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Film Fest Reviews, Part 1

10.21.2008

Cheers to the organizers of 37th Festival du Nouveau Cinema , for having put together such an impressive line-up this year. The 35 year-old event takes place in Montreal (JoBlo’s home town!), and is almost equally comprised of stand-out films that have gained notoriety on the world-wide festival circuit, local cinema (that being Quebec / Canada), and short films. This year guests included John Boorman (POINT BLANK, DELIVERANCE”), and Atom Egoyan (EXOTICA, SWEET HEAREAFTER), and an installation by Michel Gondry (who was also a guest-speaker years ago).

This is the first time I’ve ever lined-up so many screenings during a single festival. Admittedly, I’m relieved to find that of the 21 films I've seen most ranged from good to great (only 1 waste of time in the bunch). What follows are short-reviews of the first 5 films; including HUNGER , JCVD , GOMORRA , and RACHEL GETTING MARRIED .

Hunger
RATING: 9/10

Director: Steve McQueen
Cast: Michael Fassbender, Stuart Graham, and Helena Bereen

Seeing this film is witnessing the birth of our next master filmmaker. Steve McQueen (not that very cool actor), best known for his work as a visual artist, creates mood and atmosphere out of the fewest elements. It’s his ability to focus on specific details and his pacing that I found most rewarding from this experience. Michael Fassbender, who we’ll next be seeing in Tarantino’s INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, plays Bobby Sands, the IRA radical who in 1981 initiated the Irish Prison Hunger strikes. He was the first of 10 who died while protesting for improved prison rights. The actors’ physical transformation will surely get a lot of attention, and rightfully so.

Claustrophobics beware; this might not be your cup of tea. In fact, those same cramped quarters you spend much of the film in are completely vile. With no toilets the prisoners dispose of their feces by spreading it thin across the wall like paint, and pour urine out from under the cell doors.

Despite such a deliberate and controlled aesthetic it still feels authentic. The cinematography of these otherwise gruesome settings is beautiful, allowing us to watch when we would normally look away. Although some may still do just that, it helps. Find this movie, and keep your eyes on Steve McQueen, the director.

For more info visit the Festival film page .

JCVD
RATING: 7.5/10

Director: Mabrouk El Mechri
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, François Damiens, and Zinedine Soualem

While Van Damme has never had a huge level of success, or even made many (if any) films I really liked, somehow I genuinely share a similar sentiment to most who see this film; this is his triumphant return! Far more enjoyable than Stallone’s last few attempts at getting back into movie going audiences good graces, and done with more humility… I think. JCVD, a fictional story which finds the real Jean-Claude in an expensive custody battle in the U.S. and with his career in direct-to-DVD limbo, leads Mr. Bloodsport to rob a bank in Brussels… or so it seems.

The opening shot sets the stage perfectly in that the audience finds him right where we left him, making a low-grade action film, and it continues into his “real” life. The look of the film (the colors almost completely desaturated and tinted in sepia tone) is wonderful and reminds us that this takes place somewhere between the real world and fiction. While it’s tough to nit-pick plot or character details, since the film has no strict boundaries between fact and fiction, I would have enjoyed a little more originality to the approach and dynamics of the bank-robbers and their plot.

Still, it’s a fun showcase for Van Damme to poke fun at himself and his career. The guys got charm to spare and, for once, we’re laughing with him.

For more info visit the Festival film page .

Extra: Check out Arrow’s interview with the film’s director here .

Martyrs
RATING: 3/10

Director: Pascal Laugier
Cast: Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, and Catherine Bégin

First off, let’s get violence out of the way. I like how Tarantino put it, “Saying you don’t like violence in movies is like saying you don’t like tap-dancing sequences in movies; it’s just one of the many things you can do in movies. And it’s a very cinematic thing.” I agree. That being the case, this isn’t a good movie.

MARTYRS, a controversial film due mostly to its subject-matter (young children are held captive and tortured for a greater purpose), felt like a disingenuous, and arguably misguided film. It wants to shock and impress with its aesthetics, and attempts to challenge the audience by raising questions about faith and the extreme measures those who believe invoke for their cause. I’m assuming this was the intention, but the whole production is so familiar (borrowing from HOSTEL, PSYCHO, and SEVEN) and drenched in extreme violence that it brings it down to a grind-house level. Albeit technically well done, it becomes impossible to take it seriously.

Still, the first third of the film is pretty good, and kept me intrigued. Once the story reveals the bigger picture, I started to tune out. The self-important dialogue, corny looking characters (the “top dog” was especially funny) and derivative settings didn’t help.

I’m all for controversial material, but graphic violence on screen does little for me if it isn’t used properly. So you can pull bolts out of someone’s head, or remove someones flesh and make it look "cool", but I don’t think that was the point.

For more info visit the Festival film page .

Gomorra
RATING: 8.5/10

Director: Matteo Garrone
Cast: Salvatore Abruzzese, Simone Sacchettino, and Salvatore Ruocco


This mob drama feels so much like a documentary you have trouble believing it’s a movie, and yet can’t believe it’s based on reality. GOMORRA, zig-zags through 5 storylines, each taking place in and around Naples and Caserta and revealing the mechanics of their crime world.

The life of crime has become a career one can aspire to; some see the moon-landing and grow up wanting to be astronauts, and others watch SCARFACE and grow up wanting to be gangsters. That’s the case for 2 young men in the film, whom we follow as they try to “make it”; starting off by stealing some drugs, then guns, then, well… you’ll see. Watching the film unravel is like watching animal wild-life on National Geographic, there’s no arguing with this world’s logic. Trying to make sense of how it all works and why things are this way would only give you a headache.

As a viewer I was humbled and over-whelmed by the scope of the film, not helped by the lack of “good” and hope for “good” in the movie. Despite the realism and subtlety of the characters and the events that unfold, you are watching a movie; there is “entertainment” value here. But, unlike SCARFACE it’s unlikely to inspire a new-generation of wannabe gangsters. If you’re a fan of inter-weaving storylines, films like SYRIANA and TRAFFIC, then this would be right up your alley.


For more info visit the Festival film page .

Rachel Getting Married
RATING: 8/10

Director: Jonathan Demme
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Mather Zickel

Jonathan Demme, director of genre defining films SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and PHILADELPHIA, has attempted a wedding drama. I’ll let audiences decide if RACHEL GETTING MARRIED is the best of the bunch, but it’s certainly his best feature since the Tom Hanks / Denzel Washington, legal drama.

The story centers on Kym’s (Hathaway) home-coming from rehab to attend her older sister's wedding, only to have to deal with the reasons for her going away in the first place. As you may have heard, Anne Hathaway gives a performance that will certainly be earning nominations by year’s end, and rightfully so, especially considering she’s surrounded by great performances! For the most part the drama develops naturally. While there are a few forced moments, or convenient plot points I could have done without, they take very little away from the film. What I appreciated most was that they developed the characters, even some of the really small roles, and that the film doesn’t solely focus on the main plot. An example of an unexpected moment is a scene featuring a dish-washing challenge between Father and future Son-in-Law; I was on the edge of my seat.
 
If you’re not a fan of the BOURNE films hand-held look, then be prepared; I liked it though and found the doc-style was effective. The film is a genuinely touching, and at times intense in depicting the range of conflicts. It’s a surprisingly human drama, with commercial potential.

For more info visit the Festival film page .

 

Links to all Festival Coverage:

Film Fest Reviews, Part 1

Film Fest Reviews, Part 2

Source: FNC

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