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My favorite film of the year so far!
The film opens with an incongruous and comic rodeo in the small Swedish town of Lafors - Swedish rodeo???? (one of Lafors' dying industries is tanning leather). Here we get glimpses of some of the characters whom we will get to know better as the film progresses.
In the hopes of luring a big German supermarket (Superbilly) to Lafors, the town council decides to make a marketing film to showcase some of the charms of this town beset with a couple of dying industries. However, without a budget, one of the council members, Musse (Frederick Dahl), a Tamil immigrant who has assimilated so completely he cannot speak Tamil to his demented mother who has forgotten her Swedish, comes up with the idea of asking the secondary school kids to make videos of their town. The results are 'personal', as their teacher says (and quite funny), and in desperation the council gets funding from a local construction company to hire a professional. But two immigrant girls who have made one of the 'personal' films decide to keep filming. As the professional and the amateurs make their videos, various tensions in the town are slowly unveiled.
"Amateurs' has a double meaning in the film - almost all the actors are actually amateurs as well, including the talented and charismatic girls (Aida played by Zahraa Aldoujaili and Dana played by Yara Aliadotter) and the equally talented Musse (trying to figure out a word to describe him, I kept coming up with 'lovable').
The film is beautifully sequenced. We come to see well-meaning Swedes grappling with situations where some subtle prejudices are uncovered, and the girls uncovering reasons why a big supermarket coming to town is not the balm it seems.
The relationship between the immigrant girls is wonderful, and gorgeously acted and directed. Gabriela Pichler, the director, said they searched for a year to find the actors, and then spent nine months getting them ready to film, and the care taken shows, as well as the talents of the leads. Aida is tough and uncompromising, Dana soft and sweet. Musse's amiability is tried dearly as he sees he is not as accepted as he had thought. As the three interact with their families and the people of the town, the film transitions from light and funny to deep and bittersweet. We discover an amazing friendship and insights into the tensions people of different backgrounds create and respond to as they interact.
In addition to the excellent acting from both the principals and the supporting actors, the film is beautifully shot and the drama and comedy are superb. It is probably my favorite film of the year.
Past Life (2016)
Beautiful and moving
I liked this film very much, more than I expected to after having read the other reviews. All of the acting was superb, as were the interactions between the characters. Yes, it was a bit melodramatic, with crises being resolved at the last minute, but that is true of many films! It felt operatic to me, partially because of the gorgeous music, but also because of the heightened drama of the plot. Before seeing it I wondered, do I really want to see another depressing film about the Holocaust? But it wasn't depressing, and made an important point about the lingering effects of that (or any) trauma on generations to come, and the difficulty with and need for forgiveness.
Smrt u Sarajevu (2016)
Life and Death in Sarajevo's Hotel Europa
As preparations are made for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the death of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, the Hotel Europa prepares for a big EU event. But all is not well in the Hotel Europa, as all is not well in Bosnia Herzegovina or in modern Europe. The staff haven't been paid for 2 months and are planning to strike, the manager can't get the hotel's loan extended, a French actor rehearses his speech - a mixture of passion and pretension about the failure of Europe - in the presidential suite, while interviews about Bosnia's turbulent history and troubled present are being carried out on the roof. The only people seeming to do well are the thuggish owner of the stripper and gambling club in the basement and his cronies.
Lamija, the head receptionist, click-clacks through the hotel in her high heels, from the labyrinthine basement, where her mother works in the laundry and her one-night-stand from the previous night in the kitchen, to the reception, offices and hotel rooms. She is the heart of the movie, connected to the different players, trying to keep control while everything unravels around her, and she finally unravels as well. The camera tracks her from behind or the side, until a scene toward the end when she is betrayed, when we see her face on in full light, a revelation of a woman becoming undone.
On the rooftop, the guests being interviewed give a nuanced analysis of Bosnia-Herzegovina's situation, which were fascinating to me, but could be too complicated for those who aren't familiar with the history, until the final interviewee, a Serbian nationalist called Gavrilo Princip after the assassin, provokes a heated response from the journalist doing the interviews. As they bluntly state their views, the interaction moves from hostility to almost a mutual seduction - beautifully showing the ambivalent feelings of the the region.
The film deals with big issues in a completely human way, with sympathy, humor, balance and depth. The camera-work is fabulous, as is all the acting. I was enthralled throughout.
He Named Me Malala (2015)
An amazing young woman and an inspiring family
I watched this movie with some trepidation, having wondered how much Malala was a product of Western media and manipulation. However, she completely won me over. I worked in education programs in Afghanistan and with Afghan refugees in Pakistan. I know firsthand the challenges that the communities in this region face, living with the horrors wrought by those who cope with their fears and insecurities by lashing out at anything they see as threatening, and living within the beautiful soul and heart of the Pashtun people and culture. Malala is a model of this spirit, as are her father, mother and brothers.
I also thought the movie was beautifully made. For me the animated scenes made about parts of the story that couldn't be shown as reality were inspired. We saw what was only memory as a story, which is all it could be. Going back and forth from the present to the past made be slowly come to see how the present Malala came to be. She is smart, wise way beyond her years, funny, delightful. Spending this time with her was inspiring. Everyone who wants to understand the many faces of the human spirit, of Islam, of dedication, of human rights, should see this movie.
A film from Iceland that is both heart-warming and unsentimental
This was the closing film of the Sarajevo Film Festival, and my favorite of the films I saw. I want to recommend it to everyone, but it isn't getting much worldwide distribution other than festivals, despite winning an audience award at the Tribeca Film Festival. It is the story of a huge childlike man - huge in body, huge in spirit. At the beginning his childlike nature seems negative, but he proves to be profoundly beautiful in his loving innocence. Refusing to be hurt, refusing to withdraw from rejection, he is one of the most amazing heroes I have seen. The film is not sentimental - everything does not turn our 'right', but his goodness and hope remain intact as he opens out to the world. We saw the film in a huge open-air theater, and the audience clapped and whooped and whistled when a girl finally jumped him. A friend said her face got sore from smiling so much! See this film!
Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da (2011)
A long night in the Turkish countryside
This film won the Grand Prix in Cannes, and it was deserved. A team goes into the countryside to find the body of a murder victim. The team includes the two men accused of the murder,one of whom has confessed and says he wills show them where they buried the body, the police chief, prosecutor, doctor, diggers, and guards. As the night drags on into the next day and the body is not found, the men grow more and more tired. Much of the film is beautifully shot in the dark or semi-dark, lit only by the headlights of the cars or a lamp in the village where they stop to rest. The filming is slow, showing the beautiful countryside and vignettes that wonderfully shed light on the different characters. What seems to be a simple task grows more and more complex; everything in the movie turns out to be more complicated than it first seems. Everyone seems to be guilty of something, so the film becomes a question not only of will the body be found, but who is guilty of what?
One could say that the film is too slow, but just as the team grows more and more tired, so arewe as the viewers, participating in the fatigue of the team, drawn into the feelings of the characters. Women and children are present only as lovely cameos in the film, but are behind almost everything. The actors are all superb, and it was amazing to me that Ceylan could show such depth and breadth of character and emotion and drama with only a few lines of dialog and amazing closeups of the faces.
Shoot the Moon (1982)
Intense but with major flaws
This film, showing the breakup of a marriage and the devastation wrought for the four children, has some striking performances, particularly in the scenes with the children. Dana Hill, who played the barely teenage eldest daughter, was phenomenal, and I don't remember seeing better ensemble acting from children ever. Their energy together was remarkable.
Diane Keaton also gave a strong performance as Faith, the wife left by a husband who has fallen for another woman. I wasn't so impressed with Albert Finney's portrayal of the husband, George, but perhaps that's because he played such a flawed character, a warm and passionate man who succumbs to violence when frustrated.
While there are some intense and moving character portrayals in the film, the motivations for the intensity that was portrayed was hardly shown. Why did the marriage break up? We see the anger and frustration, but have no idea what caused it. What was so appealing about the new woman in George's life and the new man in the Faith's life? And most important, why did Faith and the eldest daughter stay loving such a violent man? At one point, George breaks into the house, locks his wife out of the house and beats his daughter because she won't accept his birthday gift or talk to him. Afterwards, there are no repercussions. It's like the filmmakers feel that this kind of violence is normal and acceptable.
There is an almost comic scene in a restaurant, where George and Faith argue violently, and then start to fight with other guests who complain. This incites passion in them, not disgust.
This theme, that violence arises from passion, and is therefore almost acceptable, I found disturbing. I was surprised that other reviewers didn't mention it.
An un-Hollywood joy of a tale
A true story tale, woven as the tales of two curses are gradually untwined. In one story a modern girl lands on a Nova Scotia fishing island, bitter and grieving. Lynn Redgrave gives a lovely performance playing a crusty older lady telling this girl the other tale, about a girl her same age 50 years earlier on the same island. Two unknown actresses give deeply felt though not perfect performances as the two teenage girls.
The film is sometimes slow, sometimes awkward, and sometimes cliched, but the telling of the tales overrides the imperfections, and my husband and I were drawn into the telling, the gorgeous scenes of the island, and the mystery of the tales. We saw this on Dutch TV, which we get by satellite, and which shows many wonderful independent films that don't make the mainstream, but are so much better than the ordinary fare.
It was hoakey and I loved it!
A movie about karaoke, hoakey in the same way that karaoke is hoakey, but it drew me and my husband into it. The awkwardness of the three not smoothly interwoven stories - three pairs of karaoke singers who end up in Omaha for the $5000 big prize - worked because they were awkward in the same way that karaoke is awkward - not quite professional, but with mega soul to make up for the lapses. All the performances were wondrous, making both the lovely and the horrid bits of dialogue work -Paltrow and Huey Lewis, and Giammetti and Andre Braugher particularly, and the singing was gorgeous.
The Inheritance (1997)
Alcott wrote the story when she was 17, and you can tell.
The heroine, way too good to be true, is an orphan taken in by a rich but liberal man, well played by Tom Conti, as a 'companion' for his daughter. A relative, way too evil to be true, comes to visit, and they vie for the family favor and the attentions of the eligible bachelors. Slow moving and trite, a complete fairy tale, but decently acted, with a plot worthy of a teenager, even though the teenager was Lousisa May Alcott.
L'Inde fantôme (1969)
The best of Malle, the best of India.
One of my favorite movies of all time, like being in India without the smells. Some of the political talk at the end is really boring, but also realistic. Malle and his crew travel through India, and film and film and film - 6 hours worth. Two of the sections are fantastically beautiful: one in a dance school, where you can feel the camera getting hooked on the dance, and just staying and staying, and one in this impossible religious procession, where every minute is a miracle. The rhythm of the film is the rhythm of India. At first the camera is edgy and tense, and eventually it just succumbs and watches. This film once played in cult movie houses a lot. I don't know why it hasn't become a video classic.
Nobody's Fool (1994)
Life as a movie and a movie as life.
The thing that makes this movie so great, besides the great script and subtly powerful acting, is that it shows real life, where people are accepted as they are because everyone accepts that everyone has a role. They don't blame people for the roles they play; they accept the roles and love them anyway. The Paul Newman curmudgeon, the Bruce Willis exploiting boss, the over-conscientious policeman, the wise-cracking judge, the resentful son: they all naturally do what they have to do, but they don't blame each other for it. It's life as a movie, and a movie as life.