Tag Archives: subtitled

Compartment Number 6

Laura is a Finnish grad student who bids a reluctant goodbye to her Russian lover and boards a train headed for Murmansk in the remote Arctic circle to see the petroglyphs, a fitting farewell to her time spent studying in Russia. For the duration of the long ride, she’s been assigned to share a tiny sleeping compartment with Vadim, a rough and roguish man on his way to work in the mines. He makes a bad impression immediately and though Laura pleads to be reassigned, there are no other spaces available, and it’s Vadim or nothing. She wisely chooses nothing for as long as she can, but returns to compartment no. 6 when she can no longer fight sleep.

Juho Kuosmanen’s film is shot authentically on a series of Russian trains. You feel the claustrophobia, the inability to escape, the blurry landscape rushing by impassively outside the compartment’s window. Eventually loneliness and isolation win out, and Laura (Seidi Haarla) feeds her hunger for human connection by letting Vadim (Yuriy Borisov) in, little by little. They are not well matched, separated by class, nationality, and even language, but Vadim continues to surprise Laura, who stands in for the audience as she revises her assumptions and first impressions. Still, we fear for Laura, who seems vulnerable in her naivete, in travelling by herself such a long distance, so far from home.

I’ve heard this film compared to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, but I wouldn’t put them in the same category myself. I struggled with Compartment No. 6 because the introduction does such a good job of painting Vadim as an undesirable that I was totally convinced, and not nearly as ready to forgive as Laura. This is a general problem for me lately, my reluctance to accept vindication for a man I’m not sure deserves it. I feel Kuosmanen pushing us to challenge our implicit presumptions, but I don’t believe Vadim has truly earned redemption. His character starts out too abhorrent for me to believe in his transformation in just one train journey, no matter how endless it felt.

Of course, the beauty in film is that you may feel otherwise yourself (many do). Their time together being limited, perhaps you’ll be moved by their connection, impressive considering the limitations of the ride. Their inherent expiry date will either fill you with a sense of warmth and urgency, or leave you feeling that it’s all a bunch of nothing. And you wouldn’t be wrong either way. We are merely silent observers in this, and we’ll either find compassion for these two and their choices, or we’ll be left out in the cold wind of the Arctic circle.

Compartment Number 6 is an official selection of TIFF 2021.

7 Prisoners

Mateus is one of 7 boys recruited by a familiar face in the country villages outside São Paulo. This man selects only the best, and competition is fierce; there are no jobs in the countryside, and 18 year old Mateus is keen to earn money for his family. His family celebrates his luck with a special dinner and goodbye gifts that they can scarce afford. Mateus is proud to go.

Until he and the others are thrown inside a cage, locked up, that is. 7 Prisoners isn’t the only movie at TIFF this year to tackle modern slavery, but the circumstances here are different. The junk yard boss Luca (Rodrigo Santoro) knows what he’s doing. He presents his prisoners with an invoice for every cost incurred, which will conveniently take them a lifetime of forced labour at slave wages to repay. Some of the boys talk of rebellion, of overthrowing Luca in order to escape, but others can think only of their relatives back home living in poverty. Mateus (Christian Malheiros) has an even more complicated choice to make when Luca chooses him to be his middle man, the one who will be directly in charge of the other prisoners. Mateus gets better food, a better bed, a life outside the bars. He also gets a gun to point at his friends, and the job of hunting them down should he escape. The other prisoners have now fixed their hatred on him for turning on them so quickly, for being part of the system that traffics in humans. He’s on the wrong side.

Malheiros shows us Mateus’ agony, but also his determination, and his #1 priority, the family back home. In the few phone calls he’s been allowed, his mother is astounded by the money Luca has sent back on his behalf. She can labour less, save her bad back. For Mateus, this is worth it, but he’s in an interminably awkward position of being both the bad guy and a victim but unappreciated by either side. He has to make extreme personal and ethical compromises to survive, not the prisoners see it this way.

Director Alexandre Moratto transcends simple good vs. bad and presents a more complicated and evolving sense of right and wrong, the steady compromising of values necessarily to survive systemic oppression and corruption. No matter which side of the bars they sleep on, all seven prisoners are being exploited; there is no winning in the game of human smuggling, only injustice, cruelty, and a hopelessness that seeps in quick.

7 Prisoners is an official selection of TIFF 2021.

Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash

Every year, every film festival, there’s a certain number of films that we preface with the reminder: film festivals are a time to take chances. I do truly believe that. Of course everyone wants to see the blockbuster (Dune), and the Oscar front-runner (The Power of the Dog), and whatever Olivia Colman’s up to (Mothering Sunday), but you can’t – or at least you shouldn’t – attend a film festival and not see something that’s a little different, a little experimental, a little out of your comfort zone.

For the title alone, I was willing to take a risk; for a movie described as an offbeat martial-arts romance, I couldn’t resist.

There are two things you’ll need to know about Ajo Kawir (Marthino Lio). The first is that he’s impotent. You may as well hear it from me. Everybody knows. The whole village knows! They’ve also got their theories as to how it happened, and what rituals and superstitions might cure it. So far, no luck. Secondly, Ajo is a brawler, a fighter for hire. One day while on a job, he encounters the bodyguard of his current target. Iteung (Ladya Cheryl) is more beautiful and more female than his usual opponents – and more formidable. Their no-frills but nevertheless robust fight ends, inevitably, in love.

Most love stories between a street fighter and a mafia bodyguard would go straight to happily ever after, but not this one. There’s the problem of Ajo’s impotence, naturally. Ajo is well-versed in alternative routes to satisfaction, but apparently that only goes so far, and pretty soon both Iteung’s lust and Ajo’s shame are going to suffer a terrible collision. If that’s not enough, Ajo unadvisedly drags his feet in assassinating a gangster, and you better believe that’s going to come back to bite him in the ass. Then there’s some other stuff about someone stalking Iteung, and a ghost keeps popping up – well, that’s where I lost the plot, to be honest. But even completely stymied by the story, I was committed to its ridiculousness, to its weirdly sweet romance, to its retro vibe and ode to exploitation. It’s a grab bag of genres that don’t make much sense together, nor do they try very hard to. Director Edwin is comfortable making his audience uncomfortable, but what he makes is so ballsy and weird and entertaining, you can’t help but give the guy a pass.

Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas) is an official selection of the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

Dug Dug

Director Ritwik Pareek has a sense of humour about his new film, Dug Dug. “Absurd, bizarre or downright funny,” he calls it, but no matter how weird his film is, “India is far more strange.” Duly noted.

A drunk man weaves his way down the highway, oblivious to his many near-death experiences as his little motorcycle wobbles toward its destination. Finally turning onto a quiet dirt road, it seems as though the drunkard may live, but a voluptuous siren calls his name from a billboard, and the sight of her cleavage is his undoing. The next day his body is scraped off the road and his blue motorcycle with a pink seat is impounded by the police and eventually chained up in their yard. The next morning, the motorcycle is missing – or rather it’s been relocated back to the crash site. And no matter how many times it’s removed, or how well it’s locked up, it always finds its way back there, driverless. It’s a miracle, obviously, so naturally the seeds are sown for a new religion.

Not just religion, but religious fervour, and the commerce/capitalism that so often comes along with it. Pareek expresses this through bright and beautiful montages, a riot of colour and culture, with temples and charities and rituals and offerings and deities springing up out of nowhere like they were inevitable. Pareek’s satire is infectious, often funny, often fun. There’s also just something joyful about his irreverent and inventive style, an exuberance to his colour palette, a fever dream of faith catching like wildfire and spreading even faster. Yet for all this commentary on idolatry and commercialism, the film never feels cynical. Pareek manages to satirize ideology without shaming his characters. It’s a bold and exciting piece of Indian cinema with a wild score that’s almost spiritual itself.

The Box (La Caja)

The Box is subtly heartbreaking.

Hatzín (Hatzín Navarrete) rides the bus from his Mexico City home all alone, though he’s still just a young guy; there’s a sick grandma at home, and a dead father’s remains to collect, and unfortunately, Hatzín’s got the job. His father, long estranged, is one of many victims of a mining accident. His remains fit into a small metal box. But before Hatzín can leave town, he sees a man in the street he’s sure is his dad. Mario (Hernán Mendoza) insists that Hatzín is mistaken but Hatzín will not be dissuaded. He shadows Mario until Mario reluctantly relents, taking the young boy under his wing, feeding and sheltering him, and putting him to work.

Hatzín is a very dedicated little acolyte; he clearly hasn’t had a father figure around in a while, maybe ever. But the thing about Mario is that his affable exterior is a front for the shady business he conducts. Mario recruits labour for the region’s factories, and takes kickbacks for providing people too desperate to have carefully read the contracts they sign. Now Hatzín does it too, but an up-close look at an ugly business may upset the bond so easily made.

Although The Box says a lot about the seedy underbelly of Mexico’s manufacturing industry, it does so simply by showing its realities. It does the same for the strange and shaky bond between Hatzín and Mario; of what, exactly, does it consist? And whether Hatzín is blood to Mario or simply adopted kin, what hypocrisy exists in the man to apply one set of ethics to family, and another to the people he condemns to mean kind of servitude. Hatzín is young but Mario thinks nothing of giving him a hard-knock education in the very ugliest corners of his business. Considering Hatzín’s age and need and aloneness in the world, it’s hard to say whether he’s a victim or a perpetrator. But knowing what he’s been through, you root for him. Director Lorenzo Vigas keeps relationships vague but is unflinching when it comes to corruption.

The Box was filmed in a factory in the border town of Ciudad Juárez where many young women in the region have disappeared. As much as we feel for Hatzín, we can’t help our eyes and hearts being pulled toward the nameless many being marched into buildings only the lucky will escape.

La Caja is an official selection of TIFF 2021.

#Blue_Whale

#Blue_Whale uses a played-out construct to frame its frenetic story, but the tale it tells is still relevant, and horrifying in more ways than one.

The Premise: Teenager Dana is reeling and confused by her younger sister’s recent suicide. Unwilling to accept that her sister was truly suicidal, she searches through her computer for evidence to the contrary and instead stumbles across something much more sinister. Sister Yulya was involved in an online game that hooked teenagers with a series of challenging tasks meant to ultimately result in their suicides. Convinced that Yulya must have been compelled, Dana seeks the truth the only way she knows how: by joining the game and risking her own life – and that of everyone she knows.

The Verdict: #Blue_Whale fits undoubtedly within the horror genre, but it’s also alarming to note that the movie is inspired by real-life online suicide ‘games.’ Director Anna Zaytseva tells the story through screens (screenlife storytelling ) – cell phone live streams, social media posts, desk top messaging, desperate texts. While this format may have seemed novel and exciting at first, now it feels like an annoying contrivance, not to mention a not very honest one. If you’ve watched any live streams, then you know they’re 80% blurry, 40% shoes/sidewalk, 98% heavy breathing, yet thanks to the magic of movies, this girl is able to keep herself in frame despite literally running for her life. Anyway, Dana struggles through fifty tasks in fifty days, each more dangerous than the last, each designed to alienate her from friends, family, reality, and hope. While she tries to tease out the game’s admins, she’s also worrying about and falling for another player, a teen who is legitimately suicidal. The film is fast-paced, an immediacy which reflects the almost non-existent attention span of this online generation, and a sensory overload that breeds an overwhelming paranoia. Anchored by a brave and ballsy performance by Anna Potebnya, #Blue_Whale’s success is found in her vulnerability, indeed in the vulnerability of all these susceptible teenagers, so close to adulthood, yet still at risk of manipulation. The film is a horror first and foremost, but it’s also a life lesson worth heeding.

All The Moons

Drama, fantasy, horror: All The Moons, an official Fantasia Film Fest selection, may look bleak, but its story may surprise you.

The Premise: During Spain’s war in 1876, an orphanage is bombed, killing all nuns and girls inside save one. The girl (Haizea Carneros) is badly injured but saved by a woman (Itziar Ituño) whom she mistakes for an angel, but who actually grants her eternal life. Now this little girl has infinite life stretching out before her, but must learn to survive it on her own, while avoiding those who might mistake her as a demon.

The Verdict: All The Moons is a vampire movie without ever using the word, but there’s nothing like a long life for contemplating loneliness and mortality. Director Igor Legarreta seeks to redefine the vampire trope, making an intimate meditation on love and loss that includes some familiar facets but ultimately transcends the genre. Fans of bloodsucker flicks won’t want to miss it.

Fantasia will screen this film virtually on Saturday August 21st beginning at 9am EST.

SXSW 2021: Fucking With Nobody

After losing a directing gig to her nemesis Kristian, Hanna teams up with her sister and counterculture friends to create a phony Instagram romance between herself and young actor Ekku. Hanna and her friends have lofty ambitions for their Instagram account; self-described ‘social anarchists,’ this “art project” will challenge the traditional, heteronormative power structures of romantic love. Everyone’s super on board, even Hanna’s and Ekku’s current boyfriends, who are both witnesses and participants.

Of course, what starts as a commentary on how easily intimacy can be faked on social media quickly snowballs into something else entirely as Hanna and Ekku begin to rack up views. With a real following, they have a platform to really say something, but instead seem to lose the thread of their original intent.

In a complicated and complicating meta twist, film director Hanna is played by Fucking With Nobody writer-director Hannaleena Hauru. The part of her boyfriend is played by real life boyfriend (and co-writer, and co-cinematographer) Lasse Poser. Fiction and reality blur and the narrative lines become difficult to parse and perhaps more trouble than they’re worth.

This movie about making a movie (about making a movie?) bites off more than it can chew, and though I normally admire hunger, this kind of gluttony was hard to watch and ultimately unsatisfying.

Berlinale 2021: Albatros (Drift Away)

Laurent is a good cop in a small town in Normandy, where little ever happens. The police work may be on the dull side but his recent engagement to Marie means his personal life makes up for it. Laurent (Jérémie Renier) and Marie (Marie-Julie Maille) have already been together long enough to share a home and a daughter, Poulette (Madeleine Beauvois), who was excited to be part of the low-key proposal. But then things take a turn for the more interesting.

A local farmer goes missing, armed with a rifle and seemingly suicidal after a series of failed inspections that threaten his livelihood. This being a small town, the farmer is known to Laurent, a friend. Laurent is obviously very motivated to have this man found safely, but does his familiarity cloud his judgement? When the farmer is eventually located, it leads to an altercation, resulting in Laurent discharging his weapon in an effort to prevent the farmer from taking his own life. Laurent kills him.

The aftermath is as messy as you’d expect. Everyone agrees it was an accident, but was it reckless? Negligent? The farmer’s sister obviously thinks so; she’s suing both Laurent and the force. Thrown into self-doubt, recrimination, and emotional turmoil, Laurent takes off on a journey he must take alone. Which, honestly, is where the film lost me. Up until it veers off into a very different direction, I was enjoying this slow-burn character study. Renier kept things dignified, stoic but just expressive enough to hint at upheaval behind the façade. Unfortunately, director Xavier Beauvois muddies the water with some confusing and unnecessary subplots, taking away from the power and potency of Renier’s performance.

Albatros’s final moments redeem some of its earlier mistakes but there’s no way the film needed to be two hours long, which seems to dilute the urgency and impact of what should have been the movie’s central themes. Albatros is a good idea unevenly executed, not quite saved from a stellar star performance.

Berlinale 2021: Petite maman

Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) is eight years old when her grandmother dies. Nelly and her mother (Nina Meurisse) are both sad as they empty her room at the nursing home and say farewell to her elderly friends. Next they meet Nelly’s dad at Nelly’s mom’s childhood home, which also needs to be packed up. Nelly and her grandma were quite close, and the death has taken a toll on them all. But the next day, Nelly’s mom is gone, and only her dad (Stéphane Varupenne) is left to box up an old woman’s life. The sadness was too much for mom, Nelly is told, though mom is often sad, and Nelly is worried that mom might not come back.

While her father works diligently, Nelly explores the outdoors in search of a cabin her mother constructed out of sticks as a child many years ago. In the woods she finds something even better: a playmate. Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) is also eight years old, and is devoting her time to building a little cabin out of sticks. Nelly knows right away who Marion is; it’s her mother, as a child. When Marion brings Nelly back to her house, grandma is alive and well, and 20-some years younger. The girls, who look like they could be twins (and are indeed played by twins), are immediate best friends. Being eight, Nelly doesn’t much care how or why this time anomaly has permitted her such an intimate new playmate, she just takes it at its face value and enjoys the time with her little mother.

Imagine, if your old brain still has any magic left in it, encountering your own mother as a child, when you yourself are also a child. This is such a beautiful, innocent thought experiment I can’t believe I’ve never seen it done before.

Nelly takes full advantage, asking her mother things that are much harder, and sometimes impossible, to broach between mother and child under normal circumstances. And Marion has questions too. “Did I want you?” she asks in all innocence. “Yes,” comes the reply. “I’m not surprised,” Marion responds, while gently stroking Nelly’s cheek, “I’m already thinking of you.”

Writer-director Céline Sciamma infuses this film with such tenderness that I constantly feel like weeping, though the film is not particularly emotional or fraught. The two young actresses are absolute perfection, like little dolls who are made for each other. It helps us to understand that his manifestation is somehow essential to Nelly’s grief and loneliness during a painful time. This is next-level self-soothing and the whole thing is coated in such a thick layer of loving kindness that I’m pretty sure I want some too.