Why the lesbians? 'Boys on Film' continues to lose its way
I have nothing against lesbians - some of my best friends, etc etc - but 'Boys on Film' is supposed to be about the *male* homosexual experience, so the inclusion of 'Dusk', which is about two women's relationship - even if one of them *does* dress as a man - is out of place in this collection, worthy though it may be. (Some viewers will find certain parts of it - especially a scene where a hospital nurse is abusive about transgender people - very similar to 'Brace' (BoF 14) which is not a surprise as transgender activist Jake Graf wrote both films. Is he running out of ideas?)
Then there is 'Run(a)way Arab', about a drag queen remembering his childhood. Not all drag queens are homosexual, and there is nothing to suggest the central character here is gay. So why is the film included?
Even 'Jermaine and Elsie', the most interesting film in terms of character depth and competent film-making, has little overt gay content. True, Jermaine is seen in the company of a man, but they could just as easily be friends, or even brothers, as lovers. Jermaine's sexuality, whatever it is, is barely mentioned and is certainly not a major thrust of the story.
Other films just drag: 'No More We' could have been an interesting look at the breakdown of a long-term, committed homosexual relationship, but the two protagonists are so dull, spending lengthy periods staring into the middle distance while talking about who gets the bed, that the film seems four times as long as it actually is. Even 'The Fish Curry', interesting in that one rarely sees animation from India, could probably have shaved a few minutes from its running time with no loss of atmosphere or story.
There is also very little (adult) nudity! Pretty much only 'Between Here and Now' delivers on that score, and even then the sex scene is filmed so shadowy and with such quick-cut editing you are not sure which character's buttocks you are looking at (it is a very erotic scene, though).
It is not all bad: I have already mentioned 'Jermaine and Elsie' as being interesting, and 'Blood Out of a Stone' is sweet, featuring a novel idea for a first date. 'Between Here and Now' has a definite beginning, middle and end. But several of the films have a 'film school final term project' feel to them, and more than one have the writer/director/producer also casting himself as star - making them easy to view as mere vanity projects.
I do not regret spending £3.99 to rent 'Boys on Film' 19 from Amazon, but there is no way I would pay more than that to *own* it. BoF really needs to up the quality of the films it features - and it definitely needs to return to its original focus.
Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani) comes from a family of accomplished - if impoverished - dancers: his grandmother danced at La Scala; his parents at the Royal Albert Hall. His brother is a member with him in an ensemble specialising in Georgian traditional dance. But unlike his irresponsible sibling - who is more interested in general carousing - Merab dedicates himself to his craft, spending hours at practice both in the studio and at home. When talented, self-assured and charismatic newcomer Irakli (Bachi Valishvili) joins the ensemble, Merab's nose is immediately put out of joint. But Irakli's cheerfulness and talent gradually win over Merab and the two young men grow closer in ways that Merab had never expected.
Although it may be in danger of becoming known as "that gay Georgian dance movie", 'And then we Danced' seems to me to be more about a young man breaking free from the chains of tradition: not only is Merab infinitely more relaxed and comfortable when being introduced to Tbilisi's gay scene, but he is inspired to rebel against traditional dance, rooted as it is in macho culture: "He's making a mockery of Georgian dance" complains one old crusty during the film's climactic audition scene (viewers may find themselves reminded of 'Strictly Ballroom', a completely different sort of film!) Gelbakhiani does a nice job of portraying Merab's intensity - and both he and Valishvili do well to not crack a smile during a scene of frenzied mutual masturbation. Some parts of the film seem as if they have been shoehorned in to give a crash-course in Georgian culture (such as a scene with middle-aged polyphonic singers performing at a young woman's birthday party - would that really happen?) But I did appreciate the opportunity to see a film set in Georgia, a country which rarely makes it to the West's cinemas.
And then there's the dancing: we never see the dancers performing on stage for a paying audience, but there are plenty of rehearsal scenes and they really are spectacular. Merab may be "making a mockery" of traditional Georgian dance, but with its dramatic, speedy style and athletic movements I think the artform could grow in international popularity as a result of its exposure in this film.
Not bad - but possibly the sweariest film I've ever seen
'Moffie' is one of those films where a boy joins the military, goes through the random humiliations of basic training and Becomes A Man.
Conscripted into the South African military during the dying days of the apartheid era, Nick Van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer) arrives at a training camp run by sadistic officers whose vocabulary appears to consist mainly of the word 'f***' (with an occasional 'c***' tossed in for variety). The next several months feature route marches, bullying in the barracks and the eating of vomit. There is also a tentative, platonic homosexual relationship with fellow recruit Stassen (Ryan de Villiers) - very dangerous as homosexuality is illegal. And always in the future lurks a posting to fight communist rebels on the border with Angola.
While the basic premise is not, of course, new, what makes this film different are the South African setting and the homosexual element (which, contrary to some publicity, is merely a part of the story rather than being the whole). As Nick, Brummer is a heartthrob in the making and I also found Matthew Vey, who plays Nick's cynical friend Michael, appealing. Hilton Pelser as the sergeant must have needed throat sweets to cope with all the bellowing he is required to do, but is also given a moment of awkward vulnerabilty. It might, perhaps, have been nice if de Villiers was given more to play with as regards his character; for such a pivotal role Stassen is curiously one-note, reduced pretty much to noble suffering. But that is not a major difficulty; this film is well worth watching. Seen at the London Film Festival 2019.
Obviously '#metoo' hasn't yet made it to Poland...
Laura is an attractive, ball-busting Polish hotel executive who fights her corner in board meetings then goes home to her slobbish partner and collection of dildos. Massimo is a gangster - but the young, sexy kind: he's described as having "a body sculpted by God... and a dick sculpted by the devil" (which is a pretty erotic line until the viewer unwillingly starts picturing said protuberance with horns and a little pointy beard). Having caught a fleeting glimpse of Laura some years before and been obsessed with her ever since, Massimo is delighted to discover she is holidaying on his native Sicily. He promptly kidnaps her and tells her he will hold her for 365 days while attempting to make her fall in love with him.
Personally, I would have thought not kidnapping her in the first place would have been ample proof of his honourable intentions - as would not promising he will not touch without her permission whilst nonetheless pinning her to a chair and grabbing her tit. But then this film - based on a novel - is hardly politically correct. The main problem, of course, is Laura's ultimate falling in love with Massimo (c'mon, you knew she would!): although she is allowed a scene of berating herself for so doing, there is no effort to examine whether she is suffering from, for example, some form of Stockholm Syndrome - although that would have made this a far deeper film.
Other flaws are the many dangling plot-threads: for instance, Laura's weak heart is mentioned several times but nothing is ever done with it. When she is offered a job as "general manager of Preston" (presumably not the football club) we have to guess that she turns it down; and when Massimo is told "they" want to kill his sweetheart we are not told who "they" are, despite the fact the preceding scenes have identified at least two likely candidates. On the plus side, one plot-thread that I thought it a wise decision to leave dangling was the final scene involving a tunnel: we know the outcome of what happened in there, but we are not told exactly *how* it happened, which adds a pleasing air of mystery.
As for the acting, leads Anna Maria Sieklucka and Michele Morrone deserve credit for delivering much of their dialogue in English, which is presumably their second (at best) language: this does mean, however, that some of their lines sound a bit clunky to those for whom English is mother tongue. As often in this kind of production, the supporting characters - not encumbered with the requirement to be romantic heroes - are more interesting: there are fine comedic turns from Magdalena Lamparska as Laura's exuberant friend Olga, and from Otar Saralidze as a bemused young gangster.
This film is, I imagine, an attempt to create a Polish version of 'Fifty Shades of Grey'. It does not match the latter's theme of women's empowerment (for all the whips and chains, Anastasia is in control in a way kidnap victim Laura certainly is not), but - with apologies for shallowness - there is more nudity and sex in '365 Dni'. But it *is* similar to 'Fifty Shades' in the attractiveness not only of its cast, but also of its locations and clothes (there are several shopping scenes); and as a piece of escapist entertainment it certainly hits the spot.
Chinese film 'So Long, my Son' opens with Yaoyun and Liyun, a couple in an industralised town during the 1980s, suffering a great personal tragedy. Some years later they have left their hometown and are living with their son in a port. Some years later still and they are returning for the first time to their hometown in order to see a dying friend. The gaps in-between are filled in by multiple flashbacks, during which we see the human costs of China's environmentally-sensible one-child policy; how the authorities attempt to crush personal expression; and the ramifications of Yaoyun and Liyun's tragedy.
All these flashbacks are difficult to keep track of, especially as they are not in chronological order. So from that aspect this is a film that would probably reward repeated viewing. Certainly I would be happy to see it again; as played by Jingchun Wang and Mei Yong, respectively, Yaoyun and Liyun are a likeable couple. Their circle of friends may be less well-developed, consisting of stock characters such as the fun-loving party girl, the free spirit and the blindly-loyal Party functionary, but they all add colour to the story. I also enjoyed the depiction of China's transformation and development over the two decades covered by the film.
I saw this in the cinema during the 2019 London Film Festival. While I certainly recommend it, I suggest waiting until you can watch it in your own home: at three hours long you will want to be as comfortable as you possibly can be!
Reluctant to commit even in her professional life, Dutch therapist Nicoline (Carice van Houten) starts working at a jail. One of her charges is Idris (Marwan Kenzari), imprisoned several years ago for violent sexual offences. Nicoline is convinced the charming and manipulative Idris is still a danger but her colleagues do not agree. Eventually Nicoline herself begins to find the convict somewhat alluring.
While Nicoline falling for Idris' charms is crushingly predictable, it can at least be said this does not happen until the second half of the film! van Houten gives a good, wide-ranging performance, with Nicoline starting off coolly professional, then appalled and angered by her emotions. Kenzari has a difficult job in making Idris' manipulations obvious to the audience, but not so outrageous that the therapists' trust of him is breathtakingly unbelievable. I would not say he always hits the mark (but he does manage to look sexy despite a laughable hairstyle and the baggiest underpants I have seen in cinema for many a year).
There are times where the plot could have been tighter: Idris is implicated in the killing of the prison's pet rabbit but that does not prevent him from being given temporary release (admittedly I am not familiar with the Dutch penal system); and after a therapist is attacked by an inmate, unbelievably none of her colleagues come to see if she is all right! Those instances of sloppiness, plus the film's ultimate predictability, mean that although it was worth watching once, there is no need to watch it twice.
This is fun! Maria (Chiara Mastroianni) has an eye for pretty young men and has lots of casual affairs. She can not understand why husband Richard (Benjamin Biolay) is so upset when he finds out. (In a cheeky bit of casting, director/writer Christophe Honoré has cast Mastroianni opposite her own ex-husband.) After a row, Maria moves to the hotel across the street from the couple's apartment. But rather than the hoped-for time to think, she finds the room somehow invaded first by Richard's younger self (Vincent Lacoste); then Irène (Camille Cottin), the woman Richard was in love with when he first met Maria twenty years before; then her own 'will' (Stéphane Roger) which for some reason takes the form of crooner Charles Aznavour; and finally all the young men with whom she has had flings. It isn't long before one or two of these spirits wander across the road to talk with Richard - before everyone ends up in a bar listening to Barry Manilow.
Is it a dream? A hoax? A Red Kryptonite illusion? That is probably open to the viewer's interpretation. What is definitely certain is that this is cinema not taking itself too seriously. Although there is deep talk of commitment and sustaining sexual desire in a long-lasting marriage, the viewer never has to wait for long before the next chuckle moment arrives. Mastroianni's fine line in subtle comic exasperation is nicely contrasted by Biolay's more serious performance as the cuckolded husband. One of the best films I saw at the 2019 London Film Festival.
The German title of 'Relativity' translates as 'My End. Your Beginning', which would be more appropriate both in terms of the film's plot and two of the main characters' names. It opens with scenes featuring Nora (Saskia Rosendahl) and Aron ('Nora' spelled backwards) (Julius Feidmeier) enjoying being in love, before their tranquility comes to a shattering end with Aron's death during a bank robbery. For the rest of the film Nora has to deal with her loss, while there are also several flashbacks - running backwards through time - showing different incidents in her romance with Aron.
Flashbacks also abound - although this time, running forwards through time - in the parallel story of Natan (the pleasingly solid Edin Hasanovic), a young father whose daughter Ava has leukemia, the treatment for which is far beyond his financial means. (Because I had not captured Nora's name before Ava was introduced into the plot, I thought for much of the film that scenes featuring Ava were of Nora's childhood, which gave the scenes between Nora and Natan an added dimension presumably not intended by director/writer Mariko Minoguchi!)
All these flashbacks could be confusing, but they do actually work quite nicely as odd things that happen in early sequences are explained later in the film. Certainly they are not half as jarring as Nora's sudden transformation, toward the end of the film, into gun-totin' revenge heroine, although thankfully that does not last long. With competent, non-flashy acting from the three leads, this was an enjoyable film.
'Divine Love' is a strange film: it begins as a vaguely sci-fi tale when we meet Joana, a woman who lives in the Brazil of 2027. It is a society where people's lives are documented and bar-coded to the nth degree: a person's marital status - and in the case of women, whether or not they are pregnant - are automatically detected and displayed for all to see when entering buildings. Joana and her husband are members of a religious group (the eponymous 'Divine Love') that encourages free love. But despite frequent sexual couplings with a variety of partners, Joana, to the couple's disappointment, never falls pregnant. When that situation changes, however, the film shifts to become more of a religious allegory.
I saw this at the 2019 London Film Festival (LFF), the programme of which included many films about people obsessing over having babies. If Joana's treatment of a litter of puppies is any indication of her caring instincts, I would not let her anywhere near a child, but animal cruelty aside it is hard not to feel sympathy for her, as actress Dira Paes gives the character dignity even in scenes shared with a cheesy 'drive-thru' pastor (Emílio de Melo in a gift of a role that he sensibly treats subtly rather than playing for belly laughs).
I am not sure I need to watch this again, but it was certainly worth watching once. I just hope the LFF programmers choose fewer baby-obsessive films next year...
Spoiled by self-indulgence and unanswered questions
"This film had a profound effect on me" gushed the British Film Institute programmer (albeit reading from a card) as he introduced 'End of the Century' at the 2019 London Film Festival. I am afraid I can not say the same...
The film opens with several shots of Ocho (Juan Barberini) as he walks along a street, looks confused, opens a door, opens another door, looks in a refrigerator, walks on a beach... this may seem to some viewers like setting the slow mood of the piece; to others it will merely seem like padding. Something finally happens when what at first is a casual hook-up with Javi (Ramón Pujol) develops into a tentative friendship, before Javi reveals he and Ocho met and had a drunken coupling twenty years before. That Ocho forgot this is unbelievable for several reasons: a) given both Javi and Ocho were in long-term relationships with women when they first met, it is entirely possible they were each other's first homosexual experience - would a man really forget that?; b) in the twenty-years earlier flashback sequence both men look exactly the same as they do in the present, even to the extent of having the same beards; and c) Pujol is absolutely gorgeous; I refuse to believe anyone who had encountered him would forget it! Subsequent plot developments suggest an explanation for these difficulties - but still further developments open up the questions once again. By which time the viewer may have lost patience at having to put up with so many unanswered questions.
I do not regret watching the film - there is some fairly decent nudity, if nothing else - but overall it seems, as has been noted by other reviewers, rather self-indulgent.
Ling does not seem satisfied with life - indeed, it is roughly half-way through 'Wet Season' before we even see her smile. She is obsessed with having a baby, but her husband does not seem similarly interested, preferring to go out drinking with clients instead of attending Ling's fertility sessions. At home, Ling has to spend a great deal of time looking afer her invalid father-in-law. Even her job teaching Chinese at a boys' school is considered by the school's authorities as less important than other subjects. But when she starts giving remedial lessons to Weilun, one of her pupils, life takes a more interesting - if troubling - turn.
The plot is not original (right down to the sex scene, which contains a troubling 'when a woman says "no", she really means "yes"' aspect). But the film being set in Singapore means it is unusual for European audiences, with unfamiliar elements such as wushu (a sort of gymnastic martial art) and never-seen-before fruit and vegetables!
Within the confines of their roles, Yann Yann Yeo as Ling makes for a fairly sympathetic central character and Jia Ler Koh's Weilun is a fresh-faced hero. This film certainly is not one that I felt was a waste of my time, but given the predictableness of the plot and the limitations of the characters - particularly Weilun, of whom we never learn enough - I doubt it will linger long in the memory. But for what it was, I enjoyed it. Seen at the 2019 London Film Festival.
I used to live in Dhaka, and one of my abiding memories from that time is seeing the streams of women in their brightly-coloured saris and shalwar kameez on their way to work in the city's many garment factories. 'Made in Bangladesh' is a social drama about what happens when one such worker tries to unionise her colleagues.
Shimu is a young wife whose husband is unemployed. The couple are behind on their rent so not being paid the overtime she has earned is a big blow for Shimu. The final straw comes when a fire at the factory kills one of her friends. A women's rights activist encourages Shimu to start and register a union, a development which produces one of the film's flaws: there are several info-dump lectures about worker's rights which, while perhaps necessary, do feel rather clunky. It is also unfortunate that the factory's management are all portrayed as money-grabbing, worker-hating men, making the production feel like a socialist-feminist propaganda piece.
On the other hand, I like the portrayal of the camaraderie between the factory workers, and the fact that Shimu's husband, although making known his reservations about her activism, does not try to stop her - at first, that is.
One final point: bearing in mind this is very much a film about women's empowerment and contains some grousing from the workers that as women they have little power, it would have been interesting to mention that, with one or two exceptions of temporary technocratic rule, Bangladesh has been ruled by *female* Prime Ministers since 1991!
'Atlantics' is a film that confusingly shifts genres. It starts as a social drama, when we meet Ada and Souleiman, a young couple in Sénégal. They arrange to meet in a bar one night, but on arrival Ada discovers Souleiman and his friends, frustrated at not being paid for a number of months for their work on a building site, have set sail in a small boat for Spain. This leads to several tedious scenes of Ada moping about, but she still has options: she is, after all, just days away from her wedding to the wealthy and flash Omar.
At this point the film shifts into a police procedural, as Omar's house catches fire and a young, impatient police officer becomes convinced Souleiman is the culprit. Then the film arrives at its final destination - that of supernatural thriller - when the detective and several of Ada's friends contract a mysterious illness.
The lead role of Ada is played by Mame Bineta Sane, but I can not help wondering if one of the young women playing her friends would have done a better job: perhaps it is an attempt to portray Ada's misery, but Sane delivers many of her lines with little apparent enthusiasm - and if the lead actress is not interested in the film, why should the viewer be? Actually the film is engrossing in terms of the mysterious illness and whether Ada and Souleiman will be reunited. And a film set in non-English speaking Africa is always going to be unusual to Western audiences. So it is worth seeing at least once.
Finnie, the (anti-)hero of 'Run', is an angry man. He does honest but dull and smelly work in a fish-processing plant. Home is a pokey, untidy house on a grey estate. His wife and two sons constantly get on his nerves. To rub salt into an open wound, his car will not start while his eldest son's goes perfectly. (A hint at how Finnie arrived at his grim situation is given here: although he is a relatively young man - actor Mark Stanley would have been in his very early thirties when filming this - he has a child who is already old enough to drive). Mostly the film follows the course of one night during which Finnie steals his son's car, almost runs off with the boy's pregnant girlfriend and witnesses his wife finally snapping at the strain of dealing with her constantly growling husband.
At one point the 2019 London Film Festival's screening of the film's European premiere was advertised as having English sub-titles, a strange thing for an English-language film. In the event the sub-titles did not appear, but actually they would have been useful - the film is set in northern Scotland and I must shame-facedly admit I could understand the accents only some of the time. As for the acting, why Englishman Stanley was considered a good fit for Scotsman Finnie I do not know - were all the Scottish actors busy? There's a good turn from Amy Manson as Finnie's wife Katie, although that may be because in her efforts to ignore her own frustrations and lighten the argumentative mood of her family, Katie is a more sympathetic and well-rounded character than her husband. And therein is the film's main problem: as a central character, Finnie is too shallow. So the film is engrossing enough to watch once - principally because the viewer is hoping that Katie gets a happy ending - but once only.
Not an original storyline, but definitely an original setting
'Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom' is that old cinema standby, the culture-clash comedy: sophisticated big-city boy finds himself stranded in a remote rural setting and gradually comes to appreciate, in heart-warming fashion, the simpler, more honest ways of the countryfolk. You've seen something similar a hundred times before. The difference is this film is set in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.
With just one year of government service left to serve, Ugyen (the personable Sherab Dorji) is sent from the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu (population 114,000) to the tiny village of Lunana (population: 56), a long bus ride and eight days' hiking away. There he will serve as teacher to the village's nine children. But used to the music clubs and coffee bars of Thimphu, Ugyen finds Lunana - intermittent solar power, heating by dried yak dung and a toilet that is merely a hole in the ground (the children use the toilet seat as a netball ring) - to be a trying experience. Will he stay in the village, or will his Australian visa prove too great a lure? What do you think?
Staging the film's world premiere, the 2019 London Film Festival had this marked as suitable for children aged eight. I wonder about that: while they will probably find the dung jokes hilarious, youngsters may find the gentle pace - and almost two hour running time - a tad boring, and the sub-titles tough going (the LFF sensibly hired an actress to read them for the little ones). As as adult, though, I found the film informative - having a pre-conceived idea of Bhutan as being a sleepy backwater, it was a shock to see Thimphu's traffic-heavy streets - and an easy watch in its predictability. Plus, the scenery around Lunana itself is absolutely stunning. It is definitely well worth adding this film to your world cinema watchlist.
Although 'Beanpole' is the nickname of the noticeably tall Iya, there are actually two leading characters in this film: the other is Masha, her best friend. The pair met on active service during World War Two and at the conclusion of hostilities set up home together in Leningrad. Both have problems: Masha suffers from recurring nosebleeds while Iya, experiencing post-concussion syndrome, has a tendency to 'zone out', entering a trance-like state during which she has no sense of her surroundings or even of herself. After suffering a major bereavement, Masha becomes obsessed with the idea of having a child and pressures Iya into attempting pregnancy on her behalf. But when Masha becomes romantically involved with the unimpressive Pasha, Iya's confused jealousy threatens the two women's friendship.
Although this is a very intimate film, it has the feel of a big-budget drama, with sets and costumes easy to consider as accurate representions of the post-war Soviet Union: the rambling, dilapidated boarding house in which Iya and Masha live is especially atmospheric. Director and co-writer Kantemir Balagov also manages a gentle dig at the class divisions in the USSR's supposed socialist utopia: while one young poverty-stricken city child is said never to have seen a dog "because they've all been eaten", the wife of a local official is seen walking a gorgeous pedigree hound in the grounds of her spacious country estate. It is hard to judge the acting of leading ladies Viktoria Miroshnichenko (Iya) and Vasilisa Perelygina (Masha) because their characters are the kind who do and say slightly weird things, but neither woman struck me as unbelievable despite that.
'Beanpole' lasts for well over two hours, but is worth watching. I saw it at the 2019 London Film Festival.
Côte d'Ivoire was one of post-colonial Africa's success stories: a vibrant economy and relatively stable (if largely undemocratic) governance. But since the 1990s the country has experienced bouts of political instability and violence. 'Desrances' looks at the experiences of a man and his daughter during one of those times.
When we first meet him, Francis Desrances is a fisherman in Haïti. After most of his family are slaughtered in one of that country's more frequent bouts of political instability, he relocates to Côte d'Ivoire - home of his ancestors - and, several years later, is living the African middle-class dream, with a business of his own, a nice flat, a daughter and a wife pregnant with a longed-for son. But this all comes crashing down around his ears when a disputed presidential election plunges the country into violence. Francis desperately searches the city when his wife, who went into labour when the family were attacked by drugged-out thugs in their own home, disappears. Twelve year-old daughter Haïla accompanies her father, trying to protect him as he grows ever more distraught and takes ever-greater risks.
Although the final twist will surprise very few viewers, Burkinabé director/screenwriter Apolline Traoré has created an exciting film that exhibits an ever-increasing level of tension as it traces first the increasing political troubles (I found the portrayal of ordinary Ivorians' reactions particularly interesting) and then Francis' search for his wife and son. In this she is helped by decent performances from Haitian actor Jimmy Jean-Louis as Francis, and Naomi Nemlin as Haïla, who is very impressive for a child actress.
A good, entertaining mix of world cinema and out-and-out thriller, 'Desrances' deserves a large audience outside of the festival circuit (I saw it at the 2019 London Film Festival).
Very long, but does not seem like it... flawed but worth watching
Never Look Away are words whispered to six year-old Kurt Barnert by his aunt Elisabeth (Saskia Rosendahl) when, in pre-war Dresden, she takes him to see an exhibition of 'degenerate' (= modern) art. Elisabeth, barely an adult herself, is a free spirit, fond of music and, it turns out, of bus horns also. But a diagnosis of schizophrenia takes her away from Kurt, although her influence over him lingers on.
In the post-war years the adult Kurt (Tom Schilling), now a student at an East German art school, meets another Elisabeth: a fellow student (Paula Beer) whom he calls 'Ellie'. Ellie is the daughter of gynaecologist Carl Seeband (Sebastian Koch, one of Germany's most recognisable actors to English-speaking audiences). What Kurt does not realise is that his aunt Elisabeth came under the so-called 'care' of Carl when he was an SS doctor. Even without this knowledge Kurt never warms to control-freak Carl, and Carl is similarly unimpressed with eternal student Kurt.
This film is apparently based on the life of Gerhard Richter, an artist famous for painting blurry copies of photographs (a process reproduced in the film to good effect) and colour charts. At over three hours in length it is a tough ask, but the time does pass fairly quickly as the story clips along at a smooth pace: from the horror of what happens to aunt Elisabeth, through an impressively-staged sequence featuring the bombing of Dresden, to an amusing initial tour of a West German school specialising in modern art. Perhaps the film's greatest flaw is character development: although allowed a flash of conscience when he first appears, Carl is soon portrayed as a stereotypical debonair villain, while after being a major character in the first half of the film, in the second half Ellie is reduced to little more than a supporting character, useful only for sex scenes (apart from one sequence of great emotion). But the acting is fine, the story interesting and the central character of Kurt is likeable. This film is certainly worth watching - just do not eat or drink anything before entering the cinema: remember it *is* over three hours...
Gabo (Gastón Re) is the kind of person who is buffeted by life's events. His wife dies, so the young father deposits his daughter with her grandparents and moves to Buenos Aires where he takes a job in a carpentry workshop. He rents a room in the flat of a colleague, Juan (Alfonso Barón). Juan has a number of slobby friends who frequently and unexpectedly visit, making the already messy flat even messier. Gabo uncomplainingly cleans up after them (when he is not prone on his bed reading). Even after he and Juan start a sexual relationship (the only time in the film Gabo takes the initiative), Gabo looks on, uncomplaining as ever, while Juan continues bedding not only his girlfriend but also, perhaps, another man.
'The Blond One' is 108 minutes long and - perhaps because I saw the film in the very crowded cinema of the British Film Institute's 'Flare' festival for LGBTQ+ films - feels every one of them. There are several shots of the carpentry workshop, of Gabo watering his plants, and of groups of men engaged in inconsequential chatter. They undeniably set the tone of the film (slow), but there should have been fewer of them. Not helping matters is central character Gabo's personality: he is *so* quiet, *so* unobtrusive, that it is almost as if he is not there half the time. On the plus side, Re does a competent job of portraying Gabo's hurt with bewildered looks (and does not let his status as co-producer excuse him from his fair share of the film's nudity duties). Barón, who according to his IMDb listing is an inexperienced actor, provides a good naturalistic performance.
In conclusion, this film is worth watching, but its slowness and quietness means it is the kind of film for which you really have to be in the right mood.
A woman returns from the big city to her small hometown in order to attend a family funeral. Thrown into close proximity with her relatives, old resentments resurface, relationships are rekindled and secrets revealed.
So far, so plotting-by-numbers. But when Belle (Sofia Banzhaf) pitches up in Nova Scotia at her family's financially-troubled apple orchard, her secret is unusual: after years of loudly proclaiming her lesbianism, she is now - shock, horror - living with a *man*! When said man, Rob (the adorkable Callum Dunphy) unexpectedly arrives to lend his support at the funeral, Belle's rather juvenile intention to keep her new status from her mother Nancy (Shelley Thompson), who has never hidden her disappointment at her daughter's sexuality, is doomed to failure.
A major plus for this film is the absence of histrionics: if it were an American - or even certain types of British - production, it is likely the characters' emotions - made raw by the death of the family patriarch - would result in loud shouting, floods of tears and much slamming of doors. But this Canadian film is subtler than that: it acknowledges that in reality most people start to adjust to a bereavement pretty quickly and do not stay mired in misery 24 hours a day. But in a way that is also the film's major flaw: these people are *so* mellow that hardly anything seems to get them riled. For example, every time Belle was on the receiving end of one of Nancy's digs at her 'friends' (lesbians) I braced for a tantrum, but no: instead Belle merely rolls her eyes and pouts. Again. Another flaw is the decision to not further develop hints of Nancy's deteriorating mental state, which makes the viewer wonder why they were given in the first place. And then there is the self-absorbed guitarist who starts singing at the graveside and *never shuts up* for the entire rest of the funeral tea. Honestly, mate, give us a break!
But the film's minuses are definitely outweighed by its pluses. It is an interesting human-interest drama with some amusing bits (Belle's misguided apple tattoo; the size of the deceased's "schlong" being openly discussed with his son at the funeral tea). The cast are competent in roles that do not noticeably stretch them. I can certainly imagine watching this again.
A final comment: introducing this film at the British Film Institute's 2019 'Flare' festival for LGBTQ+ films, director Thom Fitzgerald informed the audience they were watching the director's cut; the theatrical release will apparently be three minutes shorter. What three minutes will be cut from the film I do not know, but I certainly hope they are not the sequences which feature Dunphy wandering around in his underpants. Yum.
A heart-warming watch - even if economical with the truth
Not being interested in watching advertisements for cars and Bacardi Breezers, it my habit to arrive at the cinema about fifteen minutes after the stated programme start time. That usually ensures I arrive just in time for the trailers and, of course, the film I want to see. However, Piccadilly's Picturehouse Central outfoxed me when I went to see 'The Keeper', having started the film bang on the dot of the programme start time! I therefore missed the first ten- or fifteen minutes of the film.
It is based on the story of Bert Trautmann, a Luftwaffe paratrooper who, as a prisoner of war in Lancashire in the mid-1940s, is spotted playing football ('soccer' for Americans, of course!) by Jack Friar, the manager of struggling local side St Helens. Friar invites Trautmann to take over as goalie and also gives him a job in his shop. As well as the opportunity to get out of the camp and play football, this arrangement also introduces Trautmann to Friar's daughter Margaret. Margaret is 'the girl' of St Helens' captain, but Trautmann's easy charm soon starts to win her over...
... and it is this charm that is, perhaps, the film's flaw. Its Trautmann is so pleasant he comes across as unreal - no-one could be that nice! It is only well into the film, after he has started his career at Manchester City and has been established, for the film's purposes, as a Thoroughly Nice Chap, that we learn his dark, wartime secret - and even that is a sin of inaction rather than outright aggression. I am by no means an expert on Trautmann, but a quick skim of his Wikipedia entry suggests the real man was more nuanced: his illegitimate (as she would have been described at the time) daughter; his and Margaret's divorce; his two further marriages; his red card for violent conduct. The film is very enjoyable, but does not stand as an historical document.
Lead actor David Kross brings a boyish charm to the part of Trautmann, but for the reasons stated above I do not think the role stretches him. As Margaret, Freya Mavor is given more to play with, portraying her character's slow acceptance of Trautmann and her numbing grief at a family tragedy. But for me, acting honours go to John Henshaw as Friar. He uses his distinctive face ('like a bulldog chewing a wasp') to great effect here, portraying anger, exasperation and grudging fatherly indulgence to good comedic effect. His performance is the cherry on the top of a great - if factually evasive - feel-good film.
'Nevrland' (ooh, cool urban spelling!) is very much a film of two halves. In the first part we follow the life of Jakob (Simon Frühwirth), a Vienna youth who lives with his father and grandfather (his mother having left when he was a small child). Jakob's life is changing: he has just started his new job in an abattoir and seems to be developing a mental illness. Excitement is offered by the attractively-muscled form of Kristjan (Paul Forman) a man in his mid-twenties with whom Jakob communicates in on-line chat rooms. Their face-to-face meeting forms the second distinct part of the film, as other characters are jettisoned in favour of what becomes largely a two-hander between Früwirth and Forman, albeit with clubbing scenes and a tripping sequence thrown in.
Writer and director (his first time directing, according to the introduction at the British Film Institute's 2019 'Flare' festival for LGBTQ+ films) Gregor Schmidinger must have thought he was being terribly brave, innovative and challenging with some of the scenes in this: pig carcasses filmed in gory detail, a cow bleeding to death, strange goings-on in nightclubs. Personally I have a feeling he was trying a bit too hard to be the enfant terrible; the tripping sequence, in particular, seems to last forever as weird image after weird image is paraded before the viewer. Oh, and perhaps it is just me getting old, but the bright flashing lights in the club scenes hurt my eyes!
Now for a word about nudity. Some readers will roll their eyes at this, but hey - some of us like a little skin with our flicks! It is here that Schmidinger's bravery seems to desert him. A scene with men showering together has all the participants uniformly facing away from the camera, but in real life, people in group showers face in all sorts of directions. (Admittedly, in this case, the out-of-shape bodies involved are ones you would prefer remained covered up...) In Jakob's dream sequences, in which he is running through the woods or swimming in lakes, he is dressed in his underpants, as if Schmidinger wants to show his vulnerability by stripping him but bottles out when it comes to going all the way. The gay pornography websites Jakob visits are of a particularly strange sort, the likes of which I have never before encountered: they don't show any penises at all, let alone erections! And the sex scene between Jakob and Kristjan is so chaste it would not be out of place on American network television. In a film less determined to shock the viewer with other aspects of its imagery this comparatively prudish attitude to nudity would not have been so noticeable; but in this film, it definitely is.
Ultimately I do not regret watching 'Nevrland': the look at Jakob's life prior to the meeting with Kristjan makes for a good human-interest drama. But there is too little of that, and too much "let's shock the viewer" weirdness, for me to want to watch the film again.
'Last Ferry' is the kind of gay-themed, low-budget, self-indulgent film that usually goes straight to DVD. Which makes the decision of the British Film Institute to stage its world premiere during their 2019 LGBTQ+ 'Flare' festival a bit perplexing, to say the least.
Unhappy New York lawyer Joseph is disappointed upon arriving at Fire Island to discover the fabled gay resort is off-season. After an expedition into the woods for a spot of nookie goes wrong, Joseph is taken in by the charming Cameron and his one-note friends - Anabi (a doctor) and Shane (a stereotypical overweight screaming queen). Also present is Rafael, who spends his time tediously moping around following an apparent break-up with his boyfriend. But, having seen the film's opening act, the viewer knows there is more to Rafael's situation than is immediately apparent - as does, although he does not at first realise he possesses the knowledge, Joseph.
Lead actor Ramon O Torres also wrote, co-produced and edited the film. Presumably this made him a very powerful person on the production, but someone really should have sat him down and explained that it is a kindness to the viewer to give your characters some motivation: in this case, why Rafael and Cameron have committed the act they have - the fact we are not told is very disappointing. There are other flaws, too: for example, when a character slips very gently into a swimming pool, you will ask yourself why he is immediately afterwards bleeding so heavily (this, presumably, is the fault of director Jaki Bradley). And how does a character recognise the tattoo on the back of a murderer's leg when he only previously saw said murderer backing away from him?
Good points? Well, as an actor, Torres does a believable job of portraying both Joseph's confusion after the woods incident and his growing ease with his new friends - but this may be because, in comparison, the other actors are not given the chance to shine in portraying the cardboard cut-out characters with which Torres the writer has lumbered them. The scenery is nice, and it is pleasing that the film's most physically-attractive cast member provides the only real nude scene. Ultimately, though, 'Last Ferry' is a disappointment. The BFI may need to take a look at their programming policy...
When Joey Mataele was a small boy, the Queen of the Polynesian kingdom of Tonga thought him so pretty she removed the dress from her life-size doll and put it instead on Joey. Joey contined wearing dresses, including - to the consternation of his parliamentarian father - in public, and today is one of Tonga's leading transgender women, known locally as 'leitis'. This documentary film is called 'Leitis in Waiting' (see what they did there?)
The film opens with scenes of traditional Tongan dancing - grass skirts, graceful bowing and hand-twirling - intercut with a leiti giving a bawdy performance of a more modern song. Despite this jarring juxtaposition, the viewer learns that leitis are actually an established part of Tongan culture, for example serving the monarchy and working at social gatherings. But this acceptance is under threat from outside influences, particularly religion (surprise!) Athough we do meet at least one religious leader who speaks out in support of the leitis, most of those featured are very much in the anti camp - none more so than (the rather handsome) Pastor Barry, a televangelist whose church, the film informs us more than once, is 'USA-funded'.
I was attracted to this documentary for its look at modern South Pacific society more than I was interested in the transgender issues. But the viewer would have to possess a heart of stone not to feel sympathy for Joey and her fellow leitis as they attempt to claim their place in a modernising country (albeit with powerful support: the patron of the Tonga Leiti's - sic - Association is a princess of the royal family). With this kind of campaigning documentary there is always the question how fair is the portrayal of the opposing side (for instance, was the best thing Pastor Barry could say about homosexuals really that they should be put in prison for a month and he didn't want them killed "as in Iran"?) But Mataele makes for an articulate and engaging spokesperson (in fact, not featuring more of her trip to Geneva to address the United Nations was a wasted opoortunity) and this is an interesting film.
'The White Crow' tells of Soviet ballet star Rudolf Nureyev's defection to the West in Paris, 1961. And of his years training in Leningrad. And of his poverty-stricken childhood. Three strands running concurrently through the film make for a busy production. The childhood scenes do little more than establish that Nureyev grew up surrounded by poverty and lots of snow. The Leningrad scenes show him as willing to work for his craft, but intense, self-centred and very arrogant - a proper little diva, in fact. Six years later, in Paris, he is still arrogant - demanding, for example, that a French female companion talk to a Russian waiter on his behalf because he suspects the man of looking down on him. But the intensity has weakened, replaced by an interest in what is around him and a happy curiosity in new things. This, however, does not please his KGB minders.
The film is the third from Ralph Fiennes wearing his director's hat. He does a pretty good job: the childhood scenes are shot in bleak, washed-out colours - almost black-and-white - a clever decision which creates atmosphere; and the climactic defection scene in Le Bourget Airport is heavy with tension. There *are* directoral flaws - something as simple as, for example, giving leading man Oleg Ivenko a different haircut for each era would have prevented this viewer's occasional confusion as to whether I was watching 1960s' Paris Nureyev or the 1950s' Leningrad version! And did we need quite so many extreme close-ups of Ivenko's face? But overall, director Fiennes does a good job...
... which makes it a shame that actor Fiennes turns in one of the weakest performances of the film. His portrayal of Nureyev's teacher Pushkin may, for all I know, be true to the real man, but I found it dreadfully studied and mannered, producing a caricature rather than a character (I will, however, give Fiennes full marks for delivering most of his lines in Russian!) Ukrainian dancer Ivenko, in what according to IMDb is his first acting role, turns in a more naturalistic performance, albeit within the confines of the generously-proportioned ego he is portraying. My personal favourite, however, was Chulpan Khamatova in a nicely-judged portrayal of Pushkin's wife Xenia, whose initial motherly interest in Nureyev (prompted by her husband's concern the stroppy teenager is not eating enough) develops over the course of the film.
Seen in preview at the British Film Institute, and - containing good pacing, an interesting story and nicely-rendered period detail - well worth it.