Friday, August 21, 2009


I balance my satisfaction with the tried and true by exploring the up-and-coming auteurs in TIFF's Discovery Program. Feedback encouraged.

The Angel / Engelen (Margreth Olin, Norway/Sweden/Finland). NFI website. A young mother (played brilliantly by Maria Bonnevie) struggles with a history of drug abuse in this exquisitely rendered and deeply compassionate piece, the first fiction film from one of Norway's most respected documentary filmmakers. IMDb. YouTube trailer. World Premiere.

Applause / Applaus (Martin Pieter Zandvliet, Denmark). Official website. Paprika Steen delivers a tour-de-force performance in this devastating drama about an alcoholic actress trying to put her life back together. At Twitch, Todd Brown notes the film's acclaim at the 44th edition of the Karlov Vary International (where Applause won the non-statutory Europa Cinemas Label) and observes that—despite the film's "somewhat standard plot line"—it is fully redeemed by Paprika Steen's performance (which won her Karlov Vary's Best Actress award). He offers the Danish trailer. Dispatching to Screen Daily, Dan Fainaru concurs: "Steen has just the right kind of mature intensity needed for the part, fearlessly plunging into its darker corners and successfully invoking both sympathy but also mistrust in her audience. Though the script isn't always challenging enough for the actress, she is nonetheless Applause's main asset. …Steen gives the character all she has, making her abrasive, manipulative, fiercely egocentric, but at the same time highly vulnerable. Constantly in need of reassurance, she is terrified to deal with her age and face up to herself in the mirror or in other people's eyes." Unfortunately, Fainaru adds that Applause tends to "lag and soften" in the film's second half. IMDb. YouTube excerpt. North American Premiere.

Bare Essence of Life / Urutora mirakuru rabu sutôrî (Satoko Yokohama, Japan). In this original fusion of black comedy, surreal fantasy and feel-good drama about a mentally challenged hero, Japanese heartthrob Kenichi Matsuyama plays a strange farmer who finds an unexpected path to the miracle of love. An unheard-of romance, it is the story of the explosive, reckless love of an eccentric young farmer and a nursery teacher from Tokyo who is unable to overcome the trauma of losing her boyfriend in a car accident. Giovanna Fulvi writes in her program capsule that Bare Essence of Life is "filmed with true empathy" and that it "renders a vivid portrait of rural Japan." IMDb. International Premiere.

Beautiful Kate (Rachel Ward, Australia). Official website. In order to make peace with his combative, dying father, a writer must return to his childhood home and confront long-suppressed memories of the mysterious deaths of his brother and twin sister. Wikipedia notes: "Rachel Ward adapted the script from a 1982 novel of the same name by Newton Thornburg; this was the first novel by Thornburg used for a movie since Cutter's Way (1981)." The film was shot on location in the Flinders Ranges and premiered in June 2009 at the Sydney Film Festival, where Frank Hatherly dispatched to Screen Daily: "Actress Rachel Ward's debut feature is a handsome and intense love story, a gothic tale of buried guilt and family dysfunction set in Australia's outback. With lashings of sex played out amidst long-buried secrets, Beautiful Kate is awash with Ward's own spiky, brittle dialogue, delivered with relish by her cast." IMDb. YouTube trailer. International Premiere.

A Brand New Life / Ye Haeng Ja / Une Vie Toute Neuve (Ounie Lecomte, South Korea/ France). An impressive debut by French-Korean filmmaker Ounie Lecomte who, inspired by her childhood, recounts the emotional journey of a little girl abandoned by her father in an orphanage. Cannes synopsis: "Seoul, 1975. Jinhee is 9. Her father has placed her in an orphanage run by Catholic nuns. The little girl has to deal with the ordeal of separation and the long wait for a new family. As the seasons pass, the departures of adopted children allow her to glimpse the dream that awaits her but shatter the friendships that she has just formed. Jinhee resists because she knows that the promise of a brand-new life will separate her for good from those she loves." Complaining that the film's imperfect DV-to-35mm transfer minimizes the film's impact, Variety's Rob Nelson nonetheless commends the film as "an admirably un-manipulative drama about the impermanence of relationships and the resilience of kids in the face of it." Nelson adds: "Excruciatingly sad at points, Lecomte's film is nonetheless possessed of a pleasingly light touch that suits her tale of a buoyant girl's survival. It proceeds at an agreeably slow pace, adhering to emotional details at every turn." At Screen Daily, Jonathan Romney writes: "A heart-tugger rather than a full-on tearjerker, A Brand New Life is a sure-footed story of a childhood abandoned, and a striking debut by Korean-born French director Ounie Lecomte." AsianMediaWiki. IMDb. North American Premiere.

Crab Trap / El Vuelco del Cangrejo (Oscar Ruiz Navia, Colombia/France). Treading a fine line between documentary and fiction, Crab Trap is a meditative look at daily life in a remote village on the Pacific coast of Colombia that explores the nuances of social and racial relations in one of the most isolated areas of the country. As Diana Sanchez writes in her program capsule: "Oscar Ruiz Navia's debut feature captures a part of Colombia rarely seen on film, the black communities of its Pacific coast. …Elegantly enhancing the distance between the locals and the foreigners, Ruiz Navia uses non-professional actors from the area to contrast with the two outsider characters, who are played by professionals. Crab Trap registers the languid pace of these remote villages while alerting us to the oncoming clash with modernity and how it is beginning to disastrously affect the lives of local peoples." As I reported earlier on The Evening Class, Crab Trap was provided completion funding by the Global Film Initiative in 2007. World Premiere.

The Day God Walked Away (aka Rwanda April 7, 1994) / Le Jour où Dieu est parti en voyage (Philippe van Leeuw, Belgium). Offering a new take on the Rwandan genocide, acclaimed cinematographer van Leeuw's directorial debut recreates the first-person experience of one woman as the horror descends. IMDb. World Premiere.

The Day Will Come / Es kommt der Tag (Susanne Schneider, Germany/France). Thirty years after giving her daughter up for adoption to join the terrorist underground in Germany, Judith is tracked down by her now adult daughter Alice to a vineyard in the Alsace where she is living with a new family and a new identity. IMDb. International Premiere.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (J Blakeson, United Kingdom). Two ex-cons kidnap a woman, but the tables turn and turn again in this tight, smart tale. This film is a terrific little thriller starring Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston and Gemma Arterton. IMDb. World Premiere.

Eamon (Margaret Corkery, Ireland). Zanita Films website. A family holiday brings to a head the destructive love triangle between Eamon, a little boy with behavioral problems, his selfish mother Grace and his sexually frustrated father Daniel. Eamon won the Independent Camera Award in the Forum of Independents section at the 44th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. As reported at the Irish Film Board, Ivana Novotna, Festival Programmer at Karlovy-Vary commented: "Margaret Corkery is a very talented and promising Irish filmmaker and we were very happy to screen her first author debut in the competitive section Forum of Independents. In her film she managed to unfold the story of three disparate characters in an unhurried tempo with minimal essential dialogue; everything important happens under the surface or inside the protagonists. The director leaves room for the viewer to ponder their motivations. Unostentatious and impressionistic, the film's original outcome makes it worth watching to the very end." At the Karlovy-Vary website, Corkery conducts a video interview. IMDb. North American Premiere.

Every Day Is a Holiday / Chaque jour est une fête (Dima El-Horr, France/ Germany/Lebanon). From Lebanon, this is a striking debut about three women, strangers to each other and each with very different motivations, on the same bus headed for Marmal Prison to visit their imprisoned men. Mixing real politics and stark absurdity, El-Horr announces herself as a major new voice in Middle Eastern cinema. As I reported earlier on The Evening Class, Every Day Is A Holiday received completion funding from the Global Film Initiative. As reported at Limitless Cinema in Broken English, Dima El-Horr was interviewed by her friend Apichatpong Weerasethakul in the published volume FilmVirus after he saw her earlier film The Street, which he liked. TIFF capsule forthcoming. IMDb. YouTube trailer. North American Premiere.

Five Hours from Paris / Chamesh Shaot MeParis (Leon Prudovsky, Israel). In a suburb of Tel Aviv, an Israeli cab driver who longs to fly and a Russian music teacher who is soon to board a plane find out that romance is only a cab ride away. In her program notes, Jane Schoettle assures the film delivers a sweet, thoughtful romance "in spades." IMDb. World Premiere.

Gigante (Adrián Biniez, Uruguay/ Germany/Argentina/ The Netherlands). Security guard Jara falls in love as he supervises staff through the closed-circuit cameras at a supermarket. First voyeur, then guardian angel, he protects and pursues the cleaning woman who has unknowingly captured his heart. Hailing from the same creative ensemble that produced 25 Watts (2001), Whisky (2004), The Dog Pound (2006) and Acné (2008), Gigante is a "fresh, laugh-out-loud funny" romantic comedy that "combines sublime moments of tenderness and vulnerability with evocative reflections on dull jobs" and "reflects on the possibility of change and hope despite modern-day tedium." Winner of the Grand Jury Prize Silver Bear, Best First Feature Film, and the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 2009 Berlinale, Gigante has been picked up for distribution by Film Movement. David Hudson gathered the surprisingly lukewarm Berlinale reviews for The Daily @ IFC. At The Hollywood Reporter, however, Deborah Young claimed the film was "impeccable … [with] inherent charm." And at Undercurrent, Borislav Andjelic states: "[T]his slow paced and subtle story, which counts on audiences to fill in the gaps, [is] a warm-hearted elegy of solitude. Biniez shows a great sense of a visual style and color contrasts with the help of the camera of Arauco Hernández-Holz, and with careful framing, has created another striking image of a lonely man in a gallery of such personalities presented lately by new Latin American films." IMDb. YouTube excerpt. North American Premiere.

The Happiest Girl in the World / Cea mai fericita fata din lume (Radu Jude, Romania/The Netherlands). Cineuropa synopsis: "Eighteen-year-old Delia Fratila comes from a poor family in a small Romanian town. She has won an expensive car in a promotional competition by mailing in three labels from juice bottles. To prove that the beverage company really is handing over the prize, a video is to be shot showing Delia and the car. Delia and her parents make the long trip to Bucharest for the video shoot, but what seemed at first to be a lucky event becomes for Delia an extreme and emotionally painful situation, in which she has to rethink and question her relationships with her family." As Dimitri Eipides writes in his program capsule: "There's a big obstacle on the way to auto-fulfillment: your parents. They've taken the wheel before you even had a chance to figure out where you wanted to go. …Drawing uncomfortable parallels between real life and a not-so-unreal movie universe, The Happiest Girl in the World is a gleaming jewel in Romanian cinema's no-nonsense crown."

Dispatching to the
Jigsaw Lounge from the Berlinale, Neil Young noted that—though The Happiest Girl in the World "is sensitively accurate on the family's internal dynamics, their snipings: each line pulls its weight in a notably economic script that unfolds bit by bit"—he complains that the film bogs down after about an hour and "ultimately becomes disappointingly tiresome." He concludes: "Momentum gets lost in repetition." Peter Brunette concurs at The Hollywood Reporter: "The Happiest Girl in the World works the well-worn territory of the Corneliu Porumboiu's worldwide festival hit 12:08 East of Bucharest, but much less successfully. Drenched in the de rigueur ironies of contemporary Romanian cinema, it simply isn't as funny as the earlier film and the satire isn't nearly as biting." At Film Comment, Nicolas Rapold adds: "The scenario of interminable re-shoots suggests that not every Romanian film can pull off absurdity and pathos through reiteration and real-time drama."

The project won the prestigious NHK Sundance Award in 2008, was selected for the Forum at the Berlinale 2009, and also won the FIPRESCI award at the 2009 Sofia International Film Festival. Tonci Valentic wrote that win up for Undercurrent: "One of the most touching elements in this movie rests precisely in its straightforwardness. The simple and ostensibly unexciting story about the making of a promotional video unexpectedly reveals many different layers of the post-socialist reality and its myriad of problems. For example, the family arrives in Bucharest in their old Dacia, while the trophy car, made by the same company, symbolizes the shift to a new era of affluence. Radu Jude uses the brief conversations during the recesses between the takes also as discrete and subtle commentaries on the differences between the new and the old times. The objective shots from a still camera position seem to always portray the main characters from a certain distance. Thus, construed as a neutral observer, the viewer is purposefully denied any emotional engagement even with the most intense scenes of the heated family quarrel." IMDb. YouTube trailer. North American Premiere.

Heliopolis / Masr el gedida (Ahmad Abdalla, Egypt). Official website. An Egyptian art film with some major stars, Heliopolis weaves together portraits from one of Cairo's most storied neighborhoods. IMDb synopsis: "The events of one day in the lives of a number of Cairo residents is a portrayal of unfulfilled dreams and frustrating details of life in the overpopulated Metropolis. Their paths cross and their stories overlap but they are caught up in their struggle and are oblivious to one another against the background of what used to be one of Cairo's most glamorous neighborhoods. The City's vanishing glory and fading history is documented through the characters strife to make it through one day in Heliopolis. The one thing they all share is the knowledge that they will probably have to confront the City again and again over the following days." Jay Weissberg dispatched to Variety from Cannes: "A labor of love for all concerned, helmer Ahmad Abdalla's Heliopolis reps a respectable debut feature that focuses a sharp critique of Egyptian society matched by a nostalgia-drenched longing for life before the 1952 Revolution. Far more influenced by the Euro arthouse reflections of Yousry Nasrallah than the meller styling of popular Egyptian pics, Abdalla adheres to his roots as a film editor with nice montages and a generally skillful handling of the story's choral nature, affectingly exposing the malaise of Cairo's middle class." Weissberg concludes: "While most perfs are solid—special nods go to Yousef, Soliman and Abol Naga—thesping styles aren't unified. Likewise, sections are not without a certain clumsiness, and though Abdalla's editing background comes to the fore, he occasionally cuts off shots sooner than warranted; the final scene however is especially strong. He's also good at capturing the physical sense of Heliopolis, with its turn-of-the-century splendor just about holding out against recent shoddy architecture." IMDb. YouTube teaser. World Premiere.

Kelin (Ermek Tursunov, Kazakhstan). A love story among the ragged steppes of ancient Kazakhstan is told in beautiful and poetic images, as a young love struggles to survive in the face of uncontrollable external factors. A woman is led by her family to her new husband's home, to live with, presumably, his elderly mother and younger brother. Despite being forced into the marriage, she discovers that he is not such a bad catch after all but domestic bliss does not last long. IMDb. North American Premiere.

Last Ride (Glendyn Ivin, Australia). Official website. A desperate father and his 10-year-old son flee into the wilderness of the desert and the human heart in an effort to avoid the law, battling the elements, the past and each other. In 2003, Glendyn Ivin's first short film Cracker Bag took home the Palme d'Or from Cannes. According to Matt Riviera at Last Night With Riviera, Last Ride confirms Ivin's promise and establishes Ivin as a talent to watch. At Screen Daily, Frank Hatherly writes: "A gritty father-son road movie, Last Ride goes down some of the bumpiest, least-traveled roads in Australia. With Hugo Weaving on top form as the aggressive, unpredictable father, and impressive 10-year old newcomer Tom Russell as his at-risk son, Last Ride delivers considerable dramatic tension amidst some amazing locations. …Mining an Australian mythology of nomadic masculinity, exemplified by such classics as The Sundowners and The Shiralee, Last Ride depends greatly on the powder-keg force of Weaving's mean, troubled Kev, and the actor delivers." IMDb. International Premiere.

Mall Girls / Galerianki (Katarzyna Roslaniec, Poland). When a 14-year-old girl arrives at a new high school, she is typecast as an outsider from the sticks. Survival means working things out with a clique of girls who troll the local malls and score the latest in consumer toys and clothes by trading sexual favors for cash with the men they find there. This appears to be a fleshed-out version of her earlier short of the same title, which won both a Special Jury Prize at the 2007 Polish Film Festival and a Special Mention at the 2008 Aubagne International Film Festival. IMDb. International Premiere.

The Man Beyond the Bridge / Paltadacho Munis (Laxmikant Shetgaonkar, India). A lonely man finds a companion in a mad woman in a dense forest in the Western Ghats of India. When she becomes pregnant, a conflict arises between a society that refuses to take responsibility for one of its members and one man's endeavor to integrate her in his life. World Premiere.

My Dog Tulip (Paul Fierlinger and Sandra Fierlinger, USA). Official website. Christopher Plummer and Isabella Rossellini voice this vividly animated, touching tale of friendship between an elderly bachelor and his German Shepherd. As Colin Geddes writes in his program capsule, My Dog Tulip is based on J.R. Ackerley's celebrated 1956 novel and is "at once a portrait of the dog lover and a provocative meditation on the wonders of nature" and "a playful and moving ode to man's best friend." The film premiered at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival earlier this year. The Fierlingers have created the first animated feature to be entirely hand drawn and painted using a paperless computer technology TVPaint, at whose website Asaf Agranat interviews Paul Fierlinger. Wikipedia. IMDb. North American Premiere.

My Tehran for Sale (Granaz Moussavi, Australia/Iran). Shot underground on location in Tehran, the film tells the story of modern-day Iranian youth struggling for cultural freedom. Marzieh is a young female actress living in Tehran. The authorities ban her theatre work and—like all young people in Iran—she is forced to lead a secret life in order to express herself artistically. At an underground rave, she meets Iranian born Saman, now an Australian citizen, who offers her a way out of her country and the possibility of living without fear. IMDb. International Premiere.

Nora (Alla Kovgan and David Hinton, USA/United Kingdom/ Mozambique). Official website. Zimbabwean dancer Nora Chipaumire stars in this beautiful and rigorously choreographed fable based on her own life and shot on location in Southern Africa. Winner of multiple awards, including the Eileen Maitland Award from the 2009 Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Grand Prize at the 2009 Black Maria Film and Video Festival, the Prize for Creativity at the 2009 Montréal International Festival of Films on Art, the Jury Award and Special Prize at the 2009 Newport Beach Film Festival and an Honorable Mention at the 2009 Oberhausen International Short Film Festival, Nora will be screened with Saint Louis Blues. IMDb. Toronto Premiere.

Northless / Norteado (Rigoberto Perezcano, Mexico/Spain). Andrés reaches the Mexican border to cross into the United States. As he waits between crossing attempts, he discovers the complicated border world of Tijuana. As he waits there, Andres is not only confronted with his feelings and what he left behind, but also with those he meets. IMDb. World Premiere.

La Pivellina / The Little One (Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, Austria/Italy). A small abandoned girl is sheltered by a circus woman in this tale of courage, loss and togetherness. La Pivellina won the Label Europa Cinemas Award at Cannes. Boyd van Hoeij reviews the film for Variety; Lee Marshall for Screen Daily. IMDb. YouTube trailer. North American Premiere.

Samson & Delilah (Warwick Thornton, Australia). Official website. Teenagers Samson and Delilah live in an isolated Aboriginal community in the Central Australian desert. Their outsider status draws them closer together and they come to depend on each other when tragedy strikes. Samson & Delilah won the Audience Award for Best Feature at the 2009 BigPond Adelaide Film Festival, associated with the film through its Investment Fund. Des Partridge wrote up the film's hometown premiere in Alice Springs, Australia for The Courier Mail. After its screening to a standing ovation in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes and a warm reception by international critics, Thornton won the Camera d'Or for Best First Feature. An emotional Warwick was on hand at the ceremony to collect the award from French actress Isabelle Adjani. The President of the Camera D'Or Jury, Roshdy Zem, said, "...probably the best love story that we have seen in many years. An immensely memorable film." In late June, Warwick won the Blue Angel Award for Best Director in the Feature Competition at the 17th Art Film Fest Trenčianske Teplice–Trenčín. S&D's production designer, Daran Fulham, accepted the award in Bratislava while Warwick was busy filming in Arnhem Land's Maningrida at the top of Australia. The film's official website has been gathering reviews and offers several "behind the scenes" YouTube videos, as well as the pressbook in PDF format. The soundtrack is available at ABC. Wikipedia. IMDb. YouTube trailer. North American Premiere.

Shirley Adams (Oliver Hermanus, South Africa/USA). Official website. This intimate, precise portrait focuses on a mother in Cape Town, South Africa, whose son is disabled in a neighborhood shooting. Dispatching to The Hollywood Reporter from the Locarno Film Festival, Ray Bennett opines that veteran South African actress Denise Newman's extraordinary performance "will set the bar for best actress awards this year." Bennett adds that—though deliberate—Shirley Adams is neither slow, melancholy nor depressing, but rather "a penetrating study in fortitude and optimism in the face of desperate odds." IMDb. YouTube trailer. North American Premiere.

Should I Really Do It? / Bunu gerçekten yapmali miyim? (Ismail Necmi, Turkey). Official website. The concepts of real life and fiction, documentary and drama, are explored in this real-life feature which follows the unbelievable life of Petra, a German woman living in Turkey. IMDb. YouTube trailer. North American Premiere.

La Soga (Josh Crook, Dominican Republic/USA). Official website. This gritty and gripping drama explores political intrigue, love, death and the power of memory, set in the Dominican Republic. Wikipedia. IMDb. YouTube trailer. World Premiere.

Saint Louis Blues / Un Transport en commun (Dyana Gaye, France/Senegal). In this sparkling and surprising Senegalese musical, Dyana Gaye turns a shared taxi ride from Dakar to Saint Louis into a confection that could have been made by Jacques Demy. (This film will be screened with Nora.) IMDb. North American Premiere.

Toad's Oil / Gama no Abura (Koji Yakusho, Japan). Official site (Japanese). The story of Takuro Yazawa, a day-trader who claims he can earn hundreds of millions of yen in one day, and those around him as they attempt to cope with the death of his son and somehow find a way to benefit spiritually from the experience. Giovanna Fulvi describes Koji Yakusho's "original and fascinating debut" as "an affectionate portrait of ordinary lives during difficult times" with "a contemporary fantastical aspect and novel visual appeal that mark the solid beginning of a new career path for Yakusho." At Twitch, Todd Brown writes: "The simple fact that Gama No Abura is the directorial debut of Japanese leading man Koji Yakusho—westerners know him from Babel, Japanophiles from most of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's films and a slew of others—would be enough to generate a whole lot of notice. That it actually looks really damn good doesn't hurt, either." Mark Schilling talks to Koji Yakusho for The Japan Times. IMDb. YouTube trailer. International Premiere.

Together / Sammen (Matias Armand Jordal, Norway). The tragic death of a mother causes her family to shatter when they struggle to cope with the loss. In his program notes, Dimitri Eipedes characterizes the film as a "tumultuous tragicomic adventure" that explores what happens when people are torn apart. Wikipedia. IMDb. YouTube trailer. International Premiere.

The Unloved (Samantha Morton, United Kingdom). Official website. Morton shifts from actor to director in this stark portrait of a young British girl plucked from an abusive family and thrown into the hands of government care. The Unloved was produced for Channel 4 and shown in May 2009 as part of its "Britain's Forgotten Children" series. It provides a child's eye view of the U.K.'s government-run care system for orphans and children in danger. Wikipedia. IMDb. International Premiere.

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