Sonntag, 28. Juli 2013

La grande belezza

It does move quite slowly and its protagonist's philosophical, wise-sounding musings on life, journeys, endings lose much of their impact to a rather fragmented, less-than-coherent narrative, but Italian director Paolo Sorrentino's "La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty)" delivered what its title promises, giving us impressions of Rome so stunning they pin you to your seat with their grandeur and lyricism. Palaces, gardens, artworks drenched in candlelight, canals bathing in the morning sun, the camera touches ancient ruins and modern-day debauchery depicted here with equal loving care and dazzles again and again (there are trees in this movie that look like they belong in a museum).

Among a solid cast, Toni Servillo owns the role of Jep down to every weary blink. Too bad the director seems swamped by the task of communicating so many thoughts, observations, late-life reflections through him that it ended up hurting the character's authenticity and persuasiveness.

Sonntag, 14. Juli 2013

Los amantes pasajeros

"Los amantes pasajeros" is 90 minutes of silliness packed in the colorful confines of a commercial airliner and the campy whims of Pedro Almodóvar. The writer/director certainly gets carried away here and there by unnecessary sub-plots, overladen monologues and ineptly-timed scenes, but honestly is there any other filmmaker who can whip the most outrageous and improbable right into a world of seeming reality with such matter-of-course nonchalance that it challenges the boundary between grand drama and shrill comedy? Even when the narrative focus of this film slacks and its tonal clarity is not as pronounced as, say his last genre offering "La piel que habito", there's no mistaking the masterful eye behind all that farce.

And with the help of a stellar cast full of comedic genius, a jazz-flavored, absolutely delicious soundtrack by Alberto Iglesias, not to mention the booze, drugs, sex, lip-synching and dance routines involved, you can tell the master is having a lot of fun.

Samstag, 6. Juli 2013

Filmfest München: Le passé (The Past)

My oh my why do we human beings make our lives so complicated? Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi shows once again with "Le passé (The Past)", the follow-up to his Oscar-winning "A Separation", that human relationships are a source of endless mystery and that family is a battleground of secrets and lies where, through love, hate, envy, fear, guilt or sheer self-preservation we learn to conceal, hurt, shift blame and cover tracks.

The script is immaculately constructed, basing a multifaceted character study and bonafide thriller on the premise of conventional familial drama, pitching perspectives and motives against one another while peeling away layers and layers of deceit until the placid surface is scratched raw and the very concept of truth becomes hopelessly murky. Rich, engaging, momentous, morally difficult and nail-bitingly suspenseful until the last minute, it's nothing short of a master class in screenwriting. Also on prominent display is Farhadi's directorial prowess. How he frames and times the scenes (that last hospital visit!) is often breathtaking in more ways than one. The way he orchestrates the many fine performances into an intricate symphony with precision and especially compassion, so that no character is left unscathed nor compromised, is a triumph.
Written, directed and acted with skill, wisdom and a profound understanding of human nature, this movie is fantastic, fantastic, I mean fantastic.

Freitag, 5. Juli 2013

Filmfest München: Boa Sorte, Meu Amor (Good Luck, Sweetheart)

Nothing much ever makes sense for an extended period of time in Brazilian director Daniel Aragao's "Boa Sorte, Meu Amor (Good Luck, Sweetheart)". Over the course of 90 minutes, isolated shots of city buildings, dilapidated structures, decrepit town houses are dispersed among truncated narrative lines and long, uninterrupted monologues. In the end I could imagine people being exasperated by the movie, seeing that, despite some recurrent themes (going back to one's roots, the inequality between the classes and urban and rural development), things don't add up in any meaningful way. Still, I really rather enjoyed this lovely curiosity with its high-contrast black and white images, dazzling the eye and often evoking an implied sense of desolation. Sonically the film is even more of a wonderland, featuring an eclectic array of music from jazz oldies, electronic rhapsodies, synthesized noise to discordant modern compositions to further hint, suggest, bewilder and incite. Obviously the movie would have broader appeal if it attains a somewhat accessible structure like "Tabu". But as it is, the arrival of a vital new voice in world cinema is marked.

Filmfest München: Kapringen (A Hijacking)

Danish director Tobias Lindholm's "Kapringen (A Hijacking)" is a problematic addition to the genre of hostage drama. While a faster-paced, action-packed Hollywood revampment complete with drumbeats, cliffhangers and third-act surprises might be a bit tacky, I'm just not convinced the semi-documentary, almost theatrics-free style of this movie is the best way to go about it either. Written and directed in a highly sensible, matter-of-fact fashion with a corresponding look of modest austerity, the movie features negotiators who never seem really interested in compromising or saving the hostages and pirates who seem not too bothered by that. The deadlock drags on and the low emotional stakes stay down. When the point comes where you secretly wish for a Michael Bay intervention, you know the movie is in trouble.

Filmfest München: La vie d'Adèle (Blue Is the Warmest Color)

In the best kind of movies you can always lose yourself. Lose yourself to a brief encounter with some universal truth, to the rare access to a unique human condition, to the lavish hope of finding solace or company in a misunderstood existence.

Arriving in a form as foreign as the history of love between a lesbian couple from Lille, France but offering all those things, Abdellatif Kechiche's "La vie d'Adèle (Blue Is the Warmest Color)" is a deeply involving experience and a movie you can completely lose yourself in. Between that inconspicuous, composed opening shot and the wordlessly potent last frame, something magical happens. Driven by the director's honest, raw cinematic language that describes the emotional landscape of two young girls with daring intimacy, some wonderfully deft camera and editing work that breathe life and authenticity into the film's visual anatomy, and above all the miraculous chemistry between the two fully committed, furiously charismatic lead actresses, the movie affords you an unrelenting look at how feelings of attraction explode into being with unstoppable force and how nakedly powerless one is when just as suddenly, they are no more.

Joyous, devastating, unapologetically sexual and heartbreakingly real, this movie may have a runtime of three hours, but it's not one minute too long.

Donnerstag, 4. Juli 2013

Filmfest München: Nina

Swirling staircases, towering columns, sprawling facades, cascading steps... all kinds of shapes and curves form in perfect symmetry the architectural backdrop to Italian writer/director Elisa Fuksas' feature film debut "Nina". However, the film's overall aesthetics aren't nearly as peppy and bold as its poster would suggest, suffering from watered-down colors and grainy lensing. Worse still, the plot of this semi-love story about a lonely girl's self-discovery is seriously unfocused, drifting between sighs of unfulfillment and obscure affections via some blunt editing. Quite a test of patience, this one.

Filmfest München: Only God Forgives

Of course Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives" is a prime example of style over substance, of indulgence in fetishistic excess, with its set pieces and props designed, decorated, lit to pornographic detail and characters reduced to either immobile zombies or cartoonish killing machines. And I'll be the last to defend its appalling scenes of torture and execution, which I find repulsive and unjustifiably offensive. But truth be told, I don't think the movie deserves the critical lashing after its Cannes premiere. There's something to be said about the visual conception of the film, so pathologically minute and beautiful that, together with the minimalistic dialogue and characterization as well as Cliff Martinez's galactic, immeasurably cool soundtrack, created a kind of alternate universe that's oddly compelling. In this sense, I don't think the scene near the end, for example, with the heavily symbolized balled fists, the bloody Thai sword and the mystic bamboo forest, illogical and vaguely ridiculous as it is, is any more reproachable than, say, anything in Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life".

This is a sick wet dream of a movie for sure, but an impeccably styled and scored one.

Filmfest München: そして父になる (Like Father, Like Son)

The babies-switch subject matter could have been material for tearjerking fireworks, but under the restrained direction of Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda, the slightly overlong parenthood drama "そして父になる (Like Father, Like Son)" is mostly rather muted, at times avoiding sentimentality nearly to the point of overcompensation (when the motives of the one "villain" in the movie are revealed, one almost wants to cheer for someone finally willing to admit to some emotions). Add to that an overall lack of surprise in the story, and the movie could seem to meander a little in the mid-section. Still, the film is handsomely made and features such good-naturedness and guileless child performances you can't help but feel pleased and touched in the end.

Mittwoch, 3. Juli 2013

Filmfest München: Die Erfindung der Liebe (The Invention of Love)

German comedy "Die Erfindung der Liebe (The Invention of Love)" is a most curious affair. What began as a challenge for writer/director Lola Randl, who was faced with the sudden death of her lead actress halfway through shooting, was turned into a metaphysical, almost existential exercise in breaking the fourth wall when she restructured the script around the unfortunate circumstance and created a Charlie Kaufman-like movie-in-a-movie-in-a-movie. The strains can be felt here and there, when the weight of incomprehensibility and deceit threatens to catch up on authorial cleverness. For the most part the movie's a delight though, not to mention admirable. It's certainly the most original solution to an impossible problem, possibly even surpassing what the movie could have been if everything ran according to plan.

Filmfest München: 天注定 (A Touch of Sin)

Using four minimally connected stories with no happy endings, writer/director 賈樟柯 (Zhangke Jia) paints a relentlessly bleak portrait of modern-day China in "天注定 (A Touch of Sin)". While it's interesting to see a land consumed by its gluttonous pursuit of wealth and the moral collapse it entails dissected from within, the raw visual style coupled with the eventful but rather plain storytelling lent the whole picture an overall feeling of flatness. Not even the numerous acts of extreme violence and cruelty (with the possible exception of the third, female-driven tale), depicted with Tarantino-esque splashiness that at times give them a fable-like quality, really elicited any deep emotional resonance.

Filmfest München: Finsterworld

German director Frauke Finsterwalder's "Finsterworld" is the kind of movie you could tell would be a remarkable read as a novel. It starts out viciously funny, gradually takes on a sinister tone and ends in a melancholic glow of revelation. For my taste the grimness of the fallout could be dialed down a little (oh the Germans and their masochistic need for self-reflection) but the confidence and dexterity with which the director navigates these different narrative tones is inarguable. The cast is heaven-sent. I'd be surprised if the supporting acting races at next year's German Film Awards are not dominated by performances from this movie (there's no obvious lead). The quirkily atmospheric film music and the finely textured costume design also work wonders.

If you're a chronically cynical person but also just a little scared inside, this movie will eat you up.

Dienstag, 2. Juli 2013

Filmfest München: Il futuro (The Future)

There are occasional bursts of visual pizzazz in Chilean director Alicia Scherson's Rome-set "Il futuro (The Future)", whether through blatantly magnifying the mundane or throwing in fantastical elements, that provided the listless movie with some badly-needed jolts of energy. But the look of the film is too inconsistent to be called stylish, mirroring a similar weakness of indecision in its plot, which branches from siblings drama to a perverted tale of love and a gangster story while failing to satisfy in each aspect.