Archive for the ‘Denmark’ Category

The European movie scene is unique and marvellous. Look beyond the top 10’s and you will find movies that bombard your senses and leave you deep in thought.

Movies with subtitles is something that surprisingly few in the UK seem to enjoy. We’re not quite sure why? To shake things up a bit, here’s a list of European movies that will make you laugh, weep, shiver and think.

Armour (Love) – dir. Michael Haneke / Austria | France | Germany

After Anne (the late Emmanuelle Riva) suffers a stroke, Georges’ and Anne’s life together hit a point of no return. The two retired pianists suddenly face the perhaps toughest challenge of the lifelong love: old age and the deterioration of mind and body.

Brutally honest, Armour portrays aging love and the helplessness that follows when a loved one slowly succumbs to the ravages of old age.

We follow Georges’ struggle to accept the inevitable, as Anne suffers from early dementia and a series of strokes, reducing her to little more than a helpless child.

“In the course of two hours, Haneke suggests that the ultimate test of a lifelong passion may come not in its first flourish, but in the compassion of its very last days, and that while love cannot conquer death, it can give life’s bleakest moments a run for their money” David Hughes

Jagten (The Hunt) – dir. Thomas Vinterberg / Denmark | Sweden

In this critically acclaimed Danish thriller, Thomas Vinterberg shows how a close- knit small community can crumble in no time when rumours are on the run.

Lucas, a small town nursery teacher, is falsely accused of sexually abusing his best friends daughter.

As we follow the slightly awkward but charming divorcé being torn apart and shunned by the local community, we are reminded of how relentlessly a smaller group can turn on you when you need it most.

“Vinterberg sets our suspicions twitching from the off, which makes us wonder later, with no small measure of guilt, which side of the mob we would have been on.” Robbie Collin

La Tête en friche (My Afternoons with Marguerite) – dir. Jean Becker / France

La Tête en friche is a heartwarming atypical love story. Germain is a very self- conscious, bloated man-baby in dungarees. Marguerite an articulate, fraile, and intelligent 95-year-old.

In a public square in a small French village, Marguerite and Germain form a close friendship over literature. Marguerite’s subtle love for words and Germain’s quirky wonder over them brings them closer day by day.

“Germain suffers through flashbacks to his unhappy childhood, but seems on the whole serene. He loves Annette but he declares himself “in love” with Margueritte.

So are we, a little. She is bright-eyed and high-spirited, and never overplays the heart-tugging” Roger Ebert

Les Émotifs anonymes (Romantics anonymous) – dir. Jean-Pierre Améris / France | Belgium

With both main characters suffering from awkward bashfulness, emotif, this french comedy is a quirky but adorable story of how two very shy chocolatiers, Angélique and Jean-René, fall in love.

As the chocolate enterprise takes its worst toll, Angélique, originally hired for sales, anonymously develops a new line of special chocolates. Through their passion for chocolate, the two chocolatiers finally find a way to communicate.

“The tale of two pathologically shy chocolate makers who are meant for each other but are too afraid to connect is a mug of warm cocoa with marshmallow topping that produces a comfy feel-good glow” Stephen Holden

Bal (Honey) – dir. Semih Kaplanoğlu / Turkey | Germany | France

This award winning film is set in the densely forested region of north-eastern Turkey. Yakup and his family lives in an isolated mountain area, and he makes a living by climbing trees to harvest wild honey.

Yusef, Yakup’s son, struggles in school. He is lonely, has a stammer and is desperate for attention.

One day Yakup doesn’t come home.

In an astonishing scenery, we watch Yusef slip into silence as his mother Zehra’s heart breaks.

“It is a film whose unhurried pace must be allowed to grow on you, but once it has, there is something engrossing about the tragedy unfurling slowly and indirectly before our eyes” Peter Bradshaw

Kon-Tiki – dir. Petter Skavlan / UK | Norway | Denmark | Germany | Sweden

This spectacle of a film is based on the true story of the Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl, who set out to prove that people from South America could have settled in Polynesia in pre- Columbian times.

We follow Thor (a pompous Norwegian man who cannot swim) in his adventure to raise money, build a balsa- wood raft, and draft from South America to Polynesia (4,300 miles). With a crew of several Norwegian men trapped on an ocean raft, arguments unfold and their craft of a raft, ‘Kon-Tiki’ is put to the test.

“What the film doesn’t skimp on is spectacle. Brilliantly shot in a rugged National Geographic-like way by the cinematographer Geir Hartly Andreassen, it captures the sailors’ feelings of both awe and terror about their self-inflicted predicament” Geoffrey Mcnab

About the author

At Global Language Services Ltd we’re passionate about languages and language nuances. We’re a language service agency based in Scotland, supplying interpretation and translation services locally, nationally and internationally.

The technology of the 21st century is remarkable, but however good the translation technology is, it cannot yet pick up the subtleties of a language, the culture that underpins it, or even the humour that oils many of our conversations.

When Alexa and Siri say nae we say yae!

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Joachim Trier follows his highly regarded Oslo, August 31st with his English-speaking debut Louder Than Bombs, which received mixed reviews in Cannes and Toronto before arriving here in Glasgow. Featuring an impressive cast including Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects, Millers Crossing), Isabelle Huppert (Amour) and Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, The End of the Tour) Trier directs with skill, regardless of the new challenge of a second language.

Louder Than Bombs opens with a striking image of life – a newborn holding the hand of its father Jonah (Eisenberg) – shortly followed by a reveal of the death of Eisenberg’s mother Isabelle (Huppert), although this has already happened by the birth of Jonah’s son. This becomes a staple technique of the film, jumping forward and backwards in time, revealing a bit more detail each time, or viewing the same scene from a different character’s perspective. As a result, the dead mother Isabelle remains a living, breathing character in the film’s narrative, either due to flashback or premonition.

As for the rest of the family, the film deals with their varying attempts to cope with the grief of losing their mother including the sensitive windowed Husband Gene (Byrne), the aforementioned Jonah – who is more similar than his secretly suffering mother than he realised – and the younger teenage son Conrad; expertly played by Devin Druid, previously only known for playing teenage Louis C.K in his eponymous show. Conrad’s character is particularly fascinating, as while he appears to be the hardest hit of all, he shows the greatest deal of optimism in the film.

As well as family grief, Louder Than Bombs is very much about the words and feelings that go unexpressed between close family members – and the gap in understanding that this creates. Jonah’s character goes in the opposite direction of his younger brother: at first seeming capable of saving his family’s problems, but soon emerging as repressed and neglectful.

While the premise may sound fairly depressing, there is plenty of emotional depth found in this film. Louder Than Bombs retains a sense of humour and is playful enough with its form to keep it from being a “Capital D Drama” as Trier has put it. While the film examines the universally difficult subject of family grief, it doesn’t fail to show the warmth that these characters exert; even if often misplaced – as shown in several attempts by the father and sons to engage with the opposite sex – with varying degrees of success and conscientiousness.

On top of this, Trier plays with not just narrative structure, but with realism and filmic self-awareness, including lots of fun references to influential films (Vertigo, being one.) He also uses the imagination and dreams to represent the characters’ consciousness on screen. The greatest example of this is Conrad listening to a female classmate he is crushing on. As she reads aloud a classic text, he starts imagining her words visually; his mind takes over and she begins narrating the scene of his mother’s death and what thoughts might have gone through her mind, when she realised she was about to die. It is a truly thrilling scene and a technique that Trier explores throughout this intriguing film.

Read Full Post »

The forty plus films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder are among the most honest, ruthless and personal of any director. With near sadomasochistic force, Fassbinder dealt relentlessly with social problems and taboos that he encountered throughout his short 37 years, up until his untimely death in 1982.

In Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands Christian Braad Thomsen – a friend of Fassbinder – attempts to tell us more about the troubled German auteur, but this is a difficult task. In his films Fassbinder told us much about himself, and simultaneously he was a master critic: he was able to use drama to dissect, critique and examine his own nature and the wider social conditioning of German society. What might another filmmaker be able to tell us about Fassbinder that the man himself couldn’t?

The results of Thomsen’s film are mixed, but not without value. For those uninitiated in Fassbinder’s work, the film provides a solid introduction to the way in which RWF’s films dealt with human relationships as a web of oppression. Fassbinder saw love as a near fascistic form of dependency, whereby one weaker individual would be at the mercy of their stronger partner. Almost all of his films attest to this in some form, from the gay class drama Fox and his Friends to the disturbing Weimar era epic Berlin Alexanderplatz.

In newly uncovered interviews – shot by Thomsen at the Cannes Film Festival during the latter stages of Fassbinder’s life – the exhausted, workaholic director talks bluntly, but eloquently about his concerns and we gain a sense of the sadness that informed much of Fassbinder’s existence. This was a man who suffered for his art and – even at Cannes – there is very little glamour on show.

It is Thomsen’s own relationship with Fassbinder that is the most interesting aspect of To Love Without Demands, along with the recent insights of actress Irm Hermann and actor/production manager Harry Baer. The admiration of these individuals for RWF naturally shines through and although they have now aged into more mature perspectives (being almost double the age of Fassbinder when he died) it is clear that their former director continues to impress them with his talents and unique perspective on the world.

The documentary does feel, in some ways, rather old fashioned for a film released in 2015. Formally speaking, it is very much a film of the 1960’s, and its cultural benchmarks – such as Sigmund Freud – feel key to that time too. However, while the film may appear less accessible to the younger generation, the visceral energy of Fassbinder does remain and it is still as vital to cinema as ever.

Read Full Post »

1) IDA (DIR. PAWEL PAWLIKOWSKI, POLAND)

Ida, the Polish nun at the heart of Pawlikoski’s WW2 drama, perfectly encapsulates the lightness and darkness of the film, her beetlebug black eyes framed by a saintly, doll-like complexion. Beautifully played by Agata Trzebuchowska, Ida is told she is a Jewish survivor of the holocaust and must meet her aunt before taking her vows. Shot in austere monochrome, the film is a road movie/coming of age tale, with Ida forced to come to terms with her past and decide on her own future. While a black and white holocaust drama might seem heavy going, Pawlikoski has a lightness of touch which elevates it to something greater than simply a sob story.

2) BOYHOOD (DIR. RICHARD LINKLATER, USA)

rsz_boyhood_momentos_de_una_vida_-__ellar_coltrane_mason_finalLinklater’s much heralded drama follows one boy actor from childhood to adolescence, taking in all the growing pains that come with it. While the film often strays into schmaltz and cliche, it is hard not to be affected by the film and project as a whole. Lead actor Ellar Coltrane may have seemed gawky and awkward as the years passed by, but perhaps that is as accurate a reflection of teenager you can get? Estranged parents Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke provide the acting chops and the pathos of adult instability.

3) STRANGER BY THE LAKE (DIR. ALAIN GUIRAUDIE, FRANCE)

StrangerByTheLake_5_Christophe_Paou_Pi.JPGNo-one does voyeurism quite like the French. By a remote lake in rural France Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) cruises the beach for men in order to sate his desires. His attention is piqued by the athletic Michel (Christophe Paou) and soon his lust for him begins to override his moral compass. How dangerous could Michel really be? Guiraudie’s film is a brooding beast, high on intrigue and psychologically complex. It also has a great sense of place; I can’t think of another film that demonstrates the tranquil joy of lake swimming so much.

4) NYMPHOMANIAC PARTS 1 AND 2 (DIR. LARS VON TRIER, DENMARK)

rsz_1rsz_hero_nymphomaniacvol2-2014-1It is a little sad that Von Trier garners more headlines for his antics than his actual films; Nymphomaniac is another interesting addition to his ouevre. Part of his Depression trilogy this epic double header follows Joe, a young girl hurtling through life with a hard-on, unable to satisfy her desire for human flesh. Ably played by Stacy Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Joe’s travails are often bleak and brutal- this is Von Trier in a self destructive mood. The film gains power in its sheer scale and rawness of emotion.

5) WINTER SLEEP (DIR. NURI BILGE CEYLAN, TURKEY)

rsz_1rsz_p02ckcsmIf Once upon a time in Anatolia was the brooding, silent brother in the family, then Winter Sleep is the talkative, narcissistic sibling. Aydin runs a remote hotel in rural Anatolia with his sloth-like sister and bored younger wife, all the while indulging his intellectual delusions with vanity book projects. Ceylan’s latest film is occasionally too verbose and meandering in its 3 hour length, yet it often finds its way to a point of real epiphany. The characters are so complex and fluid that you find yourself dividing your loyalty between each of them from moment to moment.

6) LEVIATHAN (DIR. ANDREY ZVYAGINTSEV, RUSSIA)

rsz_leviathanBased on a true American news story but with great parallels with contemporary Russian society, Leviathan is the tale of a local fisherman forced to give up his land for a pittance when the greedy local mayor comes calling. Zvyagintsev arrived with one of the greatest debuts of the 21st century in The Return, but his latest film sees the director opting for a more literal, moralistic form of storytelling. The characters and themes are set out in a blunt fashion but the sheer conviction of the actors and the anger of the director shines through.

7) ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (DIR. JIM JARMUSCH, USA)

This is a peculiar one. While watching the film, and just after, I was left with mixed feelings about Jarmusch’s latest offering. His re-imagining of the vampire genre had a typically thin story, a penchant for sixth form level philosophy and a somewhat nerdy obsession with guitars and literary figures. There were probably a lot more ‘powerful’ and prescient films being made this year, but this one has stuck. The moody streets of Detroit and the gothic twang of Josef Van Wissem’s score has left a lingering atmosphere, while the central relationship between the evergreen vampires played by  Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston is oddly moving.

8) THE PAST (DIR. ASGHAR FARHADI, FRANCE/IRAN)

Film still from The Past by Asghar FarhadiFarhadi’s twisty family drama follows a family’s disintegration in Paris. Ahmad, the estranged father figure, travels to France to meet his ex-partner Marie and sign their divorce papers. However, he quickly becomes embroiled in family tensions as her new partner Samir is causing friction with her offspring. The film is a treasure chest of lies and misunderstandings, Farhadi creating a meaty drama out of miscommunication. While the film may become too tricksy and melodramatic at points, the quality of the acting and the dialogue makes it a very satisfying watch.

9) FINDING VIVIAN MAIER (DIR. JOHN MALOOF & CHARLIE SISKEL, USA)

rsz_211-628x425This excellent documentary unearthed the fascinating story of Vivien Maier, a New York nanny with a secret life as a master photographer. In the 60’s and 70’s, Maier would go out onto the streets of New York and take fantastic photos of everyday life; children, old pensioners, the rich, the homeless. Remarkably her talents were unknown to her well-to-do employers, and she lived a life of relative anonymity. This sparky film documents the discovery of her photographs to her eventual reappraisal, all the while demonstrating what a singular and complex individual Maier was.

10) HER (DIR. SPIKE JONZE, USA)

rsz_1rsz_her-screen-shotProbably one of the greatest films to reflect the ever blurring lines between online and real life, Jonze crafts an unusual and heartfelt work out of a challenging concept. Theodore (Joaquin Pheonix) is a lonely urbanite from the future who falls in love with his OS computer (seductively voiced by Scarlett Johannson), a completely intuitive, human-like system. The film has a woozy, wistful glow to it and Pheonix is excellent as the repressed lead. Jonze deserves all the plaudits, however, for concocting such a prescient, emotional film out of a far fetched conceit.

Read Full Post »

Before Danish director Niels Arden Oplev focused his camera on a culture of woman hating, in Swedish film The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, he directed the child-eyed 60’s family drama We Shall Overcome. The film, which is visually lighter than Dragon Tattoo, tells the true story of a boy who fought his school after being physically assaulted by the headmaster. In spite of its bright colours and rolling hills, We Shall Overcome also hints visually at fascism, and contrasts it sharply with images from America’s Civil Rights Movement. At times the film is dramatically uneven, but Oplev’s strong visual ideas make for interesting viewing.

The film stars Janus Dissing Rathke as Frits, the child at the centre of the story. Frits is something of an outsider, but he still finds the attention of popular schoolgirl Iben (Sarah Juel Werner.) Frits’ mother and father run a farm, but as the film opens we discover that Frits’ father is descending into a bleak bout of depression. When Frits is physically assaulted by his headmaster Lindum-Svendsen (Bent Mejding,) for sneaking into the girls’ changing rooms, he begins a subversive campaign against his institutional oppressor. Supporting him is the liberal temporary teacher, Freddie Svale (Anders W. Berthelsen), who schools him in rock & roll and Martin Luther King.

Although the comparison between the African-American Civil Rights Movement and a group of Danish school children may seem something of a stretch, it makes sense from the film’s childlike point of view. For Frits the words of Martin Luther King serve as a key motivating factor in his protest against the old-school methods of discipline, reliant on a culture of threat to breed conformity, rather than independence, individuality and critical thinking. Oplev works well with his cast, particularly the young Rathke, to evoke the spirit of revolution.

The film’s overtly Scandinavian style, with bright colours and rural locations loudly declares an atmosphere of tradition and conformity. It presents a society in which everything is thought to be perfect and yet within this kind of society unspoken tyrannies can easily exist; the tyranny of accepted norms. This is the conflict which the young Frits attempts to grapple with, as he has not yet learned to accept it unlike the adults around him. Oplev contrasts the visuals with American songs like House of the Rising Sun and the protest song We Shall Overcome, which has a curious resonance when sung by Swedish children.

However, moments in the film, presumably those based faithfully on the facts of the story, actually seems dramatically misplaced. At significant moments characters make out-of-character decisions and an oddly vengeful deus-ex-machina arrives, which contradicts the humanist theme that drives much of the film. These moments give the film a much more by-the-numbers feel than it should possess, as it also exhibits moments of truth and directorial flare. For those expecting a film similar to Oplev’s excellent The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo instalment, We Shall Overcome will not fulfil many expectations, but it shares a contempt for oppression and moments of real emotion.

Read Full Post »

Scandinavia is ‘in’ right now. For the past couple of years, audiences have been besieged by numerous TV crime dramas such as The Killing and Wallander, while the silver screen has seen the emergence of the Stieg Larsson franchise the ‘Millenium‘ trilogy. Wooly jumpers, inexplicably angular features and glib criminality are the new black. Or should that be icy grey.

The latest sensation being heralded is Jo Nesbo, whose novel has been adapted for the screen here. The story follows Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie), a slick ‘headhunter’ who seems to have it all, with a beautful wife named Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund) and a flashy minimalist apartment. Quite why a Norwegian man is called Roger Brown is anyone’s guess, but pretty much standard fare for this film. His wife, an exhibition curator of sorts, demands a lavish lifestyle, and more pressingly a child. In order to sate these needs, Roger has a rather far fetched sideline as an art thief. Well, these are tough economic times.

In the first scene we observe Roger stealing into an apartment and helping himself to a valuable painting on the way out. Mildly intriguing, but isn’t this just Hustle with sharper cheekbones? The plot clicks into gear with a meeting with Clas Greve (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), a prospective new partner for Roger’s legitimate company. Handsome and smarmy, Clas has designs on Diana and furthermore, an extremely rare German painting lurking in his apartment. I could be wrong here, but I think we may have found our antagonist.

Inevitably Roger conspires to steal the painting, but when his accomplice in the dastardly deed is found near deaths door, things start to get a bit Jackson Pollock. Clas, it so happens, is a deadly ex-army tracker, and so ensues a game of cat and mouse. Frankly, this is a very silly and uneven film.  While the first half errs towards a slick, but ultimately humdrum corporate heist thriller, the second half veers wildly towards Coen-esque absurdist hijinks. It is this section which saves the film from banality, particularly a bizarre sequence featuring a tractor, an impaled dog and lashings of excrement. Possibly the wildest and most fun scene I’ve witnessed so far this year.

To be fair, Headhunters is fairly entertaining, and Aksel Hennie provides an empathetic character with a good line in puppy dog eyes. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau also fares well as the slimy Clas, but make no mistake, this is not high drama. The direction by Morten Tyldum is efficient and the pacy editing moves the film along quickly. The projects downfall is probably down to the source material more than anything, a fairly silly concoction to start with.

Read Full Post »

1) THE TREE OF LIFE (DIR. TERRENCE MALICK) – USA

A confession– I had been waiting for years for Terrence Malick’s new film to come out, listening out intently for snippets of information on its long production. So forgive my bias, but there is simply no other contender for film of the year. In all honesty ToL is not a perfect film. Some scenes work, some scenes don’t. But when they do work, they soar. I’d take 20 minutes of some scenes from ToL over the whole year in cinema. Pitt and Chastain perfectly convey the complexities of parenthood, while the young boys are a revelation. Lubezki’s roaming camera combined with the beautifully operatic classical pieces is utterly glorious. Malick’s most personal, sincere and adventurous film to date.

2) WUTHERING HEIGHTS (DIR. ANDREA ARNOLD) – UK

Scottish auteur Arnold updates the classic Bronte novel with hyper real cinematography and naturalistic performances. The young Cathy and Heathcliff are excellent as the bruised lovers, while the Yorkshire valleys take on a wild, oppressive life of their own. One of the few British films to use the landscape in a refreshing and exciting way.

3) SLEEPING SICKNESS (DIR. ULRICH KOHLER) – GERMANY & CAMEROON

This beguiling odditiy comes across as a mix of Claire Denis, Uncle Boonmee and David Lynch, combining jungle environment with hallucinatory, surreal touches. A German doctor is working in an unnamed African hospital, where he deals with the ‘Sleeping sickness’ bug, a condition that makes the sufferer feverish and hallucinate. His family have to leave the country without him, and then things start to get weirder on his own…

4) TRUE GRIT (DIR. THE COEN BROS) – US

The Coen’s are so consistently good, it’s almost boring. Here they turn their meticulous hands to full on western, and master the genre in one fell swoop. A remake of Henry Hathaway’s original, the brothers stick to a more traditional approach, harking back to the classic Westerns of the 40’s and 50’s, but with a few of their own surreal touches for good measure. Jeff Bridges seems to be one of the few leading actors of the 70’s not to have settled into semi –retirement, and is a wizened joy here.

5) NORWEGIAN WOOD (DIR. ANH HUNG TRAN )– JAPAN

Based on Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s 60’s set doomed romance, Vietnamese director brings an exquisite visual style to the books foundations. Garnering only luke warm reviews, this is for me one of the more underrated films of the year. Taking his cues from his earlier films, Hung Tran combines lush, sensual cinematography with subtle, restrained emotions. On top of that, it has an excellent soundtrack featuring CAN and The Velvet Underground.

6) SENNA (DIR. ASIF KAPADIA)– UK

Painstakingly compiled from endless hours of footage, Kapadia’s documentary of the golden F1 driver Ayrton Senna introduces a whole new legion of fans to a sport they thought they hated. Or at least for a couple of hours or so he does, anyway. Made up of grainy interviews and races, with only voiceover to compliment them, the film takes on a hypnotic, compelling quality as we follow the charismatic Senna through his highs and lows.

7) MARGARET (DIR. KENNETH LONERGAN)– USA

Kenneth Lonergan’s long gestating follow up to indie hit You Can Count On Me was riddled with studio and editing troubles, and on it’s eventual release it almost went unnoticed. Thankfully a few major critics rallied around it and it looks like it has at least cult appeal. Following a brattish New York teenager, played by Anna Paquin, as her life is turned upside down by a shocking road accident. Regarded as a response to the confusion 9/11 brought to American life, Margaret is a raw, sprawling drama that leaves the audience to work out their own point of view.

8) BIUTIFUL (DIR. ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU) – SPAIN

There was a sense that Inarritu was starting to get ahead of himself, with the bloated Babel and the split with writer Arriagas, but with Biutiful the director has gone back to basics. Anchored by a towering, moving performance from Javier Bardem as a people tracker who starts to have a change of heart. Inarritu shows a side of Barcelona that the tourists won’t see.

9) MELANCHOLIA (DIR. LARS VON TRIER) – SWEDEN & DENMARK

Based on Lars Von Trier’s own struggles with depression, this unusual, elegant film is an effective distortion of the Hollywood disaster movie. Kirsten Dunst plays a bride to be in the midst of the illness, and sees a kinship with the hovering blue planet Melancholia that threatens to engulf the world. The lush visuals and subtle performances elevate this above your standard apocalypse film.

10) CONFESSIONS (DIR. TETSUYA NAKASHIMA)– JAPAN

A fairly low key release this year, this Japanese film was a strange mixture of high school drama, thriller and who dunnit. A teachers child is killed by one of her students, and like Battle Royale, the adults end up having the last laugh. Multiple view points tell the story, and the film is notable for its inventive, playful visual style and soundtrack featuring the XX and Radiohead.

Read Full Post »

1) DRIVE (DIR. NICHOLAS WINDING REFN) – USA

Drive is a Hollywood film directed by a distinctly European director. Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn rethinks the Hollywood crime thriller with minimal dialogue, strong colour, offbeat casting and an idiosyncratic soundtrack. While embracing it’s influences Drive also subverts numerous cliches and Refn shows a remarkable talent for crafting scenes that are emotionally gripping and utterly tense.

2) ANIMAL KINGDOM (DIR. DAVID MICHOD) – AUSTRALIA

David Michod’s debut feature feels like the work of an accomplished Australian equivalent to Michael Mann. Animal Kingdom tells the story of a naive young man in the midst of a dangerous crime family and the havoc he causes them. With an impressive cast including Ben Mendelsohn and Jackie Weaver, Michod rarely puts a foot wrong, from the staging of each scene to his choice of music. Not only an extremely impressive debut, but a great Australian film.

3) INTO THE ABYSS (DIR. WERNER HERZOG) – GERMANY & CANADA

Werner Herzog has been working hard lately, with the release of Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Into The Abyss premiering at various festivals in 2011. Out of the two unique documentaries Into The Abyss hits the hardest, with some of the best interviews Herzog has ever conducted. Probing the subject of death row Herzog puts together a restrained, yet unmistakably Herzogian investigation, which places moral  questions centre stage.

4) THE SKIN I LIVE IN (DIR. PEDRO ALMODOVAR) – SPAIN

Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In is an intriguing, intelligently structured and stylish film that successfully pulls the rug from under the audience’s feet in a manner that is as entertaining as it is unsettling. Almodovar blends classic horror with the themes he is famous for and gains great performances from his cast. Antonio Banderas turns in a dark, well judged portrayl and Elena Anaya brilliantly gains the audiences empathy within an utterly bizarre scenario.

5) MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (DIR. WOODY ALLEN) – USA

Midnight In Paris sees Woody Allen at the top of his game. Owen Wilson plays a screenwriter (Gil), who aspires to become a novelist. He falls in love with Paris while on holiday with his fiancé (and her parents) and begins wandering the streets at night revelling in the city’s mythology. Upon meeting a number of unlikely personalities, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway and Salvador Dali among others, Gil becomes far removed from his normal life to wonderfully Allenesque effect.

6) TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (DIR. TOMAS ALFREDSON) – UK

Where Drive was an American production directed by a Dane, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a British one directed by a Swede. Tomas Alfredson brings a distinctly Scandinavian approach to this classic cold war story. Like his vampire film Let The Right One In, Tinker Tailor makes use of wide open spaces juxtaposed with dingy interiors to create an appropriate paranoia. Alfredson’s remarkable ensemble cast create numerous memorable performances, particularly Gary Oldman as George Smiley.

7) HUGO (DIR. MARTIN SCORSESE) – USA

An ode to cinema by Martin Scorsese, Hugo tells the tale of French film director George Meilies through the eyes of a young boy called Hugo Cabret. Directed with a youthful flare by Scorsese, we follow Hugo’s journey to fix an automaton left behind by his late father, which leads him to a discovery of Meilies forgotten cinema career. The story of a young man discovering cinema and it’s possibilities for the first time is clearly one close to Scorsese’s heart; that’s why Hugo is such a good film.

8) DREAMS OF A LIFE (DIR. CAROL MORLEY) – UK

Dreams of a Life and it’s central character Joyce Vincent captured the hearts and minds of cinema goers this Christmas. Joyce Vincent died in 2003 in her North London bedsit and went undiscovered for three years. She had been a popular, outgoing and successful young woman who became increasingly alienated in the years preceding her death. Director Carol Morley investigates the circumstances that lead to Joyce’s death and meets with friends, boyfriends, colleagues and others to paint a portrait (using excellently performed reconstructions and talking head interviews) of a woman who no one would expect society to leave behind.

9) SNOWTOWN (DIR. JUSTIN KURZEL) – AUSTRALIA

John Bunting, Australia’s most notorious serial killer is the subject of Snowtown. Directed by Justin Kurzel, with cinematography by Animal Kingdom DOP Adam Arkapaw, this film is a gruelling telling of a series of crimes orchestrated by Bunting between 1992 and 1999. The film’s graphic style is tough going even for hardened film viewers, but Daniel Henshall’s intelligent and rounded performance as Bunting demands the audience’s attention. Along with Animal Kingdom, Snowtown shows contemporary Australian cinema in a very good light.

10) PINA (DIR. WIM WENDERS) – GERMANY

Wim Wender’s tribute to the late Pina Bausch contains perhaps the best use of 3D seen in 2011. The film, made after Pina’s death, sees Wenders stage the choreographers work in a manner that complements her work effectively. The juxtaposition of Pina’s choreography and Wender’s choice of locations, camera work and music creates a kind of posthumous collaboration, which functions as both a moving tribute to and preservation of Pina’s remarkable style of choreography.

—-

Honorary mention:

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (Dir. Mark Cousins) – UK

A remarkable television series for Channel 4 telling the history of film in Mark Cousins’ unique style.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-story-of-film-an-odyssey

Read Full Post »

Melancholia begins with a series of slow motion, ethereal scenes of an apocalypse enveloping the main characters. It is one of the most striking openings you’ll see in a cinema this year, or any other. A ghostly bride is imprisoned by grey flowing threads shackling her ankles. A young boy is cradled by his mother as their feet sink and merge into a golf course like quicksand. A black horse collapses in on itself in front of our very eyes.

Director Lars Von Trier sets the tone for this unusual film, a beguiling mix of disaster movie ala Deep Impact and a psychological drama by Ingmar Bergman. The film is set in a large country house in picturesque grounds by the sea. Guests are gathered together for the wedding rehearsal of a young couple, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), organised by her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and husband John (Kiefer Sutherland).

Quickly the film morphs into Festen territory at the rehearsal, as cracks begin to show in the family. Justine’s mother (Charlotte Rampling) decries her disgust for marriage, and the presence of her ex-husband (John Hurt) does little to help matters. Meanwhile John and Claire struggle to understand Justine’s erratic mood swings in the midst of their precious arrangements. Justine, we learn is descending into a deep depression, yet finds an odd kinship with an encroaching pale blue planet, aptly titled Melancholia.

This enigmatic, ominous planet occupies a shadowy presence in the film. As Justine’s condition worsens, Melancholia journeys nearer to it’s collision with earth. It is an excellent, effective metaphor for depression, a silent force that takes hold over the victim. Some viewers have argued that Melancholia is a vacuous exercise in prettiness, a work of self indulgence by Von Trier. Yet when you take into account Von Trier’s own vocal struggle with depression, it seems more likely that the elegant, lush visuals only serve to cushion the rawness of Von Trier’s message. Like a Morrissey lyric, Melancholia coats the razor sharp bitterness with beauty.

At first I had my reservations in Dunst’s abilities in conveying such a complex emotional state. However, she has an icy, distant quality which lends itself surprisingly well to a condition that is often elusive and difficult to gage on the surface. The supporting cast are all very good, a mixture of narcissism and misunderstanding permeating through the characters. Gainsbourg in particular radiates existential fret and sisterly anxiety to great effect.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: