Mini reviews of 25 films seen at LIFF25

21/11/2011

Mini reviews of 25 films seen at the 25th Leeds International Film Festival 2011 in order of screenings.

#1: Guilty of Romance (Japan) had interesting moments (like the parallel storylines of crime investigation and someone walking into danger) but when the main character suddenly made no sense and story dragged the few good bits were overshadowed by repetitious dumbness. They had a good idea but failed to develop it. Marks 2.5/5

#2: Fuerteventura. A Swedish film about a guy who travels to Canary Island while grieving for his girlfriend and meets a girl who looks just like her… Grief is very hard to dramatise and endless moping, drinking and showering and more moping and drinking won’t make me empathise with the main character. Felt like a student film where the filmmaker asks you to feel deep emotions without earning them. Includes pretentious dreamy bits which didn’t add much. Twist ending was wasted due to lack of ideas and development of story. Marks 2/5
Dreamy bit dialogue example spoken by the barman: ‘There are tests to check if you’re dreaming. There are no tests to check if you’re awake.’ (cue expression of shock and horror on main character’s face and awe in the audience) Surely, the first test will suffice to prove either. Gh.

#3: Summer of Goliat. an odd documentary/fiction hybrid that wants to create mood like Apichatpong Weerasethakul but fails. An intriguing start: 11-year-old kids discussing whether their friend killed his girlfriend or not but that story is forgotten about right after the intro. Most interesting storyline was about a woman who had been dumped by her husband but that was overshadowed by the mess of too many meaningless episodes and oddities (a rehearsal for a scene that follows – meh?). Could’ve been good. Marks 2/5

#4: A Quiet Life. A relief to watch after the first three disasters. An engaging Italian crime drama about an Italian chef enjoying a quiet life in Germany; when found by his grown-up Italian son his Mafia past starts to catch up with him. Excellent performance by Servillo, some good drama going on but not original or deep enough to make a masterpiece, more like a good Sunday night crime drama about family ties. Marks 3.5/5

#5: 22nd of May. Most exciting and imaginative film so far! A film from Belgium about a security guard involved in a shopping mall bombing. A far better examination of grief than the Swedish film about moping, it covers different angles and perspectives of the same event, dealing with grief, responsibility and guilt. At first very confident in the style of storytelling it does go a bit off the rails when main focus goes off the main character is shared between him and two other men. Still, worth watching! Marks 4/5

#6: The Prize. 7-year-old girl Ceci lives with her mother in a dilapidated house by the cold bleak seaside. Set in Argentina during repressive military regime, Ceci’s mum is hiding from the authorities while Ceci has to listen to propaganda about brave soldiers at school and becomes confused about what opinions she’s allowed or not allowed to express in public… Superb performance from the girl, some excellent tense scenes (but also some too slow and ‘empty’ ones), naturalistic and sincere storytelling but not complex enough for my taste (not in a hurry to watch it again). Still, recommended viewing. Marks 4/5

#7: French film Nana about a 4-year-old girl living in the countryside. Basically, you’re watching a kid play for an hour, plus a few minutes dedicated to her parents’ problems. Gorgeous, beautifully shot, lovely locations and a cute kid, but that’s it. During Q&A, the director attached a lot of themes to the narrative which, I guess, were just a bit too thin and subtle in the film to be noticed, plus, ambiguity in a story that is sparse anyway, doesn’t help much. Marks 3/5

#8: New Jerusalem. An odd couple drama that took a bit of time to get going but turned into a fascinating relationship study between an emotionally suffering, educated and open minded Afgan veteran with Irish background and his boss who’s a narrow-minded racist Evangelical Christian but who really cares. An enjoyable and fascinating American indie film. Marks 4/5

#9: Oh, I love the Romanian new wave! Best Intentions is about a neurotic son who keeps fussing over her mother who’s had a minor stroke. Amazing naturalistic performances, not one false note, good characters (who create humour with their behaviour) and an engaging story. But. The only thing that bothered me was the point-of-view style of filming which meant that characters, when looking someone in the eye, looked straight into the camera. Couldn’t get used to it. Otherwise, a brilliant film. Marks 4.5/5

#10: Austrian film called Breathing about a boy in juvenile detention centre who gets a job as an undertakers’ assistant and looks up his mother. Well made, well performed and engaging enough… But. Reminded me of the style of brothers Dardenne but didn’t have the same level of intensity and drama. A very good film but not intriguing enough. Marks 4/5.

#11: Las Acacias. An Argentinian film about a lonely truck driver who gives a lift to a woman with a baby. Good performances but enough plot nor essence for a short film, no tension to carry the long, long, looooong silences. Did I say actors are getting younger? The start of this film is a 5-month-old baby who got the liveliest reactions from the audience. Marks 3/5 (generous)

#12: Swedish film She Monkeys about teenage girls doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be – it’s a bit ‘psycho friend gets you in trouble’, it’s a bit ‘competition ruins friendship’, it’s a bit about jealousy, a bit of this, a bit of that. I’m also not fond of the thought that ‘oh, let’s bring in a whacko character to make things interesting’. No, you still need a plot, you need dramatic events. Synopsis says ‘taboo-challenging’ and characters push ‘each other to their limits’ (of how long you can keep a wooden blank expression on your face?) Best thing in it was the younger sister who fancied her babysitter, that was engaging and humorous. Marks 3/5
Where are exciting, dramatic, intriguing films?! Too many safe mediocre simplistic well-done forgettable films. Looking forward to watching We Have a Pope tonight, that one sounds like it could be more intriguing.

#13: Finally something brilliant! Italian film We Have a Pope about a newly elected pope who doesn’t want the job. Pure originality from start to finish, there was skill in every scene, it never went where you expected, always surprising, a very clever and very funny film. I was truly impressed all the way through till the great ending that resonates well with the current (or not so current, and universal) issues with leadership and hunger for power. One of the best films of the year, no doubt. Marks 5/5

#14: Hungarian classic Red Psalm is set in the 1890s, about oppressed farm workers going on strike. Interesting form of storytelling and a technical challenge (composed of 26 carefully choreographed shots). Yes, I get it – people are oppressed, they stand up for themselves, there’s violence… but what about it? There’s no comment or angle, just form. Marks 3/5

#15: Let the Bullets Fly, a Chinese action comedy so dull we walked out during the first half (life is too short). Annoying characters, meaningless dialogue (is shouting meant to be funny?), attempts at inventive action were overshadowed by unimaginative storytelling and lack of drama. Marks 1/5

#16: My 20th Century, a Hungarian film from 1989. A story about twins who get separated, one becomes a feminist anarchist and the other a hedonistic courtesan. Some lovely imagery (Edison’s light bulb scenes), interesting storytelling (parallel stories of the twins, plus interludes like the one below where starts tell the dog to run free), some interesting relationships when one man meets both sisters but can’t tell it’s a different person. An interesting film but could’ve had more depth. Marks 3/5

#17: Dekalog (1990) parts 2 and 4 – good old Pieciewicz and Kieslowski. Part 2 is about an old doctor and a woman next door whose husband is dying while she’s expecting a child from another. Part 4 is about a young woman who finds an envelope on her dad’s desk with ‘Open after my death’ written on it. Engaging and nuanced exploration of different types of human relationships. Marks 5/5

#18: Kieslowski planned a new trilogy based on Dante’s The Divine Comedy but sadly died before he could make it. Kieslowski’s long time collaborator, screenwriter Pieciewicz turned Kieslowski’s script notes into a screenplay. (Tom Tykwer made Heaven in 2002.) Hell (2005) is a story of three sisters and their relationships affected by a childhood trauma. An intelligent and engaging film with some underdeveloped (male) characters and performances. Marks 4/5

#19: Swedish film Involuntary had about a zillion parallel unconnected storylines. Most of them had one or two excellent intense scenes in it (like the one with a teacher who witnesses another teacher mistreating a kid and stands up for the kid, later beginning to feel as an outcast amongst teachers as a result) but each storyline could’ve made a 3-scene short film, they were that sparse. The themes of responsibility to self and others (and embarrassment) could’ve been explored more in depth had they not wasted time on too many empty scenes and unnecessary storylines. Marks 3.5/5

#20: Small Town Murder Songs – a very enjoyable Canadian crime drama about a cop with a violent past, disowned by his family, who works hard on becoming better. Stormare gives an excellent performance as a man with unreleased anger. Only a tad uneven in a few places and just a little bit of ropy dialogue, but otherwise stylish and memorable. Loved the music. The more I think about it the more I like it. Marks 4/5

#21: French/Belgian black comedy Kill Me Please about a suicide clinic where patients can choose how they want to go and have a situation staged for them, but when the disgruntled locals attack the clinic they react in an unexpected way. The irony and comedy could’ve been taken further had the plot not been too random, it was dark but not funny enough. Marks 3/5

#22: South Korean action thriller The Yellow Sea is about a taxi driver in Yanji who is hired to kill someone in South Korea, while he’s there he also tries to find his wife who disappeared after going to work there. This is a very enjoyable and a well made action film, the main character is human and vulnerable which makes it more intense, it’s imaginative and it’s exciting and totally relentless (people were gasping and laughing from tension in the cinema). This will be in the same category as the Bourne films and The Fugitive, although not as intricate plotwise but does include some social issues. If you like action, watch this! Marks 4/5

#23: Hungarian master Bela Tarr’s last film The Turin Horse is a beautiful piece of cinema. Nietzsche sees a cab driver beat his horse, Nietzsche puts his arms around the horse and sobs, then goes back home and after two days of lying silent on the sofa says ‘Mum, I’m stupid’. A month later he’s diagnosed with a mental illness that makes him speechless and bed-ridden for the last 11 years of his life. That’s the backstory. The film is about what happened to that horse. Marks 4/5

#24: Films are meant to be seen on a big screen! Although physically hard to sit through, the seven and a half hour Hungarian opus Sátántangó is a lot more powerful and immersive in the cinema. The story about the death of communism is set in a village where life has come to a standstill and people wait for their money so that they can leave when two crooks return with other plans. I feel like I’ve actually walked down the streets of the run-down village, walked in the mud and rain and sat in that pub. It’s a visual treat where the duration of the shots make you really look and really see, a wonderful escape from the world of short attention span. Marks 5/5

#25: Shame, Steve McQueen’s second film co-written with Abi Morgan was a disappointment after Hunger which was such a bold and impressive debut film. To sum it up: he’s a sex addict, sister comes to visit, he’s a bit annoyed, sister is upset, the end; plus a number subplots that go nowhere. Yes, sex addiction is a provocative subject matter but just having a subject matter is not enough. Someone has an addiction and…? As a comparison – watching a drug addict shoot up for 90mins won’t make me care. Fassbender’s wholehearted performances doesn’t make up for the lack of story and drama, and the terrible student film gimmicks to create empathy – character is upset and goes for a jog and I’m supposed to empathise? A montage (of what we more or less already know) is supposed to create a dramatic culmination? And where was the shame? Marks 3/5

——————————————————————

Top 5:

We Have a Pope

Small Town Murder Songs

Best Intentions

The Yellow Sea

New Jerusalem

(plus Sátántangó from the retrospective)

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