Post(s) tagged with "world cinema"

Natalia is a 17-year-old mother juggling adolescent desires and adult responsibilities in Kasia Rosłaniec’s visually stylish sophomore film set in present-day Poland.  Rejected by her mother, Natalia roller-skates down the streets of Warsaw pushing a trendy baby-stroller, chasing after her boyfriend, Kuba. While he prefers to smoke weed and skateboard with his buddy, she clings to her baby, yearning for Kuba’s love and attention.


Natalia is a 17-year-old mother juggling adolescent desires and adult responsibilities in Kasia Rosłaniec’s visually stylish sophomore film set in present-day Poland.  Rejected by her mother, Natalia roller-skates down the streets of Warsaw pushing a trendy baby-stroller, chasing after her boyfriend, Kuba. While he prefers to smoke weed and skateboard with his buddy, she clings to her baby, yearning for Kuba’s love and attention.

One Maritime Step for Man

11/05/12 - Egyptian, 7:15 p.m.
11/06/12 - Grauman’s Chinese, 4:00 p.m.

By Andrew Johnson

It’s been three weeks since Felix Baumgartner stepped off a capsule 24 miles above the earth and three months since NASA successfully shot a car-sized rover onto the surface of Mars. The desire to break boundaries and explore new territory is a fundamental characteristic of humanity, which is perhaps why there’s been little display of nationalism in the aftermath — there’s a sense that when one of us attempts the seemingly impossible, we’re all in it together regardless of race, nation or creed.

KON-TIKI is based on the real-life story of another odds-defying pioneer, Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, who sailed 4,300 miles across the Pacific in 1947 on a raft made of balsa wood. He hoped to prove that the Polynesian islands had originally been settled by people from South America rather than Southeast Asia, a theory that remains disputed despite his successful journey. Filmmakers Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg (MAX MANUS: MAN OF WAR) have now fashioned the trip into a narrative feature film, and the result is a rousing and provocative tale of survival and human achievement.

At first glance, it’s easy to imagine that KON-TIKI is Norway’s submission to the Oscars® simply because it contains so many elements Academy voters tend to reward — it’s a period piece about good-looking actors getting really dirty as they overcome nearly impossible odds. The marketing campaign might very well bill it as an “inspirational true story” about the “triumph of the human spirit” or something similarly clichéd. What makes the film so impressive is that while it is indeed both those things, it’s also much more than typical feel-good fluff. It would be easy to interpret Heyerdahl’s journey only as survivalist epic, the story of a few men versus the elements, but Roenning and Sandberg use that as a launching point to ask more complicated questions.

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The Rules of the Game

11/04/12 - Chinese 5, 7:30 p.m. 

By Samuel Anderson

Writer-director Hong Sang-soo gives the impression in his latest works of being capable of making films almost automatically. Such effortlessness can seem like a sign of a filmmaker going through the motions, and Hong does not exactly run from this danger, returning to similar territory with each film.

But to take this repetition as a sign of someone who has run out of ideas is to miss what makes Hong Sang-soo such a provocative, and essential, artist. It is not that he makes films simply for the sake of making films — though it seems he is never not making a film, having made five in the past four years and is apparently in post-production on another. Rather, making a film is for him an activity like eating or drinking; an activity ones takes up as a matter of living. It is not strictly an activity done for the sake of an audience, but it is a social activity, and in Hong’s films, there is an appeal to us as viewers to share in the experience in a unique way.

As his career has developed, and as he has sped up his production process by working on video, Hong has stripped his singular style down to its essential elements; to the point, precisely, where filmmaking can become something like a natural activity. This has brought out a new strand of playfulness in his work, of which IN ANOTHER COUNTRY is a prime example.

The film foregrounds its simplicity: a young woman is stuck in a small seaside town with her mother, both victims of her uncle’s unscrupulous financial dealings; she expresses her frustration by writing three short screenplays, each of which centers around a French woman visiting the town, and each of which plays out onscreen.

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A Meditative and Engrossing Vision

11/04/12 - Chinese 2, 7:15 p.m.

By Brad Franklin 

LEVIATHAN is a film that is both unique and indefinable. It is easier to say what it isn’t than what it is. It is not a typical documentary. Its subject is commercial fishing off the New Bedford Coast of Massachusetts, but it does not treat its subject as a documentary would. There is no narration. There is no (discernible) dialogue. The only non-visual communication between the filmmakers and the viewer is a biblical quote from Job (made ominous with a scary font) that elucidates the film’s title and an endnote honoring the countless vessels and crew lost in the very waters where they filmed. These are not negatives. These stylistic choices are what make the film a truly immersive experience in a way that no IMAX documentary could.

In essence, it’s a visual diary portrayed in hyper-realistic terms. The directors employ an essentially raw form of filmmaking by simply shooting the environment of a fishing vessel with cameras placed at impossible-seeming angles from improbable perspectives, leaving their intent equivocal. Sharp cuts interrupt uncommonly long scenes that encourage the viewer to absorb the full spectrum of emotion and information that the camera captures, which involve all facets of life and death on the boat. The camera is not passive; it is always interfacing with what it’s shooting. A single scene can illuminate the brutal and transient nature of life, and evoke awe and wonder at the glory of creation.

Despite its raw, HD video aesthetic, directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor (SWEETGRASS, AFI FEST 2009) and Véréna Paravel (FOREIGN PARTS) have crafted a beautiful and arresting record of modern life at sea. LEVIATHAN presents a common-seeming vocation as an encounter with the sublime. This is complemented with an artful eye toward edits. It is not always clear if an edit has been made, if the camera jumped or if something in the environment changed. When a clear cut does come along, you are usually transported to a completely different sphere of life on the boat, which is always jarring yet is part of the mechanism that keeps the film truly engaging throughout.

Most shots are extremely intimate, as the camera has no regard for personal space. It pushes in uncomfortably close to the fishermen’s faces and stays there, watching. It is literally left to languish on the deck with the dead or dying fish and is lowered down into the sea as it is passed between ships. Often, shots are upside down or so dark they are indecipherable, but this does not detract from the potency of the atmosphere; it creates it. Certain shots transcend their initial surface quality and take on a foreboding, almost frightening tension, partly due to the lack of a guiding voice, but also because of their length. In this way, LEVIATHAN stands with the QATSI trilogy in its meditative and engrossing stream-of-consciousness staring, albeit limited to the realm of commercial fishing.

If LEVIATHAN does have a thesis, it’s that documentary filmmaking needs neither narrative, identifiable characters or a clear message to engage an audience, as these things are discoverable without guidance.  

Brad Franklin is a writer based in Los Angeles.

A Drama of Restraint

11/04/12 - Egyptian, 6:15 p.m.
11/07/12 - Egyptian, 4:00 p.m.  

By Brad Franklin

Set in the German Democratic Republic in the ’80s, BARBARA begins with the struggle of the titular character’s (Nina Hoss) attempt to exit the misery of provincial life-in-exile. Shipped off to a small country hospital for applying for a visa to move west, Barbara maintains a formal manner and keeps to herself as she bides her time, waiting to escape. However, the kindness of her colleague, Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), begins to warm her, creating a conflict between her present and future lives. As the film develops, it becomes less and less likely that Barbara will find the escape she seeks.

Though not a thriller in the traditional sense, BARBARA delivers a sustained tension as the plot unfurls. The narrative is not heavy-handed; instead, it builds the story around the action. Back-story and character motivation fall into place quietly without distracting from the thrust of the narrative. Who she is, how she came to be desperate to escape and who the strange men are that come to her apartment to abuse her all become clear without direct explanations.

Hoss delivers a great performance that is remarkably restrained. You can feel the conflict in Barbara and the anxiety behind her stiff facade (particularly in regards to those who can hurt her) but with her patients, she shows a remarkable, almost uncharacteristic depth of compassion.

Zehrfeld’s Andre draws out this side of her further through his own empathy and shy, yet open, longing for her. His performance brings vibrancy to an otherwise tedious world — by design, as many of the characters have little to be chipper about. Mirroring Barbara’s character, the film itself never becomes too sincere or sentimental. When any scene might become trite or romantic, it retreats and reverts to its previous dispassionate alignment or “apologizes” for its indulgence, generating tension and creating an atmosphere of dulled, remorseful pleasure.

The story serves to paint a fairly accurate picture of life in the GDR. The director/screenwriter (Christian Petzold) has a personal connection to the period and locale, and he made sure to maintain strict attention to detail, going so far as to ensure that the clothing was factually from the period. Everything is vintage; no reproductions were used. He wanted to be sure everything looked, worked (or didn’t work) and moved as it would have during that time. 

BARBARA won the Best Director Silver Bear at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival and will be Germany’s entry for Foreign Language Film at next year’s Oscars®.

Brad Franklin is a writer based in Los Angeles.

A Powerful Vision of Buenos Aires

11/03/2012 - Egyptian, 12:30 p.m.
11/04/2012 - Egyptian, 3:00 p.m.

By Nina Rao

From its very beginning, WHITE ELEPHANT is a vivid study in contrasts.  Opening with Ricardo Darín’s clinically impassive face and the coolly mechanical hum of a CT scanner, the antiseptic order and stillness of this scene is abruptly broken by the crackling, incendiary terror of the jungle conflict where Jérémie Renier’s Father Nicolás narrowly escapes death.  

He soon finds himself in Villa Maria, the impoverished Buenos Aires shantytown (introduced in a roving, masterfully unbroken single shot) which Darín’s Father Julián is struggling to serve.  The two men, though bound by a deep friendship, are each wracked with differing concerns and at odds over how best to aid the residents of Villa Maria.  The elder Julián, stricken with failing health and weighted down with the Sisyphean task of ministering to a community beset with hunger, housing shortages, violence and corruption, favors an indirect approach, working the political and ecclesiastical channels of power to advocate on behalf of the community.  The younger Nicolás, plagued with guilt over his inability to protect his former parish and his lone survival of the massacre, fervently rolls up his sleeves and wades into the thick of the drug war that tears apart the community, even as his religious convictions are tested by a growing attraction to beautiful social worker Luciana (Martina Gusman).

Looming over it all is the titular white elephant: a crumbling, cavernous edifice intended to be the largest hospital in Latin America, but long since given over to neglect and decay.  Stark images of this monument to bureaucratic paralysis and unfulfilled promises — its exterior hovers over the tin roofs of the community, while its dingy, labyrinthine interiors exude a cramped desolation — contrast with the polished opulence of the government and church offices that Father Julián haunts with ineffectual pleas for action.  It’s clear that the mantle he intends to bequeath Father Nicolás is its own kind of white elephant.

Growing in part out of the real-life story of Father Carlos Mujica, an activist Argentinian priest killed in 1974, Pablo Trapero’s third film to delve into oft-overlooked depths of Buenos Aires is an unsparing and visually powerful study of a movingly intractable situation.  Everyone is implicated in the plight of Villa Maria, from the bureaucrats who ignore it, to the local officials who police it, to the inhabitants themselves, who despite earnest devotions and candlelight vigils, are frequently ready to repay violence with violence.  The power of myth is present here, as a possible answer to the failures of the past; church officials suggest to Julián that evidence of miracles attributed to Father Mujica could spur the diocese to action, an implicit nudge to duplicity that clashes with Julián’s steadfast principles.  

Winding in long, sinuous takes through the corridors of drug lords’ dens and down alleyways as police raid the streets, Guillermo Nieto’s camerawork shines in fluidly capturing the vitality of Villa Maria despite its ever-present threat of violence. Nicolás seems more than willing to meet this threat head-on, but Julián, facing his own mortality and unsure if his life’s work has advanced anything for the people of Villa Maria, understands such a sacrifice is also an abdication, and may not, in the end, be enough.  Illuminated by the performances of Darín, Renier and Gusman, the contrasts so viscerally present in WHITE ELEPHANT celebrate small achievements while refusing to offer up easy answers.

Nina Rao is Programming Assistant for the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Added Screening!

11/06/12 - Grauman’s Chinese, 7:30 p.m.
11/07/12 - Egyptian, 9:45 p.m.

Pálfi György’s “recycled film” is the tale of the ultimate man and the ultimate woman. What are their distinguishing marks? He is charming like Marcello Mastroianni in LA DOLCE VITA. But he’s also strapping like Brad Pitt in FIGHT CLUB. He is boyish like Leonardo DiCaprio in TITANIC and devastating like Clark Gable. He is decisive like Sean Connery as James Bond, but also a bit awkward, like Chaplin in MODERN TIMES. And what about the ultimate woman? She is certainly unpredictable and instinctive like Lollobrigida, but she’s also graceful and knows how to behave, like Audrey Hepburn. She’s girlish, like Audrey Tautou, but cool and distant like Greta Garbo. She is funny and familiar like Julia Roberts, but her smile is like Ava Gardner’s. She is divine, like Sophia Loren, and ethereal, like Liv Tyler. The celluloid heroes and heroines of more than 450 movies show us what happens when He meets Her.

AFI FEST 2012 films screening in the World Cinema section.

AFI FEST 2012 films screening in the World Cinema section.

AFI FEST 2012 films screening in the World Cinema section.


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