Here’s a quick sampling of my week’s watches. You can find more of my reviews at Always Watch Good Movies.
Directed by: Abderrahmane Sissako
Country: Mauritania / France
African cinema has a fearless new voice that deserves huge accolade. Mauritanian filmmaker, Abderrahmane Sissako, directed and co-wrote (with Kessen Tall) “Timbuktu”, one of the most relevant dramas I’ve seen in a while. The film follows the misadventures of Kidane, a pacific cattle herder who does everything to protect his wife, daughter and assets, from a group of fanatic Jihadists that control Mali’s city of Timbuktu. Mr. Sissako, beyond taking aim on the invaders through a deft sneer, also shows the joyless life of the tormented inhabitants. The magnificent well-composed shots, amazed me when capturing the arid African landscapes, but also disturbed me when showed the Jihadists’ demands: women had to wear socks and gloves (poor fishwife who realizes her job is compromised), it was strictly forbidden to play soccer (a game played by youngsters, with the particularity of having no ball, has the simultaneous effect of being ludicrous and cruel), music was not allowed (one woman was condemned to 40 lashes after fill our souls with her voice), and adultery was considered the worst crime (the punishment was death by stoning). Despite of the law, forged in the name of Allah, there were those who enjoyed special immunity: Zabou, a deranged woman who was seen as a kind of sorcerer, could wander without covering her head; a religious fundamentalist was caught smoking and coveting Kidane’s wife; a teen girl was forced to get married against her will… Every senseless fanatic should watch “Timbuktu” whose objectivity and vision become essential these days. You can call it whatever you want: urgent criticism, breathtaking adventure or daring mockery… for me it’s simply an unsubmissive masterpiece, which I wouldn’t change a single thing.
Miss Julie (2014)
Directed by: Liv Ullmann
Country: UK / Ireland
Liv Ullmann, former muse of Ingmar Bergman during years in masterpieces such as “Persona”, “Autumn Sonata” or “Cries and Whispers”, directs her fourth feature film, “Miss Julie”, which was adapted from August Strindberg’s play of the same title. For this theatrical drama, Ullmann picked a trio of actors that guarantee credibility: Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton. They performed with conviction and it was not because of them that “Miss Julie” didn’t have the desired influence on me. Beyond being excessively wordy, the film occasionally plays with an emotional hysteria, becoming excessively dramatic, stuffy and for several times unnatural. Set during the midsummer night of 1890, the drama follows Julie (Chastain), the spoiled daughter of the wealthy Anglo-Irish Count of Fermanagh. Bored with her daily life, she insists to seduce John (Farrell), her father’s valet, in a disrespectful way in regard to her servant, Kathleen (Morton), who was committed to him. Julie reveals an overbearing and cruel side, but ultimately her emotional fragility and solitude is uncovered. She starts playing a defiant game that is sexy and contemptuous, pushing John to the limits of his sanity, since he is unable to control his impulses but also gets mad when treated as an inferior. All these postures torment the tired and devastated Kathleen, condemned to be on her own. Among confessions, accusations and lots of changings in attitude, “Miss Julie” can never be called a romantic film. Fear, disquiet and prejudice take control of this battle of love and hate that had its funniest moment when Julie states about Kathleen: ‘a servant is a servant’, to what John promptly retaliated: ‘and a whore is a whore’. The truth hurts! Immediately, she fell in tears.
Escobar: Paradise Lost (2014)
Directed by: Andrea Di Stefano
Country: Spain / France
Italian actor Andrea di Stefano makes his directorial debut with “Escobar: Paradise Lost”, a thriller, set in 1991 Medellin, whose title mislead us to assume we are before a biopic about the unmerciful popular Colombian drug trafficker, Pablo Escobar. Instead, the film tells about a Canadian young man, Nick (John Hutchinson), who was having trouble with local thugs when trying to set up a business by the beach, in the company of his older brother, Dylan (Brady Corbet). Everything will become easier when he falls in love with the gracious Maria (Claudia Traisac), Escobar’s niece. Accepted by Escobar (Benicio del Toro) to be part of his clan, he will see the coast clear when those who demanded a payment for his business, were burned alive. A day before giving himself to the authorities in a pact with the Government, Escobar’s first concern is to protect the future of his family by concealing the fortune accumulated with years of narcotrafficking. He reserved one last special operation for the innocent Nick who was assigned to meet and kill a ‘campesino’. However, surprises come up and Nick, in panic, will have to fight for his life. As the story unfolds, it becomes too chewed in aspects it should have been more expeditious. Some good hints of tension not always usurp an annoying cheesiness felt in scenes involving Nick, unveiling superficiality and exaggeration in a story that deserved to be better handled. Di Stefano takes the wrong turn when he had everything to do it right – decent script and respected actors. The formula: ‘make it simple and raw’ would have given him better chances, together with a more astute exploration of the characters. Paradise lost… and a missed opportunity.
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