Sunday, July 27, 2008

Cargo 200 (Alexei Balabanov, 2007)

***
Russia



A moody Soviet slasher flick with a strange notion of social conscience. Set in 1984, it's woven around an impotent police chief with party membership, who kidnaps a teenager and devises increasingly sadistic ways to humiliate and torture her.

Whatever points director Alexei Balabanov wants to make about the corruption and zombie-like depersonalisation of USSR on the cusp of the perestroika are undermined by his ambivalent attitude towards the victim. He treats her and her horrific degradation as just a plot point.

The story is reportedly 'based on real events' - which is part of what makes it such compulsive viewing - though Balabanov appears to have taken considerable poetic licence.

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La France (Serge Bozon, 2007)

**
France



In Serge Bozon's aggressively eccentric WWI fairytale, Sylvie Testud dresses up as a boy and while searching for her husband's regiment latches onto a band of deserters who wax poetic about Atlantis and break into kitschy pop tunes, retrieving makeshift instruments from thin air. Bozon's chief goal seems to be to expose the fragility behind the valour and machismo of the warfront soldier and he goes about it in admirably unconventional ways. But for such a brash experiment, it's an oddly limp film. Since no screen time is wasted on character development, it's a shame how little the key ideas are allowed to advance. And much of the dialogue sounds as though it's meant to be infinitely richer and more poetic than is the case.

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Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (Marina Zenovich, 2008)

***
USA



Marina Zenovich digs up the facts on the notorious case that's kept one of the world's most hallowed living auteurs in exile from Hollywood for three decades. She focuses mostly on the legal implications of the event (and the surrounding media circus) and tries to distract you with half-relevant subplots any time the moral implications come up (he's survived unfathomable trauma! lots of people screw minors without doing jail time!). While it's certainly engaging for the issues it tackles, her film feels somewhat minor for the issues it skirts around.

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A Jihad for Love (Parvez Sharma, 2007)

***
USA/UK/France/Germany/Australia



First-time director Parvez Sharma tries to cram in as many testimonials from persecuted Muslim gays from as many countries as an 80-minute running time permits. So his documentary very quickly becomes reductive and repetitive. Though, of course, with such a gripping subject, it isn't uninteresting.

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