Carlos’ Review Round-Up

Here’s a quick sampling of my week’s watches. You can find more of my reviews at Always Watch Good Movies.

 

The Sapphires (2012)

Directed by: Wayne Blair
Country: Australia

“The Sapphires” brings to the screen the rhythm of soul music in times of war, just as “Good Morning Vietnam” did a few years ago, although without the breathtaking effect. It also addresses racial problems in 1960’s Australia, where the aboriginals were practically ignored by the ruling white people. The story follows four talented aboriginal girls who were selected to sing in Vietnam for US soldiers. Once there, they will find a Saigon very receptive to their show, but not everything will run as planned. The internal conflicts will appear and the threats of war will cause damages. However, these two aspects revealed to be secondary compared with the discovery of love. Chris O’Dowd had an agreeable performance as goodhearted drunk manager, and certainly he wasn’t the reason why this film didn’t excel. The main reason was the overexploitation of the same romances and sentimental maneuvers, seen so many times before, to tell a story that never gave rise to great excitement. Admirers of catchy musicals may feel the rhythm beating in their hearts, while the aficionados of mild dramas shall be satisfied with the plot’s denouement. But in my eyes, if the musical side was successful, the drama fell in banality through its second-hand approach and often misrepresentation of reality.

 


 

In The House (2012)

Directed by: François Ozon
Country: France

With “In The House”, François Ozon still couldn’t get close to the excellence revealed in “Under The Sand” or “Swimming Pool”, yet this was his most refreshing work lately; a creative story about voyeurism, obsession, and manipulation, which also manipulates the viewer somehow. The story follows Germain, a High School teacher who is increasingly disappointed with his students. However, 16 year-old Claude will stir his curiosity with an essay about a classmate named Rapha Artole and his mother Esther. Since that moment, Germain encouraged him to continue writing, gaining an eagerness to know more about the family in question and even giving suggestions to reconstruct the story in a more appealing way. For that, Claude would have to continue going to Artole’s home and be creative. The true challenge here was to know if his detailed descriptions were real or imagination. Germain’s wife was also an interesting character. While helping to decipher Claude’s personality, she became suspicious about her husband’s involvement with him. A few turn of events were a bit strained for my taste, however the film showed a beneficial funny side, having the ability to provoke us with its inventiveness and bitter end. It can’t compete with “Rear Window” or “Peeping Tom”, but it may rouse some voyeuristic instincts.

 


 

My Brother The Devil (2012)

Directed by: Sally El Hosaidi
Country: UK

What seemed to be a plot comparable to many others became a satisfying surprise denoting sensibility and consistency in the details. Two Londoners brothers of Arab origin will go through difficult situations in their neighborhood after getting into a gang of drug dealers. Rashid occasionally lets his younger brother Mo, deliver drug packets to clients, but at the same time tries to protect him from that perilous environment. After a friend has been brutally assassinated by a member of a rival gang, Rashid plans to avenge his death, but in the last minute he gives up, deciding to change his life and find a job. Against Rashid’s will, his brother takes his place inside the gang. Their bond will be put to test when Mo finds out that Rashid has an homosexual relationship with his new boss. The prejudice and frustration felt by Mo will make him ashamed of his brother but will he be able to ignore his own family? Despite the variety of matters involved, debutant filmmaker Sally El Hosaidi made a risky yet fearless approach, where family, biases, crime, and sexuality, were confronted in a mesmerizing manner. The plot, beyond convincing, never loses track of its purpose to show how people can learn, change, and make their personal options. After this well crafted multicultural gangland drama, I can’t wait to see what El Hosaidi has to offer next.

 


 

Me And You (2012)

Directed by: Bernardo Bertolucci
Country: Italy

Bertolucci continues to portray youth with passion, although ultimately without big success. Less appealing than the previous “The Dreamers”, “Me And You” tells the adventure of two half-siblings who will spend a week together, trying to hide themselves from the world. Lorenzo is a problematic narcissist teenager, a misfit who has given up from going on a skiing trip with his classmates just to be alone inside the basement of his building. But his quietness will be interrupted by his half-sister Olivia, a drug addict with no place to stay in town. After the initial disagreement, they start to care for each other and a strong bond will grow between them. Lorenzo’s character was much more interesting than Olivia’s, but my curiosity about him slowly vanished throughout the story. The idea of getting stuck in a basement could be uncomfortable, but unfortunately the film didn’t take advantage of any possible claustrophobia. In fact, there were several moments that didn’t work out. The two situations that could have stirred up things a bit, failed to create any impact. The first was when the siblings went to Lorenzo’s apartment to get some food, and the second when Olivia went through an hangover. Bertolucci’s skills are perceptible, but this story promised more than it could give. Didn’t its characters do the same in the end?

 


 

Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy (2012)

Directed by: Marco Tullio Giordana
Country: Italy / France

Marco Tullio Giordana, the director of 2003 masterpiece “The Best of Youth”, returns after a four-year intermission with “Piazza Fontana”, a political thriller about the bombing attack that took place in Milan, on December 12, 1969. This tragic event was initially attributed to anarchist groups, but meticulous investigations led to a right-wing conspiracy, involving extremists secretly backed up by the US. Consequently, the film covers the death of Giuseppe Pinelli, a pacific anarchist who died in questionable circumstances when was being interrogated in a police station. Luigi Calabresi, an honest police officer, was the man unjustly blamed, becoming another victim of the Italian Ministry. Some viewers may become lost in a plot with so many characters, although Giordana has found an appropriate structure, capable of making the events perceptible. The conversations between Prime Minister Aldo Moro and President Saragat were also helpful to contextualize the story. “Piazza Fontana”, despite some lack of thrill, is intriguing and well balanced in its path towards the truth. It won’t mark the Italian cinema in the same proportion as “The Best Of Youth” did, but at least will serve to denounce another criminal ploy associated to politics, eventually disregarded by Italian justice.

 


 

Ginger And Rosa (2012)

Directed by: Sally Potter
Country: UK / others

Set in 1960’s London, “Ginger & Rosa” depicts the friendship between two inseparable teenagers. Much of their time is spent aimlessly: missing school, hitchhiking, flirting with boys, or discussing religion. Activism, in turn, was something they took seriously. Influenced by Ginger’s father, a known pacifist with a strong inclination for younger women, they start attending meetings and demonstrations against war and nuclear weapons. The holocaust seemed to be Ginger’s bigger concern, but her attentions will turn to her parents from the moment they decide to split up. The situation will be aggravated when her father begins a relationship with Rosa. This is one of the most substantial films in Sally Potter’s career, together with “Orlando”. If the latter had impressed with its weird fantasy throughout centuries of British history, “Ginger & Rosa” impressed through its clear-sightedness and authenticity. Its competent direction and selection of jazz tunes also deserve to be mentioned. Elle Fanning was brilliant, yet all the other performances are to be praised without exception. While the end could have been a little more pondered, its climax was able to cause the desired impact. Ginger’s fear concerning the end of the world was uncovered as being a deep anguish of losing her family and friend. It was admirable to observe that her good nature was promptly making room for forgiveness.

 


 

Like Someone In Love (2012)

Directed by: Abbas Kiarostami
Country: Japan / France

Iranian film director Kiarostami continues sharing his personal vision on modern urban dramas. This time he turned to Japan to portray the story of Akiko, a sociology student who also works as a prostitute in Tokyo. Leaving her visiting grandmother waiting in a train station during the entire day, Akiko went to spend the night with a new client Takashi, an elderly widower and former professor. Despite of his intentions to just talk, eat and drink, Akiko falls asleep. On the next day, she accepts his ride to go to University for an exam, where her boyfriend Noriaki was expecting her. After an interesting chat in which the old man pretends to be Akiko’s grandfather and Noriaki admits his intention to marry her, they went to fix a problem with the car. In the garage, owned by Noriaki, someone will recognize Takashi as his former professor, putting the scheme in jeopardy. “Like Someone in Love” is a smart movie of circumstance, made in a sober manner. Applying a moderate pace, Kiarostami builds the characters so well, with such delightful details that they leave no room for doubts; we can gradually be aware of Akiko’s naivety, Takashi’s protectiveness, or Noriaki’s violent jealousy. The natural approach prevented staged situations, whereas the option of using implicit scenes instead of too explicit, is already a stylemark. The levels of satisfaction increased as the story proceeded, in this simple, objective, and engaging film.

 


 

Hay Road (2012)

Directed by: Rodrigo Areias
Country: Portugal / Finland

“Hay Road” is a Portuguese drama with Western semblance and political message. Its story goes back to the beginning of the 20th Century and was inspired on David Henry Thoreau’s writings concerning the justice and moral of the State. Some of his emblematic sentences are displayed throughout the film to better mirror the ideas behind the images. The story follows Alberto Carneiro, a shepherd who isolated himself in the mountains for ten years. After having received a letter reporting that bandits had killed his brother, Alberto returns to his village to make justice by his own hands. Departing on a solitary journey, he will bump into Captain Bacelo, a corrupt representative of the law. Despite its noble intentions and glaring photography, “Hay Road” wasn’t able to express its ideas in the best way. Trying to adopt a mood that gets close to some of Jim Jarmusch’s works, the film often stumbles in prolonged scenes with lack of intensity. Its disconnections seemed to gain even more strength with the philosophical sentences by Thoreau, constantly interrupting the (little) action on the screen. The philosophy behind the plot showed potentialities, but ultimately got impaired by a flabby execution, as well as difficulties in setting the appropriate mood and pace.