Posts Tagged ‘Sex’

It takes a lot of courage to touch a theme as delicate as teenage bullying, and a great amount of talent to do so without fetishising the brutality behind it. After Daniel y Ana (2009) Michel Franco confronts an old leitmotiv, public shame, and does it through the story of Alejandra, a young girl who suddenly loses her mum in a car accident and is forced to move to Mexico City to begin a new life with her dad, a forty-something-year-old chef.

The film’s first twenty minutes unfold at a slow pace, as we follow Alejandra’s efforts to fit in the new environment and integrate in a new circle of friends, until the story hits a turning point: Alejandra is filmed having sex with a friend of hers, and the video is then rapidly shared with the entire student body.

What follows is a dramatic portrait of the repercussions Alejandra will suffer as a result of the moment of intimacy with a boy. Just as fast as they had accepted her within their circle, her friends will repudiate her. They will insult her, humiliate her publicly, cut her hair, force her to drink, violate her, and eventually urinate over her sleeping body – activities which, interestingly, the girls enjoy as much as the boys. Alejandra’s body is degraded and turned into an object of shame. In some fundamental sense, Franco has the teenagers de-humanise Alejandra by sexualising her instead.

There are moments in which the level of abuse she is subject to is so extreme that one wonders whether Franco may have exaggerated his story, for the sole purpose of shocking the viewer. But stories of teenage bullying and sex abuse abound, in which the level of humiliation suffered exceeds Alejandra’s and the victims often resort to suicide as the only possible way out. More than exaggerating then, perhaps Franco is only guilty of showing a social malaise to its full extent.

But even when the camera captures the most atrocious moments of Alejandra’s humiliation, it does it in a way that does not fetishize them. Franco keeps the camera still throughout the entire film, whether it is placed inside the girl’s house, a classroom, a hotel room or a car, as if to document the story.

It is this minimalist, somewhat neutral style that has helped Franco to deal with complex themes (bullying, as in here, or terminal illnesses, in Chronic, and organ trafficking, in A Los Ojos) without being smothered by their weight. Franco’s directing does not add anything to make the story more gruesome or shocking, as the camera merely registers the story for what it is, with a sense of honesty and impartiality.

This does not mean the directing style is not sophisticated – quite the contrary. It takes a great degree of work and study to make sure one sees a movie without feeling the director’s ego behind it. And this is precisely what one senses upon watching Después de Lucia.

Winner of the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes in 2012, Después de Lucia may not be an easy film to see, but it is a necessary watch – a story told with a powerful mix of empathy and ruthlessness.

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The Europa Cinemas Label Award winner at Cannes 2015, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut feature Mustang has had quite the journey, through to its nomination at the 2016 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. The film’s place in the Glasgow Film Festival Audience Award seems modest in comparison, but the buzz around the film was keenly felt, acknowledged by festival director Allison Gardner’s proclamation that this film is: “my favourite child of the festival”.

This is an appropriate analogy, as Mustang follows five teenage sisters in rural Turkey who – after an innocent game with their male schoolmates – are accused of indecency by their guardian grandmother and uncle, who look after the girls after their parents passed away a decade earlier. As a result, the house is removed of any potential “instruments of corruption” as the girls become increasingly imprisoned within their own home. The girls are modern and strong willed as a unit against their oppressive forebearers, but this begins to crack when they start to be coupled off into arranged marriages.

While the family and community apply a sanctimonious attitude towards the practice of arranged marriages, there is a dark sexual tension simmering underneath the surface and throughout the village in which the film is set. The girls, for instance, are paraded around the town for the men’s interest and while everyone seems to pretend sex (and potential abuse) doesn’t exist, there is an unnerving, unspoken feeling that everyone knows what is really going on. This tension quietly bubbles for the majority of the film and when it finally boils over in the final act, it does so with devastating effect. What starts off as a coming-of-age film becomes a rebellious road movie.

The impact is keenly felt, as the bond between these sisters is strong and genuine. While eldest Sonay (İlayda Akdoğan) seems to have the most knowledge and control, it is the youngest, Lale (brilliantly performed by Güneş Şensoy in her debut) who is the most defiant and strong; she leads the girls and devises for them to express themselves. In a charming scene, she leads the girls to a see her beloved football team Trabzonspor playing the mighty Galatasaray in an important match. The scene has a daydream feel, expressing this fleeting moment of freedom.

Mustang is a gorgeous tale of the human spirit breaking free from the oppression of society, expertly directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven. The film succeeds on every level: brilliantly acted by a largely amateur cast, beautifully shot by David Chizallet & Ersin Gok and all topped off by an incredibly moving score by the longtime collaborator of Nick Cave, Warren Ellis. Each beat is truly felt and one can tell that this is a very personal story to its director.

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The biographical film is dangerous territory. There are myriad reasons for this: the hackneyed form of the biopic, the biographical inconsistencies, the expectations that come with portraying a revered figure. Dealing with a master filmmaker is perhaps the most treacherous of territories; if your filmmaking doesn’t live up to theirs, what have you said that they couldn’t more eloquently?

When it comes to Abel Ferrara, director of Pasolini, it is well established that he has balls of steel. Whether it’s his self-starring soft-core debut 9 Lives of a Wet Pussy, the rampant punk horror The Driller Killer, or his hysterical drug cop drama Bad Lieutenant, his resume is replete with the bold, brash and explicit. But how does this confidence lend itself to the subject here, one of Ferrara’s heroes: Italian neo-realist, Catholic, Marxist, poet, writer, director Pier Paolo Pasolini? The results are fresh, authorial and not at all definitive.

Pasolini begins with Pier Paolo (Willem Dafoe) in post-production on a deeply disturbing scene from his final film Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, in which young people are raped and exploited by a fascistic political elite after the fall of Mussolini in 1943. It is a show of confidence to begin the film by referencing this famous scene; a scene representative of Pasolini’s disturbing power as a filmmaker. Fortunately Dafoe immediately cuts a striking, if Americanised, version of Pasolini and generating sufficient intrigue in the character.

There is a tone of rumination that is maintained throughout the film, which plays out Pasolini’s final day before his untimely murder. Juxtaposed with the day’s activities are scenes from an unmade Pasolini film, in which the lesbian and gay communities meet on one night a year in Rome to propagate the human race. The cutting back and forth never glimpses us quite enough of one or the other – given the film’s lean 84 minutes – but with a character as complex as Pasolini one senses that Ferrara intends to create a snapshot rather than a complete portrait.

The film does not attempt to provide us with a comprehensive understanding of Pasolini, nor does it attempt to wrap his death up in an overly ambitious poetic, or political logic. What the film does do is glimpse aspects of a renegade thinker and polymath artist, as seen through the eyes of the generation he influenced most profoundly. It is a reimagining and an attempt at humanising the figure. We see him in his role as an intellectual, as a gay man and as a family figure; he was profoundly attached to his beloved mother.

It is in playing to his own strengths that Ferrara makes a success of Pasolini. He is clearly at home working with Dafoe, whose own work as Jesus in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ was an even more preposterous, yet fascinating interpretation of a figure of moral significance. Ferrara’s own thematic interests are present in Pasolini: ethics, faith, politics and the alienation of modern life. This is the work of a committed fan and student of Pasolini and not one who claims to possess all the answers.

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A brilliant portmanteau picture from Argentine director Damián Szifron (exec produced by Almodovar), Wild Tales is consistently thrilling, hilarious and horrifying throughout its numerous unrelated (but thematically linked) sections that make up the complete film. Built out of short stories that would traditionally provoke shock, the film finds a dark humour in numerous outrageous circumstances, to crowd-pleasing and simultaneously disturbing effect.

Wild Tales is at its finest when playing to the most relatable, cathartic circumstances. In one early section two drivers on a remote, mountainous road, square off against one another; one is a suited city-slicker (Diego – played by Leonardo Sbaraglia) in an expensive car, the other a rural tough guy (Mario – played by Walter Donado) in a beaten up old banger. After an exchange of insults, the city dweller experiences a flat tire. Unsurprisingly, he is dealt less than charitable gestures from his partner in road rage.

In perhaps the most frustrating, and simultaneously liberating sequence, a demolition expert called Simón Fischer (Ricardo Darin) finds himself dealing with local government bureaucracy as he attempts to make his way home to his daughter’s birthday party. After a series of run-ins with the law, his specialist training begins to seem useful in ways that do not line up with the imposed social order of which he is an unwilling participant.

The film’s most gloriously outrageous sequence, however, is a more personal affair. Taking place at the wedding of a particularly sickly pair of people, the wedding party is treated to a display from the most excessive, attention seeking kind, when the wife suddenly discovers news of her new husband’s infidelity. The scene is staged extravagantly, with an enormous ballroom, loud music, strobing lights and hundreds of guests and locations throughout the rest of entire venue (including the roof) for the staging of various memorable, sordid moments.

The film’s weaker segments suffer only slightly from excess dialogue – for example, an amusing, but somewhat lengthy legal scenario, in which a wealthy businessman attempts to convince his employee to take the fall for his son’s hit and run accident – and yet on the whole, Wild Tales is a hugely successful tragi-comedy.

As the anthology format goes too, this is also a rare triumph, due to the dramatic promise and satisfying closure of each section. With moments of sheer horror in spite of the laughs Wild Tales is certainly not a film for the faint-of-heart, but for those with the stomach for it, it’s a wild ride indeed.

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THE WOLF OF WALL STREETWell, someone’s got their mojo back. After a series of solid if unspectacular films, the diminutive Italian-American has recaptured the verve and energy of his 90’s output. The Wolf of Wall Street can be placed alongside Scorsese’s epic crime sagas Goodfellas and Casino, both in ambition and, more importantly, execution. What’s more, his long frustrating collaboration with heartthrob Di Caprio finally bears some fruit. So often looking like an ill conceived relationship of mutual flattery, we finally see the duo working to both their strengths.

The much discussed story is based on the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, a self starting stock broker in 80’s New York. Arriving into the city as a starry eyed innocent, Belfort is soon inducted into the hedonistic ways of his charismatic superior (a show stealing Matthew McConaughey). When the company falls prey to the stock market crash, Belfort starts his own company selling dodgy deals to unassuming halfwits up and down the country. Soon the company begins to flourish and the money, drugs and, ahem, female companionship, start to flow.

Ably abetted by his trusted sidekick Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill), Belfort juggles his burgeoning business with a troubled home life with his wife Naomi (Margot Robbie) and a persistent FBI agent on his trail (Kyle Chandler). The film is structured a lot like Casino and Goodfellas. We have the auspicious beginnings, the ascent into success and hedonism and immorality, then the inglorious fall. A cynic might label it formulaic, but it works. I think as viewers we find a strange pleasure in seeing something constructed, even if what is being constructed is deeply troubling. Belfort’s ascent, with the wild parties, drugs and booze is utterly irresistible.

Keeping in mind the somewhat unfavourable view the public has of the banking system right now, this should go down like a sack of lead. Yet Scorsese’s film making prowess makes the journey outrageously entertaining. All the Scorsese tricks are here; the slow Caravaggio-esque pans across crowds and the raucous rock music on the soundtrack. Yet there is something even more psychedelic about this particular film. To really recreate the hazy comedown of Belfort’s drug years, Scorsese makes use of disjointed editing and gauzy visuals to authenticate the experience. There is a particularly joyous sequence in which Belfort consumes a melee of quaaludes, only to find he has to escape the FBI in his car.

Leonardo Di Caprio turns in one of his greatest performances yet as Belfort. Often he has looked misplaced in Scorsese’s films, a pretty boy trying to act like the tough guy. This role is much more in his domain; Belfort is charismatic, cocky and ultimately, wild. Belfort is much like Ray Liotta’s character in Goodfellas, someone riding their luck and unable to see the end game. Di Caprio manages to instil a charm and pathos in him that makes him hard to dislike. Jonah Hill is also superb as the eager assistant, loyal to the bone and with his own wild streak. He is a perfect comic foil.

There are a few slight niggles. As with many of these macho gangster rise and fall films, the female characters get completely waylaid. You can predict every beat of their relationship with from the off; the seduction, the kids, the descent and the divorce. Although it is loosely based on true events it feels completely cliched- does anyone really care about this sub pot? Probably not. The film ends with a beautifully cheeky moment as Belfort addresses a seminar of people wanting to learn how to become the next ‘Jordan Belfort’. It perfectly conveys the paradoxical nature of the film: one part of us condemns these shysters, and the other part revels in their degeneracy.

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