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Reviews

Punishment Park
(1971)

Extremely relevant, audacious and very impressive pseudo-documentary
My curiosity and patience to finally see this controversial film, which now has been released on DVD for the first time in the UK, has been more than rewarded. Peter Watkins has excelled himself in his audacity and technical skills. This pseudo-documentary is certainly ahead of its time and still frighteningly relevant and up to date.

The film is inspired by the upheaval of the late sixties in the US, when the government has increased its legitimized use of violence and oppression, while the anti-war movement reacts increasingly violent and radical. In order to deal with both this, the overpopulation of prisons and to provide special training to riot police units, the government has introduced the so-called punishment parks. Convicted 'criminals', mostly activists, are given the 'choice' to either be locked up in prison for years and years, or spend three days in one of these parks, where they either gain their freedom their death or an even longer prison sentence. The situation in the parks is beyond their worst expectations, however. It reminded me of a sort of realistic version of Battle Royale (2000).

The film's structure is extremely effective and recalls parallels with Cannibal Holocaust, which is made almost 10 years later. Both movies are constructed and filmed in such a way that the viewer is challenged in thinking and feeling he is actually watching a real documentary and therefore shocked, even though aware of the fact that: this is a film. Both confront us with the inherently violent nature of mankind, but where Cannibal Holocaust is devoid of any deeper meaning (above all, it is an exploitation movie in every sense of the word) and does not raise any critical questions about the state of the world, Punishment Park does just that.

I have been profoundly impressed with Punishment Park and find it hard to believe how such a powerful and important film could have been rejected and marginalized for so long. Maybe that says enough about the truth of its content, about the way power structures in this world function. I do not agree with the critique that Watkins polarizes and stereotypes, because the movie depicts activists and the keepers of the legitimized power structures who are in reality as polarized as they are here. If they weren't, there would not be any conflict and therefore no change in our societies. In reality, confrontations between these two groups often take stereotypical forms, whether you place them between activists and establishment in Latin America, Russia or New York City. If these groups would not be polarized to these extremes, the activists would be part of the silent majorities that tacitly complain but at the same time reside in the injustices of the world.

As Peter Watkins tells us in the introduction on the DVD, the actors in Punishment Park are for the most part amateurs. Most kids were real activists from LA, most policemen had been part of the national forces and even some of the members of the tribunals are part of the social and political establishment of the time. Not introducing both groups previous to the shooting of the scenes taking place in the improvised court room, adds to spontaneous and improvised feel. Parallels are drawn with issues of the time, such as the repression of Black Panther members (one of the black prisoners is said to resemble the convicted charismatic BPleader Bobby Seale) and the trial of the Chicago seven.

I admire Watkins' obvious and sincere engagement with injustice and his concern with human rights and the increasingly repressive measures taken by governments (nowadays in the name of the War in Terror) to silence those that do not agree and refuse to be brainwashed. Punishment Park remains to be an extremely important movie that should be shown in schools and seen by everybody who shares these concerns. Maybe its marginalization can finally be made up for.

Bullet Boy
(2004)

Moving, with a bite of realism and a dose of moralism
I would like to start off saying that I appreciated the movie for dealing with the black community in London. No rude cockney gangsters, catchy crime scams or laughably stupid dope dealers. The family this movie deals with is a single mum home with two sons, one just out of prison, the other still too young to be involved in anything hazardous, but looking up at his brother and already copying some of his ways.

I enjoyed the language and the characters who were all convincing and complex enough but, how carefully put down they were, the more obvious and stereotypical were the things happening to them. Everything going from bad to worse, who plays with fire is gonna get burnt. And then the ultimate contrast of either sinking into crime and sin (devil), or choosing the righteous path and go to church every Sunday (god).

This easy moralism hurt the rest of the film. It made things predictable. It was like a newspaper article collage, one shock after the other. It took away much of the complexity that I found in the characters themselves. It really is a shame because the development of the characters could have been much more subtle and would have fit in better with the style of the movie that deals with a gritty context matter but managed to use a soft and sometimes almost dreamy camera and score, not unlike other recent British films, such a 'Morvern Callar' and '16 Years of alcohol'.

Les princes
(1983)

refreshing and gripping portrait of social outcasts
Les princes is the debut movie of the director of succesful gypsy movies such as gadjo dilo and vengo, which focus mostly on music. Les princes paints a portrait of a father, daughter and grandmother living in an almost abandoned and decaying outskirt of paris, where, surprisingly enough, the gendarmes still find it necessary to bother people and house owners still dare to evict people living in these dumps. The tone is desperate at times, showing the immense inequality and racism gypsies are faced with, but it also exposes subtly the incompatibilities and inability of the two sides to understand and respect each other more. That made this movie on gypsy life stand out, neither romanticising nor revealing anything. Inevitably in a movie on gypsies, there was lots of humor as well, showing how stupidity and ignorance can prevail among the gadje, but also making fun and affirming stereotypes on gypsies, like their renowned talent for stealing. All this still left enough space for the nostalgia and tragedy that are also entangled in gypsy music and legends.

Lucía y el sexo
(2001)

beautifully, wildly, mysteriously explicit and implicit
With Lucia y el sexo Julio Medem draws on a lot of his familiar themes. Destiny,coincidence and fate alternating courses during people's lives. He also handled love and memories as important drives of people. Children tend to portray people's consciousness, with their fresh and honest innocence. As Luna's fate in this movie both infects and cleanses Salvador, taking him through his past and present.

Medem also likes to use nature to symbolize stages and feelings in his character's lives. The moon, soil, water and fish all come back repeatedly, each with a different meaning. This gives the movie a beautiful dreamy atmosphere, strongly backed up by the camera work.

Now to the sex in the movie. It's very strong from the beginning, but besides it's explicitness Medem also deals with it very sensitively. The sex is arousing but meaningful too. Anyone who's been in a passionate relationship must be touched by Salvador and Lucia's sex life, leading toward an almost dangerous addiction. I wondered if the rest of their relationship was strong enough to pass the test of time though, sex seemed to be at the core of their love. Some of the sex scenes were very aesthetically directed and filmed. The cunnilingus scene on this symphony-like music was classic! It's definitely the best oral sex scene I've ever seen on film. Arousing with a smile. I was also happy to see that the UK-version of the video was uncut, showing the male organs. Very refreshing that men are also portrayed vulnerably in a movie. The sex is much stronger and important in the first part of the film. That was functionable in the story as the characters saturate themselves in it, leading to problems, but somehow to me it also felt unbalanced.

Julio Medem has really made a beautiful film with Lucia y el sexo. I found it profoundly moving and captivating. You have to let yourself be carried away though or you might become saturated yourself, with the abundance of symbolism and sex.

De zee die denkt
(2000)

too silly to even be pretentious
I won't spend a lot of time nor energy on this comment. I just want to add it because all the comments were so positive I felt like I just had to let people know that not everyone is so thrilled, let alone intellectually provoked by this attempt at creating a captivating philosophical cinematic enigma. Some scenes seemed promising, playing with visual dimensions, but couldn't hold up the rest. I felt like I was stoned for the first time again, having semi-philosophical conversations with fellow adolescents.

What a futile attempt to raise Dutch cinema to new heights. I'd rather watch Jesus is een Palestijn, without all the pretentions and with straight forward humor, also raising questions about life and the realities we create for ourselves.

Gert de Graff is not Jean-Luc Godard or Tarkovsky and appearantly never will be.

Waking the Dead
(2000)

Emotional and convincing proof that love does not conquer all
I'm not to big on drama, especially not love drama's. The fact that Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connoly star in this movie made me decide to give this one a fair chance though. That was a good decision...

Waking the Dead is a subtle and quite intelligent film on the inner struggle between idealism and ambition. Moreover it's about lost love. When Sarah has died Fielding works on his ambition to become a politician. But Sarah's idealism and unconditional love for people remains with him and takes a run with his mind when he is close to the congressional elections. Fielding starts seeing Sarah at places, almost driving him to the edge.

I started taking Sarah's part here as a metaphor for his true human side, surpressed by politics, easy to corrupt a sincere mind. The viewer can feel relieved by the fact that Sarah's images make Fielding aware of his environment and the fakeness of politics and the appearances of the people involved in them, like his new wife, cousin of his "patron".

The years of Sarah and Fielding still together in 1972/73 follow up 1982, the year of the elections, in shape of flashbacks. I was quite taken in by their relationship. This was done well and convincing. Their personality differences show, it also shows how hard they make their love sometimes. On the other hand we feel how strong they feel for each other, the sex scenes actually enhancing this. At one point their love making is acted beautifully, seeing only their facial expressions.

The only thing that disappointed me was the ending. I don't want to spoil it for you, so if you don't want to read this don't. The film slips into something cheesy like "Ghost", which it managed to avoid during the rest of the film. Next thing we see Fielding helping people who send him letters, as if he were some patronizing generous King in the Middle Ages. In other words, he is still trapped in a system of lies, deceit and self interest, so in order to soothe his conscience (in the shape of Sarah's ghost) he uses his power (which earlier he wouldn't even do for his own brother) to help a few individuals, out of the millions still suffering from the system. I don't know but that seemed pretty weak to me.

Mononoke-hime
(1997)

Disney eat your heart out!
Mononoke Hime is definitely the best fairytale cartoon I have ever seen. Not only is the animation outstanding, the story is beautiful too. At last the viewer is treated with an intelligent cartoon, as so many are made and so few distributed, especially in Europe (shame on the film industry!).

Miyazaki's style is wonderful. I have enjoyed this film thoroughly three times. It deals with the opposing forces of man vs. nature. This fact gives the film an extra dimension. Things aren't black and white as they are in mainstream American cartoons.

Some scenes are pretty adult in the portrayal of violence (then again if your a Japanese kid, no harm done right?) and the philosophical layer the story contains. At the same time it's plain fairy tale and warrior saga. Beautiful landscapes, amazing characters (don't you just love the little white silly forest spirits?) and exciting moments.

I can strongly recommend this film to many people. Some are hesitant about watching cartoons, they expect Disney style animation and storyline. This film is on a much higher level though. It deals with an element of human nature which has taken the worst of us. The essence of Mononoke Hime is the inevitability of human development, exploiting nature and taking the earth's destiny in our own hands. Hereby we have killed the forests spirit, as indigenous people's everywhere are very aware of. They are dying with it.

Take these dimensions of the film as you will. If you just want to enjoy a great piece of animation, without bothering to see the deeper meaning, be my guest and see this film too!

Jezus is een Palestijn
(1999)

the funniest dutch film ever
I don't care what anyone says about this film. For one thing it is very silly, but it is also extremely cool and funny. A film like this could never have been made by anyone but an eccentric Dutch director.

His latest film Met Grote Blijdschap shows of a greater talent to direct actors and get the most out of them, but it's also a lot more boring and serious.

Jesus is een Palestijn totally takes the p... at religious cults both for the unquestionable faith and the money they ask from their followers. Thereby I like to think it challenges the whole idea of religion and following any leader who doesn't allow you your own world views. For this reason this film is pretty daring and certainly unconventional.

I thought it was extremely funny and inventive. Hans Teeuwen, a stand-up comedian in real life, is very disarming as the friendly and somewhat naive Ramses, stuck under the "tiranny" of his Indian guru and his blind followers. Kim van Kooten manages to make a convincing dominating and bitchy sister.

The scenes taking place in the multi-cultural Bijlmer brilliantly put this often forsaken neighbourhood in the spotlight. The scenes taking place at the cult's area are shot at the Westergasfabriek in Amsterdam, as some would like to know.

The film is not a serious one and doesn't have any pretentions about that. It's uncomplicated and forward, uncompromising and fresh. I was very pleasantly surprised when I saw it on TV. I guess some would call it crap or nonsense, which it's also, both! That's exactly why I think this is the funniest Dutch film ever made. Not for everyone I'm sure though.

Mulholland Dr.
(2001)

lynch makes a collage of his previous work
Don't get me wrong, I am a great admirer of Lynch's work. Not just his beautifully strange haunting films, but his painting and photography as well. I have seen Lost Highway at least five times and it still intrigues me. I think Eraserhead is one of the scariest cult horrors I have seen. The calming beauty of Straight Story couldn't have been captured by anyone else but Lynch. The image of Bob from Twin Peaks can stil make me shiver thinking about it... but... Mulholland Drive didn't do those things for me.

I think it is Lynch's most overrated work so far. When these other films came out people were probably not ready for them yet. When Mulholland Drive came out, I guess they were, so it was hauled by the press and audience as something they had never seen before. And this is exactly where I think the film gets stuck!

I almost feel bad giving this critical review, but I feel by doing this I am actually doing credit to the genius of Lynch's mind. Although I'm not sure if the man himself would agree! I think Lynch could do better. Let me start by saying that I did enjoy the film. The atmosphere was still beautiful dreamy like. It did miss the nightmarish dimension of Lost Highway though. Maybe cuz Betty, even when she turns darker, was so annoyingly nice and sweet. There was a fair amount of your regular dry humor and some of the characters managed to give me the creeps for a moment, be it that they never had a deeper function.

The plot itself soon lost my interest. Maybe cuz I already knew the trick not to look for a binding thread too much. You know with Lost Highway I still look for a missing piece of the puzzle, but in Mulholland Drive there are so many missing pieces you soon give up. Maybe it's not fair that I'm comparing this film to Lost Highway so much, but what can you expect when even the music, pretty decisive in creating the atmosphere, was identical at times.

Then there was the dwarf we know from Twin Peaks. Didn't Lynch have any new ideas of creating some other crazily disturbing characters? As if he put them in for people unfamiliar with his work. Or is Mulholland Drive an ode, a collage, to what he did before. An ode out of the mind of some disturbed girl with a multiple personality syndrome?

We know Lynch has a very typical way of handling the camera, which was one of the reasons to make a film with such a common story as The Straight Story still so beautiful and strange. The camerawork of Mulholland Drive was too identical to Lost Highway though, but not as effective. I didn't get any goosebumps. I just felt dreamily entertained for two and a half hours.

The love scenes between Rita and Betty were nice and seemed sincere. Their relationship as a whole was convincing. That's were I liked the twist in the plot. But then a lot of the rest seemed kind of useless entourage. I don't know but Mulholland Drive really disappointed me coming out of this brilliant mind, I'm sorry to say...

Tykho Moon
(1996)

A live action version of the comics succesfully captures their mood
Being familiar with Enki Bilal's work I was happy to get a chance to see this film, which is on limited supply in Europe. The feel and looks of the comics are well realized in this live action film, situated in a kind of post- apocalyptic France. Apart from the scenes situated on the moon, where the dictatorial Mac B'ee family is ruling. Their search for the former organ donor Tykho Moon, who himself is amnesiac after the first operation, to cure the family from a strange disease, provides the plotline. The actors are well chosen, matching the drawings of Bilal characters. Moreover they're top French actors. I wish more American actors would sometimes choose to do more daring and interesting stuff. The decors and costumes were nice but a bit too obvious sometimes. I did enjoy the icey blue teint covering it all though. This depressing constant paleness in the sky contrasted with an image of the Eiffel Tower with the upper half cut off is just brilliant and still makes me smile thinking about it now. The film is capturing enough and the plot revealing enough till the end to also satisfy people who don't care for Bilal comics. Pre-Amelie (if I may) Jeunet et Caro fans as well as people who like more bizarre French suspense like l'Appartement should have a good time watching this film.

Donnie Darko
(2001)

the eerie and sarcastic tone of the film stuck in my head for days
This wonderful film is soothing and disturbing at the same time. I guess it depends on who you identify with. The strong catharsis the film is leading towards was the most comforting ending I've experienced in a film in a long time. There may still be hope for all those who don't fit in and wonder if they are really the only sane ones among all those who are really just afraid of you. When society says you are negative or weird when you know that you're the only one who can actually deal with the truth. This is perfectly illustrated by the role of Patrick Swayze (comparable to the role of Tom Cruise in Magnolia)as the clean cut instructor on living with fear, his oversimplified "philosophy" of human emotion. No wonder he is metaphorized as the Anti Christ! I thought the film was filled with references to eighties teen films, ranging from Back to the Future to Carrie, but with a bitterly sarcastic undertone. The sneering cynicism at all those values Americans claim to hold so high it rises above them, was excellent. To a European audience some issues raised, like banning Graham Greene's books, are probably ridiculous and out of the question in Europe. To totally grasp some of these issues I guess you need good knowledge of American white middle-upper class society. Overall the film is very original though at the same time it definitely fits in the line of the new genre of American films exposing the other, darker, if you will, side of supposedly ideal suburbian society, like American Beauty and Todd Solondz' films have done. Donnie Darko leaves you paralyzed and confused but it also made me feel wonderful. The fantastic elements are beautiful and daring. I was so sure that Donnie's hallucinations were real, that they were merely a higher step to the essence of being. It's a beautiful film in many ways, I didn't even mention the beautiful camerawork, adding to the dreamy atmosphere. I'm glad to see some new talent has risen again!

Donnie Darko
(2001)

the eerie and sarcastic tone of the film stuck in my head for days
This wonderful film is soothing and disturbing at the same time. I guess it depends on who you identify with. The strong catharsis the film is leading towards was the most comforting ending I've experienced in a film in a long time. There may still be hope for all those who don't fit in and wonder if they are really the only sane ones among all those who are really just afraid of you. When society says you are negative or weird when you know that you're the only one who can actually deal with the truth. This is perfectly illustrated by the role of Patrick Swayze (comparable to the role of Tom Cruise in Magnolia)as the clean cut instructor on living with fear, his oversimplified "philosophy" of human emotion. No wonder he is metaphorized as the Anti Christ! I thought the film was filled with references to eighties teen films, ranging from Back to the Future to Carrie, but with a bitterly sarcastic undertone. The sneering cynicism at all those values Americans claim to hold so high it rises above them, was excellent. To a European audience some issues raised, like banning Graham Greene's books, are probably ridiculous and out of the question in Europe. To totally grasp some of these issues I guess you need good knowledge of American white middle-upper class society. Overall the film is very original though at the same time it definitely fits in the line of the new genre of American films exposing the other, darker, if you will, side of supposedly ideal suburbian society, like American Beauty and Todd Solondz' films have done. Donnie Darko leaves you paralyzed and confused but it also made me feel wonderful. The fantastic elements are beautiful and daring. I was so sure that Donnie's hallucinations were real, that they were merely a higher step to the essence of being. It's a beautiful film in many ways, I didn't even mention the beautiful camerawork, adding to the dreamy atmosphere. I'm glad to see some new talent has risen again!

Zuotian
(2001)

a gripping and intelligently constructed film with great acting
I saw this film at the Rotterdam International Film Festival 2002. This seemed to be one of the less popular films on the festival, however, as it turned out, all the more interesting.

The story, of an actor trying to come to grips with himself and his environment after withdrawing from a drug addiction, is based on actual facts. Moreover, the characters playing in the film are the real people living this experience over again, this time for the film, which is partly set up as a stage play. Not only do they all happen to be good actors, Jia Hongsheng's parents are actors in real life as well, the methods used in highlighting their relationship towards Jia are very effective.

Jia Hongsheng is the actor of some Chinese action films late eighties start nineties. Later you can see him in great films such as Frozen and Suzhou River. In between these two career paths Jia becomes a drug addict and looses all drive to act or even do anything productive, except for making somewhat futile attempts at becoming a guitar virtuoso.

I like the way the writer of the scenario choose to emphasize on his behavior after withdrawal more than on the horror of drugs. We really feel the pain and struggle Jia is in. At the same time we hate him for the way he treats those around him.

The film draws the viewer into a tiring pattern Jia seems to be caught in, dragging with him his parents and sister who try to take care of him. Because there are personal 'interviews' with the characters we feel like we are getting to know Jia not only through himself but through others as well.

The film has a heavy feel, but scenes of Jia cycling through Bejing and partying with his friends lighten the tone. So does the bitter humor in a lot of events throughout the film. The music is beautiful and stayed with me for a while after. This is a film that might not easily appeal to many people but for those interested in the more serious and modern Chinese film this is a strong recommendation.

Requiem for a Dream
(2000)

mind blowing film, speeding towards a powerfully horrible climax
When the film started I was quite easily overtaken by it, the melodic music by the Kronos Quartet backed up by a trip hop kinda beat effectively adding to this. I loved the way the camera and lightning backed up the mood of the moment, or rather the season, as the film is divided in the four seasons. These set the mood and atmospheres accordingly. This is especially clear (would be the right word to use here!) in the Spring and Summer. The lights outside are blinding, so blinding this should either be considered as surreal or as being an omen, if you will, of the things to come. Don't be tempted by the brightness! The film deals with four personalities and the ways they get dragged in a world of addiction. In case of the three young people it's dope, in case of the mother, beautifully and hauntingly acted, by drugs as well, but prescribed drugs, for her to loose weight, not less dangerous. The fact that both these narcotics have been set as equally seductive and damaging was to me a great element of the film. Films where drugs kill kids have been made plenty, we have been warned sufficiently I would say. But placing kids and dope on the same line as people being on medication or, as in this film, diet pills(aka speed) adds a new and powerful dimension. At the same time this was the best part in the film for me. The way this woman who so desperately wants to be young and beautiful again is pain steaking. It also reminds a girl nowadays to try to not be dependent too much, either on beauty or on a husband that will provide for you, till he's dead (and you're not!). The camera work here is excellent, as she becomes more and more paranoid, the camera moves with this, and makes things equally paranoid and shaky for the viewer. The path the kids go in the film starts off as being almost too perfect, to me anyway. The film appeared as an Mtv video almost and seems to bring a message of "dope is cool", with these hip kids shooting up while mixing records on their deks. At first this kind of annoyed me, not cuz I believe drugs are all that bad and shouldn't be portrayed as giving satisfaction, but just cuz it seemed too easy to watch these perfectly sedated creatures. Then, when the mood of the film became more desperate and grim it seemed like the supposedly ideal state of the beginning was contrasting the rest perfectly. Maybe this great beginning was only illustrating the dream and illusion the kids were living in, not only fooling the viewer, but also themselves. On the other hand, things could have been close to perfect all the time, had they been more responsible. Exactly how the kids get drawn in a downward spiral so fast was not as convincing to me as the way the woman gets in deeper and deeper. She is haunted by her memories of the past and idealizes her forgone beauty and the way she used to look in her red dress, how she could charm all those around her, the only way she thinks to achieve this again is to fit into that dress and appear on television. She wants her moment of fame, tragically portraying the average American and the dominating role TV has taken in their lives. TV here seems almost like a metaphor for the misleading lures modern capitalist life has brought us, and that are slowly consuming us instead of us consuming them and growing. The film moves to a terrible climax, which was done very well and extremely effective. Even those not easily shocked will not find it easy to stay unaffected, getting drawn in the misery and cruelty of the world to those who have lost control. The scenes follow each other up in rapid speed, everything mixed in a whirlwind of deceit, frustration, despair and inevitability.

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