Archive for the ‘Finland’ Category

1) ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (DIR. NURI BILGE CEYLAN, TURKEY)

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While Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s previous offerings left this viewer a little apathetic, his new film adds a new found steeliness to bring to the vivid landscapes and existential angst. Following a troop of detectives and police officers as they seek to find the victim of their recent arrest, the film explores the idea of machismo in a sensitive and penetrating manner. Ceylan paints a portrait of a group of men all stumbling through the darkness, each trying to find a peace of mind in the Anatolian foothills. The serious nature of the crime lends the drama a mournful gravitas, while the landscapes are haunting and beautiful.

2) THE MASTER (DIR. PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON, USA)

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When it was announced PTA was making a film based around Scientology, many expected a scathing, incisive assassination of the cult. However, the director has foregone that route for a looser, relationship based drama; Joaquin Pheonix’s vagrant loner pitched off against Phillip Seymour Hoffmann’s dapper, cultured leader. The film is a bit of a curiosity- there is no real character arc to speak of for either characters, just a few minor lessons learned, and the mixture of exotic images and elliptical editing gives it an elusive, distant air. It’s the two central performances which elevate it to a higher level, and Pheonix will surely struggle to top this. His twitchy, desperate portrayal of a man too restless to know what he really desires will linger long after the credits have finished.

3) AMOUR (DIR. MICHAEL HANEKE, FRANCE)

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Michael Haneke is now so sure of his craft that he can almost turn his devastating gaze onto any taboo subject and nail it in one. This time he has chosen to focus on the ageing process and what that does to our basic human values. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play the elderly couple, two ex-musicians, in their Parisian apartment, as they struggle to deal with Riva’s loss of mental and physical capabilities. Haneke pulls no punches in his depiction, and it is not an easy watch, but there are moments of hope and compassion that break through the Austrian auteurs notoriously bleak world view.

4) HOLY MOTORS (DIR. LEOS CARAX, FRANCE)

Maverick director Carax comes back from the wilderness with this anarchic, mind boggling oddity. The film stars his regular conspirator Denis Lavant as a man whose job is to be driven around in a limo to various locations and using different disguises, inhabit a melee of obscure roles, from leprechaun to ninja. There seems to be no obvious reasoning to his exploits, and months after seeing it, I am still befuddled by it, but there are hints of Carax’s masterplan; all of his films have been to some degree been excited by the idea of performance and theatre, so this film has a lineage. But to analyse it too deeply is to miss the cerebral pleasures of the film, from the triumphant accordion band in the church to the beguiling neon ninja.

5) KILLING THEM SOFTLY (DIR. ANDREW DOMINIK, USA)

Australian Andrew Dominik had a lot to live up to after his last effort The Assassination of Jesse James…, but his latest work can hold its own against that masterpiece. Dominik seems to be one of the few directors who can get the best out of Brad Pitt and they strike up their fruitful collaboration again here. Pitt plays a hitman hired to take out two lowlife criminals who have bungled a card game robbery. Killing Them Softly works brilliantly as a piece of genre cinema; there are the lowlifes, the gangsters, the shootouts, the double crossings and a barrel full of tension, but what elevates this from your standard gangster fare is a sense of contemplation, a workmanlike depiction of the trade. Dominik draws shrewd parallels between the US recession and the underworld; the unrelenting desire for money and profit and the fall guys who suffer when it all comes tumbling down.

6) SHAME (DIR. STEVE MCQUEEN, UK/USA)

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Steve McQueen’s follow up to Hunger was a similarly icy, visually striking drama, this time honing in on sex addiction. Michael Fassbender plays a wealthy corporate drone in upscale New York struggling to deal with deep seated intimacy issues, burying himself in pornography and meaningless flings. The arrival of his sister, played by Carey Mulligan, brings his problems to the foreground as they both seek to exorcise their demons. Shame is not a warm, emotional drama, but an unflinching, sterile work that nonetheless brings a difficult issue to the wider public. Fassbender and Mulligan give uncompromising performances as the troubled siblings.

7) TABU (DIR. MIGUEL GOMES, PORTUGAL)

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Alternating between modern day Portugal and an unnamed colonial era African country, this Portuguese arthouse fantasy drama was one of the smaller gems from this year. An elderly Portuguese woman, Aurora, is doted on by her maid and next door neighbour, with hints of her exotic past life gradually emerging. In the second half of the film, we see a young Aurora living with her husband and expecting, on a colonial farm in Africa. A dashing neighbour arrives to break up the monotony of her homelife and soon she has a decision to make. Tabu, named after the FW Murnau silent film, is both a tribute to the silent era and an exploration of place and memory. Gomes injects the film with a sense of childlike wonder and mystery, leaving the viewer enchanted by the travails of the doomed love triangle.

8) LE HAVRE (DIR. AKI KAURISMAKI, FINLAND)

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Sometimes it takes an outsider to really capture a culture, and here deadpan Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki expertly observes both French community and its troubles with immigration. Andre Wilms plays an ageing shoeshiner who takes in a African stowaway who miraculously crosses his path. The film includes Kaurismaki’s customary kitsch mise en scene and dry humour, but the director is reinvigorated by the new locales. There is a genuine sense of local community running through the film, which makes it one of the most upbeat and optimistic of the year.

9) INTO THE ABYSS (DIR.WERNER HERZOG, USA)

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The capital punishment system in the US has often been scrutinised, but this time Werner Herzog brings his inimitable ‘truth’ to the subject. This austere, often harrowing documentary, follows various inmates as they recount their crimes and tell their life stories. Herzog steps back from the camera, allowing the tragedies to unfurl themselves, while families of the victims and the law authorities throw their voices into the ring. The mindlessness of the crimes and the inherent violence in the landscape are the two points of the film that will linger in the mind.

10) RUST AND BONE (JACQUES AUDIARD, FRANCE)

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Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard deliver knockout performances in this character driven drama by Jacques Audiard. Following up his successes in A Beat That My Heart Skipped  and A ProphetAudiard continues his theme of flawed characters with a burning passion; Cotillard is a devoted whale trainer and Schoenaerts a brutal amateur fighter. When their lives are turned upside down, they find solace in their outsider statuses. An offbeat, raw drama.

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1) ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (DIR. NURI BILGE CEYLAN, TURKEY)

Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s study of the emotional lives of men is both a both an astute meditation and a cinematic spectacle. In its sweeping portrayal of a police procedural in the Turkish steppes, the film brings to mind the road trips of Abbas Kiarostami and the ecstatic natural world of Tarkovsky. Ceylan’s towering poetic achievement eloquently tackles the fascinating existential question: How do we live in a world where beauty and horror co-exist?

2) MARLEY (DIR. KEVIN MACDONALD, USA)

Kevin Macdonald gives Bob Marley well deserved biographical treatment in this superb and emotionally engaging documentary. Marley narrates Marley’s life story, while looking intelligently at his impact on a socio-political level. The film questions Marley’s role as a husband and a father, while examining his desire to help the public at large. The film is particularly keen in its take on Marley’s mixed race heritage, helping us to understand his broad appeal, which transcends race to offer a redemptive quality and a profound sense of joy.

3) SIGHTSEERS (DIR. BEN WHEATLEY, UK)

It is often assumed that Britain is too small to accommodate for the road movie genre. Not so, for up and coming director Ben Wheatley, who’s Sightseers traverses the north of England from the Tram Museum in Crich to the Ribblehead Viaduct. The story, which begins as a mere caravanning holiday, ends up in a bloody massacre to rival True Romance; the results are as hilarious as they are sickening. As well as great performances and cinematography, the soundtrack is the best of the year, with artists ranging from Frankie Goes To Hollywood to Popul Vuh.

4) LE HAVRE (DIR. AKI KAURISMAKI, FINLAND)

In spite of its melancholic exterior, Le Havre was the most heartwarming film of 2012. Picking up the story of Marcel Marx from director Aki Kaurismäki’s 1992 film La Vie de Bohème, the film sees the ex-bohemian turned shoe shiner help a young African boy immigrate illegally to London. Despite being set in France, the film exudes Kaurismäki’s authentic Finnish style, with immaculate set decoration, high contrast lighting and perfectly timed ironic humor.

5) HOLY MOTORS (DIR. LEOS CARAX, FRANCE)

While not necessarily the most subtle film of the year, Holy Motors was the most original piece of work. Recalling the most hilarious of Luis Buñuel’s features, Holy Motors is riotous surrealist fun. Denis Lavant’s performance is an extraordinary feat of physical acting, showcasing his vast emotional range. Kylie Minogue and Eva Mendes feature in radically unusual cameos, while the director himself appears at the beginning, to usher in his wild cinematic dream.

6) THE RAID (DIR. GARETH EVANS, INDONESIA)

Tackling screen violence with the upmost craft, Gareth Evans’ The Raid was a brutal showcase of the Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat. With expert martial artists Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian as the opposing forces of good and evil, Evans choreographs his camera with a poetic, yet ultraviolent eye. Through pure physicality The Raid transcends the action genre and digs sincerely into the human impulse for discipline and mastery, be it violent or otherwise.

7) THE MASTER (DIR. PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON, USA)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s provocative sixth feature included the finest performances from not one but two of Hollywood’s best actors in 2012. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed each other’s ying and yang, as the PTSD sufferer Freddie Quell (Phoenix) and cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman). As well as the fine performances The Master was perhaps the greatest technical achievement of the year’s art-house releases, with Anderson shooting the film on 65mm film, for stunning projection on 70mm.

8) MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (DIR. SEAN DURKIN, USA)

One of the most striking debut features out on general release in 2012 was Martha Marcy May Marlene by Sean Durkin. Durkin honed his filmmaking skills with his company Borderline Films, where he produced features for his colleagues and directed shorts and music videos. His experience paid off, as Martha Marcy May Marlene exhibits a skillful handling of dual narratives and a distinct shooting style, making superb use of natural light. The film also features a beguiling and career defining lead performance by Elizabeth Olsen.

9) BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (DIR. BENH ZEITLIN, USA)

The low budget Beasts of the Southern Wild was perhaps not the most perfectly formed film of 2012, but it had a rough edged mystical quality that hints at greatness. The film’s rough edge almost recalls Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: Wrath of God, as a Delta river community attempt to survive a colossal storm. Quvenzhané Wallis stars as six-year-old Hushpuppy, the young girl at the center of the drama, with an utterly sensational performance that spans reality and fantasy.

10) SKYFALL (DIR. SAM MENDES, UK)

With so called ‘left-field choice’ Sam Mendes at the helm, Skyfall became the best James Bond film in decades. The film looked to Britain to establish high-stakes on Bond’s home turf, while also allowing for stunning action sequences (particularly in the London underground and Scottish highlands.) Mendes’ decision to cast the acclaimed Javier Bardem as the villain gave Craig’s bond a heavyweight opponent with which to spar. Lensed by industry leading cinematographer Roger Deakins, the film is a rounded, politically conscious and artful piece of popular entertainment.

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In delightfully ironic fashion Aki Kaurismäki, Finnish director and purveyor of the cynically comical, arrives with a French set film that just might be the most heart warming movie of the year. Le Havre tells the story of Marcel Marx (André Wilms), an ex-bohemian artist turned shoeshiner who lacks cynicism as much as he lacks earning potential – that is to say he lacks both a great deal.

When Marcel’s devoted wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) becomes seriously ill, Marcel is none the wiser. On Arletty’s request the doctors tell Marcel that there is nothing to worry about, so he continues his life in a state of boyish innocence. Marcel’s routine consists of earning nothing all day shoe-shining, stealing food from local shops and spending any money he can find at the local pub.

One day Marcel encounters a young African boy called Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), an illegal immigrant. When Marcel realises the authorities are hunting for the boy he decides to help him, since his house is otherwise empty (his trusty dog Laïka aside). Suddenly Marcel switches gear from silly old fool to quick witted protector of innocence, as he locates Idrissa’s family in London, by fooling the authorities with the claim of being “the family albino”.

And so Kaurismäki’s ability to create deadpan hilarity ensues, but his expert storytelling has us rooting for Idrissa’s cause as well. The film is constructed simply, but brilliantly with Kaurismäki’s eagle eye for comic dramatisation captured by simple but effective camera setups. Traditional to Kaurismäki the style of Le Havre recalls directors including Jean-Pierre Melville and Yasujiro Ozu, whose different but distinct styles meld perfectly into arty-comic-noir.

The characters in Le Havre feels like they are of another, more innocent time. This is emphasised by Kaurismäki’s use of noir archetypes and Marcel Marx himself, who seems to live in the 1960’s despite existing in the modern world. The contemporary world is amusingly evoked by police squads in excessive gear, cold hearted shoe shop owners and a truthfully absurd newspaper headline connecting the innocent but foreign Idrissa with terrorism.

Throughout Le Havre Kaurismäki’s wit is cynical and sharp, but his love for his characters affords the film a cheerful tone. In fact the film is joyous, particularly when Marcel Marx stages a concert by French rock band Little Bob, to raise funds for Idrissa’s travels. Despite Little Bob being ancient rockers there is a youthful air to them and this air pervades the film.

Kaurismäki’s latest film is not only unashamedly nostalgic, but it is interested in miracles too. It pokes fun at the modern world where doom and gloom takes precedence over hope and dreams. Le Havre tells us not to take life so seriously and for the duration of this film you can be damned sure that you wont.

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