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Entries in foreign films (306)

Thursday
Nov122015

Foreign Quickies: Mustang, El Club, Ixcanul

Three quick takes on foreign film competitors from the long list of eligible titles, all screened at AFI.

Mustang (France) Opens November 20th in select cities. Cohen Media Group.
Given that 2015's loudest topic may well be the need for fresh cinematic female voices, the French/Turkish production Mustang deserves $100 million blockbuster status instead of art house ghettoization with a $300,000 gross which is what they're infinitely more likely to get. Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven and screenwriter Alice Winocour, two very talented women, team up to tell the riveting story of five spirited sisters living with their hands-off grandma who keep colliding with the confines, literal and metaphoric, of the patriarchy. An innocent 'schools out for the summer' beach romp prompts the end of their adolescent abandon as their horrified conservative uncle steps in to shape them up, train them to be subservient wives, and marry them off to respectable families. Though the premise is reminiscent of Sofia Coppola's elegiac and dreamy Virgin Suicides, the execution is not. Ergüven and Winocour are more physically grounded and rambunctous in their presentation and there is no distancing conceit of viewing the sisters through the eyes of boys. Mustang has successfully rowdy comedic moments, an earthy non-exploitive sensuality, often clever visual framing, and even a hard-won scrappy optimism to balance out its tough reality checks. In short: it's excellent. Let's hope the Foreign Film Oscar Committee agrees. A- 
(See also: Amir's TIFF Review)

 

Ixcanul (Guatemala) -Kino Lorber will distribute in the US. Dates TBA
At the well attended premiere of this memorable Guatemalan Oscar submission (their first!), the director brought out, not one of the actresses, but an older woman dressed in South American finery who was some kind of public official/icon (the applause was so loud I missed her title/name). The takeaway of the intro was that Guatemala has a tiny but newly excited film industry and they're extremely proud of this little movie. As well they should be. Ixcanul (or Volcano) looks at a poverty-stricken Kaqchikel family, living next to an active volcano and working on a coffee plantation. The volcano, in addition to being a beautiful and alien visual backdrop for a movie is also a monolithic wall, blocking their view of the rest of the world; Mexico and the United States, to the North, are more myth than reality. The family hopes to marry their sexually curious daughter off to their comparatively rich boss and thereby lift all their futures. Needless to say, things don't go as planned. While the actions of nearly all the characters are often enraging, Ixcanul is never mean spirited, condemning the exploitation of their ignorance rather than the ignorance itself. (One heartbreaking emergy trip to a nearby city shows the family utterly at the mercy of an untrustworthy translator since they don't even speak Spanish in the mountains.) Bustamante's well crafted film is authentically steeped in a nearly alien culture but its humanity is entirely familiar. B

 

El Club (Chile) - Music Box Films will distribute in the US. Dates TBA
My first encounter with the acclaimed director Pablo Larrain was the violent Tony Manero, a film about a Chilean sociopath obsessed with winning a Saturday Night Fever lookalike contest. It was altogether unsavory and though the director's command was evident I couldn't wait for it to end. The second was the wondrous No, starring Gael García Bernal as an unlikely hero who helps rid his country of their dictator through an unlikely ad campaign. Though not without its necessarily dark moments -- all the Larrain films I've seen take place during the Pinochet era in Chile -- it was an exuberant, moving, and technically amazing film which I was happy to champion; it went on to be nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. The third encounter is, sadly, more reminiscent of the first in its absolute mandate to rub your face, artfully, in brutal shit.

The film begins deceptively as a mellow observational drama about a strange retirement community in a yellow house by the sea. Shortly, though, the curtain of ambiguity is lifted by an uninvited drunk stranger who stands outside the house spewing a hostel tirade of obscenities. The house, you immediately realize, is a shelter/prison for criminal priests that the Catholic Church is hiding away and the man shouting was one of their victims, repeatedly raped as a young boy. The depressing reveal deepens when you realizes that there are houses like this all over the world. 

Fans of disturbing cinema might admire Larraîn's chutzpah but everyone else should steer clear. Though the film has strong performances, particularly Antonia Zegers as a despicable nun and Marcelo Alonso as a remarkably stone-faced priest sent to assess the inhabitants of the house, it's a tough sit through spiritual rationalization, disturbing psychologies, and actual brutality [SPOILER WARNING] Animals are viciously killed in the film -- albeit just barely off camera -- and I never would have seen it if I had known. [/SPOILER]. Even the resolution, which could be read as spiritually uplifting is ambiguous; it played for me more like a sick pitch-black joke about "penance" and "redemption". (I will be wary of seeing another Larraîn film despite my love for No.) No Rating.

Wednesday
Nov112015

AFI Fest: Disorder

Kieran, here reporting from AFI Fest in Hollywood.

There's a moment of in Alice Winocour's Disorder (French title Maryland) where Jessie (played by Diane Kruger) tentatively and almost wordlessly embraces Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts) from behind. It's a brief, but completely earned emotional beat, perfectly emblematic of the film's power. The film is billed as a "home invasion thriller," a description that betrays Disorder's rich textures and laser-like focus on character. 

Vincent is a former soldier turned security guard working at a villa in France, inhabited by Imad, a wealthy businessman (Percy Kemp), his wife, Jessie and their young son, Ali (Zaïd Errougui-Demonsant). Vincent is suffering from PTSD and auditory problems, a result of his time in combat, which leads to bouts of paranoia. After some kind of international business deal goes awry while Imad is out of the country, Jessie and Ali become the target of hitmen, with Vincent left to protect them. This plot description could have very quickly led to something in the vein of Taken really quickly. What we get here is something far more interesting and cinematically daring.

Matthias Schoenaerts is, in many ways, the perfect actor to put at the center of this story. More...

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Nov102015

Interview: Germán Tejeira on 'A Moonless Night,' Uruguay's Oscar Submission

Jose here. When I scheduled my interview with director Germán Tejeira who is based in Montevideo, I hadn’t been counting on the internet being unaware that Uruguay had gotten rid of their own Daylight Savings Time, a practice which was deemed “old fashioned” and “inefficient” by the progressive government. We had to reschedule the interview, but Tejeira was kind enough to laugh the confusion off and even sent me an article which explained how this new practice had brought chaos within his own country. It was an anecdote I found peculiarly surreal, something out of a movie perhaps, and one that for that matter reminded me of Tejeira’s own A Moonless Night, a charming account of three men trying to find their, existential, way in the Uruguayan countryside during New Year’s Eve.

Cesar (Marcel Keroglian) is a cab driver spending the holiday with his ex-wife’s new family, Antonio (Roberto Suarez) is a magician en route to a presentation whose car breaks down stranding him and his rabbit Oliver, Molgota (Daniel Melingo) is a singer released from jail a day earlier so he can perform at a New Year’s party. Their routine is altered by a blackout, but to say their stories cross paths in a traditional way would be a disservice to Tejeira’s lovely screenplay, and his perceptive direction. The film has been selected as Uruguay’s Oscar representative and I discussed that with the director, as well as his perception of what films should provoke in spectators, and whether Uruguay has a well defined “cinematic identity”.

Read the interview after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Nov082015

Interview: The Star of Philippines' Oscar Submission 'Heneral Luna' on the Subjectivity of History

Jose here. Since its release in the Philippines, historical epic Heneral Luna has been shattering box office record after record, not only managing to break even in almost no time, but also drawing very young audiences, some of whom might have taken advantage of a half-off student discount (take note Hollywood!). The film which chronicles the campaign by General Antonio Luna to combat American invaders in the late 19th century is directed with flair by Jerrold Tarog. Thanks to its commercial and critical success not only did it open Stateside in late October, it was selected by the Philippines as their official Oscar submission.

The star John Arcilla gives a ferocious lead performance as the titular army officer. 
Arcilla is one of the Philippines’ most respected actors, having made a name for himself as a star across television, stage and film. In America, he will be best known for a supporting performance in The Bourne Legacy, and his terrific work in Metro Manila, but as shown in Heneral Luna he can carry an entire epic on his shoulders. Despite the terrible reception that kept interrupting our phone interview, Arcilla also proved to be an incredibly insightful conversationalist, making remarks that made me wish I could sit down and talk history and politics with him for an entire afternoon. We talked about his process when playing historical characters, remembering the subjectivity of history and what an Oscar nomination might bring the film.

full interview after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Friday
Nov062015

Interview: 'Theeb' Director Naji Abu Nowar on Bedouin Culture and Being Selected as Jordan's Oscar Submission

Jose here. Set in 1916 Theeb centers on the title character, a Bedouin boy, played by Jacid Eir Al-Hwietat, who’s lived his whole life in the desert. He is being trained as a guide by his older brother Hussein (Hussein Salameh) and the opportunity for him to try his new skills arrives when a British soldier (Jack Fox) and his companion (Marji Audeh) hire the siblings to show them across the desert. As they discover they are being tracked by enemies, Theeb is forced to fend for himself in the unknown. Combining elements of coming-of-age stories and adventure films, director Naji Abu Nowar is able to craft the rare film that entertains and enlightens. He subverts genre conventions in unexpected ways, for instance this time around it’s the nameless white man who treats others with contempt and shows little regard for their traditions.

If anything Theeb is a necessary film, which might be why it was selected by Jordan to represent them at the Oscars. I sat down with director Nowar to talk about the autobiographical elements in the film, learning film distribution lingo, and how instinct is what matters the most when it comes to directing.  

 

JOSE: Let’s get started with a business question. How is it to have your film being distributed in the States?

NAJI ABU NOWAR: It’s amazing! I lived in the desert making this film with the Bedouin, and the edit was done very close to them in case I had questions, so we really almost finished the entire film completely separated from the industry. We just assumed since we weren’t an English language film we would never play in America, so it’s been such an amazing ride to see the film do really well in Britain, and to now see it in America is unbelievable. We hope audiences respond.

JOSE: The film won awards at the 2014 Venice Film Festival, but I’m sure as a filmmaker your purpose is to do films that go beyond festivals? Especially because Theeb is essentially an adventure movie, not an art film. [more after the jump]

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Oct272015

Interview: The Filmmakers Behind Spanish Oscar Submission 'Flowers' on MacGuffins, Preserving the Basque Language, and 'The Hours'  

Jose here. Flowers is centered around a mystery which sees construction site office worker Ane (Nagore Aranburu) start receiving flowers from an unknown admirer. Week after week, beautiful flowers arrive on the very same day, then one day they stop. Is it a coincidence that they stopped right after Ane's construction site co-worker Beñat (Josean Bengoetxea) passed away in a car crash? We soon meet Beñat's widow Lourdes (Itziar Ituño) and her mother in law Tere (Itziar Aizpuru) whose relationship only seems to weaken in the aftermath of Beñat's death. Flowers is beautifully constructed by José Mari Goenaga and Jon Garaño (who co-wrote and co-directed the film) who know how to take audience members along on a journey and understand how important it is to have us participate in trying to solve the mystery.

Meditative and melancholic, Flowers, is a worthy follow-up to their equally beautiful For 80 Days, and has been chosen as Spain's official Oscar submission for the Best Foreign Language Film category, a historic achievement since it's the first Basque film chosen for the honor. Individually Goenaga and Garaño have done it all, from animated films to documentaries, but their work together has a truly haunting quality, not to mention exquisite performances. I spoke to the filmmakers to discuss their Oscar hopes, making films in Basque and the movies about women that inspire them. 

JOSE: When I first reached out to you, Flowers didn’t have a US release date, now it’s opening on Friday. Are you excited about that?

JOSE MARI: We’re a little bit nervous, the film opens in NYC on October 30 and on November 27th it opens in Los Angeles, which is part of our press agents’ strategy to capture the attention of AMPAS voters. We’re nervous because we don’t know how people will receive it, and the commercial run will undoubtedly affect how it’s perceived by the Academy.

More on Flowers after the jump.

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Oct142015

Oscar's Foreign Race Pt 5: We do love our trivia!

"everything u ever wanted to know about the foreign film category
*...but were afraid to ask"

Pt 1 81 Trailers | Pt 2 Women Directors & Debuts | Pt 3 Zoology | Pt 4 I know that face! 

who will follow Pawel Pawlikowski (Poland's IDA) to an Oscar win for Foreign Language Film?OKAY OKAY. We promise to calm down now.

We hope you've enjoyed our week long attempt to get you really pumped up for an Oscar category that's sometimes hard to get invested: Best Foreign Language Film. The films can be hard to track down making this competition less accessible, so we try our statistics and anecdotes and lists to pique your curiosity!  

But from here on out we'll try to track down as many as we can and actually see them. Imagine it: seeing movies! Please do share this series on twitter and facebook and whatnot. It's so much work and so many websites just depressingly print text only lists of titles and call it a day! We've already reviewed or done interviews from 11 of the pictures: Argentina's The Clan, Austria's Goodnight Mommy (now in theaters), Colombia's Embrace of the Serpent, Dominican Republic's Sand Dollars, France's Mustang, Germany's Labyrinth of Lies (now in theaters!), Hungary's Son of Saul, Norway's The Wave, Portugal's Arabian Nights Volume 2, Sweden's A Pigeon Sat on a Branch, and Taiwan's The Assassin (opens Friday!). Off blog we've lined up screenings of 8 more in the next two weeks so we'll be sure to report. We'll never get to 81 but we can try.

ONE FINAL ROUND OF TRIVIA AFTER THE JUMP
Let's talk running times, previous Oscar nominees, and returning directors who've been submitted before.

Click to read more ...

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