Saturday, November 25, 2006

Cidade de Deus

This is the first portugese movie that I've seen. And its certainly one of the best and finest I've seen in a very long time, probably the best in my collection. A movie achieves it's fullest impact on you especially when you see it without reading a single review, without seeing a single picture or screenshot of it, with no idea as to how the movie is going to turn out in the next 2.5 or so hours.. That's exactly the way I saw this film. Seeing the poster, i actually was under the impression that this is going to be a story centered on themes of love! I winced, yelled, became sober and winced again by the time I was through watching this movie.

Pandeyes42 from Australia writes:

It all starts with one of the most exhilarating and allegorical opening sequences is recent film history.A chicken caught between two opposing sides.One of those opening sequences,like Danny Boyle's "Trainspotting" (1996), that simply grabs the viewer by the throat and refuses to let them go until the film is done. One of the signs of a truly great film.

Thankfully, "City Of God" quickly proves itself to be equal substance and style. One of the aspects of this film that I love so much is the way that it is very raw,candid and intimate in the story that it tells. I have read that "City of God" has been compared to Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas"(1990). I can see the comparison in the way that both films basically put you, the viewer,smack bang in the middle of the story they tell.Both films also have that sense of edge in that they are based on true events.

Spanning three decades, the story of "City Of God" covers many aspects of a very negative type of life, that of living in one of the most dangerous slums(favelas) in Brazil. What I found so compelling about the film is the way that it's main character, Rocket, searches for a way out of his supposed predestined fate. Before he discovers photography as a career, his choices are either policeman or criminal, both about as corrupt and venal as each other.

Although confronting and disturbing, "City of God" tells its story with a very down to earth attitude and, at times, a wonderful sense of humour, never more evident when Rocket tells us about his attempt at a life of crime.There is some beautiful writing throughout the film which really makes the viewer give a damn about its characters.

"City of God" is that rare film where the visual style fits the material perfectly. Watch the way that the optimism and innocence of the first part of the film, particularly the depiction of 'the tender trio', is contrasted against events after Lil Dice shows his true colours during the hotel robbery.

The use of a largely non-professional cast also absolutely rammed home this story for me. As a viewer, the worldly wise experience and attitude of a great deal of the cast really shone through. An absolutely gut wrenching moment that illustrates this perfectly would have to be Benny's going away party and its abrupt, shocking ending.To me, Benny was one of the more sympathetic characters in the film.For his life to be taken just as he was finding a way out of the 'ghetto thug life' hits the viewer right between the eyes. It is symbolic of the point of change within the story's framework. In "Goodfellas", Tommy's death was very similarly used.

Like one of my other films that I would say is one of the best of the decade so far, Darren Aronofsky's "Requiem For A Dream" (2000), "City of God" shows how its characters are attracted to something so negative such as gang life and criminal behaviour, while at the same time showing what happens when attraction turns into repulsion; the dream becomes a nightmare.

The clarity with which this is shown in both "Requiem" and "City of God" is something I admired greatly in both films. The ability of both filmmakers concerned to be impartial and non-judgemental in the subject matter at the cores of their respective films impressed me in both "Requiem" and "City of God".The subjects of both films, drug use and gang life respectively, are subjects that,via their films, make filmmakers either glamorize or preach in regards to how they depict their stories.One of the greatest strengths of this film is its absolute refusal to compromise or sugar coat its depiction of life in the slums.At the same time,I found "City of God" a very positive and hopeful film. The just about prefect final scene shows this. Rocket finally finding a way out of the slums and moving forward with his life, contrasted with the 'runts' planning their death list and how they're going to run the favela. This shows how one can achieve positive things in their life if they choose to do so, or take the easy option and follow what has gone before in their lives, even if it is a very negative thing to do.A very haunting and moving way to end a truly remarkable film.

As someone who loves cinema, I wish more films were this forceful and impassioned. Films like this remind me why I love cinema as much as I do.


I first heard of L'Enfant through the TIFF website which contains a whole load of such movies. The Dardennes brothers have often been criticized for their Marxist views on the society. They have always been known to portray society in its stark utter realism, especially the part of the society that lies low, real low in its standard of living, below the poverty line. They are better known for their first masterpiece Rosetta that also won a lot of accolades, awards and brought them a lot of recognition.

Industrialized societies have created a phenomenon among the young people that drop out from their midst, an aimless class without direction. Most of these youths will go into crime as the only means to survive their meager existences. They will also enter into relationships with other young people and produce illegitimate children, which is the subject at the center of this magnificent film by Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

Sonia, the young mother, is seen as the film opens looking for Bruno, the father of her infant son. It is clear, by the way we see Sonia take care of the baby, she is a mother who loves her son. Bruno, on the other hand, a petty thief, couldn't care less about this son, who probably looks not real to him, or at least, he cannot relate to the child's presence in his life.

Bruno, and the young teen agers that he befriends, are partners in crime in stealing whatever come their way. Bruno, who obviously has no scruples, doesn't think anything when he learns about the lucrative market for selling babies to criminals that are willing to pay a lot of money in order to get them. Selling his own son means nothing to him.

What Bruno doesn't count on is on Sonia's reaction, as she collapses in front of his eyes when he informs her about what he has done. The shock alone sends Sonia into the hospital where she is inconsolable for the great loss she has suffered. Seeing her in the state she is triggers in Bruno a reaction into getting back the baby. He gets the infant back, but the criminals involved in the deal will make him pay dearly for the business he took away from them.

The last straw that unravels Bruno is the street mugging with young Steve in which, unknown to him, people go after him in a chase that takes the duo into the river. Steve, who suffers a cold shock from the water, almost drowns from the experience. When Bruno confesses to the crime, he does the only decent thing he has done in his life. The final scene shows Sonia, who has come to visit him in prison with their son, and Bruno who finally understand the enormity of his crime and his guilt.

Jeremie Renier makes a good impression as Bruno. As the careless drifter, Mr. Renier does some of the best work of his career. He is totally believable as the petty criminal and predator. Deborah Francois captured Sonia and the love she felt for her son. Jeremie Segard is seen as Steve, Bruno's contact and partner in crime.

Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne are film makers that deal in real situations like the one they present us here. "L'Enfant" is one of the best films they have done because the intensity they bring to the story that shows that even a hardened criminal can redeem himself when he understand the enormity of his crime.

Frankly I was a bit disappionted at this movie's very predictable plot. The name itself L'Enfant i think is meant more towards the young couple shown in this movie, rather than the baby itself.. Jeremie Reiner does look stupid and a bit too desperate towards his wife, especially when the falls at her feet and refuses to let go of her ankles! But otherwise, this rather subtle movie is watchable once. Just for the dardennes.. Review courtesy of a guy called Jotix100 from New York.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Lucia y el Sexo

Lucia y el Sexo is one of those films that aims to confuse. Just when you go down a rabbit-hole of confusion... literally. As perceptions begin to form effortlessly about every movie I watch before I even get my hands on it, I promptly hesitated on the verge of seeing this movie especially when it comes with this -> NC-17, The reviews I read were anywhere but between the extremes- either they call it a blundering erotic rollercoaster (the anglais speaking world), or its the opposite: a timeless work of art and creativity (the cinema-loving world). Some call the director Julio Medem one of the most "earthiest" in a country noted for its hearty cinematic eroticism. But one thing was evident: there definetly is going to be a lot of disturbingly erotic sequences in this insanely layered story. My previous encounter with such levels of endless, unforgiving, graphic imagery was when I watched Michael Winterbottom's 9 songs that left me, say quite unbalanced. But that was for a reason- I never managed to follow any plot whatsoever in it. Not even till today. That's not the case when it comes to Lucia y el Sexo. In fact the story is what is more captivating and excellently executed than all those wild moments in this movie that can cause that oh so familiar rush of blood to.. Thats what I inferred from the reviews and believe me, I was correct! At the end of the day it's up to the viewer what to make of it all. I happened to see an english dubbed version on abc last week. I think i'll download it right away..

"I'm sorry for everything I said when I left," a pretty young waitress whispers into a pay phone at the back of her restaurant in the opening scene of "Lucia y el Sexo." Regret and apprehension resonate in her voice. Her body is both tense and tired, not from too little sleep (although that's probably a part of it) but from the fatigue of having strain she can't resolve in a relationship that has been the most important thing in her life.

All of this is evident within seconds of this girl's presence on screen, so it's no wonder the composed yet sensual and expressive Paz Vega won a Goya (Spain's Oscar) for this performance. She goes on to cover a remarkable range of emotion, strength and vulnerability as the lovely Lucia, who by the end of that phone call has sensed desperate despondency in her already deeply-troubled lover. She dashes home to find a disturbing farewell note just as the phone rings with a call from the police expressing regret about an horrible automobile accident....
Lucia hangs up in the middle of the call, hastily packs a backpack and runs away to the only place she can think of that might put her heart at rest -- an island off the coast that Lorenzo (Tristan Ulloa), her lover, had always talked about but never taken her to visit.

Adept at plumping the depths of love and loss, "Lucia y el Sexo's" writer-director Julio Medem ("Lovers of the Arctic Circle") also has a talent for entrancing visuals and a penchant for extraordinary twist of fate. At the same time that Lucia is reaching the island -- a parched Mediterranean paradise of crystal blue seas and rocky cliff tops, photographed in transporting, heat-baked, sun-bleached colors -- Medem flashes back to six years before, when Lorenzo spent his 26th birthday on the island, making love in the ocean to a local girl with whom he didn't exchange names.

Completely unaware of the connection, on her solace-seeking trip in the present, Lucia befriends this same woman, a seemingly free spirit named Elena (Najwa Nimri from "Arctic Circle" and "Open Your Eyes") who is, in fact, also hiding from the memory of a personal catastrophe.
Medem then intertwines Lucia's emotional convalescence with the histories of all three characters in a heart-catching, hair-pin-curving narrative of circumstance, coincidence and destiny. Young Lucia's giddy, unorthodox seduction of Lorenzo -- a novelist she admired so much she resolved to make him fall in love with her -- is part of the story, as is their passionate, sexually adventurous love affair. Lorenzo's fortuitous discovery that he has a daughter -- a fact he withholds this from Lucia -- and a terrible tragedy that is an indirect result of this knowledge, sends the haunted writer into an emotional tailspin that begins to bring the film's themes full-circle.

Profound performances by Vega (who looks like a younger, fresher, more pithy Penelope Cruz), Ulloa and Nimri give the film such a compelling intimacy that it feels as if the emotions are wafting off the screen. This is especially true of the many carnal love scenes as if Lorenzo and Lucia. Bee-stung pixie Elena Anaya -- another Goya nominee for the film -- also makes an unforgettable impression as the little girl's babysitter, a sexual siren who ensnares Lorenzo as he tries to bond with his child surreptitiously.

At times Medem over-reaches in his quest for empathetic intensity. A character-establishing peripheral storyline about the babysitter being turned on by watching old porno movies starring her mom is excessive and ultimately unnecessary to the plot. The film is not well served by an on-camera birth scene that leaves nothing to the imagination. One more complaint: Because the audience is privy to connections that the characters are not, the last act drags a little while we wait for the other shoe to drop.

But the captivating psychological journeys in "Lucia y el Sexo" -- which contain far more intricacies and surprises than I've described here -- and Medem's remarkable, metaphorical filmmaking style make it possible to overlook such impediments and just let the picture's potency wash over you like the warm Mediterranean waters.

Courtesy of RB, whatever he/she is...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Samsara (2001)

Buddhism deals with birth, suffering and death and the unending life cycle is called Samsara. Buddha left his prince hood to seek an answer for the unending sufferings that he saw all around him. After the enlightenment, he said it is desire, the cause of all our miseries…so get rid of the desires…get rid of the world that you live in. Shut up in a cave and meditate. That's what we see first in this movie. Tashi, who was n a long meditation (for three years, three months, three weeks and three days) inside a cave in the Himalayas, is taken back to the monastery. After meeting with a village girl, he demands for a freedom to follow his carnal desires stating even Buddha had them until the age of 29. Seeing his lack of concentration in monastery duties and frequent wet dreams, the spiritual adviser grants him his freedom to find out life and make a decision on it. This makes up the first segment of the movie and it goes almost one hour.

The second segment is Tashi's marriage with Pema, and his life as a husband and father. This segment also runs for one hour and the final segment, which includes the conversation between Pema and Tashi, summarizes the whole point of the movie and lasts for about ten minutes. This is about the structure of Samsara. This is photographed in the high altitude locations in Ladakh in Kashmir and is very pleasant to watch. The narration is slow paced, which is apt for the spiritual content of the film. The love scenes were also photographed well and the music score was spiritual.

Samsara talks about the eternal conflict, the one between the flesh and spirit and at some point it grows to question the Buddha himself on a feminist perspective, by creating identical situations. At some point in the monastery segment, we hear a question, how do you keep a drop of water from ever drying up...? At the finishing of the movie, we get the answer, as carved on the back of a stone...By sending it into the sea. This can be read in two dimensions as well. How do you keep your carnal desires burning…? By indulging in them frequently. How do you keep your spirit alive? By immersing it into an ocean of spiritual activities. This is how I read Samsara. Samsara brings up some of the unanswered questions on whether Buddha was right to leave his family and impose the same sufferings onto the one who loved him. I think Buddha himself was confused after his enlightenment, and this confusion led to the great split among his followers towards Mahayana and Heenayana.

What I really liked about this film also is the fact that it presented us with the female point of view in the final monologue of Tashi's wife Pema. She was given no choice from him when he decided to go back to the monastery. She had to stay behind and take care of their son. She was shown to us as the keeper of the traditions (not allowing her son to play with the modern toy his father bought him from Leh) but at the same time she had that free spirit to make love to the unknown Lama and afterward to even marry him. I liked the sensitivity of the writer / director who cared not only to show us the pain of Pema when realizing she's losing his husband, but also to make her an intelligent woman who thinks and who turns out be as wise and devoted as her Lama husband.

It's less important whether you get any answers...and Samsara is one of the finest movies in recent years.

Lora Traykova

Le Doux pays de mon enfance

Roger Joly is a very successful salesperson at a prestigious automobile showroom. He's married to a beautiful wife, has three adorable kids and takes his family for vacation every week. A fine life like this made everyone admire him for what he was - perfect husband, honourable man, sincere and dedicated to his job and oh yes, everything french.
Turning point. His car gets stopped by police, since he forgot to wear his seat-belt. He gets ticketed, apologises and goes home as usual. Nothing unusual. But the police who now have him in their records are unable to find any trace of his identity, anywhere. They start to get doubts.. Does Roger Joly really exist? Or is there something wrong? How was this man's details never to be found anywhere in any goverment database? A lawyer is called in and he begins to investigate...
Roger did in fact exist for 17 years. Before that he was Aziz Bensala, a young lad who lived in Tunisia, came to marseilles, fell in love with france and its people, its language and its culture.. He had decided to remain in France and start a new life... And he had found bliss in France.. Until the day everything went to pieces.. Roger refuses to submit himself to the truth. With every evidence against him, the court declares that Roger Joly was in fact Aziz Bensala. A judge sentences him to five years in prison for usurpation of identity, forgery and use of forgeries and swindling. So Roger hangs himself that very night with the bed sheets of his prison cell. It’s not the prison sentence that broke Aziz’s spirit. He was no stranger to prison. But this time, the court had rummaged through the life of this Roger he claimed to be. Piece by piece, the judge had analyzed the puzzle in minute detail, exposed the fraud and delivered his conclusions: Roger Joly was a fiction. The man was sent back to the illegal immigrant he didn’t want to be; to this Aziz Bensala, born near Gabès, Tunisia, who went to school barefoot and had a wretched childhood; who had arrived in Marseilles in the mid-70s, after his brother, to find work that didn’t exist back home; who wanted to become part of a country, a culture he admired, to the point of inventing a new identity.
What strikes me most is the fact how much a person can fall in love with a culture.. He raises his children till his death feeding them with the same passion and love for the country.. But still the idea seems far fetched and except for Daniel Russo, as Mr.Joly a.k.a Aziz, there is nothing but the script that carries you along.

L' Ange de goudron

The only reason why I looked forward to seeing "Tar Angel" was that it had Hiam Abbas in it.. Having seen her in four or five movies till now, she had become my favourite actress from the middle-east.. i think she's Israeli.. Well the movie turned out to be worth a watch, for a lot more than her alone.
The movie begins with a scene inside a canadian mosque, where a prayer is in session, and each person who is attending the prayer looks like anyone but a canadian. Each one of them is an immmigrant into this country and almost everyone are illegal.
The Kasmis are a quiet family living their newfound lives in Canada, making the most of the little earnings the father Ahmed gets paid for operating cranes and stuff.. According to him he's privileged to just have a job on his hands... The son, Hafid has just turned 19.. goes to finishing school, the daughter has started going to school too, Hiam Abbas as Naïma is pregnant, carrying her third baby.. So the father has a job, the kids go to school, the wife is pregnant, clean records on the family, etc.. Easy for such a family to avoid deportation by the government.
Things seem to getting better for the family, until the son misteriously disappears one night and never shows up.. A few days before getting their citizenships sanctioned, Hafis is seen on television in the news channels through a cctv camera in the goverment offices. The news is about a group of radicals who have erased all data in the government offices, regarding the deportation of immigrants.. Hafid however remains as 'unidentified' in the news.. But Ahmed instantly panicks. He finds that his son has been inducted into a terrorist organization which is bent on saving the illegal immigrants from being deported to their respective countries.. He finds Huguette, Hafid's girlfriend who decides to help him find his son.. In reality its Huguette who had previously introduced Hafid into the group recently.., but somehow she never knew that he was going to be used for a suicidal mission like this, so much the reason for her help.
The movie drags a little during the middle when Ahmed, a very religious person (hell he dosen't even take wine.. in Canada!) is never at ease with Huguette, who is actually a tatoo artist.. every religious person's worst nightmares all over her and her attitude.
But once the son is found, things start to quicken. Hafid, however manages to suceed in the mission, destroying all the papers just before the immigrants leave.. However, he's beaten to death by the police officers.. right in front of his father, before he could stop his son.
The reason why I watched this movie, Hiam Abbas ended in dissatisfaction. She hardly has a role to play in here, as just a crying mother.. But the impressive performance by Zinedine Soualem and Catherine Trudeau compensate.. Immigration in Canada and france is a problem that can be examined a lot through movies lie these.. I never knew the enormity of the problem untill i saw movies like these.. Almost one third of the movies telecast on TV5 are somehow bordering on this theme..

Train de Vie

"Train of life", which it literally is in this movie, is probably one of those rare, very rare stories that succeed in creating humour out of the holocaust. I usually associate movies with the war in the background as very emotional, gory, etc. Movies that i watched regularly have conditioned my mind so, i guess.. Well, the previous movies based on the world war that i saw were Der Untergang and The Pianist, masterpieces in their own domains of creativity, yet the of-course-you-gotta-be-sad feel in them.. This one defies all that.. And how! It was ar=ired on TV5 sometime during september.
The story is about a religious, peace-loving, merry little French shtetl (Jewish village) which comes to know about the onset of the Nazis in the formative years of the oncoming holocaust.. and how they manage to flee...
Shlomo is the vilage idiot who finds out by sheer chance about the newly established military government's move over the jews in the nazi empire. Upon his word, village is thrown into pandemonium and fear, because they knew not how bad the situation actually is. The village rabbi however listens to Shlomo and on holding a council, decides that the best way to escape is to flee the country to Jerusalem in a train, a creaking old dead-wagon which they refurnish to look like as though they are coming from a jewish evacuation and are being taken to their deaths.. The train is commanded by a SS look-alike, Mordechai from their own village, who is taught to speak german.
The entire journey is completed as comfortable as possible for the villagers, while outside that train in the darkening world around them, it started to rain jewish blood.. and jews suffered.
Soon the uncharted train raises suspicion as it passes along the various stations en route ("Stations?? What stations?", the villagers ask. They don't have the slightest clue about trains!). The military soon steps into action and deploys enquiry posts along.. Mordechai however manages to make the officers believe that these jews are "special" ones and are being transported under direct orders from the Fuhrer himself!. There obviously will be no schedules prescribed for such a secret mission..
The germans thus end up providing complete security and right of way to a train carrying jews in comfortable coaches to their safety out of the country.. to Jerusalem..
There are plenty of scenes where i just culdn't help falling off my couch, laughing.. like for example the scene where the SS look-alike soldiers from the village observe sabbath on the way, and a anti-nazi activist faints on seeing the "soldiers" bowing and praying along with their jews.. Others include a scared Mordechai who fumbles while performing the nazi salute and shows his palm to the SS officer!
The last scene however is both scary and jubiliant as they cross the border and get scared, mistaking the russian soldiers for german troops...

Mais qui a tué Pamela Rose

"Mais qui a tué Pamela Rose" is the natural product of two men who have been watching too many American "whodunit". Hey, come on, we all have seen so many of those... and we like it, don't we? What's better than a "film noir"? That's probably what Kad and Olivier thought too; so they made a parody of these movies for us - and a rather good one. The peculiar thing about this movie is that the authors went to the very end of their idea. Along with all the murder and inquiry plot, they took from American "whodunit"... America. Hey, what if we all were American? So, they took natural sets and landscape of France and pretended them to be some Middle West place called Borsnville. Of course, they transformed them a little, and some sets are actually convincing (I think of the restaurants scenes, and the Motel). The characters are American too. Americans from the depth of America, characters taken straight out of some dark road movie. (the strip-teaser, the sheriff, the radio guy...).

Kad and Olivier have made what no one else has done before: on purpose, they have recreated a unique America, one made with heart by admirers who pretend they only know it from the outside, from movies. For instance, the name of the secondary characters are uncongruous common names, English words that just stick out from films when we see them over here: Mr Donuts, Dan Nuggets... and Riper has a recommendation from... Stevie Wonder! Another example of that is the "FBI University"... I really don't think such a thing exists!

In this extraordinary set evolve characters who want so badly to be American, who truly seem to believe they are. Jean-Pierre Rouve is great -and subtle- as this sheriff who feels that he might be homosexual... Darmont is impressive as a leather figure with santiag boots (I never thought I'd see him clad like that!). And, of course, Kad and Olivier -almost convincing in FBI agents!- are such as they always are: funny.

Well, time is to talk about the most important thing: the movie itself, its rhythm, its humour. If you like Kad and Olivier's sense of humour, you won't be disappointed. From the very first minute (a dedication to Christopher Colombus, the lad who "invented" America) to the last it is there, made of very seriously pronounced nonsense and silly drifts in classical situations -I like it because it is more of a language humour than a visual one. The first thirty minutes of the movie are hilarious, like this scene where Kad deals with Colombian drug dealers, or Olivier teaching in the FBI University. The second part of the movie is too slow with many punch lines just not up to our expectations. But overall, one has a very good time with this rather subtle parody: a good plot, good actors, and the precious feeling it's not been seen before.

By Aliqua salix