Tag Archives: foreign films

SXSW: Lake Bodom

True story: in June 1960, four kids (two 15-year-old girls and their 18-year-old boyfriends) went camping. Three of them were found dead, stabbed and bludgeoned to death; the fourth was bloodied and blank, with no recollection of the violent attack. This case has remain unsolved in Finland for nearly 6 decades, but theories have turned into legends, and this film is born of those campfire ashes.

In Lake Bodom, Atte (Santeri Helinheimo Mantyla) is obsessed with lake-bodom-2016-movie-featuredthe murders. He talks his friend Elias (Mikael Gabriel) into helping him recreate them, hoping to solve them once and for all, but Elias is in it for the sex, not so much the solving. They coax along two best friends who think they’re going on a very different trip – Ida (Nelly Hirst-Gee) is happy to escape her oppressively-religious home life, and Nora (Mimosa Willamo) is just happy to spend time with Ida.

Since this is a horror movie, you know what’s coming next: this isn’t just a recreation. Shit goes down! But Lake Bodom isn’t quite as predictable or straight-up as that. There’s a series of twists that defy expectation, melding several horror tropes into a single film, keeping you guessing and interested and creeped the fuck out. This film looks better than any horror film has to. Some of the shots are full-stop beautiful, which only adds to the ambiance. Atmospheric and well-paced, Lake Bodom provides thrills and anxiety in equal measure, earning every drop of blood splashed across the screen.

Lake Bodom has a relatively low body count, but if you’re in it for the gore, no worries: it makes each one count. In detail. Graphic, brutal detail. Fans of horror who are tired of the same old thing are going to love this. Well, love and hate this. It really is quite scary and maybe not as “fun” as a traditional slasher flick – there’s real meat here, if you can stomach it.

Lake Bodom will be released exclusively on Shudder May 2017.

 

 

 

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Julieta

“I don’t make motion pictures. I make EMOTION pictures”.

I can’t promise that the great Pedro Almodóvar actually said this but this quote was how my film teacher introduced me to the filmmaker’s work before showing us All About My Mother. As a 19 year-old college student, the only EMOTION I felt with any sincerity while watching Almodóvar’s 1999 classic was boredom.

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I’m glad I gave him another chance. I’ve seen many (though certainly not all) of his films and have re-watched Mother at least twice and have come to appreciate the focus on genuine human emotion that make up his films as well as the beautiful colours that are signatures of his cinematography.

It’s a beautiful thing when a work of art can transport you back to your youth and Julieta is that rare film. It’s the kind of film that reminds you what it’s like to be 19 and bored beyond belief by a Pedro Almodóvar film. So bored that I was willing to risk the glares of my fellow theatergoers by momentarily turning on my cell phone just to see how much more of this I had to sit through.

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Which isn’t so say that Julieta is a bad movie because it’s far from it. It’s script is inspired by three interconnected short stories from renowned Canadian writer Alice Munro, a fact that I am somehow irrationally a bit proud of as a Canadian. As a teenager, Julieta has a flirtation and affair with a mysterious man on a train. As a young mother, she visits her parents only to discover her mother doesn’t seem to be getting the care that she needs. And as an aging widow, she tries to reunite with her estranged daughter who left in search of spiritual enlightenment and never returned.

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The mother-daughter segment is the strongest of the three stories and Almodóvar is smart to use his somewhat non-linear structure to tease it throughout the film. As usual, he favours emotion over motion and the feelings always ring true and the film is always lovely to look at. Despite his fascination with the feelings and inner lives of his characters though, he’s usually much more generous with plot. While my favourite Almodóvar films tell riveting and unpredictable stories, there isn’t enough to connect the three parts of Julieta to feel like one story. Ironically for a film with three stories, there doesn’t seem to be enough story in Julieta to fill a full movie. It’s not bad but I’ve come to expect better.

Elle

Michèle is attacked in her home, brutally raped by a man in a ski mask. She cleans up the mess, and herself. She doesn’t reveal the assault for several days, when she calmly tells a tableful of friends at a restaurant. Her response may seem a little cold to some, but she’s grappling with it, in fact reliving it all the time (which means we get to witness the rape repeatedly). Michèle has some childhood trauma that makes her distrustful of the police, but after the attack she continues to get threatening text messages that keep her on edge.

Michèle, the character, is an interesting woman. She’s a successful businesswoman, the boss at a video game company with a lot of young men working under her, with varying degrees of respect, resentment, and lust toward her. She has a grown son who is increasingly under the thumb of his pregnant girlfriend, and thus more estranged from his elle-6mother. She has exes, lovers, and erotic fixations. Some of them may surprise you. She reminds us that there are many ways to respond to this kind of violation, and none of them are necessarily wrong. But victimhood does not sit well with Michèle; Michèle plots revenge. Michèle’s complexity is a welcome layer to this psychological thriller, and it’s superbly executed by Isabelle Huppert. Huppert won the Golden Globe for her performance and is nominated for an Oscar, and it’s easy to see why. This is a career best for her, and she’s not exactly a slouch.

The harder pill to swallow is that Elle is directed by Paul Verhoeven – THAT Verhoeven; Showgirls Verhoeven. Verhoeven’s filmography is, erm, varied. Neither Robocop nor Starship Troopers really signal that he’s capable of this kind of film. Tonally it resembles Basic Instinct most closely, but this work still shows more maturity  and more nuance than we’ve perhaps seen from him before. Maybe this is owing to the film’s source material, the book ‘Oh…’ by Philippe Dijan.

Divines

Shit. This is not some easy-breezy coming of age story, I’ll tell you that much for free. You’d be forgiven for assuming as much when the camera originally picks up with two teenaged girls who goof off in class and daydream about making big money, but that’s just the first sign that you should buckle the fuck up.

Dounia (Oulaya Amamra) and Maiimouna (Deborah Lukumuena) are from the shanty side of Paris, where they’re expected to train as receptionists at school. The teacher is as clueless as divines-movie-download-english-subtitlesthe class is hopeless, and you can’t quite bring yourself to blame these girls for dropping out. But then Dounia meets two people who might potentially change her life:  Djigui, an untrained but talented dancer, who makes her think a different kind of life is possible, and Rebecca, a glamorous young drug dealer\sex worker who makes that different kind of life accessible.

Dounia is nothing if not an upstarter. With boundless energy and roiling teenaged cynicism, she and her friend put themselves in situations they’re too stupid to realize are crazy dangerous. They’re both too mature and too naive, eager to make their mark but easily manipulated. The camera’s gaze is unflinching, even if ours is not. No matter how big and bad the girls pretend to be, their youth and inexperience betray them.

Writer-director Houda Benyamina gives a  gritty but sympathetic look at the less polished side of Paris, where money, race, and power are unapologetically at the forefront of everyday existence. The film is raw and filled with rage, which means it’s got this really buzzy undercurrent that makes you feel like anything is possible and you have no idea where it’s all going. The energy is astounding, especially from a largely unknown cast (Amamra is Benyamina’s little sister), and even though this isn’t a typically “enjoyable” film, I felt pulled inside of it, headlong, and we all just prayed that we’d make it out alive.

Toni Erdmann

Ines Conradi is a successful businesswoman currently stationed in Bucharest but poised for promotion and transfer to Singapore when this next deal goes well. Winfried Conradi is her father, a lonely man, socially handicapped and prone to the dumbest, most trying “pranks” on the planet. There is no such person as Toni Erdmann. Toni Erdmann is just what Winfriend calls himself when he’s wearing ludicrous false teeth and an even worse wig, which is his go-to costume for “pranking.” His pranks, by the way, consist mainly of toni-erdmann-5-rcm0x1920ujust showing up and being this weird alternate personality. He more or less stalks his daughter and endangers her career by showing up at her office and various work functions. If he was your father, you’d either die of embarrassment, or you’d kill him. No two people should survive a relationship like this.

Nothing happens in Toni Erdmann. It’s dull as shit. It’s 2h40min of fumbling through “comedy” that didn’t even induce me to crack a half-smile. What am I missing? This film has been a hit at festivals, including Cannes and TIFF, and was just nominated for a Golden Globe (best foreign film). But I didn’t get it. Sure Ines needed some unbuttoning, poor corporate stick i the mud that she’d become, but I don’t see the humour in a father constantly humiliating his daughter. I didn’t get the public nudity, or the unironic belting out of a Whitney Houston song. The whole thing missed me completely. What the father accomplishes, to my eyes, is not the unburdening of his daughter but rather her undoing – some of her choices seem unhinged and nervous-breakdownish, especially since they’re so often done at work or in front of colleagues. And it feels anti-feminist to say that because this woman is business-minded she’s also cold and in need of saving.

Toni Erdmann was agony for me, maybe more so because I’d actually been looking forward to it. But it was a chore, one that felt interminable for a time, a long time, a period of time that felt even longer than the nearly-three hour runtime.

 

Things To Come

Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) is a philosophy teacher who takes pleasure in thinking and inner life. She’s a recent empty-nester with a rocky marriage and a demanding mother. If she were to suddenly be shed of all those ‘obligations,’ would it be tragic or frankly freeing?

The very plot of this movie, languid as it is, is a bit of a philosophical question: how to reinvent one’s life at every stage, even (especially) when you don’t have control over what’s happening. It’s a nuanced, detail-oriented portrait that offers lots of little observational gifts that rewards close attention.

Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things To Come (L’avenir) is about a woman who is 201609145_5_img_fix_700x700picking up the pieces of her middle age and trying to formulate some acceptable version of the future for herself. She’s disconnected from her youth and perhaps her old passions, but she’s not done, far from it. The film, and Huppert’s performance, has a stiff upper lip: she submits to a series of diminishments with cool detachment, but we watch as these changes slowly affect her relationships, even the one she has with philosophy.

Isabelle Huppert has had a busy year at the movies, and this film is proof positive as to why: she’s exceptional. Here she gives a performances that is restrained, wary, economical, but never closed off. She’s accessible even in her reserve. Her director, Hansen-Løve, is traditional but meticulous in her story-telling. Compositions are beautiful, editing is fluid, each frame simple and still. The focus is on Nathalie, who appears in nearly every minute of the film, as she grapples with change while trying to remain her stoic self. The film is about charting a new course, sometimes late into life, and the effect an uncertain future will have on a body. But at it’s most basic, Things To Come is about a woman still struggling with identity, and there is no actress better suited to the role that Huppert, who pulls off uncertainty with dignity and aplomb.

 

 

OIAF: Cafard

cafardCafard is the French word for cockroach.  But make no mistake, the animated film Cafard is not the French version of A Bug’s Life.  It’s a bleak, adult tale about the horrors of the first World War, from the perspective of a world champion wrestler who enlists in the Belgian army in 1914 after his daughter is raped by German soldiers.  Unfortunately for all involved, that terrible event is only the start of the awfulness.

Cafard’s story is told well but it didn’t thoroughly draw me in, and I wonder whether that is because I never related to the protagonist.  While well-meaning, his brute force approach did not translate from wrestling to the rest of his life, and his journey is unsatisfying as a result.

The film’s subject matter was likely a cause of my detachment as well.  This is a movie that is difficult to get close to, because it does not sugarcafardcoat any aspect of war’s horrors.  While that approach is commendable, it is that much more difficult to embrace Cafard.  I would have liked for the film to have offered something to offset its harsh subject matter, but there is no joy to be found in this world.  Any hint of happiness feels fleeting, like a consolation prize at best.

Fittingly, Cafard’s motion capture animation is harsh and eerily realistic, just like its storytelling approach.  The visuals fit the movie tonally but are at times distracting, particularly because Cafard by and large is almost photorealistic but there are occasionally very roughly drawn scenes that seem like they contain animation errors.  It is too bad because those moments are few and far between but that made them even more jarring when they appeared.

Despite those minor complaints, from an artistic perspective the film consistently reflects Cafard’s sad subject matter, and tells its story effectively and with purpose.  That is an achievement deserving of mention.  The film is thematically consistent and demonstrates the futility of war from start to finish.  Cafard hammers home that theme and I left the theatre feeling that the filmmakers might even be satisfied that I found the film so difficult to enjoy.  War is hell, after all, and Cafard delivers exactly that.

 

Saint Amour

saintamourGerard Depardieu and Benoit Poelvoorde play a father and son, respectively, attending a livestock show.  Luckily for Poelvoorde, the fair also features a wine exhibition and he makes it his mission to sample everything.  Since there are a few days before the main event (the cattle competition), Depardieu suggests they widen the scope of the wine tour.   Poelvoode is all for it so the two hit the road with the help of cabbie Vincent Lacoste.

Saint Amour had me at “French wine tour”.  If anyone ever wants to organize a French road trip, count me in.  Jay will definitely come too.  There’s a joyous feeling as the characters move to the countryside and get their drink on.  The experience feels like it should, and as a viewer I wished I was more actively involved in the adventure.

Even Vincent Lacoste, who I instantly recognized as the title character in Lolo (likely the most detestable character I saw on screen in 2015), is entertaining as the cabbie/third wheel.  The beating heart of the movie, though, is the interplay between Depardieu and Poelvoorde.  They are both funny and surprisingly sweet as they try (and often fail) to reconnect over bottle after bottle of what I am sure was excellent wine.  Neither of them has a lot to say to the other, but as the story progresses we see it’s not for lack of trying.

Then the film swerves in the last ten minutes, leaving us with an ending I did not see coming, not even a little bit.  It’s not the worst ending but it’s quite bizarre, mainly because it didn’t fit with my feel for the father and son duo and left me feeling a bit flat.  On the other hand, the swerve was believable for Lacoste’s character but that could be my Lolo hatred resurfacing.  Me, I would rather have finished the wine tour.

Even with the bumpy landing, Saint Amour is an entertaining ride that goes down smooth.  Now to start dropping hints to Jay about a real-life tour of France’s wine regions, sans compromis.

Made In France

It starts out reasonably enough: we hear a lecture against pornography. But the words are angry, vehement, and even if we agree with the content, you can’t help but worry about the tone. Then it continues: the Internet is evil too. And so is “fraternization” – males and females hanging out together. Merely looking at each other. It’s all decadence that leads to adultery, and adultery is worse than murder because murder is permitted under certain circumstances, but adultery, never. Which is why women should be made to stay in the home.

This is of course rhetoric coming from a Muslim imam in an underground mosque in Paris. The worshippers gathered to hear him are mzfq1g0XnDg9STDVZPT219LTQh6.jpgdiverse. One, Sam (Malik Zidi), or “red beard” as they call him, is an honestly devout Muslim but also an undercover journalist hoping to get a juicy story on jihadism. His Muslim buddies are all young guys like him from a range of backgrounds, easily mistaken for a group of soccer-loving 20 somethings. But one of the gang, Hassan (Dimitri Storoge), leaves France because he’s ready to make holy war. When he comes back, he tells his friends they’re charged with forming a terrorist cell right there in Paris.

It’s scary to watch something this topical when in fact Paris has been hit several times now by terrorists. The threat is real. Al-Queda isn’t just “over there”, it can be home-grown and just as serious. That’s why this movie strikes such a nerve. As Sam says in the film, the mosque is very good at radicalizing young men. The imam have the subtle traits of cult leaders, and though the young men may originally wander in out of curiosity, they stay out of belief, and then develop fanaticism. The inherent misogyny in the system seems to be attractive to a certain kind of disenfranchised young man.

Made In France is scarier than any horror movie you’ll see this year, and for that reason I wish the film was more analytical as to what would truly encourage a regular Joe to turn extreme. As it stands, the movie’s characters are one-dimensional in terms of motivation. It’s a fairly effective thriller but not overly insightful. Shot before the attack on Charlie Hebdo, director Nicolas Boukhrief struggles to find a balance between the genre and its real life inspiration. He achieves a tense atmosphere that’s gripping and heart-pounding, and a couple of punchy, taut action sequences. Ultimately succumbing to generic twists and beats, though, Made In France doesn’t quite deliver on its socio-political promise. But it does serve as a reminder that anyone can be a terrorist, with a camera’s simple panning of a nondescript residential street that could be my neighbourhood or yours, and the clever casting of “the guy next door”, Made In France taps into our panic and forces us to confront our worst fears.

This review appeared first at Cinema Axis – check them out for more CineFranco coverage!

Zero Motivation

You probably know, somewhere in the back of your brain, that Israel has mandatory military service. When you turn 18, you get drafted into the army. Men serve 3 years, women usually about half that. But have you ever thought about what exactly that entails? Picture, for a moment, the flightiest girls in your high school. Now put them in uniform. In bootcamp. In a latrine.

Zero Motivation does just that: it puts us into a remote outpost in the Israeli zero_motivation_web_1desert and gives us female soldiers for company. Some of them have been given jobs in name only (Daffi is a “Paper and Shredding NCO” who spends most of her time beating the high score in Minesweeper) and most are counting down the days until they return to civilian life. Their officer, Rama, however, is trying to make this her career…

There’s something of the dorm life at play, the cafeteria, the shared accommodations, the communal showers, the flirting. Only with guns and uniforms. Director Talya Lavie makes the most of the slightly absurd circumstance and the comedy is irreverent, and often quite dark.

Zero Motivation is tonally inconsistent, often catching you off guard. You’re meant to feel a little unsteady, building on a commentary that’s sharp and almost post-feminist in its regard. There are plenty of movies that have something to say about the inanity of military life, but this one offers a shockingly fresh perspective