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Måste gitt (2017)
Seemingly impossible plot to turn into a good story, yet it worked out very well after all. Many unexpected turns of events. Ample humor as icing on the cake
Saw this at the Rotterdam Film Festival 2017 (website: https://iffr.com/en). After having read the synopsis on both the festival website as well as the distributors website (see: http://mastegitt.indiansummerfilm.se), I assumed the plot to be far-fetched and next to impossible to make a good story out of it. I was wrong with this a-priori assumption and I stand corrected.
The story develops very well, and unexpected turns of events are coming one by one. And as soon as you think that all possible surprises are exhausted, there is another one you did not see coming. Keeps your attention all the time, with a lot of humor as icing on the cake. Small but beautiful and useful roles of the father (seen a few times in flash-backs) and the mother (having an important effect at a pivotal moment), all of them having their logical place in the dramatic developments. Still more important are the fundamental laws of the street, where trust is of utmost importance and betrayal is severely punished.
Though not having won the VPRO Big Screen Award for which it was nominated by the Rotterdam film festival, it scored relatively high for the audience award, getting a deservedly 13th place (out of 172) with an average score of 4.322 (out of 5).
Un bacio (2016)
My minority viewpoint: disappointing contents, faulty storytelling, and emphasis on wrong scenes whereas other scenes seem neglected
Seen at the Movies That Matter film festival 2017 in The Hague. Disappointing, storytelling-wise as well as how the fantasies of main protagonists were visualized. The clearest example of the latter is Lorenzo's arrival at his new school. We see him drop his backpack and dance his way into the building with the other pupils applauding. Another example, not much better than the former, can be found in Lorenzo's dialogues with his dead brother.
Plot and developments overall are not involving, and as such not as moving as the film makers apparently had hoped for. The composition of the threesome is a bit artificial, seemingly only setup to expose and thus emphasize their differences, their sole binding factor being that all three were treated as outsiders by their peers.
The story around Blu does not receive the attention it deserves. It leaves unclear why she still hangs out with one of the guys who filmed her while she was sedated and seduced by him and his three friends, something that appears later to be a full-fledged gang-rape, less consented than Blu herself tells everyone repeatedly. The rest of the school has earmarked her as "easy to get", words like sl*t are graffiti-d on walls all over the area. The footage itself was not made public, yet the seduction was known all along by other means (gossip?? hearsay??). Near the end of the movie when Blu happens to see the whole footage and learns what really happened with her and the foursome "friends", it triggers her to take formal steps against them, together with her parents and eventually involving the police. How and why that developed is covered in only a few minutes, hence left us wondering.
When our three main protagonists are taking a swim at a deserted place outside, Lorenzo makes his move to Antonio and touches him, something that Antonio apparently does not take well and he leaves without saying anything, despite Blu calling after him to learn why he left. I cannot reveal further developments, in fear of spoilers. But in the end, also somewhat artificial, we see the very same scene where Lorenzo touches Antonio, with a totally different outcome, leaving us outguessing how it will develop. This is where the movie ends with showing the final credits, leaving us wondering again.
All in all, I feel a bit lost because of the generally positive reviews, by non-critics as well as critics. None of them even touches the objections I outlined above. In other words, this is a minority viewpoint. Most probably, my age (67) will be deemed the culprit.
Arranged marriage as per Pakistani traditions taking unexpected turns within a reasonably integrated family living in France
Seen at the Movies That Matter (what is in a name?) film festival in The Hague in March 2017. Perfectly written script with ample interesting and unexpected dramatic developments, keeping your attention for the whole duration. The synopsis on the festival website described the premise perfectly: "She has a good relationship with her Pakistani parents until they decide to marry her off to an unknown man. An unwanted pregnancy forces her to make a difficult decision". An extra interesting element is the lenience of her parents towards Western customs, allowing her to choose freely between three marriage candidates via Skype sessions. We even witnessed sort of a marriage ceremony over Skype. Very commendable but that is as far as it goes with adapting to our culture. Choosing a local boyfriend for marriage is not negotiable; however, he must be someone from Pakistan to follow-up on ancient traditions.
Upfront, this movie has all appearances of a traditional fairy-tale-like story, predictably starting with lots of tears, via heavy discussions and threatening to flee away from home, getting permission eventually to marry a local boy albeit reluctantly, thereby ending with everyone living happily ever after. Luckily, this is certainly NOT what this movie intends to show. Several unforeseen turns of events make this story very different, and it keeps your attention throughout. We see Zahira continuously torn between her family and her European environment. Her dilemmas are shown perfectly, and also her inclination to go along with her parents until a certain point. But it is still not enough as far as her parents are concerned.
One extra plot line comes from Zahira's sister, who has complied with ancient traditions, and repeatedly says that she is very happy about it, after all. Sister's quote: "Of course, this is unjust. But they are men, and we are women". A second, even more important plot line comes from her brother, who supports her in many ways and often acts as an intermediary or adviser, but he still insists on following her parent's wishes in the end. Apart from these two co-protagonists, a special mention for the parents is in order, as they act believable in their desire to uphold Pakistani's traditions. It may seem strange in our eyes, having lived in Europa already for many years and running their business amidst people of many cultures. Of all people, they should be aware that their tradition is not the only one.
All in all, although the plot line seems to go along the downtrodden path that the parents eventually give in, after lots of tears and threatening to leave home, this story however will head in a very different direction. The parents seem very flexible at first, yet maintain their persistence that ancient traditions are to be followed. Despite many unexpected turns of events, the movie is very compact overall by condensing all this in 1 hour and 40 minutes.
Happy Hunting (2017)
The Horror genre label may be misplaced, so also a good watch for fans of other genres. Splendid casting and acting, in addition to original plot and unexpected developments
Seen at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival 2017 (website: www.bifff.net). Starting with an original premise, it has even more original developments in its favor. Of course, the prey has slim chances to survive as per the initial setup of the hunting "game", yet it takes some time for the villagers to learn that the prey this time does not give in so easily as in previous years. In a series of scenes, switching from prey to prey, one falling after the other, yet this time with victims on both sides. Luckily for us viewers, it all went differently from previous years. Alcohol plays an important side role, primarily (of course) for main character Warren throughout the running time, but he also makes productive use of alcohol near the finale.
Entertaining throughout, apart from Warren's alcohol addiction and related cold turkey phenomena, and despite the unnecessary violence, the latter not shown in all gory detail yet suggested with not much left to outguess. For example, when someone's head is beaten with a baseball bat, the movement of the bat is clearly shown but not the ultimate effects on the receiving end. A concession towards content advisory ratings?? It won't help, as the whole movie is riddled with unmitigated violence all over. But it is not Horror in the old-fashioned and literal sense of the word, so no dark corners nor ancient buildings, no monsters nor ghosts, only ordinary (yet redneck) people operating in broad daylight (or some at night) with destructive intentions.
All in all, casting and acting make this movie stand out in the first place, in addition to the original plot with many unexpected developments.
Movie starts mysteriously promising. Yet after half an hour the film makers got overly obsessed with mixing reality and fantasy. They lost the story line, and lost us viewers
Seen at the IMAGINE film festival 2017 in Amsterdam. Despite technically nothing wrong with this movie, I fail to find anything remarkable in it, no logical dramatic development, and no plot whatsoever. I assume that the film makers were so obsessed with the basic concept of mixing fantasy and reality, that they forgot to add a comprehensible and edible story. The "help" given to Aloys for breaking out of his loneliness, went past me and I cannot imagine it offering any escape nor a solid path to achieve that goal.
All in all a pity, as the first half hour is mysteriously promising. After that, the jumps between reality, fantasy and the mix between what could be true and what seems fantasy, make you soon lose interest, particularly as it has no clear effect on the psychology of main characters and their future life. I don't think Aloys will improve his quality of living, and the life and motivation of the woman is unclear to such a degree that I cannot tell what her future looks like either.
The Transfiguration (2016)
This movie leaves the viewers as confused and lost as both main protagonists are with respect to the world around them. Keeps your interest nevertheless and is not boring
Seen at he IMAGINE film festival 2017 in Amsterdam. The story flows all the time and keeps your interest, but overall the dramatic developments are minimal, and the atmosphere embedding the two main topics, violence and social commentary, does not provide for anything new that we haven't seen already in many other movies.
The only novel element is that Milo is a vampire, this time not someone who has to avoid daylight, and he also does not sleep in a coffin. Milo lives a more or less normal life with his older brother, who has apparently nothing more to do than watching TV all day long. Milo marks days on a calendar that he has to go "hunting". We saw a handwritten book with rules of engagement, e.g. that the victim must come instead of chasing him, but that was only a small fragment of a heavy stack of paper. We also see him several times bite randomly chosen victims, after which he is always somewhat nauseas, seemingly inherent in the process. How he became a vampire, is left in the dark (no pun intended), and what we see of his brother does suggest that is not something that runs in the family.
We see less of Sophie, not even her house from the inside, when she e.g. lets Milo wait for her door when she has to pick up something, very different from her having access to Milo's house and even stays in his room for a few days. Not clear what it all means, if anything. Both walk outside the house like a couple, e.g. holding hands, but there is no sex involved as far as we see, despite of sleeping in the same bed and kissing each other frequently.
All in all, if it really was the intention of the film makers to leave us confused, just as confused as both main protagonists are with respect to the world around them, this movie is a success however without a silver lining. It does not make us any wiser through the added elements of social commentary nor does it about violence or NYC's atmosphere, being important topics as suggested by the movie's website but I missed all of it.
Chez nous (2017)
Contemporary "Our land first" issues proficiently packaged in dramatized documentary, nicely showcasing all pro/con arguments and still offering edible drama
Seen at the Rotterdam film festival 2017 (website: www.iffr.com/en), where it was part of the Big Screen Award competition. It is a documentary in the good sense of the word, showcasing all sides and pro/con arguments, in a dramatized way, such that we can remember all the relevant issues better. Nevertheless, it still offers edible human drama and a consistent story line.
At the same time we obtain an insightful picture how difficult it is to keep your hands clean when getting involved in politics, and how sneaky it can happen that you alienate family and friends by taking a stance where nuances are bound to get lost in translation. This is especially the case when the party line takes over, needed some of the time in the interest of the greater good (they say), and to keep their long-term goals upright (they say). A candidate running for office may thus seem to change into a mere puppet on a string, hiding her own opinion where that may differ from the official program of the party she represents.
What we also see here are the side effects on her family and relationships. None of them are prepared to be thoroughly screened. Most notable are the cases of her father, who was a former communist, and her lover who is (in secret) a member of sort of a "security force" (mind the quotes). Her children are forewarned that remarks against their mother are bound to be made, and that they better ignore them. Also, while still working as a nurse before she was elected and loved by everyone, she suddenly was not welcome anymore in some of the areas where she worked before.
All the different plot lines are mixed together and combine splendidly into the overall story. Her daily work as a nurse is portrayed very well too, also showing how things change after her face appeared on TV and she became sort of tainted. Of course, nothing of what is presented in this movie is new or unexpected, but the showcase is still interesting and remains relevant nowadays. I like this category of documentaries, much better than the ones where a scholarly voice-over tells us what we should think.
All in all, a good overview of pro/con arguments around "Our land first" issues in combination with hatred against all foreign elements, be it fugitives from abroad, people with a different (non-Christian) religion, or any lifestyle out of the ordinary. I gave the maximum score 5 for the audience award when leaving the venue, as many others must have done, because it ranked 19th (out of 172 movies) with an average score of 4.306 (out or 5).
Raving Iran (2016)
Partly interesting (first half, in Iran) moving over to a less interesting half (in Zürich). Very relevant final scene whether or not to stay in Zürich
Saw this movie at the festival Movies That Matter (what is in a name?) in The Hague in March 2017. The first half, in Iran, was interesting, especially their visit to the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, when trying to find out what was allowed and what not. For example, they showed a draft CD cover, after which they learned that English texts were forbidden, unless unavoidable for very specific reasons, like proper names. Also complicated were the rules around setting up a concert and still complying with current laws, like women were to appear only in the background, and several more such intricacies. They finally outstayed their welcome, and did not dare to ask any other questions, despite having much more they wanted to know (and we too, for that matter). After that we witnessed a tour along print shops which offered a similar picture, many but's and however's by the owners, all that in fear of the police shutting down their shop when apprehended.
An actual concert they were preparing was also interesting because of many obstacles to surmount while renting equipment, finding a concert location (finally wound up in the desert), transporting instruments and equipment to the place where the concert was to take place, offering many informative facts along the line. It gives a rough insight in the oppressiveness of Iranian society, something you won't notice as a tourist while wandering through one of the major cities. The movie defies what we derive from the superficial vision that shows Iran to us with all the appearances of a modern country, technically well advanced, with a streetscape not much different from ours. We are inclined to assume that the only thing that makes Iran stand out from an average Western country, is seeing women on the street with scarfs and many dressed in black.
Most of the movie's second half, in Zürich, was not interesting at all. The only relevant thing to report happened in the last scene, where they pack their belongings, check-out of their hotel, and get a cab to drive them to the airport. They seem fully prepared to return to Iran. Were they really in the mood to return to Iran, or not?? (no answer here because of spoilers). Even their mother, in a phone call, was hinting that staying in Zürich may be a good idea, which is indeed a difficult thing to say for a mother. All of this, condensed in the final minutes of the movie, offered food for thought, contrary to the rest of their stay in Zürich that was anecdotal at best.
All in all, apart from its first half plus the final scene, the movie was mildly interesting. The first half demonstrated unclear laws and regulations, intentionally left unclear as I learned from other Iranian movies. It's a country in a continuous state of transition, something unavoidable when hosting numerous cultural, linguistic and ethnic groups, as well as several religions. The latter counters our false notion that Islam is the one and only recognized religion in Iran. This diversity may however not apply to the countryside, but it is certainly a fact of life in the main cities. It makes any movie from Iran interesting, regardless of having passed the censors or being smuggled out of the country. I regret to say that this one is not the best showcase to enlighten us about Iran, possibly interesting for the music which does not match my taste so I ignored that.
Der kommer en dag (2016)
Deplorable circumstances, like in Oliver Twist, yet a different approach focusing on personal developments of two boys who carry the story. Two hours seem long but well spent
Of course, like in Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, the circumstances in such institutions are horrible and deplorable. No one seems to care as long as no complaints are registered and nothing of the abuse and slavery comes out in the open. The story in this movie is different, however, due to demonstrating that not only management and teaching staff have their faults, but also the boys themselves maintain some sort of hierarchy. For example, we see "lower" boys tasked with e.g. collecting cigarette-ends and being bullied when set targets are not met. As such we see a self-contained ecosystem, where survival of the fittest is the norm, alongside with evading visibility (playing "ghosts") and not attracting attention. Painful scenes are intermixed with moving moments, as could be expected.
The developments take their time, but that does not mean that the whole movie is boring in any way. Each time you think that you can predict the outcome, you are proved wrong. That is why this drama needs its nearly 2 hours running time to develop in full, and to explore all sides of the problem. Contrary to every description I've read about head master Heck, as being sadistic, the impression left behind is that he means well, in spite of his harsh methods. In other words, removing all sharp edges of inherently uncontrollable boys, is his way to harden and prepare them for the outside world. All of this is best illustrated by him asking, begging nearly, after having signed the dearly -wanted letter that confirms the boy is discharged, whether he (the boy) is prepared to speak out that the school has done him a lot of good, after all.
All in all, casting of main protagonists is perfect and all of them perform very well. A special mention is needed for the two boys who carry the story from start to finish. We also see how difficult it is to interest TPTB for the problems at the orphanage. Interesting and unexpected developments succeed in keeping the viewer interested all along.
Voir du pays (2016)
Commendable attempt to show how PTSS can haunt soldiers afterwards, but failed halfway by changing the dramatic line to things happening with men and women anywhere
This movie intends to give us some insight in the problems faced by soldiers when returning from the battle field, augmented with the modern trend to use virtual reality to support healing from PTSS and related aftermath. The first half of the movie did a good job in this respect, by demonstrating that decisions on the battle field that were deemed good or at least optimal given the circumstances, can conversely be considered bad by others, for good reasons in hindsight. Of course, one can argue whether the group therapy setup works well. We see and hear several of them keeping up appearances. Other issues crept in, like venting that women are not suitable in any battle situation.
The second half of the film, a road trip outside the hotel, was triggered by an invitation towards the two main woman protagonists, originally intended to visit the neighboring village and take part in some festivities there. We were shown an obvious cliff hanger when we saw a rifle covered under a blanket in the car trunk of the two men who initiated the excursion. A second cliff hanger was visiting a border crossing point and telling about the dangers on the other side. From this point on, the story could go anywhere. But nothing along those lines happened. Finally, they reached the village and mingled more or less with the locals, thereby consuming lots of alcohol. What happened during and after the village festivities deviates from the central theme. It's a pity. All of it could happen everywhere and anytime when man and women get drunk and have differences in expectations how the trip should end. I consider it a missed chance, and would have preferred to keep focused on PTSS and other army related issues.
All in all, I'm left with mixed feelings about this movie. The message it tries to bring is commendable. Most of the soldiers we saw are believable and sufficiently diverse in character and background. In other words, the collection we encounter seems a realistic cross section. The fact that some of them did not have another life outside the army, seeing no other job prospects in the near future, may be deemed worrisome but seems realistic too. A problem in the plot line arises by continuously hinting that a dramatic, or even deadly, ending is bound to follow. Alas, it never worked out to turn into a real fatal drama, by eventually confining itself to a "normal" men versus women difference in expectations, something that could happen in conclusion of an evening out anywhere, inside or outside the army. Yet, not all is lost, due to the first half of the movie, that shows us how PTSS may come about, and how reliving past events on the battle field can become a burden lasting for many years thereafter.