Archive for the ‘World Cinema’ Category

Nowhere in Africa (Nirgendwo in Afrika)

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

afrikaDirected and adapted by Caroline Link from Stephanie Zweig’s autobiographical novel of the same name, Nowhere in Africa tells the story of a well-to-do German Jewish family who flee the Nazis by going to live and work on a farm in rural Kenya.

A successful lawyer in his former life, Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze) throws himself into his new role as farm manager, which involves much toil for little pay. Courteous and friendly, he quickly gains the locals’ respect. Not so his beautiful, snobbish wife Jettel (Juliane Köhler), who makes no effort to hide her contempt for Kenya and its backward ways. She treats the farm cook, Owuor (Sidede Onyulo), like a servant when he sees himself as a professional, and insults him by asking him to carry water, a job reserved for women in his tribe.

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In the Mood for Love (Fa yeung nin wa)

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

mood1More serene than the films that shaped Wong Kar-Wai’s early career, such as Chungking Express and Ashes of Time, this is an exquisite paean to the agony of repressed emotions and unrequited love. In the Mood for Love forms the second part of a loose trilogy, together with Days of Being Wild, and 2046, released in 2004. Set in the straight laced society of 1960s Hong Kong, the film focuses on two neighbours whose friendship deepens when they suspect their respective partners of having an extra-marital affair.

His name is Chow Mo-Wan (Tony Leung). Hers is Su Li-zhen (Maggie Cheung). He is a journalist for one of the Hong Kong papers, she’s an executive assistant. Neither is wanting for money, as evinced by their elegant attire, but they frequently find themselves alone, despite living in a shared building where the neighbours play majong and gossip late into the night. Looking for company during the lonely evenings, the two of them meet for noodles at a local café. When they discover their partners are cheating on them, Mr Chow and Ms Su vow to keep their own friendship pure. Interestingly, Wong chooses to keep the cheating couple off screen. Their adultery is tawdry and commonplace, while the reticence of the two leads lends their growing love for each other a sort of quixotic nobility.

Christopher Doyle’s camerawork is breathtaking. Featuring the lush, saturated colour palette of film noir, each shot becomes a work of art. The camera acts as a voyeur, capturing scenes through doors, windows, swirling cigarette smoke and the heavy monsoon rains. (more…)

Skin

Monday, October 19th, 2009

sandra-laingThis sensitive drama from Anthony Fabian tells the remarkable true story of Sandra Laing, a black girl who was born to white Afrikaner parents in 1950’s South Africa. Due to a genetic throwback, Sandra’s hair is frizzier than that of her parents, and her skin darker. As her conservative father seeks to defend her mother from persistent accusations of infidelity, Sandra becomes embroiled in a series of legal battles to classify her race. Amazingly, The Laings’ campaign is successful and the dark-skinned Sarah is officially classified as white. She is legally entitled to attend a “white” school, sit in the “white” section in waiting rooms and dine in “white” restaurants. Her parents blankly ignore the stares from racist onlookers, and their policy of “reclassifying” their daughter appears to work, for a while.

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Tokyo Sonata

Friday, October 9th, 2009

MegumiDeparting from the horror films that made his name, director Kiyoshi Kurosawa tells the story of an unemployed salaryman in this intricate family melodrama.

The film centres around a traditional Japanese family whose lives are defined by routine and custom. When the father, Ryuhei (Teruyuki Kagawa), loses his well-paid job at a medical equipment company to cheaper Chinese workers, his pride prevents him from admitting this to his wife and children. Instead, suited and booted with briefcase in hand, he makes a pretence of leaving for the office each day, whiling away his hours at the local library and queuing for free food at the soup kitchen. His demure wife, Megumi (Kyoko Koizumi), soon guesses at the truth but, so as not to undermine her husband’s authority in the household, pretends not to know.

Although his children are not aware of his redundancy, the longer Ryuhei lives a lie, the less respect they have for his authority. In a spirit of rebellion his elder son Takashi (Yu Koyanagi) signs up for the US Army, while his younger son Kenji (Inowaki Kai) uses his school lunch money to pay for piano lessons, after Ryuhei point blank refuses to pay for them himself.

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Les Destinées Sentimentales

Monday, October 5th, 2009

destineesBased on the epic novel by Jacques Chardonne, Les Destinées Sentimentales charts thirty years of French history through the eyes of two star-crossed lovers.

Set among the bourgeois protestant families of the Limoges region of France, Les Destinées follows the career of Jean Barnery (Charles Berling), the reluctant heir of a traditional porcelain business who must learn to steer his way through the frantic beginnings of the 20th century.

Barnery starts out as a minister in the small Protestant community of Barbazac, but after a scandalous divorce leaves his vocation and young daughter and embarks on a passionate romance with the orphaned Pauline (Emmanuelle Béart), a headstrong atheist whom he will later marry. The two wives are polar opposites, and tap into different areas of Barnery’s character. The first Mme Barnery, played by an icy Isabelle Huppert, exemplifies religious stricture; Pauline’s wide eyes and welcoming smile suggest a warm, open sexuality.

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Star-studded epic marks 60 years of communism in China

Friday, September 18th, 2009

maoThe Founding of a Republic, a star-studded epic which marks the 60th Anniversary of China’s Communist revolution, opens in UK cinemas on Thursday.

The film, which tells the story of the communist rise to power in 1949 from Chairman Mao’s days as a young soldier, was made by the state-run China Film Group, and stars over 100 of the country’s best-known actors, including Hong Kong king-fu heros Jackie Chan and Jet Li, as well as Crouching Tiger actress Zhang Ziyi.

The film’s producers hope that the cast list and subject matter will attract both older viewers and the internet-savvy younger generation, with the film tipped to be one of the highest-grossing films the country has seen for years.

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Chungking Express (Chung Hing sam lam)

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

chungking-expressReleased in 1994, Chungking Express is one of Wong Kar-Wai’s best-known films, and provides a good introduction his cinematic style. Following on from the director’s first masterpiece, Days of Being Wild, the film explores themes of isolation and despair in the big city, and an escapist desire captured in the song “California Dreaming” which is played repeatedly throughout the movie.

The film revolves around two Hong Kong cops, both of whom wander the city, haunted by memories of lost love. Their stories are told separately, one following the other, and they cross each other’s path only fleetingly. In the first, Taiwanese policemen He Qiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) remembers a former girlfriend by collecting tins of pineapples that expire on the 1st of May, a month after she left him. “I wonder if there’s anything in the world that won’t expire,” he muses. One night, Qiwu becomes transfixed by a mysterious blonde-wigged woman he meets in a bar who drags him into the seedy underworld of Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansions, a labyrinth of fast food stalls, market places and squalid guesthouses. Christopher Doyle’s frenetic camerawork captures perfectly the restlessness of this neon city, weaving in and out of noisy streets and dingy corridors in a frenzied sequence of colour, light and action.

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My Life as a Dog (Mitt liv som hund)

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

packshotMy Life as a Dog is an astute, sensitive portrayal of the turbulence of childhood, and won Swedish filmmaker Lasse Hallström world renown when the film was first released in 1985, before he went on to produce schmaltzy blockbusters such as Chocolat and The Cider House Rules.

Eleven-year old Ingemar, played by Anton Glanzelius in one of his only major roles, is a sweet, spirited young boy whose mischievous exploits drive his frail and ailing mother to despair. In order to bring her some respite, Ingemar is sent to stay with his maternal uncle and wonderfully forbearing aunt in a small Swedish village, away from his churlish elder brother and beloved puppy. The village is home to a collection of eccentrics, including a football-playing tomboy who worries about her burgeoning breasts, a maverick sculptor who adds erotic touches to his creations at the local glass factory, a buxom blonde who poses naked for said sculptor, and a bedridden old man who likes to hear Ingemar read to him out of a lingerie catalogue. Ingemar himself has an eccentric side, and fits well into village life: he is unable to drink out of a glass without spilling its contents all over himself, and has a tendency to get down on all fours and bark manically when overexcited. It’s a harmless, playful gesture but also provides a way for Ingemar to hide feelings of guilt over his mother’s death.

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Four Minutes (Vier Minuten)

Monday, July 13th, 2009

vier_minutenFour minutes takes the familiar theme of the tortured, misunderstood artist and plays it out in the setting of a modern-day women’s prison. The artist in question is Jenny (Hannah Herzsprung), a young, violent piano-playing genius who is locked up for murder. She finds solace in her tentative friendship with a cantankerous old piano teacher, Traude (Monica Bleibtreu), who herself conceals a secret past. The pair bond over music, which also gives them respite from a cruel and corrupt world.

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Shower (Xizao)

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

shower_dvd_coverSet in contemporary Beijing, Zhang Yang’s bittersweet comedy Shower focuses on the proprietor of a traditional Beijing bathhouse, Mr Liu (Xu Zhu), and his relationship with his two sons. The eldest, Daming (Pu Quianxin), is a rich yuppie who fled the family home to pursue a business career in the southern Chinese region of Shenzhen. He lost contact with his elderly father years ago, but has returned after receiving an alarming postcard from his mentally challenged younger brother, Erming (Jiang Wu), suggesting that Mr Liu has died. In fact his father is very much alive, though frail in health, and presiding over the closed world of the bathhouse, where elderly local men gather to relax away from the demands of home, exchange gossip and stage fights between their pet crickets. When Daming suggests that his father retire, Mr Liu brushes him off: “I’ve done this all of my life and I like doing it!”.

Standing faithfully at Mr Liu’s side is Erming, who takes delight in scrubbing the floors, manning the desk and greeting clients. Erming’s relationship with his father is a close one, and both take a childish delight in dousing each other with water and seeing who can run fastest round the block.

The difference in world views between Daming and his aging father is cleverly played out in the opening scene, where we see a smartly dressed businessman step into a coin-operated shower akin to a carwash. This is in direct contrast to Mr Liu’s establishment, where men will spend literally all day bathing, soaking and enjoying a whole range of peripheral services, including haircuts, massage, and the benefit of Mr Liu’s wise council.

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