SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS, CANNES, 2009
ABRAZOS ROTOS, Los
ARMEE DU CRIME, L' (THE ARMY OF CRIME)
BRAND NEW LIFE, A
CENDES ET SANG (ASHES AND BLOOD)
CHUN FENG CHEN ZUI DE YE WAN (SPRING FEVER)
COCO CHANEL AND IGOR STRAVINSKY
DEMAIN DES L'AUBE (TOMORROW AT DAWN)
ENTER THE VOID
EYES WIDE OPEN
HERBES FOLLES, l' (WILD GRASS)
IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS, The
LOOKING FOR ERIC
LOS ABRAZOS ROTOS
(Spain, 2009, d. Pedro Almdovar. Competition)
After the serious themes of his films from the last ten years or more, Almodovar takes a more relaxed approach to a film about film-making and obsessions, light with serious touches.
The film opens mysteriously with a blind screenwriter who used to be a director. When he hears news of the death of a tycoon in Madrid, it initiates a story about the tycoon's son wanting to make a film about/against his father. This leads to memories and flashbacks: the tycoon and his secretary, Lena, her becoming his mistress, her wanting to act in films, her involvement in the film and the tycoon producing, her affair with the director. The son, meanwhile, is on set and videos everything. What happens doesn't need rocket science to anticipate. Rather, it is the pleasure of watching the glossy proceedings with Almodovar's elegant and colourful touches and the performances. Jose Luis Gomez is the sinister, obsessed tycoon, Lluis Homar is the director. Blanca Portillo is very strong as the agent who has kept secrets for years.
And, of course, Penelope Cruz who can't but help illuminate the screen with her charm, beauty and presence.
(France, 2009. d. Xavier Giannoli)
What are con men like and how do they operate?
Screen con men can be outgoing and charming, like Tony Curtis in The Imposter or Leonardo di Caprio in Catch Me if You Can. However, Francois Cluzet in A L'Origine is not a man of immediate charm, though he will have his moments.
Released from jail, Paul (Cluzet) gets some help from a criminal friend (Gerard Depardieu) and then robs him of fake documents and order forms as well as cash. He then proceeds to a profitable scam. As he gets bolder, he finds himself involved in a fraud that not even he can manage, creating a new identity as Philip Miller, the building of part of a highway in northwestern France – well, the point of the story (based on actual characers and events) is that for most of the time he does manage, providing work for a town which has been on the downturn for two years since the project was shelved because of environmental reasons.
Cluzet is a fine actor and carries off this seemingly impossible charade with great skill, discovering a kinder side of himself as well, discovering love and, as he says of those who get out of jail, that they sometimes want to take on the world, conquering his.
Emmanuelle Devos is the sympathetic mayor of the town. Singer Soko is the motel maid who has more capacities than she recognises and Vincent Rottiers is a young dealer and petty criminal who is the first to see through the con man but comes good in a way that shows he is not without hope.
At over two and a half hours, it is a long film for such a story. However, it is told in an engaging and interesting way – an odd variation on the triumph of the human spirit.
L'ARMEE DU CRIME
(France, 2009. d. Robert Guedigian. Special screening)
A film about the French Resistance, centred principally on Paris and its surroundings. It begins with a long list of names of people who are declared to have died for France.
Once the Germans occupy Paris, they begin, with the help of the French police, to target the Jews, sudden round-ups, visits to police stations and disappearances, then the wearing of the star, then bus loads to local camps and then to Poland.
While the scope of the film is large and runs for well over two hours, the focus is principally on three groups. Simon Akbarian portrays an Armenian intellectual exile who lost his family in the Turkish genocide. (Guedigian is of Armenian origins and stresses Hitler's words of 1936: 'who remembers the Armenians?'.) His wife is played by Virginie Ledoyen. A second family runs a restaurant and the son, insulted at school and angry, is ripe for the Resistance. A third family sees the father disappear, the mother confined to home. The older son (Robinson Stevenin) is a champion swimmer under a less Jewish name and is protective of his fourteen year old brother. He is also trigger happy and begins to shoot German soldiers in the street.
Once the Resistance is organised, with the Armenian in charge of the local group, acts of sabotage proliferate. German officials and the press brand the perpetrators as terrorist Jews, Communists and immigrants.
It is inevitable that they will all be caught and executed. However, the dynamic of the film is to see them planning, in action, squabbling amongst themselves concerning tactics. Very striking is the liason between the swimmer's girlfriend and an ingratiating, ambitious policeman who begins an affair, showers her with gifts and gleans information from her. As the drama goes on, the personal stories become more telling enabling the audience to respond emotionally to the arrests, the graphic torture and the grief in persecution and scapegoating.
Robert Guedigian usually makes dramas about his city, Marseilles. More recently, he made a film about Mitterand. The Army of Crime (the title of the booklet produced by the Nazis to vilify the Resistance) broadens his scope and interests.
(Australia/UK, 2009. d. Jane Campion. Competition)
John Keats' short 25 year life was not filled with excitement and adventure as those of his two Romantic contemporaries, Byron and Shelley (the two 1987 films about them, The Haunted Summer and Gothic, certainly illustrate this). Nor was he as long-lived and influential like the former generation of Romantics, Coleridge and Wordsworth (whose early career was dramatised in the 2001 Pandaemonium).
This background is by way of introducing Jane Campion's rather quiet and intimate portrait of Keats' last years and his love for and engagement to Fanny Brawne. Apart from a glimpse of Keats' coffin being carried across the Spanish Steps in Rome (where his room can be visited still), everything takes place on Hampstead Hill near the London of 1819, the woods at the back of the house in a pretty spring and a snow-clad winter but, mainly, interiors. Keats was a poet of interiors, of musings.
Which certainly does not make for a slambang action show for the perpetual-texters or the internet surfers. But, it would not be a bad thing for an audience to slow down if it could and simply be with people who lived at a slower pace and had time to feel and reflect. For those who do go, I hope they don't make that instant dash for exits as soon as final credits appear as throughout these credits, Ben Wishaw recites Keats' Ode to a Nightingale.
Texts of poems are used throughout and the title comes from the beginning of a sonnet Keats wrote for Fanny.
Jane Campion's films are varied but they all take on a female perspective. Fanny Brawne and her love for Keats are the principal focus here. Abbie Cornish gives a vigorously romantic performance, embodying the more liberating attitudes and behaviour in an immediate post-Jane Austen era. She is down-to-earth, a creative dressmaker who is attracted to the wispy Keats. He is played by that thinnest of actors, Ben Whishaw, with a melancholy, which Fanny almost drives out of him as he discovers love and affection.
To spark some drama, a great deal of attention is given to Keats' writing partner, Charles Brown (a vigorous performance from Paul Schneider) and Fanny not concealed dislike of and disdain for hm. Kerry Fox (once Campion's An Angel at my Table) plays Fanny's mother.
This is a very refined film, a picture of gentle passion for Keats and passion taking possession of her for Fanny. It is a tribute to the quiet genius of Keats' imagination and love of language.
CENDRES ET SANG (ASHES AND BLOOD)
(France, 2009, d. Fanny Ardant. Special screening)
A striking opening in black and white showing a father and three children at the beach. Then a shooting and red blood oozing on the path. Though there is little blood shown in the rest of the film, blood is, indeed, the theme, passionate blood and a drama of blood feuds.
Most of the film is set in Romania, filmed in Transylvania, its old mansions and churches, and the open fields and forests.
The mother of the three children, now grown up, return to Romania for a family wedding. She hopes that not only will it be a happy occasion and an opportunity for the children to discover their roots and their family history, but an occasion for herself to be reconciled with the family.
This seems to be happening. However, there are secrets and lies, old feuds that rankle and burst out destructively so that hate dominates and leads to tragedy. While the audience might not always follow too well who belongs to which family (though the cast in the final credits is presented according to the three family trees), the drama is intriguing and colourfully – and intensely - presented.
This the first is the first to be directed by one of the leading actresses of French cinema for many decades, Fanny Ardant.
CHUN FENG CHEN ZUI DE YE WAN (SPRING FEVER)
(China, 2009, d. Lou Ye. Competition)
Lies, secrets, infidelities, sexuality, identity. A great number of themes, especially for a Chinese film that deals with same-sex and bisexual relationships presented in direct and sometimes explicit ways.
However, the film is hard going, wandering at times, even meandering, and long. A plot driven by action and causes it is not. Rather, it is episodic, characters moving in and out of one another's lives, sometimes for a considerable length of screen time. The film is a co-production with France (Lou Ye has had years of difficulties with Chinese censorship and is at present banned from China for five years) which may have contributed to the visual style, often long close-ups, hand-held digital camera following the characters. Much of the footage is dark and shadowy, reflecting either and economy of production or a thematic of shadowiness.
The film does not have the hope of spring and the fever is often subdued and interiorised except for the passionate sequences. The film uses the symbol of the lotus visually and in texts read from a Chinese author in Nanjing in 1923, poetic texts, enigmatic texts which suggest that the protagonists are all floating in the uncertainties of their choices and the emotional consequences.
COCO CHANEL AND IGOR STRAVINSKY
(France, 2009. d. Jan Koenen. Closing Film)
According to the novelist and screenwriter, Christopher Greenhalgh, there is evidence of the relationship between the designer and composer as portrayed in this film. Chanel was born the year after Stravinsky, in 1883. They both died in 1971. However, the action of this film begins with the Paris premiere of The Rite of Spring in 1913, a theatrical disaster causing a riot, and focuses on the period 1920-1921, when The Rite of Spring was performed again and a success and Coco Chanel launched No. 5.
This is one of those biopics which highlights the main successes of the leads and concentrates on their relationship. Actually, neither Chanel nor Stravinsky seem to have been strong or really controversial characters for biopics. It is all quite low key despite the importance of their achievements. (And this film anticipates Coco Before Chanel with Audrey Tautou.) An audience wanting sparks flying will be disappointed.
That is not to say the story is without drama. The re-creation of Paris 1913, the performance of The Rite of Spring, the costumes and choreography (researched from the original staging), Nijinsky rushing on stage to keep the dancers in rhythm as the din of protesting audience drowned the music, with Diaghalev turning the lights on and off and the police arriving, is arrestingly shown.
However, most of the film has Chanel inviting Stravinsky, his wife and four children to her villa so that he can compose. They have an affair, he losing control, she always in control. At the same time that he is revising The Rite, she is searching for a perfume that will be distinctive. After many tests, she chooses the sample in the fifth bottle, her No 5.
Mads Mikkelson is an intense performer, especially of villains (the Pusher series, Le Chiffre in Casino Royale) and makes Stravinsky a serious, sometimes tormented Russian. Anna Magloulis is striking and majestic as Coco Chanel (with a stylish black and white wardrobe of costumes to match).
This is a decorative biopic for entertainment and information rather than a study of its characters and their relationship.
DEMAIN DES L'AUBE
(France, 2009, d. Denis Dercourt. Un Certain Regard)
A duel. That is how this drama begins - 19th century Hussars fighting for honour of the regiment. In fact, they are 21st century men playing, ultra-seriously, at history war games and adhering to a creed that places military honour above every other code and belief. They are 21st century duellists.
The film is about two brothers and their bonds. The younger is a factory worker (Jeremie Renier) who loves this re-living and fighting of history. The older (Vincent Perez) is a world-renowned pianist and teacher who is undergoing what his wife and agent calls 'an existentialist crisis'. The brothers are also caring for the ill mother.
Director Denis Dercourt, a musician, player and teacher, has shown his love for music in The Page Turner and how to incorporate it into drama. It is the same here. However, there are sinister suggestions as to how far grown military-aping men (who are still childish in their games and petulance) will go to maintain the code and an interrupted duel. The ending is so open that audiences will have to discern and decide what will or should happen to the brothers.
ENTER THE VOID
(France, 2009, d. Gaspar Noe. Competition)
The Void, for Gaspar Noe, who experienced quite some controversy over frank, violence and sexual films as Seul Contre Tous and Irrrreversible, is life itself. Noe has talked about his atheist upbringing and his drug experiences. He says he started to ask questions about significant issues of life, life after death and considered reincarnation, influenced by The Tibetan Book of the Dead (which influenced the LSD experiments of Timothy Leary), floating outside oneself and looking out and down on the world. Noe calls Enter the Void a psychological melodrama. It is.
At over 160 minutes, it is a long, long (very long) experience. Minimal classic film-making here. This occurs in some flashbacks to the US childhood of Oscar and Linda, the brother and sister , who are central to the plot. The first part of the film is subjective camera, all from Oscar's point of view (though we do see his face in a mirror). After 30 minutes, he dies but does not disappear from the film. Most of the rest of the film is still Oscar's point of view, but flying, floating, peering, observing, hallucinatory swooping over the lives of others, prying on sexual and drug activity, gliding the night skies over neon-lit Tokyo. This point of view often plunges down on and into circles (of which there are so many images through the whole film) which become fire and light and move the audience to the next episode.
Early in the film there is a long psychedelic sequence, emulating in colour and design the experience of drug consciousness.
Which means that, technically, the film is often a tour-de-force of camera work for the subjective point of view and the floating as well as special effects for psychedelia.
Thematically, the film is very pessimistic, veering towards nihilism: the devastating accident killing their parents, the brother and sister (twin souls) separated as orphans, the descent into the Tokyo drug scene and the strip clubs and Love Hotels. While the film ends with conception, gestation and birth, this might indicate that there is another chance, but for Oscar and Linda, they have been swallowed up and destroyed in in the void.
Grim films which still call for redemption can be De Profundis films ('Out of the Depths, I cry to you, O Lord). But, with films like those of Noe, is there any possibility for redemption apart from reincarnation since he does not believe in afterlife? There seems to be little or no redemption, 'Out of the Void'.
EYES WIDE OPEN
(Israel, 2009, d. Haim Tabakman. Un Certain Regard)
It must have been risky to make a film with the help of the Israel Film Commission about the untraorthodox community in Jerusalem. It must have been even more risky when the theme was homosexuality.
With only a scene at a bathing spring in the hills, the action is confined to a house, a shop, a synagogue and the streets of Jerusalem. Aaron has a butcher's shop there. He has a wife and four children. After the death of his father, he opens the shop again and encounters Ezri, a rather sullen young man, and gives him shelter. While some momentary indications of Ezri's sexual orientation are suggested, Aaron is affected by his presence, puzzled and, despite his attendance at synagogue and Talmud interpretation classes, he does not know what to do.
The neighbours are suspicious of Ezri, gossip about him and Aaron, the hotheads in training with the Rabbi want to declare the butcher's shop non-kosher. Aaron's wife is aware that something is not right.
Aaron goes with his feelings, with his eyes wide open to where he is going.
The film is respectful of Jewish prayer, bible study and Talmud. However, the screenplay raises issues of what God's word says about sin and sexuality, how a person on the verge of sin discovers more about their real self as well as the nature of sin and guilt in the community. While the implication is that the ultraorthodox have fixed and unnuanced ideas, the film does not preach but by telling its story, delving into the feelings and crises of its characters, it asks its audience to reflect.
|(UK, 2009, d. Andrea Arnold. Competition)
A slice of British urban life, with the 15 year old Mia observed as if she were in a tank, close-up, swimming in a confined space and unable to get out. Later in the film, a fish is caught in a pool, then, gasping for air, it is skewered. The kinder thing to do, one of the characters said. Later, we see the fish was not eaten by the family as intended. The pet dog is chewing on it. Metaphors and symbols. (There is also an old horse in a car junkyard that Mia wants to free.)
Andrea Arnold won the Jury Prize in Cannes 2006 for her keenly observed Scottish drama, Red Road. This time she is in Essex having lost none of this keenness of observation. This is not unlike Mike Leigh territory. He often has strong leading women characters. Leigh has his cast improvise without knowing the details of the screenplay which he forges out of these improvisations. Andrea Arnold did not reveal the plot to any of the cast. She let them know the nature of each scene step by step and the cast did their best. This is an admirable test of acting skill. It is all the more remarkable because Katie Jarvis the lead had never acted, never danced (and had to learn this key element for her character) and was sighted on a railway station. It is a standout performance.
Mia is 15, school rebel, has a younger, very cheeky sister and a mother who was probably like Mia at that age but with less determination for life. She is no role model for her daughters. Her current boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender), takes a shine to Mia, though she dislikes him. After going on the car ride where the above-mentioned fish was caught, she responds positively to him. He encourages her in her interest in dancing and going to a club audition. But... sexual advances and her response to Connor on his telling her she was only 15, 'it's all right if you like someone'.
Mia makes some huge mistakes that could have ruined her life. But, underneath the constant rage and manifestations of anger – the culture depicted here in the family and beyond is 'I bicker, therefore I am' – Mia has some determination and seems to be about to act on it as she says goodbye to her family (mother and sister dancing with her) and a balloon wafts up, over and out of the estate.
Yes, it has been done before. But this telling is expertly made and Katie Jarvis' performance guarantees this.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
(France, 2009, d. Andre Techine. Market)
The Girl on the Train sounds like any other drama or thriller. It is and it isn't. In the hands of veteran director, Andre Techine, it becomes a classy but sometimes ordinary French drama.
The girl in question is 20 year old Jeanne (Emilie Duquenne) who is in need of a job, lives with her mother (Catherine Deneuve) who is a nice grandmotherly child minder. Jeanne roller blades a good deal and catches the eye of champion wrestler. x. Because her mother wanted her to apply for a job with a Jewish lawyer, Samuel Bleistein (Michel Blanc), whom she and her husband knew from their army days, issues of anti-Semitism and contemporary bigotry and attacks on Jews in France are introduced.
The cast does bring their characters to life, bringing a multi-dimensional depth to their personalities and their problems, including those of the next generations of Bleisteins. Jeanne and x are used by a drug lord to caretake the building where he stores the drugs. This leads to disaster. Jeanne, who looks so attractive that we don't think of her as having mental problems then acts on stories she has heard about the attacks on Jews (getting off the train) and creates embarrassment for her mother and for the Bleistein family and a crisis for herself.
An above average ordinary film which audiences won't rush to but should feel quite satisfied after seeing it.
THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS.
(UK, 2009, d. Terry Gilliam. Out of Competition)
Of course, it's really the imaginarium of Terry Gilliam. And those who have followed his imagination for over thirty years – the Python films, Time Bandits, Brazil, The Fisher King, Love and Loathing, Tidelands – will definitely want to add this one to their collection.
Of course, again, it is unpredictable and, so, hard to know at times whether one is enjoying it or not. Only at the end can we deal with the images, the sounds, the characters, the eccentricities and test whether they worked or not. And the answer is, inevitably, yes and no.
It is certainly a visual extravaganza, the Imaginarium wagon itself, the variety of vast interiors depending on the imagination and desires of those who enter. The sound engineering is often ominous.
As for themes, this is basically a deal with the devil story. Dr Parnassus, an eastern monk, makes a pact with the devil for immortality and another to regain youth and marry. Christopher Plummer brings his usual strong presence and voice to this role. Tom Waits (not singing) is music hall kind of devil, effective and sinster nonetheless.
Heath Ledger, in his last role, is all right as Tony, found hanging under a London bridge, revived and then an entrepreneur for Dr Parnassus' show. Because of Ledger's untimely death, three actors portray his character when he enters the imaginarium, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell, all effective but Johnny Depp really shows how good an actor can be even in the briefest role. Lily Cole is Dr Parnassus' daughter and Andrew Garfield (trying too hard at times) is the assistant, Anton. Verne Troyer has a substantial role as Percy, Dr Parnassus' guardian.
The main dramatic conflict is in Tony's regaining his memories and facing his moral options.
At times, bewildering, at more times, bedazzling.
(Philippines, 2009, d. Raya Martin. Un Certain Regard)
A 76 minute experiment for director, Raya Martin. Filmed in black and white on colour stock, the chosen cinematic styles is rudimentary (primitive, one might say). Simple takes with minimum movement, actual locations in front of set backdrops, basic narrative editing, an episodic plot with stolid-looking and sounding performances. It is as if this might have been a way of filming at the time of the events (at the end of the 19th century), the takeover by the United States of the Philippines.
There is a jolting experience midway through the action when it seems the film has broken and burned in the projector. But, it moves to what is designed as an old-fashioned community service commercial, soldiers shooting a young boy in the market place after he has stolen an egg, with military reassurance to the public that the law is active and protecting the citizens. Then back to the narrative several years later.
The tale is of a mother and son who take refuge from invasion in a house in the forest, settle, find a girl who has been raped by some Americans. Mother dies. Woman gives birth. This before the 'intermission'. The family passes the years in their primitive home, talking of legends and hopes.
Some colour appears just at the end but there seems to be little hope offered for independence. The title seems one of yearning.
(US, 2009, d.Quentin Tarantino. Competition)
After the Grindhouse-indulgent Death Proof, where could Quentin Tarantino go to reclaim his status of the 1990s, of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown? It seems he went back to a screenplay he had been working on for years, adding, developing, laying aside but, now, picking it up again and really going with it. It is a striking film in many ways and is reassuring to hear well-written and articulate and serious Tarantino lines, something that he used to do so cleverly (not that he doesn't indulge himself at times with rip-offs of his former writing, especially in the mouth of Brad Pitt).
Is it like a Tarantino film? Yes and no. At times, there is a wildness about it, especially in the scenes with Brad Pitt as Aldo Rainie with his inglourious basterds (taken from the title of Enzo G. Castellari's 1978 war movie). There are several moments of quiet violence and scalpings that are quite disturbing. But, nothing really to compare with Kill Bill. That will make some audiences relax and coax others to venture to see it.
The structure is five chapters – which eventually come together very well. The first opens with 'Once Upon a Time... in Nazi Occupied France'. So, it is a fable of World War II, invented, with a climax that is post-hoc wishful thinking but no less exhilarating for that. This is how Tarantino might have won the war had he been around at the time!
The first chapter is extremely well done as an introduction: huge widescreen vistas of France, the Nazis arriving at a dairy farm in search of a Jewish family, polite talk between Colonel Lando, nicknamed the Jew Hunter, and the farmer, clever use of French and English and then disaster for the family. It is a fine World War II short story in itself.
By way of contrast, chapter 2 introduces the Basterds, some back stories, explanation of what this group of Jewish bandits for what became the OSS were doing in terms of destroying Nazis – which, ruggedly and brutally, they do.
When we are thinking how brutal this is, we are introduced to Hitler himself doing a rant that far outdoes the Basterds. So, the scene is set (with Tarantino not afraid to have an actor play Hitler (quite effectively) and Goebbels as well).
We are then in for a surprise: cinema in occupied Paris, giving the director more than a chance to show posters, have discussions about cinema (which is then added to by the recruiting of a British film critic (Michael Fassbender) by a general (Mike Myers) in the presence of Churchill (Rod Taylor) to go undercover in Paris). In Paris itself we see a young German soldier, played very persuasively by Daniel Bruhl, who befriends the young owner of the cinema (Melanie Laurent, also persuasive). Bruhl's soldier, says Tarantino, is somewhat modeled on Audie Murphy, this time a young heroic German soldier who stars in the film about his exploits, the multiple American deaths entertaining Hitler no end.
The build-up is for Operation Kino, the blowing up of the cinema with the German High Command inside. Did it happen? Does it happen? Could it have happened? That's not for a reviewer to say!
The film is spoken in English, French and German (and some bad Italian accent on purpose from Brad Pitt) with more than half the film sub-titled (which will be an interesting challenge for US marketing). A number of German actors are cast, including an impessively alarming performance from Christoph Walz as Colonel Lando. The film also stars Diane Kruger, Til Schweiger and August Diehl.
I think it is going to be discussed by critics and public for some time.
(France, 2009, d. Alain Cavalier. Un Certain Regard)
Alain Cavalier has made films like Therese and Libera Me which are artificially staged, word-driven, usually poetic and symbolic and have a determined preference for contemplation over action.
Recently, as he has moved into his mid-70s and beyond, he has filmed himself as film-maker (the title of his 2005 film).
This time he peruses and reads from diaries of 1970-1972 and his love for and obsession with actress, Irene, who is terminally ill. This provides memories, nostalgia, much rumination about his feelings, his film-making processes in the past (with a clip from La Chamade with Catherine Deneuve embodying Irene) as well as contemporary films, his ageing, a severe fall on an escalator and, again, modern film-making.
Cavalier appears on screen several times but it is commentary and edited images that may be too specialised even for a French audiences and maybe too Gallic in tone, references and rhetorical style for world audiences, apart from cineastes. His low-key and mellow-aged voiceover runs the danger for the drowsy of being ultimately soporific.
(Philippines, 2009. d, Brillante Mendoza. Competition)
Kinatay is a Filipino word for slaughter. And that is what happens in the third act of this film, a barbaric torturing and dismembering of an addicted prostitute.
However, the film begins in a bright and breezy way as Peping (Brillante regular, Coco Martin) goes to his wedding ceremony with his bride and extended family while the grandmother looks after the baby. This provides a first act with lots of local colour and street photography that immerses us in daylight Manila. The ceremony is cheerful. The dinner afterwards a happy occasion.
The second act, after we see Peping in the police academy is one of the most tedious van journeys we are likely to experience. We go across Manila in the dark with the crew and the abducted woman. Hard to see, repetitious and long, a point being that it takes quite some time to cross the city.
Then the third act with the brutal slaughter.
Brillante Mendoza has been documenting the underside of Filipino life in Masahista, Tirador, Foster Child, Serbis. This film is only a mixed blessing -with some ugly downside.
(Israel, 2009. d. Keren Yedeya. Special screening)
Set in the Israeli old port of Jaffa, this is familiar material, almost soap-opera stories, dramatised in a conventional way.
The family at the centre runs a prosperous garage repairing cars. The older son is arrogant and lazy. The receptionist daughter is pregnant – to the reliable mechanic who happens to be Arab. When the son is killed in a fight he has provoked, everything changes – much as one might have foreseen.
The Israeli settings and the glimpses of loathing for Arabs distinguish it from similar films.
LOOKING FOR ERIC
(UK, 2009. d. Ken Loach. Competition)
When the group of postie-mates, middle-aged, beer-bellied, some slow, others jokey, start with a self-help exercise for their friend, Eric Bishop (Steve Everts), we realise that not everyone needs long-term Woody Allen type therapy or psychoanalysis, but that a team of friends can do a great deal to help one another.
Then, when the exercise leads to looking at oneself through the eyes of someone one loves and/or admires (and they select, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Fidel Castro and Sammy Davis Jr), we wonder whom we would choose. But, it is a great exercise when put into practice by Eric Bishop. He has chosen the great French soccer player for Manchester United, Eric Cantona, a wiz at scoring but temperamental. His poster is on the wall. He appears to Eric Bishop (and is billed as 'lui-meme) all the way through this serious and often very funny film, discussing life, offering advice, insights and challenges. And it works.
Funny? Therapy? A film by Ken Loach?
Well, Ken Loach is now 70 and shows that the most ardent of socially concerned film-makers can mellow with age.
Once more he directs a screenplay by his collaborator on all films since the mid-90s, Scot Paul Laverty, and it is a popular winner (even if soccer tactics are a mystery and Eric Cantona is unknown or is the sportsman-turned-actor in Elizabeth and French Film amongst others).
Loach stays again with the lives of ordinary, working-class people, his eye and his ear attuned to their daily routines, disappointments and joys, mistakes and hopes, angers and desperation. Loach is always sympathetic.
In the background are local thugs who enjoy manipulation and some psychopathic terrorising (and putting clips of it on YouTube). Loach has no time at all for them. Audiences will enjoy their uproarious comeuppance at the hands of an camera of the busloads of Manchester United fans in Cantona masks (with Cantona along for the ride). They threaten to put this footage on Blue Tube (only to be brought up-to-date on YouTube!).
But the human stories that Loach so likes to explore carry through: youthful love, panic, disappointments, personal frustration, impossibility of communication, recalcitrant step-sons, single mother and baby. The word 'forgiveness' is discussed by the two Erics but we think that it is impossible for Eric Bishop to be forgiven by his ex-wife. But, with Cantona's challenging about possibilities and speaking the truth, we find that reaching out, listening, reflection on errors, human contact are far more enabling than we might have imagined.
This is an often exhilarating entertainment, funny and simply wise (as long as you can live with the super-abundant expletives).
Winner of the Ecumenical Award, Cannes 2009.