29 September, 2008

Dagen zonder lief (With Friends Like These) (2007)

The past is another country...

Felix Van Groeningen (Steve+Sky (2004)) brings a determinedly un-sentimental perspective to this tale of friends re-united - combined with Arne Sierens' screenplay, the lives of a disparate group of college friends grown older but not necessarily wiser are disrupted by the re-appearance of one of their number, Zwarte Kelly (Wine Dierickx), who has come back to Belgium, ostensibly to see her mum, but who may also have a hidden agenda.

While Niek (Koen de Graeve), Blonde Kelly (An Miller), Frederic (Jeroen Perceval) and Kurt (Pieter Genard) all seem very happy to see her, the recent suicide of one of their friends, Patrick, still casts a pall over all...

It's about growing up and getting on with it, and the emotional toll that this takes - Van Groeningen wisely opts not to make any of the chracters either heroes or villains, just people tring to get their shit together from day to day.

Dierickx shines as 'Black' Kelly (who has, in fact, turned blonde), delivering a perfomance that is at once sensitive and stubborn while Genard as Kurt (who had a relationship with Kelly back in the day) is also powerful as a man on the brink of his own breakdown, despite his seemingly happy, contented life as a homeowner and young father.

It's interesting that, as the rest of Flemish film world seems still to be desperately in search of a meaningful identity, With Friends Like These seems to have achieved exactly that, in detailing the lives, loves and losses of five people who are also in search of meaning.

Overall moral? There isn't one, really, save perhaps that nothing lasts for ever, not even friendship. Sounds depressing, I know, but check it out - there is much warmth and joy to be had too.

100 mins. In Dutch and French.

23 September, 2008

European Parliament Lux Cinema Prize

We highlight the European Parliament's LUX Cinema Prize, as MEPs begin casting their votes on films selected for their talented illustration of the European integration process, topical EU issues and cultural diversity.

In 2007, the European Parliament inaugurated the LUX Cinema Prize award, to "reflect cinema as being the ideal vehicle for communication - or reflection - on Europe and its future".

Last year, Fatih Akin's Turkish-German co-production On the Edge of Heaven (Auf der anderen Seite) won the competition's first edition (it also scooped Fatih Akin Best Sreenwriter award at the 2007 European Film Awards (EFA), and was also nominated for EFA Best Director and Best Film) and, as will be the case this year, was chosen based on the votes of the 785 MEPs from a shortlist of three films.

At the time, European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering praised the newly created cinema prize as "a premiere, fifty years after the signing the Treaty of Rome", declaring the assembly's intent to annually honour a film that draws attention to current social questions affecting Europe and highlighting, in particular, European integration. In addition, the award aims to highlight "the richness of EU linguistic diversity and support the artistic production of the cinema sector".

This year's three films are drawn from the competition's official selection of ten, chosen by a pan EU 17-strong panel comprising representatives drawn from the cinema world, such as directors, producers, festival organisers and critics, and are being screened for MEPs in a specially designed 90-seat cinema in the European Parliament, from 15 September-17 October. Voting will be electronic, and members will be allowed up to three votes, depending on the number of the nominated films that they watch. Each film will be screened 18 times, and voting closes at midnight on 21 October, with the LUX Prize trophy to be presented to the winning film by Hans-Gert Pöttering on 22 October in the Strasbourg hemicycle, in the presence of all MEPs and representatives of the three finalists.

And of course, EFA Reviews and Picturenose will bring you the results plus, in the interim, reviews of all three films. We'll even let you know if we agree with the MEPs' decision...

And the prize itself? As the aim of the award is "to facilitate the circulation of European films and give a boost to cinematic work within the common market", the winning film will be sub-titled in the 23 official languages of the European Union, with a 35mm format version produced for each member state. The award, which is estimated as being worth around €87,000, also includes an original language adaptation for the deaf and hard of hearing and, depending on budget, a further adaptation for the blind and visually impaired.

Click here for more information about the LUX Cinema Prize official selection, and see below for a brief description of the three LUX Prize-nominees, from the competition's website.

Delta (2008)

Director: Kornél Mundruczó
Starring: Sándor Gáspár, Félix Lajkó, Lili Monori, Orsi Tóth
Country: Hungary, Germany
Year: 2008
92 mins
Original language: Hungarian
Awards: International Federation of Film Critics, 2008

A quiet young man returns to the wild, isolated landscape of the Delta, a labyrinth of waterways, small islands and over-grown vegetation, where villagers are cut off from the outside world. The man, who has been away since early childhood, is introduced to a sister he never knew he had. She is frail and timid, but resolute when she decides to join him in his run-down hut on the shore. Together they build a house on stilts in the middle of the river, far away from everyone else. One day, they invite the villagers over to share a meal together, but it soon becomes apparent that the locals do not accept their 'unnatural' relationship...

Le silence de Lorna (2008)

Director: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Starring: Arta Dobroshi, Olivier Gourmet, Morgan Marinne, Jérémie Renier, Fabrizio Rongione
Country: Belgium, France, Italy
105 mins
Original language: French
Awards: Award for Best Screenplay, Cannes 2008

In order to become the owner of a snack bar with her boyfriend, Lorna, a young Albanian woman living in Belgium becomes an accomplice to a plan devised by mobster Fabio, who has orchestrated a sham marriage between her and Claudy. The union will allows Lorna to obtain Belgian citizenship and marry a Russian Mafioso who is willing to pay a lot of money for the same status. However, for the second marriage to be possible, Fabio has planned to kill Claudy. What will Lorna do?

Občan Havel (2008)

Director: Miroslav Janek and Pavel Koutecký
Starring: Václav Havel, Ivan Medek, Anna Freimanová, Vladimír Hanzel
Country: Czech Republic
109 mins
Original language: Czech

In the course of 13 years the crew has filmed 45 hours of images and recorded 90 hours of sound material. This truly unique material offers new looks behind the scenes of international politics in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, and also into events in a post-totalitarian country during its transition to democracy. Václav Havel was a key figure in the great changes that took place in central and Eastern Europe in the 1990s - the film material captures his work and influence both in his country and internationally. Among the unique events captured are Bill Clinton's visit to the Czech Republic in January 1994, including his private visit to the Reduta jazz club in Prague, the death of Havel's wife Olga and her funeral in January 1996, the celebration of Havel's 60th birthday in the Archa Theatre, Prague, in October of the same year, the forming of new governments after the 1996, 1998, and 2002 elections, and preparations for the historic 2002 NATO Summit in Prague.

22 September, 2008

Reprise (2006)

Back to the future

It's all looking bright up ahead in Oslo for writer best-friends Phillip (Anders Danielsen Lie) and Erik (Espen Klouman-Hoiner), in Reprise (2006) from Joachim Trier (Proctor (2002), Still (2001)).

But then, the Oslo pair mail off their first manuscripts, and the film moves (somewhat circuitously) forward to the present, where we quickly learn about the less glamorous paths that their lives take, as Phillip suffers a nervous breakdown following his book’s well-received publication and Erik learns that his work will soon also make the printed page. Phillip and Erik’s brotherly relationship, their close links with their diverse peer pals, and Phillip’s lovce for the siren-like Kari (Viktoria Winge) – which has helped pushed him over the edge – are portrayed in Reprise with a keen eye for elation and depression, the two sides of the same coin.

Trier, who co-writes with Eskil Vogt, transcends the exaggerated nature of his splintered structure (comprising jump cuts, flashbacks, flash-fowards, and scenes featuring dialogue heard over images of the speaker’s silent faces), to find a true expression of coming of age - real and reel life mingle.

However, while the narrative feels refreshing, imaginative and witty for quite some way into the 105-minute running time (a touch long), the pace does slacken off extensively towards the end and, although the impressive cinematography and razor-sharp editing ensure some engagement, there's still a sense of the whole lacking depth, as none of the characters seem to develop beyond their flash-bang-wallop beginnings.

Nevertheless, Reprise manages to hold on to its psychological incisiveness, in keeping with the to-ings and fro-ings of love and friendship in a way that is, thankfully, authentic and moving.

Awards: Nominated for the Audience Award, Best Film at the 2007 European Film Awards. Click here for more details.

105 mins. In Norwegian.

15 September, 2008

Once (2006)


Here's that rarest of treats - a perfectly formed confection of a film. Writer-director John Carney (On the Edge (2001)) takes us into the heart of a singer-songwriters dreams, in the heart of Ireland, and the star-crossed love (of a kind) that can be kindled at the rougher edge of existence.

Glen Hansard plays Guy, a talented busker still living with his Dad (Bill Hodnett)in a Dublin Hoover repair shop, who chances upon a young single-mother Czech immigrant (Markéta Irglová), who's living with her mum (Danuse Ktrestova) in the rougher side of town. She's been left holding the baby by the father, who didn't emmigrate with her, while Guy is still pained by his own beloved's betrayal - she's now living in London. But, as it quickly becomes apparent to the pair that each may have talent to offer the other, the songs that they begin to write, rehearse and ultimately record together tell their own story...

Right, OK, fine, it IS a musical, and I am only too aware how the form divides viewers. But, in much the same fashion that Lars Von Trier managed to combine artistic and narrative integrity with beautiful songs in the 1997 Palme D'Or winner Dancer in the Dark, Carney here also convinces, with the film's combination of touching, subtle lead performances and genuinely stirring, gorgeous tunes.

Its limited running time is entirely appropriate - we are given just enough chance to get to know, root for and like all the characters before life, as it so often does in reality, sets them on (divergent?) paths. The framing of the tunes (which, as with Bjork's character in DITD frequently forms an internal viewpoint) contrasts well with the always-believable, drama-doc interaction between the central and incidental players.

Too mushy, perhaps? Sentimental? You must be joking - this is about as real as it gets, and my bet is your tears will be joyful.

Awards: Click here for more information.

85 mins.

06 September, 2008

Nuovomondo (Golden Door) (2006)

Looking for America

Writer-director Emanuele Crialese (Respiro (2002), Once We Were Strangers (1997)) sets his tale of immigrants' dreams in Sicily at the beginning of the 20th century - the (at times brutal) immigrant experience is portrayed, stretching from a dirt-poor Sicilian hamlet to Ellis Island, the 'Golden Door' to the United States.

Salvatore (Vincenzo Amato), an illiterate and very poor widower-farmer, believes the pictures he has seen, depicting America as the land of milk and honey, where money grows on trees and fruits/vegetables/animals grow to an enormous size.

Salvatore sells his land, his home and his livestock and sets off for America with his two sons (one a deaf mute), daughters (who were locked into arranged marriages) and his cantankerous old mother.

During the shenanigans and corruption of the boarding process (with a four-week voyage in steerage ahead of them), Salvatore meets Lucy (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a mysterious Englishwoman who seems incongruous among the Italian bumpkins.

Once on-board ship, the women and men are split up and forced to sleep head to toe in iron cots, as the rusting, dangerous hulk of a ship rolls makes its slow, painful progress towards New York and whatever dreams may come...

Though it's clear that Nuovomondo was shot on a limited budget, Crialese's skillful direction, coupled with clever cinematography from Agnès Godard, convey the immigrant ordeal in often harrowing, disturbing detail, but lifted by the sense of hope that is the voyagers' only solace - as in the key scene where Salvatore describes the towering skyscrapers of New York to his awe-struck fellow travellers.

The only false note is sounded in the surreal 'visions' experienced by Salvatore as he dreams of America - an approach that seems distinctly at odds with the gritty realism that is to follow. Nevertheless, a moving and enjoyable look at the lengths people are/were prepared to go to in order to follow their dreams.

Awards: Nominated for Best Director (Emanuele Crialese), European Film Awards 2006.

In Italian and English. 118 mins.