Sunday, May 31, 2015

TOMORROWLAND: A WORLD BEYOND

It's quite compelling to try and define a genealogy for acclaimed Pixar animator Brad Bird's genre-defying fantasy. On one hand, Tomorrowland overflows with the geek-friendly nostalgia for the bright clear future as imagined in the post-WWII affluence of the American Dream, all streamlined chrome and aerodynamic industrial design, the idea of science as a striving towards progress for the greater good. On the other hand, it does so in a twice-removed manner, through the filter of Steven Spielberg's wide-eyed-wonder fantasies of the 1970s and 1980s (both directed and produced by him) and of the refracted effect they had on an entire generation of storytellers that have since become Hollywood's go-to geeks - some of which are actually involved in the production.

     Hence Tomorrowland combines the forces of the two most important and resourceful creative forces of post-Spielberg Hollywood: the Pixar/Apple axis, Mr. Bird being the biggest outside hire of the studio, responsible for developing and directing The Incredibles and taking over Ratatouille after a creative crisis; and the J. J. Abrams/Bad Robot stable, where co-writer and script-doctor du jour Damon Lindelof earned his chops. But, for all the hope you might have Tomorrowland might inject some wholesome family freshness into the four-quadrant assembly-line major-studio blockbuster, the truth is that this sincere and eye-catching but lumbering adventure is a lot less than the sum of its parts would suggest.

     Starting strongly out of the gate with a narrative playfulness and a sense of mischief that resumes rather neatly its approach, Tomorrowland slowly succumbs under the weight of a tantalizing mythology, visually dazzlingly realized but never finding a plot that would sustain it artfully. This is all the more frustrating and infuriating since if there's one thing Pixar has always made a point of is to have a strong narrative, and the film is clearly designed as a throwback to an earlier, more structured idea of what a family blockbuster should be. Instead, we get a busload of product placement (it's a film inspired by Disneyland's futuristic area and tailor-made for theme park rides), some of which egregious, some of which tongue-in-cheek (look for the references to the now Disney-owned Star Wars franchise, being run by Mr. Abrams).

     This is offset by an earnest wish to offer food for thought alongside the fizzy soda sugar-rush of the mystery being laid out by Messrs. Bird and Lindelof: the tale of teenage science fan Casey (Britt Robertson) and former kid inventor Frank (George Clooney), brought together by the mysterious Athena (Raffey Cassidy) to restore the mythical Tomorrowland to a semblance of hope and, with it, the very world we live in. Hope is, again, the key concept: Tomorrowland is a wide-eyed paean to the opportunity and possibility hiding in the mundane, just waiting for the right trigger to be awakened.

     This is charmingly crystallized in the precociously and preternaturally aware know-it-all Casey, the daughter of a NASA engineer about to be made redundant by the scrapping of the space programme, whose unwillingness to give up when the going gets tough marks her as a resourceful heroine straight out of the Spielberg playbook, and an incarnation of the can-do pioneer spirit often identified with the American Dream. She and Frank could be the two sides of the same coin - the older man, a former inhabitant of Tomorrowland banished for life, suggesting the bitterness and cynicism of a dreamer crushed by the greyness of reality - and she is going to need that can-do spirit. Her glimpses of the futuristic city, a technological utopia constructed by an elite of artists and scientists working together for the common good in a parallel dimension, put her on the "hot seat", as only a dreamer can find a solution to what's ailing both the utopia gone sour and our very world that is going to hell in a handbasket.

     On paper, this is one mystery that seems to tie itself in knots as you try to explain it, but in truth Mr. Bird's command of storytelling is such that it all makes perfect sense and you "get" in no time at all everything happening in this rather busy film - the initial "exposition" goes by in a flash and the film's bouncy, cheerful enthusiasm (much underlined by Michael Giacchino's orchestral score) keeps it zipping along nicely. In between all that ingenuity, though, Tomorrowland becomes bogged down in a surprising series of plot holes the script (by Messrs. Lindelof and Bird) fails to properly solve. What happened to Tomorrowland for it to fall into autarky? Why was Frank banished? Who are the mysterious "men in black" chasing Casey?

     You get the feeling that the filmmakers kind of hoped that the visual sleight of hand and the constant shift between worlds would distract the viewer or maybe even hide the fact that this is one mystery that is meant to be left unsolved. In the process, Tomorrowland becomes so unbalanced and flimsy that what could have been a smart take on the need to believe in imagination turns into a fumbled, if intriguing, Spielberg rip-off that comes to an end with a whimper rather than a bang.

TOMORROWLAND: A WORLD BEYOND
USA, 2015
130 minutes
Cast George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key
Director Brad Bird; screenwriters Damon Lindelof and Mr. Bird; based on a story by Mr. Lindelof, Mr. Bird and Jeff Jensen; cinematographer Claudio Miranda (colour, widescreen); composer Michael Giacchino; designer Scott Chambliss; costumes Jeffrey Kurland; editors Walter Murch and Craig Wood; effects supervisors Craig Hammack, Eddie Pasquarello and John Knoll; producers Mr. Lindelof, Mr. Bird and Jeffrey Chernov; production companies Walt Disney Pictures and A113 Productions
screened May 22nd 2015, NOS Colombo IMAX, Lisbon (distributor press screening)


Saturday, May 30, 2015

TIMBUKTU

A humane look at the tragedies brought on by religious fundamentalism, Abderrahmane Sissako's fourth fiction feature is a small gem of a movie that cleverly avoids the well-intentioned tone of most message movies. Instead, the Mauritanian-born director adopts the clear-eyed tone of a village elder who has seen a lot and passes no judgment, telling his story through a patient accumulation of apparently minor details, its leisurely pace and gentle rhythms contributing to a powerfully affecting end result.

     In truth, Timbuktu does have a central plot - the tragedy that befalls herding couple Satima (Toulou Kiki) and Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) when one of their cows strays - but it seems to emerge very slowly from a wealth of episodes connected only by their location in the Malian city of Timbuktu during its occupation by the Islamic fundamentalists of the Ansar Dine group. In that sense, Mr. Sissako comes across like the village elder seen gently berating the warriors that disrespect a house of prayer or discussing the finer points of Islamist interpretation.

     The importance of traditions and communal culture in these isolated communities clash continually with the rigid strictures imposed from the outside, from the fishmonger who protests at having to wear gloves in public to the local madwoman walking the streets in colourful clothes while insulting the jihadis who spend much of their time discussing soccer and the talents of Zidane and Messi - though playing soccer is forbidden by their apparent random diktats. At one point, the Islamic warriors search the town for the source of the music heard floating in the distance, and when they get there they call their leader for instructions: "they're playing devotional music celebrating the Prophet. What are we to do?" - all the while a former rapper struggles with his commitment to the holy war and one of the jihadis breaks off from his duties for interpretive dancing.

     In its apparently casual, unforced way, the greater picture of Timbuktu grows out of the careful juxtaposition of these vignettes, beautifully lensed and framed by DP Sofian el Fani. They create not so much a narrative as a mood, a sense of fate, of people caught up in something they can't quite fathom or understand but that is changing their world inexorably. In that sense, Mr. Sissako's film can also work as a metaphor for the delicate balancing of tradition and progress, past and future, or as a take on the idea of cultural colonialism that seems to be at heart of so much of modern-day African filmmaking.

     To its credit, Timbuktu may be working within a "Western" production framework, but it's not trying to be a "Westernised" African film nor an "exotic Africa" film. Instead, it stands its ground with a quietly eloquent elegance, where the matter-of-fact handling slowly envelops you into a small-scale tragedy built out of unexpected building blocks. It's a gentle, wonderfully moving triumph.

TIMBUKTU
France, Mauritania, 2014
96 minutes
Cast Ibrahim Ahmed, Abel Jafri, Toulou Kiki, Layla Walet Mohamed, Mehdi A. G. Mohamed
Director Abderrahmane Sissako; screenwriters Mr. Sissako and Kessen Tall; cinematographer Sofian el Fani (colour, widescreen); composer Amin Bouhafa; designer Sébastian Birchler; costumes Ami Sow; editor Nadia ben Rachid; producers Sylvie Pialat and Mr. Sissako; production companies Les Films du Worso, Dune Vision, Arches Films, ARTE France Cinéma and Orange Studio in association with Indéfilms 2
screened May 15th 2015, Ideal, Lisbon (distributor press screening)


Friday, May 29, 2015

FEHÉR ISTEN
White God

The world is a jungle, or a zoo, or both; or so seems to suggest Hungarian film and theatre director Kornél Mundruczó, as he parallels the tales of a girl and her dog in the forceful White God. A twisted mix of animal melodrama and pointed political satire that ends as quasi-revolutionary horror thriller, appropriately signposted by Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody, White God is an operatic free-for-all you can't simply ignore away.

     Mr. Mundruczó literally pulls out all the stops to batter an audience into submission with his relentless yet strangely bewitching film; you're not sure you like it or even want to see it again, but you can't help but admire the take-it-or-leave-it bravado behind its bold conceptualizing of a butterfly-effect story of pure hearts confronted with the evil that men do. White God operates on two parallel tracks resulting from one single, apparently harmless event: a divorced dad (Sándor Zsótér) taking in his teenage daughter (Zsófia Psotta) for the summer while Mom takes off for a work conference.

     Quickly and expertly, the director sketches that the separation was tense and that nobody's particularly happy about the improvised arrangement: Lili certainly isn't, and neither is Daniel (so called in the end credits even though his name is never mentioned), doubly displeased that he has to take in as well the girl's dog, Hagen. Since in the film's Hungary mutts or half-breed dogs have to either pay a fine or be given away to a kennel, Lili's loyalty to Hagen is tested when the exasperated father, incapable of dealing with the girl's moods, ends up setting the dog loose in the streets of Budapest.

     From then on, the dog becomes a canine Balthazar that is gradually humiliated by human society, as he is taken away from the community of strays he had found refuge in, turned first into a fighting dog and eventually ending up in the dog pound, before leading his "second-rate friends" into a full-blown canine revolution. Lili, in the meantime, searches desperately all over town for him and faces only dismissive or derisive adults and uninterested, alienated fellow students; she is humiliated as much as Hagen but also eventually realises she too must rise to the occasion to stop the madness. Everybody is judgmental about everything in White God, except for girl and dog, who fight back in the way that their own experience taught them to.

     Whether that is enough is something the film's ending fails to answer definitively; whether the film's slightly apocalyptic climactic events are solved for good by Lili's intervention or merely temporarily is something Mr. Mundruczó prefers to leave for his audience to decide, having carried the viewer along a rollercoaster of precisely calibrated cause-and-effect twists and turns. Nothing at all about White God is subtle or discrete; even the references to Samuel Fuller's White Dog (in the title), fairy tales like The Pied Piper of Hamelin or the rising nationalism that is rearing its ugly head all over Europe aren't exactly hidden.

     But if White God can feel like you're being hit across the head with its easy-to-see-through metaphor, it can be very effective, and there is a rather admirable brio in Mr. Mundruczó's juxtaposition of manipulative melodrama, adult fairy tale and cautionary horror tale, shot and edited with a forceful energy, according to tried-and-true narrative precepts. It is a film that sets its course, runs true to it and damn the torpedoes; it doesn't want to be liked, it pretty much demands that you pay attention to it whether you like it or not. In some ways, that's refreshing.

FEHÉR ISTEN
Hungary, Germany, Sweden, 2014
121 minutes
Cast Zsófia Psotta, Sándor Zsótér, Szabolcs Thuróczy, Lili Monori, László Gálffi
Director Kornél Mundruczó; screenwriters Kata Wéber, Mr. Mundruczó and Viktória Petrányi; cinematographer Marcell Rév (colour, widescreen); composer Asher Goldschmidt; costumes Sabine Greunig; editor Dávid Jancsó; producer Ms. Petrányi; production companies Proton Cinema in co-production with Pola Pandora, Chimney, Filmpartners, Film i Väst and ZDF/ARTE
screened May 19th 2015, Medeia Monumental 3, Lisbon (distributor press screening)


Thursday, May 28, 2015

WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD

There is a moment, maybe a third of the way into Gregg Araki's White Bird in a Blizzard, that Eva Green's straitjacketed mother reminded me of Julianne Moore in Stephen Daldry's The Hours. She plays the same kind of self-destructive woman stifled by the society around her - but where the adaptation of Michael Cunningham's novel played it for upscale woman's melodrama, Mr. Araki goes for satirical deconstruction.

     Ms. Green's Eve Connors is like the perfect 1950s/1960s housewife lost in an 1980s world, and there is never any doubt at any point that she is fully aware of her own self-worth and will break free if needs be - an image of a perfect amazon woman mother taking her life in her hands after years spent in pain as the Perfect Mrs. That the film only truly livens around her, even though it's her disappearance that gets the plot going, is the first problem with Mr. Araki's typically skewed take on Laura Kasischke's novel.

     Its plot essentially charts what happens to those Eve leaves behind when she disppears - and in effect shows nobody misses her much, except maybe for the husband (Christopher Meloni) who seemed to look at her as merely a trophy wife. Nominally the heroine is Kat, the rebellious pre-college daughter, who was more of a pet to Eve than an actual daughter until she became old enough to overshadow her; but even an actress as resourceful as Shailene Woodley can't do much with such a passive character, in many ways her mother's daughter in the way she seems to pass by everything in her life without thinking twice about it.

     Mr. Araki makes sure to clue us in early that the Connors are hardly a picture of perfection, but Kat isn't really at all interested or challenged by the disappearance; the film seems to be much more interested in showing the strange and elusive mating rituals of 1980s adolescents and pushing the edge of social satire into candy-coloured hues and derisive mockery of the American Dream than in explaining the mystery at its core. Moving forward through leaps of logic that fail to cohere successfully as a narrative or even as a film, with style essentially taking the place of everything and stereotypes filling in for characters, White Bird in a Blizzard ends up as a grossly under-written tale, a half-remembered, half-dreamt would-be-Lynchian score-setting with cookie-cutter America. A disappointing, if moderately pleasant, riot of style and petulant provocation from a director who has often seemed to be destined for bigger and better things and whose best work seems to be behind him.

WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD
France, USA, 2014
91 minutes
Cast Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Shiloh Fernandez, Gabourey Sidibe, Thomas Jane, Dale Dickey, Mark Indelicato, Sheryl Lee, Angela Bassett
Director, screenwriter and editor Gregg Araki; based on the novel White Bird in a Blizzard by Laura Kasischke; cinematographer Sandra Valde-Hansen (colour, widescreen); composers Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd; designer Todd Fjelsted; costumes Mairi Chisolm; producers Pascal Caucheteux, Sébastien K. Lemercier, Alix Madigan-Yorkin, Pavlina Hatoupis and Mr. Araki; production companies Why Not Productions and Desperate Pictures in co-production with Wild Bunch and Orange Studio
screened May 15th 2015, Lisbon 


Tuesday, May 26, 2015

NATIONAL GALLERY

The trick of the documentary is, very often, to confuse the viewer's expectations. What may look "minor" or "major" is, in fact, neither - just part of an ongoing body of work where it all hange together more seamlessly than it may appear at first. This is very true in the case of veteran master of the vérité form Frederick Wiseman, and of his patient way of looking at and measuring complex organisations and how they work. For him, the Crazy Horse cabaret and the Paris Opera Ballet are two sides of one same coin, though from the outside one would look "minor" and the other "major".

      National Gallery has all the hallmarks of a "major" work, with Mr. Wiseman again "embedding" with a major art institution to paint a mosaic of instants and fragments over a period of time at London's National Gallery. The themes underlying it are major as well: the back and forth between art and commerce, technique and inspiration, business and passion, underlining yet again the effort, the hard work, the commitment that goes into creating an effortless viewing experience for the spectator. While the film moves between the backstage and the front of house as is Mr. Wiseman's wont, National Gallery is also a film that belies its apparent "major" approach by systematically dialing it down to the minimal detail - ie the actual art on display and its power to captivate an audience.

     What's at stake here is the simple act of leading people to appreciate and understand art, without making a big fuss about it; it's about how best to facilitate that connection and, for the director, it's all in the seeing. That is why so much of what is going on in National Gallery is truly about seeing and having the leisure to see in depth. At slightly under three hours, the film may demand an availability that some viewers may not have, but they'd be wrong to dismiss it. The most wonderful thing about Mr. Wiseman's film is how it develops a sort of throughline about art as storytelling, a painting as filmmaking without moving the camera. There's a sense that in no way is Mr. Wiseman attempting to impose anything, rather that he is allowing the camera to simply be a lens, an eye, another leisurely spectator taking in the sights and sounds of the National Gallery. A major work in a minor mode, f you will.

NATIONAL GALLERY
USA, France, 2014
173 minutes
Director and editor Frederick Wiseman; cinematographer John Davey; producers Mr. Wiseman and Pierre-Olivier Bardet; production companies Gallery Film and Idéale Audience
screened May 14th 2015, Medeia Monumental 4, Lisbon (distributor press screening)


NATIONAL GALLERY trailer from Zipporah Films on Vimeo.

Monday, May 25, 2015

DAS GROSSE MUSEUM
The Great Museum

Its simultaneous arrival with Frederick Wiseman's look at London's National Gallery shouldn't distract us from the many delights and qualities of Austrian director Johannes Holzhausen's look at Vienna's Kunsthistorischesmuseum (already a setting for Jem Cohen's much lauded Museum Hours). Certainly, it's a marginally more polished work than Mr. Wiseman's, keeping in line with the formal stylization tradition of Austrian filmmaking, and its brief, compact structure may suggest more of a time-sensitive guided tour than a more leisurely visit.

     But, as it follows the process that sees part of the museum's premises literally torn apart and rebuilt, The Great Museum proposes in effect an attentive exploration of the demands made on contemporary museums. The balance between art and commerce, spectacle and culture, is at the heart of the access-all-areas approach (not that different, to be honest, from many other site-specific documentaries): like the careful restoration of an exquisitely detailed mechanical model battleship that will eventually be exhibited behind a glass box. In shifting effortlessly between guest services and board meetings, restorers' work and questions of diplomatic protocol, marketers presenting new ideas for brand identity and curators without the budget to bid for pieces the collections sorely need, Mr. Holzhausen creates a tale of the museum as a microcosm, a mirror of the world at large.

     Like a small nation attempting to steer a ship for the common good, somewhere between the concept of art as something to be enjoyed by all in pristine conditions and the need to make it relevant to a world where the majesty of this building seems a reminder of earlier times, the Kunsthistorisches stands at a vital crossroads in today's socio-cultural landscape. Mr. Holzhausen's film perfectly encapsulates and lays out that crossroads, while showing why its existence is not only necessary but mandatory - less of a contemplative work than an explanatory one, but a ravishingly-made one.

DAS GROSSE MUSEUM
Austria, 2014
94 minutes
Director Johannes Holzhausen; screenwriters Mr. Holzhausen and Constantin Wulff; cinematographers Joerg Burger and Attila Boa (colour); editor Dieter Pichler; producer Johannes Rosenberger; production company Navigator Film
Screened May 13th 2014, Medeia Monumental 4, Lisbon (distributor press screening)



THE GREAT MUSEUM - English Trailer from NAVIGATOR Film on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

IM KELLER
In the Basement

Part of what has made Austrian filmmaking so distinctive over the past few decades has been its coolly detached approach to character and storytelling. Clinical more than just observational, unapologetic, even confrontational in its casual "matter-of-factness", this approach has made directors such as Jessica Hausner, Nikolaus Geyrhalter, the late Michael Glawogger or Michael Haneke lightning rods for media coverage.

     Ulrich Seidl has been one of this generation's most regular presences in the festival circuit, his work constantly generating passionate criticism (for or against) while applying a quasi-entomological observation of people in their natural habitats both to documentary and fictional features. In the Basement leads downstairs into the cellars and basements ubiquitous, and also infamous, around Austria, to shed light on what people do there - even though not all of it is in fact hidden or in hiding. Quite the contrary: some of these people hide nothing, like the failed opera singer who runs a shooting club, or the salaryman who plays in a brass band that rehearses in his home-sized cellar full of nazi memorabilia.

     Mr. Seidl takes us down into a "don't ask don't tell" netherworld, where everybody pretty much lets off steam, creates a cocoon, keeps the world at bay in different ways. That some of these people will be seen by the viewer as freaks is practically written into the director's project - on purpose, since Mr. Seidl's avowed desire is to strip down the "otherness" of these folk and have us look at them not as "them" but as "us". The very simple device of filming them head-on in rather long takes, looking straight into the camera, suggests unnervingly that they're looking at us as much as we are looking at them - from the other side of the mirror, impeccably framed by Mr. Seidl and the great Austrian DP Martin Gschlacht. This window into their world could be as well a window into ours, a two-way mirror where you're never quite sure which is the right side.

     The trouble Mr. Seidl's work creates in the viewer is then amplified by the measure of doubt introduced by his handling: how can a documentary be so exquisitely framed and photographed? How much of it has been staged for the camera? (In interviews, the director has pointed out that the film is not a straight vérité documentary but involves the odd staged storyline building on reality.) Can we have an answer to that, and does it even matter?

     What Mr. Seidl is suggesting with these basement visits is how much the concepts of fiction and narrative have taken over our own lives, how we need them to make sense of things but are the first to discard them or doubt them when they do not fit our preconceived notions. The director does not take sides, he merely asks us to look at these people and ask how are they different from us. We may not like the answers, but that's what the Austrians do: they ask the questions we don't really want to answer.

IM KELLER
Austria, Germany, 2014
85 minutes
Director and producer Ulrich Seidl; conceived and developed by Mr. Seidl and Veronika Franz; cinematographers Martin Gschlacht and Hans Selikovsky (colour); editor Christoph Brunner; production companies Ulrich Seidl Filmproduktion in co-production with Österreichischer Rundfunk, Coop99 Filmproduktion and Westdeutscher Rundfunk, with the participation of ARTE
Screened May 12th 2015, Ideal, Lisbon (distributor press screening)


Monday, May 18, 2015

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Far be it from me to rain on the critical parade that has received Mad Max: Fury Road as the long-awaited salvation of big-budget blockbusters. There is, to be sure, much to be complimented on Australian director George Miller's return to the franchise that made his name - and yes, Fury Road is in fact the blockbuster you despaired Hollywood could still do, marrying technical prowess, a classical sense of action and smart ideas.

     But - and this is important - even though Fury Road is good, it's only because the standard has been lowered that it looks this good. When what you're up against is the cookie-cutter, marketing-led "Marvel universe" and the outlandish tongue-in-cheek video game of Fast & Furious 7, rising above it won't be too hard.

     For sure, Mr. Miller's fourth installment in the Mad Max series, after a 30-year absence, does more than "just" rise above. A brutal, nasty, take-no-prisoners post-apocalyptic thrill ride, the new film literally throws you down the rabbit hole in the first 15 minutes with little regard for niceties or back story. Tag, you're it, put up or shut up, off you go. And there's no time to catch your breath until the film is one hour in.

     To his credit, this impressively shot, no-nonsense actioner does not look at all like the work of a 70-year old Hollywood grandee who's spent the past few years doing kid-friendly stuff like Babe or Happy Feet. Fury Road is Mr. Miller unleashing his very peculiar brand of Australian-vintage nastiness, channeling the genuinely unpredictable tension of Wolf Creek or Wake in Fright into the kamikaze take-it-or-leave-it concept of what is still the series' best film, 1981's Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. 

     Simultaneously return to the original universe and modern-day reboot, with Tom Hardy taking over Mel Gibson in the lead role, the new film suggests the series could become a post-apocalyptic parent to the adventures of the blind samurai Zatoichi, with individual self-contained adventures set in an overarching universe - and Mr. Miller has already said he has further tales planned in the series. In that sense, it's not that far from a comic-book series, only not at all concerned with hitting specific demographics or aiming for a "four-quadrant" maximum-common-denominator, watered-down attempt. Quite the opposite: Fury Road has no problem with being violent, grotesque, excessive, loud, noisy, foul; it even makes them its raison d'être, better to take the viewer by surprise once the narrative downshifts, one hour in, and reveals its true approach.

     Initially propelled by the steely terseness of Charlize Theron, impeccable as a daredevil driver escaping the clutches of the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) with a precious cargo of young women, Fury Road eventually reveals itself as a futuristic, gas-guzzling western about pioneers navigating a dangerous new frontier. Max Rockatansky (Mr. Hardy), the nominal hero, is more of a "lonesome stranger", the strong silent type that travels the land purely looking to survive but finding himself drawn into situations where he takes the side of good; the man you want to be on your side when the chips are down. Ms. Theron's Furiosa is the strong-willed pioneer woman leading a convoy of women looking to find an oasis in a dry, parched land, trying to dodge the "indians" that want to recapture them - only here, the indians are a patriarchal power elite controlling access to natural resources, and the women are striking out for their freedom from tyranny.

     By this point, you're acclimatised to the harsh nature of the film's kill-or-be-killed setting and approach. Fury Road unfolds as that rare blockbuster that wants to have its cake and eat it as well, a combination of genre film tropes that never forgets the rooting of genre in reality. Whether due to global warming, over-pollution, technology breakdown or resource scarcity, the post-apocalyptic universe of Mad Max isn't far from, say, Cormac McCarthy's desolate vision in The Road: it's simply used as a setting for a different type of storytelling in the shape of a pro-active actioner about people taking matters in their own hands, about the underdogs fighting back. Which is, at the same time, extremely Antipodean in its can-do attitude as much as it is global in the resonance of the current state of civil society.

     Still, as I said before, that doesn't make Fury Road a masterpiece: the film's loud, non-stop relentlessness (especially when seen in 3D large-format IMAX screens) can become numbing, especially with Tom Holkenborg's tribal-inflected score mixed in with the engine rumbles and constant explosions. The lack of subtlety is clearly by design, but it does become weary over two hours, with the sense that some of the chase sequences, as spectacular as they are, go on simply for too long.

     Also, disappointingly enough, Mr. Hardy, one of the best actors of his generation, is not given enough to do here. His Max is a bit of a sidekick more than a hero, with the film standing squarely on the shoulders of Ms. Theron as the hard-bitten Furiosa (not that I'll complain about that, but after all this is called Mad Max). And for a series that started out as pure, scrappy genre filmmaking to become a franchise on its own, there's a certain bitter-sweet taste of something blown out of all necessary proportions - there's simply too much of Fury Road to be able to digest properly in one sitting.

     Yet, for all of the indigestion, there is indeed something more, something better, at work in Fury Road than in most comparable blockbusters. This isn't just a cynical grab-bag, it's a serious genre movie, even if one that could have used some downsizing to hit the sweet spot.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
Australia, USA, 2015
120 minutes
Cast Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Josh Helman, Nathan Jones, Zoë Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
Director George Miller; screenwriters Mr. Miller, Brendan McCarthy and Nico Lathouris; cinematographer John Seale (colour, widescreen); composer Tom Holkenborg; designer Colin Gibson; costumes Jenny Beavan; editor Margaret Sixel; effects supervisor Andrew Jackson; producers Doug Mitchell, Mr. Miller and P. J. Voeten; production companies Warner Bros. Feature Productions and Kennedy Miller Mitchell Productions in association with Village Roadshow Pictures and Ratpac-Dune Entertainment
Screener May 11th 2015, NOS Colombo Imax, Lisbon (distributor press screening)


Sunday, May 17, 2015

SE EU FOSSE LADRÃO... ROUBAVA

(third of three, continued from Mudar de Vida)

Much of what had changed around Paulo Rocha after his two first films was evidently social and political - the country was no longer in the throes of a totalitarian regime, society was no longer as grey and as stifling as before.

     But film production remained somewhat erratic, a roulette of state financings and risk-taking producers; by effectively becoming his own producer from then on, Mr. Rocha fell between the cracks of that system. Continuing production issues plagued his films, some of which were either barely released or were seen with significant delays, up to this very last completed picture of his: Se Eu Fosse Ladrão, Roubava - copyrighted 2011, but only screened internationally in 2013 at the Locarno festival, and released commercially in Portugal in 2015 (accompanying the restorations of Os Verdes Anos and Mudar de Vida).

     Suffice to say, the initial project of a more autobiographical fictional narrative (to be called Olhos Vermelhos) also changed in due course, both because of practical impossibilities and of illness (Mr. Rocha, already ill during the shoot, would die in December 2012 before the film was effectively publicly screened). What came out was a film à clef, a collagist essay of newly-shot narative material and archival excerpts lifted from his entire oeuvre. It's a bewildering work for those who did not follow his career over time, but fascinating in the peculiar resonances it reveals, the connections between disparate works it highlights, like a critical essay made film.

     Se Eu Fosse Ladrão seems to highlight the echoes and rhyming patterns between Mr. Rocha's films, whether narrative features or documentary, illuminated through the refracted prism of a tale inspired by his own father's life; not so much a narrative as a mosaic of drifting fragments, invoked at leisure. Mr. Rocha's interest in rural life and traditions as a fountain of storytelling seems to return to its primal origins (the scene of his grandfather's death in a shack is a mirror image of Júlia's deathbed in Mudar de Vida, and is also mirrored in other scenes here presented); his simple, almost classical way with framing and camerawork is also made to be a uniting thread throughout.

     The film also shows how the director's strengths always laid in a poetic, unhurried observation, rather than in the far-fetched baroque narratives that crept up in his final fictional features (1998's O Rio do Ouro, 2000's A Raiz do Coração and 2004's Vanitas ou o Outro Mundo). For all that, Se Eu Fosse Ladrão features flashes of the director's style, teems with clues and recurring threads, but its self-referentiality is unlikely to make much sense to anyone who's not been exposed to the post-1960s films.

     Therein, in fact, lies the reason why I'm incapable of adhering more enthusiastically to what is clearly a last will and testament, maybe even a gravestone to be erected: unless you have seen everything that came before, seeing this first will be like getting to know James Joyce through reading only Ulysses. It's a tantalizing but hermetic experience, equal parts frustrating and fascinating; hardly a triumphant conclusion to a career that deserved better, more of a half-baked coda for amateurs only, offering little interest to those not in the know. I would have never "got" Paulo Rocha from seeing Se Eu Fosse Ladrão first; it is only through watching Os Verdes Anos and Mudar de Vida that you understand his promise and his talent.

     That Paulo Rocha rose to the heights of two extraordinary features in a row is to be cherished, and to see them is to recognise a superbly talented filmmaker who never reached such heights again. Start there and you will "get" him.

     Leave Se Eu Fosse Ladrão... Roubava for much later. After you "got" him.

SE EU FOSSE LADRÃO... ROUBAVA
Portugal, 2011
87 minutes
Cast Isabel Ruth, Luís Miguel Cintra, Chandra Malatitsch, Joana Bárcia, Carla Chambel, Raquel Dias, Márcia Breia, João Cardoso, João Pedro Vaz
Director Paulo Rocha; screenwriters João Viana, Regina Guimarães and Mr. Rocha; cinematographer Acácio de Almeida (colour); art director Acácio Carvalho; costumes Manuela Bronze; editor Edgar Feldman; producer Mr. Rocha; production companies Gafanha Filmes in co-production with RTP
Screened May 9th 2015, Lisbon



PAULO ROCHA : 50 ANOS DE CINEMA - TRAILER from Midas Filmes on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

MUDAR DE VIDA

(second of three, continued from Os Verdes Anos)

Fast-forward, to three years later. Paulo Rocha's sophomore feature, Mudar de Vida, was also photographed in black and white, but now by Elso Roque (who had assisted Luc Mirot in Os Verdes Anos), but unlike its brightly defined, high-contrast predecessor, the new film shifts into foggier, smokier, greyer tones.

     We're in the seaside, in the Northern fisherman's village of Furadouro, near Ovar, and the presence of the water's edge, the foam from the ebbing waves, the fog rolling in from the sea, suggests something of the undefined. It's a tale that could be a loose sequel to Os Verdes Anos, about a man returning to his hometown after time spent in the city. But the slow-seething Adelino (Brazilian actor Geraldo d'el Rey, from Glauber Rocha's Black God, White Devil) is not Júlio.

     He's not back from the city, but from the colonial war and from time spent as a fisherman in Africa, with little to show of his own, even less awaiting him, with his fiancée Júlia (Maria Barroso), tired of waiting for him, having ended up marrying his own brother. If the urban settings of Os Verdes Anos suggested both Nouvelle Vague and Antonioni, then Mudar de Vida marries the Italian director's expression of character through space in its dramatic developments with Rossellini's documentary impulse, the fishing sequences shot on location strongly reminiscent of Stromboli

     Reeling from losing both the woman he loved (and still loves) and from the near absence of work for fishermen, with his war wounds barring him from heavier jobs, Adelino is a literally broken down man who has truly nowhere to go until he meets the insouciant, rebel Albertina (Isabel Ruth, recurring from Os Verdes Anos and consolidating her role as Mr. Rocha's muse and égérie, present in nearly all of his films). She is the sister of the local landowner who's hired Adelino as a jack-of-all-trades, and she is known for her independence, all the more defiant for the small-minded mentality of these superstitious rural places.

     Though Albertina does not enter the story until the film is two-thirds of the way through, it's her arrival that introduces into Mudar de Vida the notion of a noir melodrama that was merely hinted at in Os Verdes Anos, while highlighting the possibility that this could be a reverse-Stromboli - a tale of redemption seen from a male point of view. Adelino is, like Júlio or like Karin in Rossellini's film, chafing at the shackles society wants to put on him, and he has seen a better life than what his hometown can offer him. Albertina becomes his mirage, or the light at the end of his tunnel; whereas in his previous work Mr. Rocha paints a picture of a man heading down a claustrophobic spiral with no way out, here he builds towards a tentative hope, a possibility of starting anew and escaping the atavisms of a claustrophobic society.

     Mudar de Vida is a more successfully and conventionally narrative effort, less entropic than Os Verdes Anos, but also a work every bit the equal of that stunning debut. It also brings more clearly to the fore the themes of rural traditions and everyday tragedy that would reappear regularly towards the end of the director's thin, infrequent corpus of features. It also underlines the importance of location for Mr. Rocha's work - but it's safe to say that it also marks the end of one phase of his career: there would be a 15 year break between the release of Mudar de Vida and the Cannes reveal of the follow-up, the ambitious biography of poet Wenceslau de Moraes A Ilha dos Amores, by which time a lot had changed around him in Portugal.

(second of three, to be continued)

MUDAR DE VIDA
Portugal, 1966
94 minutes
Cast Geraldo d'el Rey, Isabel Ruth, Maria Barroso, João Guedes, Nunes Vidal, Mário Santos, Constança Navarro, José Braz
Director Paulo Rocha; screenwriters Mr. Rocha and António Reis; cinematographer Elso Roque (b&w); composer Carlos Paredes; art director Zéni d'Ovar; editors Margareta Mangs, Mr. Rocha and Noémia Delgado; producers Fernando Matos Silva, Manuel Bento and Helena Vasconcelos; production company Produções Cunha Telles
Screened May 6th 2015, Ideal, Lisbon (distributor press screening)



PAULO ROCHA : 50 ANOS DE CINEMA - teaser 2 from Midas Filmes on Vimeo.

Friday, May 15, 2015

OS VERDES ANOS

The truth must come out. I did not "get" the late Paulo Rocha (1935-2012) at first.

     I couldn't, really; I could have only seen his first films on the occasional TV screening or at the Cinemateca Portuguesa, and I would have seen them "out of time" so to speak, but I was looking elsewhere at the time. So the first of his films I got to see "in time", when I was starting out as a cub reviewer, were his later, more baroque and less impressive works. That is why watching again his one-two punch of an opening gambit with 1963's Os Verdes Anos and 1966's Mudar de Vida packs such a wallop. In a country acclaimed around the world by its auteurs such as the late Manoel de Oliveira and the late João César Monteiro, that Mr. Rocha is not spoken of in the same tones, even if only for his first two features, is a wrong that needs to be righted.

     True: his career did not follow the same path of many of his contemporaries, with only nine, very uneven features spread out over 50 years, and a struggle to get them made that seemed to elude both Messrs. Oliveira and Monteiro once their 1980s/1990s heyday got going. But to watch today Os Verdes Anos and Mudar de Vida, gloriously restored (under the supervision of Pedro Costa) to the way they must have looked like when that first print was struck back in the 1960s, feels like finding long lost treasure. And the word should not be used lightly. Mr. Rocha may have never again found his way as clearly and as magnificently as he did in this first pair of pictures; and his final work, 2011's Se Eu Fosse Ladrão... Roubava, released concurrently with these two restored versions, is more interesting as a sort of film à clef than as a stand-alone picture. (More on that in a later posting.)

     This first flowering of his talent, though, is a magnificent reveal, suggesting an artist who arrives on the scene fully formed, dovetailing with the appearance of the short-lived "Cinema Novo" movement that mirrored the "new waves" sprouting all over the world. The "Cinema Novo" brought a true fresh breeze of modernism into the staid Portuguese milieu of the time, spearheaded by the work of producer António da Cunha Telles, who backed Os Verdes Anos as his first production.

     Os Verdes Anos is a time capsule of early 1960s Portugal under the pretense of a stylized romantic tragedy, a twist on the country-mouse-meets-city-mouse story, the old tale of the small-town rube learning to live in the big city. 19-year-old apprentice shoemaker Júlio (Rui Gomes) comes to Lisbon to earn a living and send money back to the family, under the aegis of his uncle Afonso (Paulo Renato), and becomes infatuated with Ilda (Mr. Rocha's muse and egerie, Isabel Ruth), a feisty live-in maid for a bourgeois couple living nearby.

     But it turns out that the the young man is seething with the sense of missing out on something - a sense that underlay, unspoken, the society of the time. Portugal in the early sixties is representes as a two-tier society - the haves and the have-nots, the masters and the servants, the elders and the youngsters, the elites and the rabble, enforced through a suffocating, greyish pressure. Stuck between his uncle's cynical, every-man-for-himself survivalism and his paramour's can-do pragmatism, Júlio finds himself chafing at the lack of opportunities the world has laid out for him.

     Shot in and around the iconic Avenida de Roma/Avenidas Novas area of Lisbon, then recently urbanised but still surrounded by landfills, plots of green and unzoned backyards, Os Verdes Anos also uses space as a signifier - how, even within the "new town" looking towards the feature, the presence of the countryside still encroaches, suggesting a country stuck in two gears, torn between looking back and moving forward. The architecture is here both promise and trap, just as Mr. Rocha's elegantly simple but never simplistic handling makes the whole thing even more affecting, reminding of Michelangelo Antonioni's studies in landscape and alienation.

     Could all of this have been visible, even understood, at the time? The dour tone of the plot, forcing the hapless Júlio into a desperate, catastrophic downward spiral, certainly had little to do with what was passing as homegrown filmmaking at the time. Yet, 50 years later, Os Verdes Anos remains a wondrous, touching film both of its time and of our time, especially in the beautifully restored black-and-white tones of Luc Mirot's contrasted cinematography.

(first of three, to be continued in Mudar de Vida)

OS VERDES ANOS
Portugal, 1963
87 minutes
Cast Isabel Ruth, Rui Gomes, Alberto Ghira, Cândida Lacerda, Carlos José Teixeira, Harry Wheeland, Irene Dyne, Júlio Cleto, Manuel de Oliveira, Óscar Acúrcio, Ruy Furtado, Paulo Renato
Director Paulo Rocha; screenwriters Mr. Rocha and Nuno Bragança; cinematographer Luc Mirot (b&w); composer Carlos Paredes; production and costume designers Alda Cruz and Rafael Calado; editor Margareta Mangs; production company Produções Cunha Telles
Screened May 6th 2015, Ideal, Lisbon (distributor press screening) 



PAULO ROCHA : 50 ANOS DE CINEMA - teaser 3 from Midas Filmes on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

TURIST
Force Majeure

Ruben Östlund is a tricky, shifty fellow. With his fourth feature, Force Majeure (released in Sweden as Turist), he unleashes an emotional avalanche that forces everyone, on-screen and looking at it, to ask hard questions about contemporary society, about all the stuff that is supposed to regulate our social compact with the world we live in.

     Guess what? No one gets out of this unscathed. Especially not Tomas and Ebba (Johannes Bah Kuhnke and Lisa Loven Kongsli), the well-off bourgeois couple whose dream vacation on a French ski resort unravels from a single unexpected moment neither of them thought would ever come to pass. Mr. Östlund's film is not so much scripted or directed as it is exactingly set up, displayed and deployed. It's a laboratorial experiment made feature film, placing seemingly innocuous lab rats inside a carefully controlled environment: in this case a modern bourgeois nuclear family and a perfectly designed resort where nothing is expected to go wrong, shot in long takes that keep the human factor perfectly framed within a series of corridors and glossily alluring surfaces.

     Into this uneasy combination of theme park and Kubrickian hotel (yes, you cannot not think of The Shining), shot with a piercingly attentive camera, Mr. Östlund drops the bomb, like one of the Jurassic Park dinosaurs escaping their enclosure: an avalanche that seems to threaten the lives of the holiday-makers congregating on the outside terrace restaurant. Tomas' reaction is unexpectedly to flee for safety entirely disregarding wife and kids. From the initial unease about the incident - not so much a close call as a false alarm, a big scare that reminds everyone there's no such thing as a risk-averse environment - the observation of the subjects' reaction can begin.

     Mr. Östlund mercilessly leads us through the progressive cracks Tomas' attitude opens in his relationship, while launching a thought experiment-cum-investigation of the central tenets of modern-day social contracts that leaves no stone unturned and no viewer unmoved (whether for bad or for good). That Mr. Östlund's hyper-precise formalism, halfway between glacial Kubrickianism and the sly satire of the modern Austrians (halfway between Haneke and Hausler), and his no-nonsense narration does not fall into dry, distastefulness comes from his commitment to the actors, who energize the entire concept with powerful performances that humanize the characters and create the necessary empathy for Force Majeure to make its insidious way in. So insidious, in fact, that as the film arrives at its pithy, twisty epilogue, you realise the answers to the questions it asks remain pretty much open-ended, and its central issue may never be resolved to everyone's content.

     This isn't a film; it's a slow-release truth serum that keeps working in your mind long after the screening ends.

TURIST
Sweden, France, Norway, Denmark, 2014
120 minutes
Cast Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren, Vincent Wettergren, Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius, Karin Myrenberg Faber, Brady Corbet, Johannes Moustos
Director and screenwriter Ruben Östlund; cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel (colour, widescreen); composer Ola Fløttum; designer Josefin Åsberg; costumes Pia Aleborg; editors Mr. Östlund and Jacob Secher Schulsinger; producers Erik Hemmendorff, Marie Kjellson and Philippe Bober; production companies Plattform Produktion in co-production with Film i Väst, Rhône-Alpes Cinéma, Société Parisienne de Production, Coproduction Office and Motlys
Screened April 26th 2015, Lisbon (distributor DVD screener)



Trailer FORCE MAJEURE from Coproduction Office on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

PÁRA-ME DE REPENTE O PENSAMENTO

What makes a documentary a documentary? Why is it so many people still have trouble thinking of it as a genre of filmmaking every bit the equal of narrative fictional cinema? The question must be asked here, because Jorge Pelicano's third feature hovers uneasily between different conceptions of the documentary for different audiences, almost as if it's not sure which path to take.

     In Pára-me de Repente o Pensamento, Mr. Pelicano clearly uses a bag of cinematic tricks to reach the greatest possible audience - artful editing, wide screen visuals, carefully composed pictures, floating layered typography. It may seem somewhat picky or unfair to point this out, and in itself there are no problems with using these elements if they make sense within the stylistic plan of the film. But ultimately they're surplus to requirements in a film whose strengths lie in the empathetic observation of its subjects: the inmates of the Conde Ferreira psychiatric hospital in Oporto.

     The former TV news cameraman manages to meld almost effortlessly with them, allowing them to exist as human beings in their own time and space; here, their difference does not set them apart, it makes them more "like us", painting the hospital as a mirror of a larger society. Had this been all of the film, then Pára-me de Repente o Pensamento would have been a good documentary; the problem is there's more to the story.

     Mr. Pelicano also accompanies actor Miguel Borges, who comes to live inside the hospital for a two-week residency, workshopping with the inmates and researching a character. Within the closed world of the hospital, the director captures a sense of equality and equanimity that the arrival of this "intruder" disrupts: by training his camera on Mr. Borges as an alternate "guide" that will allow us to further understand the inmates, he merely makes them recede, by underlining again their difference.

     Once the actor - a "sane" person researching what "insanity" is - is part of the mix, the film reinstates the difference between "us" and "them", "sane" and "insane". And in so doing, it reasserts its doubt about what kind of documentary wants to be: one that is true to its subjects, or one that wants to also reach a wider audience? Does it want its piece of cake regardless of whether it eats it, or does it want to both have it and eat it? In this particular case, that indecision is fatal to a film that has many good elements and a sympathetic, well-meaning can-do attitude.

PÁRA-ME DE REPENTE O PENSAMENTO
Portugal, 2014
100 minutes
Director and cinematographer Jorge Pelicano; film editors Pedro Mouzinho and Mr. Pelicano; producers Renata Amaro and Rosa Teixeira da Silva; production company Até ao Fim do Mundo
Screened October 17th 2014, Lisbon (DocLisboa 2014 advance screener)



Pára-me de repente o pensamento - Trailer oficial from Até ao Fim do Mundo on Vimeo.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

CONCERNING VIOLENCE

Swedish filmmaker Göran Hugo Olsson delves again into the treasure trove that are the bottomless archives of Swedish television and comes back up with a series of time capsules about the anti-colonial movements of 1960s and 1970s Africa. He then fashions them into a "film-tract", or film à thèse, simultaneously illuminated and subtitled by the writings of the controversial Martinican thinker Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), especially his "magnum opus" The Wretched of the Earth.

     Articulated into "nine scenes of the anti-imperialist self-defense" using footage shot by Swedish television crews in Angola, Rhodesia (modern-day Zimbabwe), Liberia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau during their "wars of independence", Mr. Olsson creates a thoughtful and though-provoking mosaic of montage that travels along parallel paths of context and revelation. As read by American singer Lauryn Hill, the words of Mr. Fanon supply historical context to the independence movements that aimed at liberating these countries from their exploration by the colonial mentality, while at the same time pulling the camera back to show the larger picture of colonial capitalism.

     The formal playfulness of Concerning Violence appears to loop in on itself: the footage becomes almost an illustration or commentary of the thinker's writings, but at the same time the words turn out to become a diagnostic tool for what ailed Africa and led it to what it is today as shown by the pictures. What Mr. Olsson does, forcefully if not subtly but with great power,  is to point out just how the blithe disregard of the colonialists for the long-term consequences of their actions have played out over the years, how the repercussions of colonial capitalism are still resonating nowadays, not just in Africa but all over the world.

     And while the answer at the time this footage was shot seemed to be violence, the film both asks what came out of choosing it as the only answer, and if it can be the only answer to similar situations - because Mr. Fanon's words about colonial capitalism seem to apply equally strongly to post-colonial, global capitalism and the world we live in. This makes Concerning Violence simultaneously a conceptual piece and a political primer that asks its viewers to engage in what it is talking about while giving back to them in spades something to chew on, agree or disagree.

CONCERNING VIOLENCE
Sweden, USA, Denmark, Finland, 2014
85 minutes
Director Göran Hugo Olsson; text excerpts from Frantz Fanon's book The Wretched of the Earth read by Lauryn Hill; art director Stefania Malmsten; film editors Michael Aaglund, Dino Jonsåter, Mr. Olsson and Sophie Vukovic; composer Neo Muyanga; producers Annika Rogell and Tobias Janson; production companies Story in co-production with Louverture Films, Final Cut For Real, Helsinki Filmi and Sveriges Television
Screened December 2nd 2014, Lisbon (Porto/Post/Doc screener) 


Friday, May 01, 2015

EDEN

There's always a very special frisson in seeing a director stretch her wings and gain in confidence, insight and stature with each new film. It's even more of a surprise when that same director doesn't necessarily feel the need to change that much from her previous work, and simply limns and polishes what was already there - something that very few filmmakers are allowed to do in these days of dwindling financing.

     All hail French director Mia Hansen-Løve, then, whose bittersweet emotional Bildungsromane of people learning to live lives that are constantly changing are painted on a wider and more expansive canvas in her fourth feature, Eden, a low-key saga about a generation that came of age in the 1990s to the tune of the French disco/house/garage music scene led by the ubiquitous Daft Punk. Again taking inspiration from those around her - here her older brother Sven, a co-writer on the project and an actual successful DJ in the Paris house scene at the time - Ms. Hansen-Løve creates an impressionistic overlay of well-observed, apparently banal comings and goings that gains its power from precisely that slow-burn accumulation of moments in the life of Paul.

     A bourgeois kid whose passion for music leads him to abandon literary studies to become an immensely popular DJ, Paul risks riding a wave that may leave him stranded in giving himself entirely to music - and part of the director's touch is in showing, unsentimentally and unjudgmentally, the life, love and work strands that twist and turn around him while he's effectively a kid let loose in a candy store. Though set in the world of DJing and night-life, it's not so much a film about music as it is a story about life. As portrayed by the perpetually wide-eyed and levitating Félix de Givry, at the centre of a fluid group of performers ebbing and flowing over the 20 years the tale spans, Paul is at the same time witness and actor in a life that is perpetually spinning in and out of control. He and his friends start out as wide-eyed innocents, pumped up by a chance to change the world into something better, but at what point do you really grow up when the fun starts becoming a full-time job, when life, adulthood, responsibility, collide head-on with the dream?

     Split, as usual in Ms. Hansen-Løve's work, into a game of two halves separated by the high water mark of Paul's popularity, Eden doesn't seem to say much until you realise how the director has effectively enveloped you and made you care for these characters while you weren't looking, her simple handling and attentive way with flow, tempo and rhythm judiciously balancing laughter and tears, dream and reality. It might be risky to point out how much Ms. Hansen-Løve's work is akin to the equally zeitgeist-straddling, romanesque films of her husband, Olivier Assayas, but it's truly meant as a compliment; in many ways, Eden could be her generation's version of Mr. Assayas' equally attentive Something in the Air, though less political, more lost in music.

     But, beyond all comparisons, this is also a leap forward for Ms. Hansen-Løve as a director, and a marvelously touching melodrama of growing up and growing old, of learning the ropes as you go along.

EDEN
France, 2014
131 minutes
Cast Félix de Givry, Pauline Étienne, Vincent Macaigne, Roman Kolinka, Hugo Conzelmann, Zita Hanrot, Vincent Lacoste, Arnaud Azoulay, Arsinée Khanjian, Greta Gerwig, Brady Corbet, Laura Smet, Golshifteh Farahani
Director Mia Hansen-Løve; screenwriters Ms. Hansen-Løve and Sven Hansen-Løve; cinematographer Denis Lenoir (colour, widescreen); designer Anna Falguères; costumes Judy Shrewsbury; editor Marion Monnier; producer Charles Gillibert; production companies CG Cinéma in co-production with France 2 Cinéma, Blue Films Production and Yundal Films, in association with François Pinault
Screened April 22nd 2015, Cinema City Alvalade 2, Lisbon (distributor press screening)