an adaptation of the classic Arabian Nights but just borrows its structure with this version of Scheherazade telling us fables about poverty, politics, and social justice that are drawn from / comment on the Austerity period in Portugal that impoverished many of its citizens.

To make this trilogy project even more confusing, each volume has multiple stories within it. Volume 2 has three plus separate stories: the first is about "a man without bowels" who is being hunted by the police; the second, my preference, is about a Judge trying a case in what looks like an ancient greek theater which becomes more and more absurd and abstract and continually finds new people to blame as it progresses; the last is the story of an raggedy poodle named "Dixie" and her rotating people who have to keep giving her up. Dixie is a total cutie and won "the Palme Dog" at Cannes.

To make this volume even more confusing, the story of Dixie has several nested stories within it about the residents of a particular apartment building which have nothing at all to do with Dixie though other pets come into play (Gomes movies seem fascinated by animals be they dogs, alligators, parrots, cats, or whatnot). Describing the abundant oddity is nearly impossible: people turn invisible, cows speak at trials, naked ladies bake cakes. Real Oscar Bait, people! WTF

Related: There are now 61 official submission titles so make sure to check out the updated foreign film charts.

• Current Predictions plus all time stats/trivia
• Afghanistan through Estonia  15 official 
• Ethiopia through The Netherlands 25 official
• Norway through Vietnam 21 official 

The full official submission list will be published around October 1st with probably about 10 more titles joining this current lineup. Generally speaking at least one of the previously announced titles mysteriously vanishes or is replaced when the official list is published. 


"Room" is the People's Choice

Great News: Room won the People's Choice award at TIFF! 
It couldn't have happened to a more deserving film and I mean that literally since it was the best of the 29 films I caught there. Confession: I really thought that Spotlight would take it since festival goers wouldn't shut up about that one. In the past twenty years the People's Choice Award has been a very solid indicator of a future Best Picture nomination. In fact, with one exception only (Hotel Rwandaif the winner was from the States or the UK, it was nominated at the Oscars. Canadian winners (Eastern Promises and The Hanging Garden) as well as most of the non-English language winners weren't so lucky. A Best Picture nomination would be a very big deal for A24 as a young distributor but they've already released so many fine and daring films they've earned one, don't you think? 

How high would you rank the film now in your predictions? 

Winners List
People's Choice Room (Lenny Abramson)
    1st Runner Up: Angry Indian Goddesses (Pan Nalin)
    2nd Runner Up: Spotlight (Tom McCarthy)

FIPRESCI DiscoveryEva Nová (Marko Skop) 
FIPRESCI Special PresentationDesierto (Jonás Cuarón) 
NETPAC Asian Cinema AwardWhispering Star (Sion Sono) 
Toronto Platform AwardHURT (Alan Zweig) 
    Honorable Mention: Neon Bull, The Promised Land, The Clan
Best Short Maman(s) (Maïmouna Doucouré)
     Honorable Mention: Rate Me (Fyzal Boulifa) 

Best Canadian Feature Closet Monster (Stephen Dunn)
    Honorable Mention: My Internship in Canada (Philippe Falardeau)
Best Canadian First Feature Film Sleeping Giant (Andrew Cividino)
Best Canadian Short Overpass (Patrice Laliberté)
    Honorable Mention: Bacon & God's Wrath (Sol Friedman)

The odd thing about the Canadian prizes is that Closet Monster, my favorite LGBT movie from the fest, which won the "Canada Goose" for Best Canadian Film is also a First Feature; there's another prize for that that it did not win! Of the other award winners, I only managed to catch Spotlight, Room, and the Toronto Platform Honorable Mention The Clan. It's a gut-wrenching true crime drama about a notorious family in Argentina who kidnapped members of other upper class families, some of whom they knew personally, for ransom money. I suspect it will be Argentina's Oscar submission but they don't announce until the end of the month.


TIFF Quickies: 45 Years, Invisible, The Witch, and more...

Five quick takes because otherwise I won't get around to writing about these! Grades are not binding and these are first quick impressions.

45 Years (UK, Andrew Haigh)
That sound you hear over a black screen as the film opens is a slide projector. If it hadn't been for Mad Men's Carousel that long defunct sound might not have been so easy to place. The slides will be important later on but to quote that famous episode:

This is not a spaceship, it's a time machine. It goes backwards and forwards, and it takes us to a place where we ache to go again."

Don Draper's famous monologue could well be a description of this film, too. The past suddenly rushes forward into the present via a letter bearing strange news and the husband (Tom Courtenay) aches too visibly to go back to it as the wife (Charlotte Rampling) slowly begins to reframe their lives between then and now. In his very short film career Andrew Haigh has shown a remarkable skill at romantic drama through the prism of time  (the impactful of the moment and the brevity of a Weekend, and the half century of a marriage through recalled feeling). The film is cooly mounted, not just in its color palette and the weather but in its chill vibe; nothing at all is really happening but everything is being considered and reframed. 45 Years opens on December 23rd - Sundance Selects is apparently trying the exact same play they did for Marion Cotillard last year for Charlotte Rampling. Let's hope it works because she rises exquisitely to this film's challenge. A-

Invisible (The Philippines, Lawrence Fajardo)
The first scene in Invisible focuses on a steam pot that's getting ready to blow as we hear a conversation offscreen. That's a non too subtle way to announce a slow simmering drama ahead but typical of the visual strategy of placing a camera in one place and just watching, even when there's little to see. Fajardo looks at the plights of Filipino immigrants in Japan with both tenderness and hopelessness in these interconnected stories. Aunt Linda () ties the stories together as a landlady who permits illegals to rent her apartments -- she is not an illegal as she has been married for decades to a Japanese man -- but her heart is still with the Filipino immigrant community who she checks in with regularly.

Among the stories is a middle aged gay romance, a sad hustler aging out of good paychecks and starting to look pathetic in the stage shows with his young twink competition, and a hardworking young man who runs into dangerous trouble with a coworker. I really wanted to love this picture. It's heart is in the right place and certain scenes have distinct empathetic pleasures. But the director, who admitted in a Q&A afterwards that he was trying to convey the drudgery of these lives, does that too well. The pace is excruciating in the way only art films can be when they aren't careful about when to hold a shot and when to let one go since there's actually no scene there. B-/C+

As I Open My Eyes (Tunisia, Leyla Bouzin)
I believe this is the first Tunisian film I have seen and I was often at a loss for exactly what was happening. To explain: the plot is easy enough to follow but the politics are not. Set during the Arab Spring this sensitive picture circles a young woman who is due to start medical school but just wants to sing for her band. The band is continually warned that they're in trouble with the police -- but they each have different ideas about what they can get away with -- but listening to their lyrics I could never suss out exactly why they were so threatening. The music is a major selling point and the young star is lovely though I wish the concert scenes and the camerawork had not been so repetitive from a visual standpoint -- the star's innocent but flirtatious smile is totally endearing but there are a thousand closeups of it. The combative but loving mother/daughter relationship which starts as the subplot and gradually takes over is unexpectedly compelling by the melancholy older-but-wiser end. B

Eva Doesn't Sleep (Argentina, Pablo Agüero)
Finally a movie for Argentinian Politics Majors who are also Necrophiliacs!

What did I just watch? I think it was good --- possibly very good though it's unpleasant. This brilliantly titled film was among the most challenging films at the fest. Agüero presents a stylized history of Argentinian politics from the 1950s onward through the much-fetishized dead body of Eva Peron and the various men in charge who are defeated by both her memory and their inability to rid the country of her body. It's rare to see a film so fully embrace the POV of its villains -- the various narrators, dictators, politicans, soldiers and so on are nearly all misogynists who hate Evita (you hear "that bitch" more times than you'll be able to count) and despise the working classes who adore her. Some scenes go on interminably but many of the images have a weirdly hypnotic resonance and willfully begin or end in abstraction from lighting (particularly in Gael Garcia Bernal's segment), color (particularly in the Embalming sequence) or Denis Lavant (particularly in the Denis Lavant scene).


The Witch (Robert Eggers)
If you've managed to stay blind and deaf to this film's content, stay that way. Do not read this blurb because it's best to go in cold. The Witch takes place in the 17th century when a Puritan couple, banished from their village community in New England, seek to begin anew. They build a home and farm in the clearing near a heavy wood for their goats, chickens, and four children. Almost immediately an unthinkable tragedy strikes. Debuting director Robert Eggers is supremely confident with the slow build even though he has the nerve to reveal the culprit immediately and then make you wait. Though some of the scenes are predictable once you're inside them, by then the film already has you frozen in your seat with its commitment to the unfortunate collision of Pious, Ignorant, Paranoid Christians and Terrifying Unfathomable Evil. It's hard to describe how spectacularly creepy and perverse it all feels in the last half hour. What a ballsy debut!  A-/B+

more from TIFF


TIFF: Anomalisa, Victoria, Youth. Is one pass enough?

Herewith three of the most distinctive films from TIFF. The only problem is: I'm not sure what I think of them. How often does that happen to you at the movies: walking out, unable to answer the question of "did I like it? was it good?" Some movies just refuse to settle quickly. Or, they're hard to parse in the film festival setting (due to seeing so many movies back to back). Which is to say that I'm going to need more time with each of these. All three are familiar and alien at once and, in their dissimilar ways, ambitious. All three are beautifully made... yet at this writing, I have trouble imagining the desire to watch any of them a second time. (Well, no. I'd like to see Youth again)

ANOMALISA (Duke Johnson & Charlie Kaufman, US)
Though I was a critical holdout on the oft revered miserabilist Synecdoche New York -- in which I learned that I most definitely prefer Kaufmann as a screenwriter than as a director -- I was eager to see this. That anticipation was partially for the novelty aspects. It's a stop motion film with many characters but with only three voice actors. The similar voices serve the plot in an obvious conceptual way when you're watching it (which I won't spoil) but they also indirectly expose the monotony and limits of a singular POV and male gaze, in this case Kaufmann's. The story involves a gray-haired customer service guru of some reknown, deeply unhappy and ready to cheat on his wife during a one night stay in a Cincinatti hotel. There are a few indisputably grand jokes, some stale ones (hotel room keys that don't work. hahaha) and moving beats within the discomfort and laughter. There's even a Jennifer Jason Leigh singing Cyndi Lauper sequence that's sublime. But there's also a feeling of "and...?" about the whole effort and even "why is this animated?" since it only becomes surreal a couple of times. At only 90 minutes this is stretched thin, given that some of the sequences play out in what painfully feels like real time like the businessman's cab to and check in at the hotel. I'm mystified by the "MASTERPIECE!" excitement around it but Kaufman's work is always worth mulling over. 

[Crass Oscar Note as I'm sure Kaufman had no interest in Oscars when he was making this: the critical hosannas Anomalisa was greeted with followed by the news that it would Oscar qualify this year led a lot of armchair pundits to think Inside Out suddenly has real competition for the Animated Oscar. That is not the case. This is too strange and dispiriting and even too dull to take the gold though the critical reception could certainly help it to a nomination if they'd like to acknowledge that animation isn't only for kids -- this one is entirely for adults given its themes and the animated sex scenes.] 

VICTORIA (Sebastian Schipper, Germany)
Victoria (Laia Costa) is a lonely barista from Spain who has spent three months in Berlin. She still doesn't know anyone when one night out dancing she meets drunk but charming Sonne (Frederick Lau) and three of his drunk up-to-no-good friends. Thus begins an unbroken 132 minute long continuous shot as we follow Victoria in real time through her inebriated misadventures. Schipper, who started as an actor (he's in many of Tom Tykwer's films), gets natural work from his entire cast who are all speaking rough English since that's their only common language. You truly feel like you're there with Victoria and her new friends on a neverending night you know you'll always remember. Or you'll hope to forget; parties can't last forever and one foolish decision can lead to another and another and soon you're in way too deep. Schipper and his technical team deserve all the praise they've received for this absolute technical triumph -- not only was the film all shot in one take, it's pulled off without a visible hitch, and it feels artful but effortless too since there are well timed musical breaks of one sort or another (including a phenomenal piano scene) and the lack of cuts only escalates the tension. The film has an inexorable energy since you don't feel you can escape. You're with Victoria and her German buddies until the end. But do you want to be? This is a grueling sit from the tension and eventual violence and the two hour plus running time so it's hard to imagine watching it a second time. Still, immersive film experiences like this are all too rare. 

Caine and Keitel spy on a tryst in the woods

YOUTH (Paolo Sorrentino, Italy)
An easier sit than Sorrentino's Oscar winning The Great Beauty but then it is half as long! Like that film, this one features amazing gilded tableaus and wealthy lost souls. We also get sharp performances from well loved Oscar-winners (Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Rachel Weisz) and movie troupers (Harvey Keitel and Paul Dano), all of them getting at least one showcase moment. Youth has some truly vivid sequences / images but does it all cohere? I'm not sure that it does: It's covering a lot of ground very quickly and its many diversions, both fanciful, humorous, or sad are highly uneven. At a hotel/spa retreat for the rich and famous, the characters all come together: Caine is a retired legendary composer staving off requests to conduct again with his personal assistant daughter (Weisz); Dano (in a strange bit of casting) plays a sad movie star who hates his fans and the film he's best known for;  Keitel is a famous director whose work is not what it used to be. Jane Fonda appears in a much-showcased cameo as a legendary movie star diva. (That the movie is about aging showbiz types certainly won't hurt its Oscar chances given the Academy's demographics). Sorrentino seems to be borrowing from Fellini again and a friend of mine groaned about a scene involving a telescope in which Keitel pontificates on the different between youth and old age -- but I personally loved the scene. (Perhaps you have to be middle age or older to feel it though it's easy enough to "get") The movie may be chalk full of faux profundities like that one but better surface beauty and trying to say too much than drab looking movies with only one or two things to say.

 Grades: TBA

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