Monday, May 30, 2011


94 minutes

There is little genuinely new or unusual about veteran war correspondents Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington's look at a year-long tour of duty of American soldiers in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. Restrepo is essentially a standard immersive, observational documentary that takes in a US Army company during firefights and downtime, without any commentary or voiceover. 
     Its relevance and power come, first, from messrs. Hetherington and Junger's framing device of intercutting the soldiers comment on their experience after the fact, in a neutral studio setting; and, second, from the way the directors/cinematographers, embedded with the soldiers for the entire year-long deployment, draw the viewer slowly but certainly into the heart of the experience. Restrepo may look in so many ways as a standard war report or film – it marks the same beats as any war story, and deliberately, quietly elides all on-screen wounds or deaths – but quickly reminds us that, behind the cliches and standards, are actual people battling fear, sadness and anger. 
     The whole idea behind Restrepo could be defined as “if you think you know what war is like, think again, because you don't”. And the juxtaposition of the images of the soldiers' haggard looks during the ill-fated “Rock Avalanche” operation messrs. Hetherington and Junger catch on tape, struggling with the battlefield like they never had to before, with their later pensive, still heartbroken attitudes and comments, is reason enough to explain why the two veteran reporters needed to tell this story. Restrepo is about the grunts and the stories of war you seldom see told; that alone made it worthy of the best feature documentary Academy Award it was denied. 

Directed and produced by Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger; camera (colour, digital video, Goldcrest post-production), mr. Junger, mr. Hetherington, Jake Clennell; film editor, Michael Levine.
     An Outpost Films presentation/production, in association with National Geographic Channel; executive production, Passion Pictures. (US distributor and world sales, National Geographic Entertainment.)
     Screened: National Geographic Channel screener DVD, Lisbon, May 28th 2011.

Friday, May 27, 2011


108 minutes

Bienvenue chez les ch'tis (Welcome to the Sticks in the uninspired English translation) was always going to be a very hard act to follow for its writer/director/star Dany Boon. That movie's record-breaking box-office in France and warm worldwide response meant additional scrutiny for whatever the amiable French comedian would come up with next. For better or worse, mr. Boon came up essentially with a retread of that film's fish-out-of-water humour and gentle ribbing of regional archetypes, set in Courquoin, a small Franco-Belgian border village, just as customs offices between both countries are to be abolished on January 1, 1993. The plot pits rabidly nationalist Belgian customs officer Ruben Vandevoorde (a magnificently unhinged Benoît Poelvoorde) against his milquetoast French counterpart Mathias Ducatel (mr. Boon) - who, unbeknownst to him, is in love with his sister Louise (Julie Bernard) - as they pair up in an experimental binational "flying squad".
     Mr. Boon scripts here on his own whereas on the previous film he had co-writers, and though both screenplays have similar flaws - constructed more like a loose series of sketches around a central theme rather than as a proper narrative, ending abruptly when the story has pretty much run its course - it's clear Rien à déclarer is a less developed and less inspired work. The writer/director/star does introduce a police procedural element, but it's mostly there for its comic possibilities and even then generally underused. What's worse is that most characters are restricted to paper-thin stereotypes that, despite the best efforts of its game cast, never actually go beyond a strictly functional presence. Only the central trio of mr. Poelvoorde (whose explosive energy pretty much drives the entire film), mr. Boon and ms. Bernard are able to give any sort of substance to their sorely underscripted roles.
     Mr. Boon is certainly a gifted comedic actor and an attentive director to his cast, who all look like they're having a ball. But the visuals are generally flat, handling is anonymously non-descript, and the general lack of rhythm suggests that, despite the well-meaning attempt at discussing prejudice and xenophobia and the occasional smart gag, Rien à déclarer is no match for its warmly remembered predecessor. The title sequence's comic-book type pretty much lays out the film as a broad, cartoonish comedy in a way that Bienvenue chez les ch'tis managed to avoid.

Starring Benoît Poelvoorde, Dany Boon, Karin Viard, François Damiens, Julie Bernard, Bouli Lanners, Laurent Gamelon, Olivier Gourmet.
     Directed by mr. Boon; written by mr. Boon, with the collaboration of Yaël Boon; music by Philippe Rombi; director of photography (colour, processing by Duboi, LTC, Scanlab, Panavision widescreen), Pierre Aïm; production designer, Alain Veissier; costume designer, Jean-Daniel Vuillermoz; film editors, Luc Barnier, Géraldine Rétif.
     A Jérôme Seydoux presentation of a Pathé Productions/Les Productions du Ch'timi/TF1 Films Production/Scope Pictures co-production, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cinécinéma, TF1, French National Centre for Cinema and the Animated Image, Wallonia Region and Scope Invest; with the support of the Belgian Federal Government Tax Shelter. (French distributor, Pathé Distribution. World sales, Pathé International.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 11 (Lisbon), May 20th, 2011. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011


138 minutes

We're used to expecting something else from reclusive director Terrence Malick, but for only his fifth feature in a 40-year career, he pulls out all the stops and offers a sensory, largely narrative-free tone poem that defies conventional definition. Closer to pure cinema than he's ever been, and rising to the rarefied, ambitious heights only the most unyielding auteurs of art cinema strive for, mr. Malick harnesses the full power of Hollywood filmmaking for his stubbornly singular vision of innocence lost in a mythical America, juxtaposing family life to the beginning and end of existence itself.
     The Tree of Life can be seen as a bookend or answer to mr. Malick's previous film, 2005's The New World, showing how the promise of the "new world" has been squandered through the fallibility of humanity, with Man wandering, uncomprehending, through a Creation he fails to understand or even acknowledge in his quest for meaning. The film is loosely structured around the memories of Jack O'Brien (played by Sean Penn as an adult and Hunter McCracken as a young boy), who is struggling to make sense, in the present day, of his childhood and his relationships with his sensitive young brother (Laramie Eppler), his kind mother (Jessica Chastain) and his strict father (Brad Pitt).
     There is much to admire in The Tree of Life, not least in the exquisite dovetailing of mr. Malick's extraordinary ambition with his masterful control of rhythm and tempo and his meticulous weaving of image, music, acting and sound into a harmonious whole that communicates through shared emotion rather than traditional storytelling. Even though The Tree of Life ranges from the dawn of the universe (richly imagined with the help of veteran visual effects artists Douglas Trumbull and Dan Glass) to modern day America in a fragmented, time-shifting structure, the clarity and precision of the vision is impressive. The mysticism glanced in previous films moves here centre stage and blossoms into full-fledged religion (not so much Catholic as a combination of spirituality, pantheism and hard science), though its picturing from the point of view of a God-fearing Texas family may lead to misjudgements from less religiously-inclined viewers.
     Regardless of one's opinion - and it is a film that demands admiration as much as empathy -, the sheer artistic result of The Tree of Life puts it straight in the company of visionary masters such as Stanley Kubrick (to whose 2001: A Space Odyssey it has already been compared), Jean-Luc Godard or Carl Theodor Dreyer. No other American film this year will even come close to its majesty.

Starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Jessica Chastain; Fiona Shaw, Irene Bedard, Jessica Fuselier; and introducing Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, Tye Sheridan.
     Directed and written by Terrence Malick; produced by Sarah Green, Bill Pohlad, Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Grant Hill; music by Alexandre Desplat; director of photography (colour by DeLuxe), Emmanuel Lubezki; production designer, Jack Fisk; costume designer, Jacqueline West; film editors, Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber, Mark Yoshikawa; senior visual effects supervisor, Dan Glass.
     A River Road Entertainment presentation/production. (US distributor, Fox Searchlight Pictures/Twentieth Century-Fox. World sales, Summit Entertainment.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9 (Lisbon), May 18th 2011.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Italy/Great Britain/USA
109 minutes

It has been a while since American director Joshua Marston came out of nowhere with his well received drug tale Maria Full of Grace. His belated follow-up after a series of projects that fell through, The Forgiveness of Blood runs the risk of classifying mr. Marston on the "professional traveler"/"liberal well-meaning director" drawer, as he now moves to a tale of Albanian blood feuds shot mostly on location with non-professional teenage leads. You would be mistaken to fall in such a trap: it's a sober, solid follow-up that studiously avoids any and all gratuitous exoticism and condescending first-world look.
     Mr. Marston adopts the languorous, slow rhythm of this rural society where cellphones are ubqiuitous but blood feuds from times immemorial still maintain whole families locked inside their houses, for years if needs be. The Forgiveness of Blood follows the points of view of brother and sister Nik and Rudina (Tristan Halilaj and Sindi Laçej), whose lives and hopes for the future are thrown into disarray as their father's feud with a neighbour leads to tragedy and to the family's forced seclusion. A silent, tense tug-of-war between longstanding, backward looking traditions and the desire to build a better future, mr. Marston's sophomore feature could use some more formal and structural ambition. But the strength of the premise and the determined way in which he builds his story without either undermining the delicate emotional balance the story needs or overstating its melodramatic side more than makes up for an overly slow set-up and some ponderounsess.

     Starring Tristan Halilaj, Sindi Laçej, Refet Abazi, Ilire Vinca Çelaj.
     Directed by Joshua Marston; produced by Paul Mezey; written by mr. Marston and Andamion Murataj; music by Jacobo Lieberman and Leonardo Heiblum; director of photography (Technicolor), Rob Hardy; production designer, Tommaso Ortino; costume designer, Emir Turkeshi; film editor, Malcolm Jamieson.
     A Fandango Portobello presentation, in association with Artists Public Domain, Cinereach and Lisson Media, of a Journeyman Pictures production; with the support of the Göteborg International Festival Film Fund and New York State Council on the Arts; Phoenix Film Investments. (World sales, Fandango Portobello Sales.)
     Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011 official selection, Berlinale Palast (Berlin), February 18th 2011.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


If Not Us, Who?

125 minutes

Generally misunderstood upon its premiere at the 2011 Berlinale, documentary filmmaker Andres Veiel's second feature suggests a roundabout way to look at the troubled history of post-World War II Germany and the inevitable meddling of politics and personal life, as it traces the arc of a 1960s love story in the university town of Tübingen. But not just any two lovers: Gudrun Ensslin (Lena Lauzemis), who would become the key ideologue of the Red Army Faction terrorist group, and Bernward Vesper (August Diehl), son of official Nazi novelist Will Vesper. (Towards the end of the 1960s, ms. Ensslin would take up with Andreas Baader, here portrayed by Alexander Fehling.) The film catches them first as brilliant college students whose intelligence and energy literally had to be channeled into attempting to rescue Germany from its ostrich-like refusal to confront the past and engage the present.
     Whether that channeling was done correctly or not is besides mr. Veiel's point, since he is aiming at a portrait of a generation stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea, aware that they could not live their lives in the heart of Europe without accepting the role of history and politics; coming as it does from a documentary director, If Not Us, Who? is not so much about judgement as it is about understanding and contextualising the Germany that led these two young people to their fates. Careening forward in episodic scenes that show ms. Ensslin's progressive radicalisation and mr. Vesper's attempts at engaging the world at large, as well as the way their love affair responds to and mutates with their changing ideas and situations, If Not Us, Who? has its share of flaws. But mr. Veiel redeems them through the frightening intelligence he uses to frame his tale of a love won and lost through politics, and the stunning performances of his two leads. Ms. Lauzemis inhabits the mercurial nature of ms. Ensslin, mr. Diehl comes on as a young Klaus Kinski, and both capture perfectly the urgent demands the times put on young Germans of the 1960s. It's a smart film that deserves a long, hard look.

Starring August Diehl, Lena Lauzemis, Alexander Fehling. 
     Directed by Andres Veiel; produced by Thomas Kufus; screenplay by Andres Veiel, based on the book by Gerd Koenen, Vesper, Ensslin, Baader; music by Annette Focks; director of photography (Cinepostproduction, widescreen), Judith Kaufmann; production designer, Christian M. Goldbeck; costume designer, Bettina Marx; film editor, Hansjörg Wellbrich.
     A Zero One Film production in co-production with SWR, ARD-Degeto, WDR, Deutschfilm, Senator Film Production; with the support of Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, MFG, Filmförderung Schleswig-Holstein, Hessische Filmfonds, Filmförderungsanstalt, Deutscher Filmförderfonds. (German distributor, Senator. World sales, The Match Factory.)
     Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2011, official selection, Berlinale Palast (Berlin), February 17th 2011.

Friday, May 20, 2011


136 minutes

More of the same this fourth episode of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise may be, but at least it goes some way to redress the overblown, misjudged excesses of the ill-advised previous episodes and reclaim some of the sly fun from the first entry The Curse of the Black Pearl. Part of it is due to the change of director, with Gore Verbinski handing over to Chicago and Nine helmer Rob Marshall. A surprising but, on the face of it, adequate choice, as mr. Marshall's no-nonsense, no-frills, anonymous style allows the story and the performances to breathe, and his smartly uncluttered staging of action sequences makes everything easy to follow. Part of it is also due to the fresh narrative start of the new episode (with an obvious eye on further sequels): series regular screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio loosely adapt Tim Powers' 1987 novel On Stranger Tides to the world of Pirates of the Caribbean, with Johnny Depp's swooshing swashbuckler Jack Sparrow coopted into a frantic search for the Fountain of Youth led by the feisty Angelica (Penelope Cruz), in league with spooky pirate Black Beard (Ian McShane).
     On Stranger Tides is again mr. Depp's show from the start, and there's rueful fun to be had from his sparring double-act with ms. Cruz, evoking classic screwball comedies. You also feel that the actor is a lot more at ease here than in the back-to-back Dead Men's Chest (2006) and At World's End (2007), but that Sparrow as a character is an old friend who fits like a glove and no longer holds any great secrets for him or for us. Which is why mr. McShane pretty much steals the show with his malevolent Black Beard (the strongest sequence in the film is his subdued, glowering entrance) and On Stranger Tides ultimately fails to be as rewarding as The Curse of the Black Pearl was back in 2003. Mr. Marshall was hired to keep the engine humming smoothly rather than radically reengineer it, and that he does, but it doesn't necessarily make it any more than what the series always aimed to be, in the image of the original Disneyland ride: harmless, disposable fun.

Starring Johnny Depp; Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane; and Geoffrey Rush; Kevin R. McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham.
     Directed by Rob Marshall; produced by Jerry Bruckheimer; screenplay by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, based on the novel by Tim Powers, On Stranger Tides, and on characters created by mr. Elliott, mr. Rossio, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert; music by Hans Zimmer; director of photography (DeLuxe colour, widescreen, 3D), Dariusz Wolski; production designer, John Myhre; costume designer, Penny Rose; film editors, David Brenner, Wyatt Smith; visual effects supervisor, Charles Gibson.
     A Walt Disney Pictures/Jerry Bruckheimer Films presentation/production. (US distributor and world sales, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo 9 (Lisbon), May 17th 2011. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011


No One Knows About Persian Cats

106 minutes

Music has brought the best out of Kurdish-Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi - first with 2006's Half Moon, his boisterous but ultimately wistful entry in the Mozart-inspired New Crowned Hope project, now with this engaging if flawed fiction/documentary hybrid about the Teheran musical underground. At heart, mr. Ghobadi's film is an introduction to the wealth of talent hiding beneath the surface of the Islamic Republic, from angular speed metal bands to punchy rappers to traditional folk singers denied any public performance just for being women, shot in fleeting, stolen moments using a small digital camera. But this whistle-stop tour is wrapped in a thin veneer of fiction that follows indie-rock duo Negar and Ashkan (Negar Shagaghi and Ashkan Kooshanejad, playing fictionalised versions of themselves) over three weeks as they try to put together like-minded musicians willing to travel to London with them.
     The seemingly improvised fiction does reveal an entirely new face of Teheran (arguably the closest we've been here since imprisoned director Jafar Panahi's Crimson Gold), but despite the forceful message of resistance it's clear both strands of No One Knows About Persian Cats don't quite gel together. The far too obvious music video approach and lax structure of the documentary angle can grow repetitive; and mr. Ghobadi missteps horribly with a melodramatic finale that seems pasted in as either a concession to an eventual domestic release for his film or an abrupt reminder of the disproportionately high stakes Iranian musicians face in trying to start a career. This ill-advised conclusion drains away the film's hopeful optimism, though it thankfully doesn't diminish the potency and energy of what has come before.

Starring Negar Shagaghi, Ashkan Kooshanejad, Hamed Behdad.
     Director, producer and art director, Bahman Ghobadi; written by mr. Ghobadi, Hossein M. Ashenaj, Roxana Saberi; director of photography (colour, widescreen, Cinechromatix processing), Touraj Aslani; film editor, Hayedeh Safiyari; musical sequences edited by Farbad Koshtinat, ms. Safiyari.
     A Mij Film production; co-producer, Mitosfilm. (French distributor, Mars Distribution. US distributor, IFC Films. World sales, Wild Bunch.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo screening room (Lisbon), May 12th 2011. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


The Lord's Ride

84 minutes

There's little wonder that French artist and director Jean-Charles Hue's second feature has created a stir among critics. Originally a multimedia artist, mr. Hue has been moving towards more conventional storytelling filmmaking through his regular work with a close-knit community of French travellers known as "yéniches" (to whom he found he was distantly related). La BM du Seigneur is a fictional take on a true event from the life of its "star", Fred Dorkel, and the fiction/documentary hybrid the film pursues has become a festival staple in the past few years, pushing the boundaries of traditional narrative cinema.
     However, mr. Hue's film, though with many merits, isn't yet the trailblazer the cinéma du réel genre needs, mostly for the same reasons that have failed other genre entries such as Bahman Ghobadi's No One Knows About Persian Cats or Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel's La Pivellina. That is, a stronger, firmer hand on the documentary side of the film and the sense that the fictional framework is trying to box in a story that refuses to fit and can't be contained. Set in and around the trailer park yéniche community of Beauvais, La BM du Seigneur starts by laying down the rhythms of daily life before inserting its stakes: the sudden religious epiphany of strongman mr. Dorkel, pushing him to choose between renouncing crime or providing for his family.
     Mr. Hue paints an intriguing picture of the community's close-knit ranks and its contradictions, visible in their devout evangelical faith. But the film is clearly divided in two halves - the documentary set-up, then the fictional pay-off - and despite the director's occasionally striking visuals (his rotating, unsettling pans come to mind), the film works better as a record of the community's boisterous relationships than as a structured narrative where too much is left unexplained.

Starring Frédéric Dorkel, Joseph Dorkel "Jo" (junior), Joseph Dorkel (senior).
     Directed and written by Jean-Charles Hue; produced by Axel Guyot; director of photography (colour, Arane Gulliver processing), Chloé Robert; art director, Christophe Simonnet; film editor, Isabelle Proust.
     A Les Films d'Avalon presentation of an Axel Guyot production, with the support of Picardy Region, French National Centre for Cinema and the Animated Image, Images of Diversity Fund, PROCIREP and ANGOA; with the participation of Cosmodigital and Dokan Post-Production; with the help of Picardy Regional Film Commission. (French distributor and world sales, Capricci Films.)
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2011 official selection advance DVD screener, Lisbon, May 5th 2011.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


98 minutes

Coming of age tales have been filmed to death over the past half century and it takes quite a distinct sensibility to make something new off such a hackneyed concept. Yet that is precisely French first-timer Mikhaël Hers' achievement in Memory Lane, even though its success depends on the viewer's tolerance to its peculiar emotional tonality - you do need to be on the correct wavelength to enjoy its small, melancholy charms. Mr. Hers' subjects aren't teenagers about to embark on adult life; rather twenty-somethings that have already left college and are awkwardly embracing proper jobs, live-in relationships, young families, all the while trying to retain the bridges they built during their suburban adolescence.
     Told as a flashback through the voiceover of Vincent (Thibault Vinçon), the story focuses on a "borderline" summer where a half dozen of friends through school meet again on their Parisian suburb home grounds for a month of parties, promenades and stock-taking, with a sense that their carefree years are getting behind them and life as an adult will never feel the same way. Sisters Muriel and Céline (Lolita Chammahg and Stéphane Déhel), both living and working in other French regions, have returned to learn their father is terminally ill; Raphaël (Thomas Blanchard) is in the throes of a serious depression, paralyzed by the idea of what the future might hold.
     Mr. Hers manages to perfectly capture the golden moment when people grow up and reluctantly realise they can't hold on to their past anymore; he does so through an exquisitely managed accumulation of apparently slight, run-of-the-mill moments, played note-perfect by a cast of mainly young actors and soundtracked by a smart selection of melancholy indie-pop that mirrors the film's lovely, attentive wistfulness. Elegantly and carefully assembled, Memory Lane is a lighter-than-air concoction whose delicate tone is the only way such a fragile storyline could work; that mr. Hers controls it so effortlessly is a good omen for his career.

Starring Thibault Vinçon, Dounia Sichov, Lolita Chammah, Stéphane Déhel, Didier Sandre, Bérangère Bonvoisin, Thomas Blanchard, Marie Rivière, David Sztanke, Louis-Ronan Choisy, Morgane Rouault, Caroline Baehr, Jeanne Candel, Hubert Benhamdine.
     Directed by Mikhaël Hers; produced by Florence Auffret; written by mr. Hers and Mariette Désert; music by David Sztanke; director of photography (colour, LTC/Scanlab processing), Sébastien Buchmann; production and costume designer, Catherine Cosme; film editor, Pauline Gaillard.
     A Les Films de la Grande Ourse presentation/production, with the participation of the French National Cinematography and Moving Image Centre and Cinécinéma, in association with Cofinova 6; with the support of the Brittany Region; with the collaboration of the Brittany Film Commission and Maison de l'Image Basse-Normandie. (French distributor, Ad Vitam. World sales, Films Distribution.)
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2011 official selection advance DVD screener, Lisbon, May 7th 2011.


Monday, May 16, 2011


The Sky Above

71 minutes

Another entry in the current cinéma du réel ("cinema of the real") movement that molds real life into loose fiction, Brazilian director Sérgio Borges' debut featre follows the daily routine of three "outcasts" of Belo Horizonte: Márcio (Márcio Jorge), a devout Hare Krishna follower who works in a call centre; Lwei (Edjucu Moio), an aspiring writer who lives for his work but has never published; and Everlyn (Sarug Dagir), a transexual prostitute-cum-university lecturer. Mr. Borges' approach is to "stage" their real lives as if they were fictional characters by asking them to recreate them before the camera, all the while introducing observational moments drawn from reality, thus creating a deliberate blurring of the borders between fiction and documentary.
     But mr. Borges' gambit fails in this particular case because there doesn't seem to be any logical rhyme or reason to his choices: there is no insight into Márcio's personality, for instance, turning his side of the story into the most quietly observational, whereas Everlyn and Lwei reveal so much about themselves the film loses any balance. Above all, the director fails to communicate to his viewers what really connects these three characters for him and why did he think it would be interesting to attempt this experience with them, turning O Céu sobre os Ombros into a self-defeating proposition.

Starring Edjucu Moio, Márcio Jorge, Sarug Dagir; with Grace Passô, Lili Fernandes, Jonatas Fernandes, Clécio Luz, Makely Ka, Wagner Rodrigues, Lilamrpa.
     Directed by Sérgio Borges; produced by Helvécio Marins Jr., mr. Borges, Luana Melgaço, Felipe Duarte, Clarissa Campolina; written by Manuela Dias, mr. Borges; director of photography (colour, Pro Dot digital intermediate), Ivo Lopes Araújo; film editor, Ricardo Pretti.
     A Teia/Orobó Filmes/Figa Films presentation/production; associate producer, Primo Filmes; with funding from the Belo Horizonte Cultural Incentive Municipal Law, Minas Gerais Government; with support from Cinema, Cinepro Dot, Serrassonica. (World sales, Figa Films.)
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2011 official selection advance DVD screener, Lisbon, May 6th 2011. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Above Us Only Sky

87 minutes

What happens when you decide to film a story while leaving a large number of blanks to be filled, unafraid to lead into dead-ends or false leads? German director Jan Schomburg does just that in Above Us Only Sky, greatly helped by the wondrously fine-tuned performance of Sandra Hüller as Martha Sabel, a Cologne schoolteacher whose storybook life with doctoral student Paul (Felix Knopp) is shattered on the eve of moving to Marseille, at the end of the film's first act. To explain why would mean giving up the first of the story's twists, where Schomburg introduces a mildly disquieting thriller element only to infuriatingly background it soon afterwards until it all but disappears.
     That is probably the one qualm that may disappoint viewers expecting from Above Us Only Sky what it clearly doesn't want to be: under its crisp veneer of solid, unremarkable mainstream filmmaking, this is a film that stubbornly refuses to accomodate those expectations and prefers to follow its story through a series of angular twists and turns. The real subject of the film is the depth and limit of one's love and feelings; how far will you go to hold on to them, can you ever be over them? Schomburg's film is, granted, essentially a writer's conceit, visible in the way he throws into disarray the classic three-act strategy (by introducing what seems a new lead character precisely at the film's halfway point, midway through act two), but one that he directs and materializes more than adequately.

Starring Sandra Hüller, Georg Friedrich, Felix Knopp, Kathrin Wehlisch, Aljoscha Stadelmann, Valery Tscheplanowa, Stephan Grossmann.
     Directed and written by Jan Schomburg; produced by Claudia Steffen, Christoph Friedel; music by Tobias Wagner, Steven Schwalbe; director of photography (colour, Cinepostproduction processing), Marc Comes; production designers, Cordula Jedamski, Cora Pratz; costume designer, Frauke Firl; film editor, Bernd Euscher.
     A Pandora Film Produktion presentation/production, in co-production with Westdeutscher Rundfunk; supported by Filmstiftung Nordhrein-Westfalen. (World sales, Bavaria Film International.)
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2011 official competition advance DVD screener, Lisbon, May 5th 2011.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


102 minutes

The so-called "Romanian new wave" may be fast in risk of becoming a cliché since all its films share a similar set of characteristics: lengthy single takes or tracking shots; naturalistic acting filmed in medium or long shot; gentle, absurdist, wry humour; absence of music; etc. Marian Crisan's debut feature Morgen, produced by The Death of mr. Lazarescu and Aurora director Cristi Puiu's Mandragora outfit, fits all these tropes to a T; but what is astonishing is just how much mileage mr. Crisan, and Romanian filmmakers in general, are still able to get out of them without feeling as if they're flogging it to death. Morgen is a smart look at the problems of immigration in modern Europe, as struggling Romanian farmer Nelu (András Hatházi), living on the border with Hungary, takes in Turkish illegal Behran (Yilmaz Yalcin), trying to reach his family in Germany.
     Initially exploiting him for all he's worth - from accepting the money he'd saved to pay for the trip to making him work for free around the farm - Nelu, who moonlights himself as a security guard at a local supermarket, slowly becomes fond of Behran. Confronted by the callousness of those around him, from his perpetually grudging wife to his money-obsessed brother-in-law, the farmer finds himself taking a stand for a guy who could be himself but for the grace of God.
     As the bemused observation of the blind application of the law that we recognise from other "Romanian new wave" works gives way to a sense of callous, inhumane oppression, Morgen, steadily helmed by mr. Crisan, becomes the most openly political and politically resonant of its compatriots; a film that is Romanian, yes, but talks to all of Europe.

Starring András Hatházi, Yilmaz Yalcin; Elvira Rîmbu, Dorin C. Zachei, Levente Molnar, Razvan Vicoveanu.
     Directed and written by Marian Crisan; produced by Anca Puiu; director of photography (Magyar Filmlaboratorium colour processing, widescreen), Tudor Mircea; production designer, Róbert Kóteles; costume designer, Alexandra Ungureanu; film editor, Tudor Pojoni.
     A Mandragora Movies production, in collaboration with Slot Machine, Katapult Film; with support from the Romanian National Cinematography Centre, Hungarian Motion Picture Public Foundation, TV2, Les Films du Losange. (World sales, Les Films du Losange.)
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2011 official competition advance DVD screener, Lisbon, May 5th 2011. 

Friday, May 13, 2011


120 minutes

It's rather unusual to see six directors sharing credit on one feature film, let alone on a debut feature. But O Que Há de Novo no Amor? is a rather unusual film, even if one that is pretty much never the sum of its parts. In fact, the shared directing credit between six young Portuguese directors with only a handful of shorts to their CVs hides the fact that their effort is a portmanteau collection, organised around the separate lives of five young suburbans who play together in a struggling rock band, with each director contributing one story seen from one point of view.
     The film stakes a hybrid territory of its own - neither mosaic melodrama à la Magnolia (since the stories aren't cross cut) nor 1960s European episode movie (there isn't a separate presentation for each as they share characters and an overarching storyline). That it doesn't work entirely is mainly due to the disparity of talent involved: Mónica Santana Baptista's is the best of the six, a nervous, handheld dynamic tale of unruly courtship, closely followed by Rui Santos' abstract, atmospheric meditation on loss, and Hugo Alves' gay cruising tale, as successful formally as it is narratively slight. At the other end, Hugo Martins' steel-grey exploration of regret is the more banal and least convincing of the six, and Tiago Nunes and Patrícia Raposo's segments try valiantly, as does mr. Martins, to make the most out of non-existing tales. Despite the halting rhythm (surprising in a movie where rock music is so important), the experience may not be entirely successful but it's definitely worth a look, if only for the technical proficiency each director has attained and brings to the project.

Starring Joana Santos, Ângelo Rodrigues, Raquel André; Miguel Raposo, Diana Nicolau; David Cabecinha, Inês Vaz, Sofia Peres; João Cajuda, João Pedro Silva; Nuno Casanovas, Joana Metrass. 
     Directed by Mónica Santana Baptista, Hugo Martins, Tiago Nunes, Hugo Alves, Rui Santos, Patrícia Raposo; produced by Maria João Sigalho; written by ms. Baptista, mr. Martins, mr. Nunes, mr. Alves, mr. Santos, mr. Raposo and Octávio Rosado; music by Peixe:Avião; director of photography (Rosa Filmes processing, widescreen), Daniel Neves; production designer, Patrícia Maravilha; costume designer, Tatiana Nozes; film editor, mr. Santos.
     A Rosa Filmes presentation/production, with support from the Portuguese Ministry of Culture-Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual and financing from Radio and Television of Portugal. (Portuguese distributor, Zon Lusomundo Audiovisuais. World sales, Rosa Filmes.)
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2011, official selection, Rosa Filmes editing room (Lisbon), April 27th 2011.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


98 minutes

You might be forgiven for thinking that Austrian director Jessica Hausner's oblique, mysterious moodpiece is a particularly subtle satire of blind faith and organised religion. In fact, ms. Hausner's third feature, shot after a year-long negotiation with the French Pyrenees sanctuary of Lourdes, is a clear-eyed recognition of the ultimately inscrutable role and power of religious faith, as told through the story of a young woman affected with multiple-sclerosis (an excellent Sylvie Testud) who visits Lourdes in an organised pilgrimage.
     Ms. Hausner's meticulously constructed, observational long takes, suggesting a documentary-trained filmmaker at work (nothing could be further from the truth), underline the way in which something as essentially personal as religion has become commoditised as a group event. The whole film develops as a sort of duel, or a dichotomy, between individuality and group, self and community. This is made all the more remarkable by the writer/director's decision of making her "heroine" someone who is not devoutly religious but merely "tags along" these trips as a way to get out and not feel sorry for herself. But the film accords an astounding sense of respect to its subjects, and the deliberate ambiguity of the narrative (progressing not so much through action but in unspoken, tacitly understood developments), makes Lourdes into a truly disquieting effort, asking difficult questions about a difficult subject in an objectively dispassionate yet subterraneanly vibrant way.

Starring Sylvie Testud, Léa Seydoux, Bruno Todeschini, Elina Löwensohn, Gilette Barbier, Gerhard Liebmann, Linde Prelog, Heidi Baratta.
     Directed and written by Jessica Hausner; produced by Martin Gschlacht, Susanne Marian, Philippe Bober; director of photography (Cinepostproduction processing), mr. Gschlacht; production designer, Katharina Wöppermann; costume designer, Tanja Hausner; film editor, Karina Ressler.
     A Coop 99 Filmproduktion/Essential Filmproduktion/Parisienne de Production/Thermidor Filmproduktion presentation/production, in co-production with ARTE France Cinéma and ZDF, with the participation of ORF and TPS Star, with the support of the Austrian Film Institute, Filmfonds Wien, Eurimages programme, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Filmstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen and Midi-Pyrenees Region in association with the French National Centre for Cinema. (World sales, The Coproduction Office.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Medeia King 3 (Lisbon), April 20th 2011. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


71 minutes

After a series of home-made, hand-crafted animated shorts, US filmmaker Brent Green moves up to feature length with an equally handcrafted but significantly more ambitious project. Made with a small crew of friends and collaborators in mr. Green's own Pennsylvania backyard, Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then is entirely shot in stop-motion live-action: a series of animated still photographs assembled over a pre-recorded sound and dialogue track, telling the true story of Kentucky hardware store clerk Leonard Wood (Michael McGinley), who decided to rebuild his house as a "healing machine" to cure his ailing wife.
     The "outsider art" aspect of the tale meshes perfectly with mr. Green's baroque, recherché style of animation (think of it as naïf-hillbilly-grotesque, in the vein of a deliberately rural Tim Burton), and the unlikely inspirational aspect of the tale gives flight to a series of occasionally inspired moments of visual poetry. But it soon becomes apparent that the project doesn't really work at feature length: the wonderment of the unusual visuals disappears quickly, and the impassionate, sermonising aspects of mr. Green's quavering voiceover grow affected and tiresome rather than affecting and sincere over the course of 70 minutes. Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then is too interesting to be dismissed as a mere curio, but not enough of an achievement to be treated as more than that.

Starring Michael McGinley, Donna Kozloskie.
     Directed, photographed and edited by Brent Green; produced by Martina Batan; written by mr. Green, ms. Kozloskie and mr. McGinley; music by mr. Green, ms. Kozloskie, Jim Becker, mr. McGinley; camera, mr. Green, Jem Cohen, Holli Hopkins, ms. Kozloskie, Pete Sillen and Jake Sillen; production designers, mr. Green, ms. Kozloskie, Rodney McLaughlin and Jerry Smith; sound design, ms. Kozloskie. 
     A Nervous Films production. (US distributor and world sales, Nervous Films.)
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2011 official selection advance DVD screener (Lisbon), May 4th 2011.

2nd Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then trailer from Brent Green on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


95 minutes

For cult Portuguese veteran Edgar Pêra, this adaptation of writer Branquinho da Fonseca's 1942 novella about a big city bureaucrat caught in the seductive wave of a decadent country aristocrat was a long-gestating project, following on his 2007 little-seen filming of the writer's sole novel, Rio Turvo. On paper, O Barão seems to have little to do with mr. Pêra's surreal cyber-DIY aesthetics, until one realises the he uses it as an unexpectedly accessible synthesis, both stylistic and thematic, of his 30-year directorial career on the fringes of mainstream film-making.
     His explorations of Portuguese history and character are visible in the parable of the Baron as a metaphor for an old, parochial country, corrupt, debauched, hypocritical; his fascination with genre cinema, B-movies and trash eccentricity comes through in Luís Branquinho's dazzling high-contrast black-and-white cinematography and the director's decision to film the story as a throwback to 1930s Universal and 1950s cheap B-series horror movies as helmed by an epileptic Guy Maddin, with mr. Pêra's regular accomplice Nuno Melo channeling Bela Lugosi and Klaus Kinski in his portrayal of the Baron. The result is the director's most accessible fiction yet, playfully described on the press notes as a "2D movie", although it never fully abandons mr. Pêra's playful, often impenetrable way with narrative and insistence on highly baroque visuals (the creativity of the English subtitling is wondrous and yet over the top). Yet O Barão is also an unapologetically romantic tale of love and regret (as indeed most classic horror movies) and the director's most sincere work yet.

Starring Nuno Melo, Marcos Barbosa, Leonor Keil.
     Directed by Edgar Pêra; produced by Ana Costa; screenplay by Luísa Costa Gomes, mr. Pêra, based on the novella by Branquinho da Fonseca, O Barão; music by Vozes da Rádio; director of photography (b&w, Tóbis processing), Luís Branquinho; art director, Fernando Areal; costume designer, Susana Abreu; film editors, Tiago Antunes, João Gomes. 
     A Cinemate/Bando à Parte co-production with financial support from the Portuguese Ministry of Culture-Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual and Radio and Television of Portugal. (World sales, Cinemate.)
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2011 official selection, advance press screening, Culturgest - Pequeno Auditório (Lisbon), April 29th 2011. 

Monday, May 09, 2011


72 minutes

An auspicious feature debut for young US director Matthew Petock (also scripting and editing), A Little Closer doesn't really bring anything new to the table of modern American no-budget indie film-making. Its lyrical, hand-held approach to character and landscape unavoidably recalls earlier "fellow travelers" such as Antonio Campos (Afterschool), Lance Hammer (Ballast) or the early films of David Gordon Green. But mr. Petock engagingly transcends the classification as yet another young rural filmmaker through a keen sense of narrative and a lovely attention to detail, essential if his slender story is to work.
     Essentially, A Little Closer is a classic country song wrapped in new-fangled alt-country trappings about people looking for love in all the wrong places: here, it is harried single mom Sheryl (a remarkable Sayra Player), whose awkward attempts at socialising in rural Virginia are juxtaposed to the sexual awakenings of her two callous teenage sons. Although the film spends a lot of time cutting between the three, it's Sheryl's tale that gives it an edge, especially in a superb single take on a dancefloor that runs the gamut of love-gone-wrong emotions only through ms. Player and Chris Kies' eyes and bodies. It's not the only highlight of the film, but is the strongest evidence that mr. Petock is a talent worth keeping your eye on.

Starring Sayra Player, Parker Lutz, Eric Baskerville.
     Directed, written and edited by Matthew Petock; produced by mr. Petock, Rachael Kliman, Holly Clarke, Zachary Shedd; music by Travis Tucker, Philip Heesen III; director of photography (colour), Daniel Patrick Carbone; production designer, ms. Clarke; costume designer, Lauren Edelstein.
     A Flies presentation/production, in association with Armian Pictures. (World sales, Coach 14.)
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2011 official selection advance DVD screener, May 3rd 2011.

A LITTLE CLOSER (Trailer, 2011) from Matthew Petock on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 08, 2011


73 minutes

For his first fiction feature, acclaimed filmmaker Sérgio Tréfaut works within the thematic strands of the documentary but wraps them up in a strikingly stylized, formalist aesthetic certain to surprise and probably alienate viewers. Inspired by the true story of a Ukrainian woman (Maria de Medeiros) trapped in the Kafkian nightmare of an immigration arrest when arriving in Portugal to spend New Year's with her immigrant husband, mr. Tréfaut aims to denounce the inexcusable behaviour of immigration officials whose mere suspicions (possibly unfounded) are enough to destroy a life. It is the sort of tale you would expect an activist documentary filmmaker to shoot as a debut fiction feature in an impassionate, outraged Ken Loach kind of way - but that's not what you get here.
    Instead, mr. Tréfaut wraps it in an almost experimental form: Viagem a Portugal was filmed in heavily stylized, digital black and white on studio sets neutral to the point of blandness or theatrical suggestion, subverting the classic shot/reverse shot two-hander by first showing a scene from one point of view then repeating it in reverse shot instead of crosscutting it. The director thus constructs the film as a battle of wills between the lost Ukrainian tourist who doesn't speak a word of Portuguese and the punctilious immigration official who is quick to jump to conclusions (Isabel Ruth). The visuals suggest an aspect of video art at work, but the intelligence of using the style as a mean to focus on the story and the performances cleverly ejects all possibility of indignant grandstanding and schmaltzy melodrama the story could take on. The result is a smart and significantly more affecting film than if it had been done in the traditional narrative way.

Starring Maria de Medeiros, Isabel Ruth, Makena Diop.
     Directed, produced and written by Sérgio Tréfaut; director of photography (black & white, Tóbis processing), Edgar Moura; production and costume designer, Ana Direito; film editors, mr. Tréfaut, Gonçalo Soares, Pedro Marques, Mariana Gaivão.
     A Faux presentation/production, with support from the Portuguese Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual, Radio and Television of Portugal, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon City Hall and Serpa City Hall. (Portuguese distributor and world sales, Faux.)
     Screened: IndieLisboa Festival 2011, Observatório sidebar advance press screening, São Jorge 3 (Lisbon), April 21st 2011. 

Saturday, May 07, 2011


70 minutes

For her first feature-length project, New York-based experimental filmmaker and film curator Marie Losier embraces a traditional documentary format, even if somewhat loosely structured, to narrate the rather unique love story between British musician and experimental artist Genesis P-Orridge (né Neil Megson) and American performance artist Lady Jaye (née Jacqueline Breyer). Orridge and Lady Jaye not only married but also underwent cosmetic surgery to become similar to each other, in search of a communion in androgyny that was shattered by her untimely death in 2007.
    Ms. Losier's brief film, not surprisingly, underlines the couple's desire to blur the borders between life and art, fulfilling its stated desire of being a record of this life lived as an art project but with a strong parallel strand focussed on the actual life and times of each one. But beyond that record, which will undoubtedly be of interest for those who have followed Orridge's career since experimental-art group COUM Transmissions and post-punk industrial rock group Throbbing Gristle and for those interested in the extreme fringes of modern art, ms. Losier doesn't bring any particularly noteworthy outside point of view, nor does she manage to instill on viewers unfamiliar with the life or work of the androgyne musician the sense that The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye is anything more than a home movie.

Directed, photographed (in colour) and edited by Marie Losier; produced by ms. Losier, Steve Holmgren; music by Bryin Dall; additional editing, Marc Vives.
     A Marie Losier/Steady Orbits production. (World sales, Cat&Docs.)
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2011 official selection, advance DVD screener, Lisbon, April 26th 2011.

Friday, May 06, 2011


109 minutes

As far as first features go, Portuguese commercial director João Nuno Pinto acquits himself honorably weith América, a strikingly imagined but narratively muddled dramedy that comes across as a cross between John Steinbeck's Cannery Row and Emir Kusturica's boisterous dark comedies as shot by French stylist Jean-Pierre Jeunet. That isn't to say the film, adapted from a short story by writer and playwright Luísa Costa Gomes, works as its director probably intended; it more often seems to work despite mr. Pinto's intentions, mainly due to his inconstant balancing of the narrative's two plotlines.
    On one side, there's the wistful, melancholy tale of Liza (Chulpan Khamatova), a Russian immigrant to Portugal who, seduced by small-time crook Vítor (Fernando Luís), finds herself caged as the housewife she never meant to be. On the other, there's the wryly humourous look at Vítor and his accomplices' frustrated attempts at "making it big" through a less-than-well-thought-out fake passport scam. Liza's is the most interesting of the stories, but it's the second that mr. Pinto pays more attention to, with the highly stylized, golden hues of Carlos Lopes's photography giving América the nostalgic hue of mr. Jeunet's crowdpleasers Amélie from Montmartre or Micmacs.
     Still, there is an obvious talent at work here, both in the film's effective use of space as a neat structural divide, and in the generally excellent performances of a multinational cast thankfully speaking each, for once in a multinational production, in their own languages.

Starring Chulpan Khamatova, Fernando Luís, María Barranco; Cassiano Carneiro, Dinarte Branco, Mikhail Evlanov, Paco Maestre, Manuel da Custódia, Dmitri Ivanov, Nikolay Glinsky, Karen Badalov.
     Directed by João Nuno Pinto; produced by Pandora da Cunha Telles, mr. Pinto, Pedro Uriol, Sara Silveira, Giya Lordkipanidze, Aleksandr Sheyn, Viktor Taknov, António da Cunha Telles, Miguel Varela; screenplay by mr. Pinto, Luísa Costa Gomes, Melanie Dimantis, based on the short story by ms. Costa Gomes, "Criação do Mundo"; music by Mikel Salas; director of photography (Tóbis processing), Carlos Lopes; art director, Wayne dos Santos; costume designer, Isabel Carmona; film editor, Luca Alverdi. 
     An Ukbar Filmes/2Plan2/Morena Films/Dezenove Som e Imagem/Garage/Tiki Voodoo/Filmes de Fundo production; with financial support from the Portuguese Ministry of Culture-Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual, Spanish Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual Arts, Ibermedia Programme, Radio and Television of Portugal, Brazilian National Agency for Cinema. (Portuguese distributor, Zon Lusomundo Audiovisuais. World sales, Latido Films.)
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2011 official selection, distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo screening room (Lisbon), April 26th 2011.

Sunday, May 01, 2011


88 minutes

Milanese director Michelangelo Frammartino's sophomore feature has become the arthouse darling of the year since its low-key unveiling at the Cannes 2010 Directors Fortnight. It has also become a little bit of a cause célèbre due to the obvious division between those who have given in to its "slow cinema" charms and those who feel it has been boosted beyond its actual worth. Either way you look at it, though, Le Quattro Volte is an immense achievement simply using a thin fictional veneer and an overarching conceptual framework to harness an essentially documentary exploration of the quiet life in a remote Calabrian village (home to the director's own family).
     The film's title is derived from Pythagoras' approach to the cycle of life through which all consciousness goes, made visible by mr. Frammartino as a "relay race" from man (a dying shepherd) to animal (a newborn kid goat), vegetable (a fir tree) and mineral (charcoal bricks) — from ashes to ashes in under 90 minutes, through a series of often silent, beautifully poetic long takes whose cumulative impact is a lot stronger than taken individually. There is a sense that the Italian director is marshalling forces he quite can't control yet. The goat segment is far too Disneyfied for comfort — though that may not so much be mr. Frammartino's fault as our own viewer experiences and prejudices brought to bear. The playfulness of the first half (and especially of the bravura shot of the village procession) is replaced in the second by a more traditional documentary tone, and the general structuring may be far too eliptical for its own good. But the sheer adventure of such a theoretical, cerebral object that deliberately flaunts the "official" borders of cinematic genres, and its rigorous construction, are enough to warrant the viewer's attention.

With Giuseppe Fuda, Nazareno Timpano, Bruno Timpano, Artemio Vellone, Domenico Cavallo, Santo Cavallo, Peppe Cavallo, Isidoro Chiera, Iolanda Manno, Cesare Ritorto.
     Directed and written by Michelangelo Frammartino; produced by Marta Donzelli, Gregorio Paonessa, Susanne Marion, Philippe Bober, Gabriella Manfré, Elda Guidinetti, Andres Pfaeffli; director of photography (Augustuscolor), Andrea Locatelli; production designer, Matthew Broussard; costume designer, Gabriella Maiolo; film editors, Benni Atria, Maurizio Grillo.
     A Vivo Film/Essential Filmproduktion/Invisibile Film/Ventura Film presentation/production; with the support of the Italian Ministry for Cultural Goods and Activities, Torino Film Lab, Eurimages programme; with the contribution of Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Fondazione Calabria Film Commission, Calabria Region; in collaboration with ZDF-ARTE, Cinecittà Luce, RSI Swiss Television; associate producers, Altamarea Film, Caravan Pass; with the collaboration of Rome Lazio Film Commission and Capital Regions for Cinema; with the support of the Serra San Bruno city hall. (Italian distributor, Cinecittà Luce. World sales, Coproduction Office.)
     Screened: distributor advance DVD screener, April 25th 2011.