Saturday, July 23, 2011

OUTSIDE SATAN (Bruno Dumont, 2011)

*½
France
A peasant strolling through a paddock or a telegenic couple sunning by a motel pool - in Dumont's better films even the most mundane images become morbidly absorbing. A pervading sense of menace charges them - a sense that's missing here. Or it isn't missing entirely - it just feels artificial. Like self-parody.

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TAKE SHELTER (Jeff Nichols, 2011)

***½
USA
Across a gnawing, progressively unnerving two hours Michael Shannon descends into an illness somewhere within the cross-spectrum of schizophrenia and post-9/11 post-GFC middle-American anxiety.

The script shows its seams through the supporting characters. (What is it about Jessica Chastain and high-profile roles in movies by men who can't write women?) But Shannon's unravelling is not only persuasive but deeply, urgently moving.

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THE SCREEN ILLUSION (Mathieu Amalric, 2010)

*½
France
Made for French TV but destined for film festival limbo, this aggressively arty frivolity takes the plot of a 17th-century farce, keeps the Alexandrine couplets but ditches the sorcery and costumes in favour of LCD surveillance and contemporary dress. To what purpose, I can't say.

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TOMBOY (Celine Sciamma, 2011)

***
France

10-year-old Laure and her family move to a new building, and she introduces herself to the local kids as Mikael.

The opening act in particular carries the inevitable whiff of the afterschool special. But Sciamma is a sharp-eyed storyteller with a feel for texture. And amazingly, none of the many children in the cast is irritating.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

ARMADILLO (Janus Metz Pedersen, 2010)

***½
Denmark
In film festivals across the West the staple that used to be the incensed Iraq doc has mutated into the incensed Afghanistan doc. It's difficult to argue that there is something to glean from this one that you couldn't from the dozens that preceded it. But it is well-crafted, immersive, chilling. And it charts the dehumanising effect of war acutely and in detail.

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GOOD BYE (Mohammad Rasoulof, 2011)

***
Iran
Because it lacks the detail and swarming humanity of the best Iranian exports, it feels staged, somewhat muted. But obviously it's credible enough to be affecting. The actors help.

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MELANCHOLIA (Lars von Trier, 2011)

****½
Denmark
There is a sequence early on, where Kirsten Dunst flees her wedding on a golf buggy and pees in the middle of a golf course, staring up at the superplanet that will be obliterating Earth within days. It's hilarious, jarring and entrancing all at once. You have no idea whether von Trier is mocking you or reaching out to you on a core level. Probably both.

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LE HAVRE (Aki Kaurismaki, 2011)

***
Finland
The colours, the songs, the deadpan faces, the non-sequiturs -- after two decades of absurdist Kaurismaki fairytales, they've become very familiar. But they still exude the same warmth.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

FOOTNOTE (Joseph Cedar, 2011)

**
Israel

The rivalry between two academics - a bearish egomaniac and his sour-faced father - comes to a verbose, protracted hilt.

Cedar chucks in cheeky Tom-and-Jerry music, canted close-ups, nonsensical sight gags and various other bits of half-assed yet emphatic quirk, the kind of which you don't generally expect to see winning prizes at Cannes.

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