#NZFF New Directions
AT ELLEN’S AGE
“‘Promise me not to go all mad, OK?’ Ellen’s boyfriend Florian asks her before revealing that he’s going to have a child with another woman. But go a bit mad she does, ditching both home and her longtime flight attendant job and setting forth on an uncertain trajectory. Pia Marais’s modern fable of dislocation takes us down the rabbit hole, dropping into a variety of unnerving, oddly humorous and slightly surreal situations as Ellen searches for grounding in a rootless world. Adrift, broke and unused to being alone, Ellen attaches herself to a daisy chain of acquaintances and complete strangers. Her need to be with others results in some undignified hotel-room mornings before she falls in with a group of militant animal rights activists. Ellen is attracted to their passion, and perhaps to their endless discussion of rules, but it’s unclear whether they can provide the sense of purpose she’s seeking. Moving from anonymous hotel rooms, airports and lobbies to the chaotic warmth of a Frankfurt commune, where sleeping bodies lie in a jumble among semi-domesticated animals, At Ellen’s Age is filled with striking images: the red caps of a gaggle of airline attendants, a cheetah strolling regally across an airport tarmac, the otherworldly glow of a swarm of white lab rats running on black asphalt at night. Jeanne Balibar’s ethereal beauty and controlled performance accentuate Ellen’s standing as a perpetual stranger in a strange world, adding a distinctive center to a character and a film as mysterious and unpredictable as modern life.” — Rachel Rosen, San Francisco International Film Festival
Adeptly shifting between themes of sex and death, and tones of deadpan black comedy and clear-eyed but affectionate drama, this wonderfully original Greek curiosity invites us to observe an unusual creature: late-blooming 23-year-old Marina. Her father, an architect who designed much of the decaying seaside town they live in, is terminally ill and calmly preparing for death. Sexually inexperienced, she is repulsed by the clumsy French-kissing lessons of her more worldly friend Bella. She nevertheless embarks on an equally clumsy (sometimes hilariously so) relationship with a visiting engineer. Director Athina Rachel Tsangari observes her characters in a mode that evokes the nature documentaries that Marina loves (the title is a play on the name of her hero, David Attenborough). Tsangari was a producer on 2009’s Dogtooth, and even though her film displays a similar sexual frankness and cynical humour it proves to be a very different, kinder-hearted beast. — MM
This ferocious, compact drama of repression electrified and divided audiences at Cannes. Francois, a tough, buttoned-down married man, develops a disturbed obsession with his friends’ handsome son. The camera accompanies him in envious pursuit of the self-possessed young man. Directed and co-written by young South African Oliver Hermanus, it is an illuminating, indelible portrait of “an angry white man in South Africa, no longer a member of the ruling elite, maintaining his racism along with a disgust for homosexuals that barely masks his self-loathing” (Jay Weissberg, Variety). — BG
“This deeply disturbing jaunt lulls the viewer into a rhythm of sameness before destroying all notions of safety… Beauty is a dynamic character study of a human cannonball waiting to rip through the walls of life-long repression, but it’s the most difficult cinematic experience I’ve had at Cannes.” — Glenn Heath Jr, slantmagazine.com
“The world of sex, drugs, and underground nightclubs in Iran provides the backdrop for Maryam Keshavarz’s lusty, dreamy take on the passionate teenagers behind the hijabs. Risking jail and worse are the sassy, privileged Atafeh and the beautiful, orphaned Shireen, who, much like young women anywhere, just want to be free… The difference here is that they’re under constant, unnerving surveillance, in a country where more than 70 percent of the population is younger than 30. Nevertheless, within their mansion walls and without, beneath graffitied walls and undulating at intoxicating house parties, the two girls begin to fall in love with each other, as Atafeh’s handsome, albeit creepy older brother Mehran gazes on… Filmed underground in Beirut, with layers that permit both pleasure and protest… Circumstance viscerally transmits the realities and fantasies of Iranian young women on the verge.” — Kimberly Chun, San Francisco Bay Guardian
This quietly potent, superbly acted drama traces a young man’s dawning apprehension of life beyond the state institutions and prisons that have shaped him. A directorial debut for Austrian actor Karl Markovics, Breathing impressed all who saw it at Cannes, including the Directors’ Fortnight jury who awarded it the European Film prize. — BG
“A sober, compelling drama distinguished by its intelligent restraint, controlled visual style and a matter-of-fact observational approach that gives it bracing dramatic integrity… Markovics has a swift, economical way of getting us inside the head of taciturn protagonist Roman Kogler (Thomas Schubert), whose loner world is a place of little warmth but even less self-pity… The film’s perceptiveness means that its themes of atonement, of reconnection with the world, and of hope all emerge quietly, without needing to be spelled out or cushioned by artificially cozy consolation.” — David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD
Intrigued by newspaper accounts of young men in modern Albania caught up in blood feuds, American director Joshua Marston schooled himself in their rigorous ancient code of honour, and fed what he learned into this exposé/suspense drama. Seventeen-year-old Nik harbours 21st-century aspirations but there are 15th-century shackles around his feet: his father and uncle have killed a neighbour, and the aggrieved family has the right to kill Nik if he ever leaves the house. Never told by his fugitive father exactly what has happened, but always told exactly what to do, Nik begins to see that breaking the cycle may entail breaking with family. Working with a largely non-professional cast in a language he doesn’t understand and in a country with scant film production of its own, Marston achieves the same arresting combination of documentary grit and dramatic tension that characterised his similarly conceived Maria Full of Grace (NZIFF04). — BG
Stranger, bolder and more concentrated than her Me and You and Everyone We Know, Miranda July’s second feature has a delicate, cracked demeanour all of its own. It’s not exactly a romantic comedy, but it’s all about love and it’s often funny. It’s not exactly satire, but it gently mocks its hopelessly self-conscious protagonists – and it is narrated by an invalid cat.
Fretting about underachievement and impending decrepitude – ‘We’re 35 now… and 40 might as well be 50.’ – Sophie (July) and Jason (Hamish Linklater) decide to commit: they are going to adopt that cat. In the 30 days before Paw Paw is released from quarantine they will explore what’s left of their freedom. Quitting their jobs as dance instructor and IT-support desk staffer, the two drift in disconcertingly different directions. Sliding from perilously cute whimsy into bewitching suburban magic realism, July creates an unsettling, surreal comedy about immobility, the narrowing of options, and the small crucial differences between being alone together and alone apart. Comparisons with husband Mike Mills’ Beginners, elsewhere on the programme, are irresistible. — BG
“The Future works wonders when July takes her intentions to their stylistic extremes. With a delectable Jon Brion soundtrack guiding the proceedings, the movie adopts a familiar bittersweetness, but otherwise takes on a highly original tone… It primarily succeeds by leaving its metaphoric content open-ended, arguing that the only thing determinable about the future is that it exists entirely within the minds those willing to imagine it.” — Eric Kohn, indieWIRE
Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, brother of playwright and In Bruges filmmaker Martin McDonagh, The Guard is indeed a close relation to the 2009 Festival hit. — BG
“‘What a beautiful day,’ sighs Brendan Gleeson’s unorthodox Irish cop. The fact that he’s saying this while high on acid at the scene of a car accident tells you everything you need to know about this 90s-style crimecomedy. Credit the extraordinary chemistry between Gleeson and co-star Don Cheadle… The way this duo sells the film’s Gaelic gallows humor, you wish they’d take the double act on the road.” — David Fear, Time Out NY
“McDonagh succeeds admirably in the unenviable task of refreshing the refried-onetoo- many-times buddy-cop genre, thanks to Brendan Gleeson. Gleeson stars as a hilariously sly and goofy Irish guard posted to the boondocks of the Connemara region inIreland. Gleeson’s guard relishes his near dictatorial authority over his tiny plot of nowhere with a good sense of humor and a dark ironic sense of justice… When a corpse shows up to provide some liveliness to a place whose dominant social event seems to be livestock molestation, the guard suddenly finds himself dealing with a professional if naive FBI agent (Don Cheadle) on the trail of drug smugglers…
Gleeson’s character has something of a long-suffering, unsung hero streak to him, and what could easily have been a routine cop comedy, even in indie form, becomes something more poignant and affecting. This is in no small part thanks to Gleeson’s sharp yet gentle performance – he’s three fingers of whiskey in your morning coffee.” — John Lopez, Vanity Fair
There’s a well-honed eye for marital malaise in this Norwegian sex comedy that’s reminiscent of Mike Leigh – and a matter-of-fact attention to details of sexual shenanigans that’s much more… well, Scandinavian. Schoolteacher Kaja lives happily enough in a remote town with her husband Eirik and their son. Eirik’s sour temper becomes much more obvious to the habitually chipper Kaja when affable Sigve, his lawyer wife Elisabeth and their adopted Ethiopian son move from the city and rent the (only) house next door. While the boys play games of unspeakable political incorrectness, their oblivious parents play more consequential grown-up games: truth or dare, for example, and hide and seek. While clearly barracking for Kaja, first-time director Anne Sewitsky views all six misbehaving charges with understanding – and treats us to some glorious a cappella singing along the way. — BG
“Francis (Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) are a couple of drop-dead gorgeous twenty-something hipsters whose friendship is rocked when they both fall for Nicolas. Luscious and elusive, the curly-headed blonde is the definition of ambiguous, flirting with both of them and enjoying the power of his attractiveness. Intoxicated by the image of Nicolas (in one party scene, Francis sees him as a series of Cocteau drawings while Marie sees Michelangelo’s statue of David), the pair refuse to let reality intrude on their constructed world… Dolan’s queer reworking of the romantic ménage à trois… is heightened by a black, psychological dimension that constantly threatens to disrupt the film’s dreamy surfaces.” — Clare Stewart, Sydney Film Festival
“Dolan, plundering world cinema’s entire bag of tricks, makes this familiar tale sing, depicting his characters’ romantic obsession in gorgeous Wong Kar-wai-esque slo-mo and offsetting their lack of self-awareness with Woody Allen-esque direct-camera interviews featuring various people who otherwise play no role in the story. (These interviews are themselves worth the price of admission)… It’s hugely refreshing, given the insane degree to which art cinema is now ruled by what one might call The New Austerity, to see somebody exploring the medium’s lush, seductive, expressionistic possibilities with such unbridled enthusiasm.” — Mike D’Angelo, AV Club
This delicate road movie depicting the touching encounter between a long-distance truck driver and the woman and child he takes as passengers won the Caméra d’Or for Best First Film at Cannes this year. “A tender road movie infused with a subtle sense of loss and loneliness, Las Acacias marks an assured and gently beguiling first feature from writer/director Pablo Giorgelli… The strength of Las Acacias lies in its simplicity and acutely observed range of easily recognisable human emotions. Rubén is a truck driver transporting lumber between Asuncion del Paraguay and Buenos Aires. He has agreed to take a passenger, Jacinta, who arrives burdened with bags and a cute, wide-eyed, chubby cheeked five-month-old baby, Anahí, who steals the audience’s heart in much the same way as she charms Rubén. Small acts of kindness and stolen glances gradually ease the initial discomfort between a weary Rubén and a wary Jacinta, creating the possibility of a bond that the audience becomes complicit in encouraging to grow… Giorgelli shows a great deal of confidence in his refusal to overstate the emotional stakes or sweep the story towards unnecessary melodrama… The carefully nuanced central performances convincingly suggest the blossoming affection between Rubén and Jacinta with the smallest gesture and slightest glance. In its best moments of quiet contemplation and piercing emotion, Las Acacias ultimately earns its place in a humanist tradition that stretches from Jean Renoir to Satyajit Ray and beyond.” — Allan Hunter, Screendaily
LOVE LIKE POISON
The intimate, finessed female coming-of-age drama is a French speciality. This notable new example directed and co-written by Katell Quillévéré endows a teenage girl’s apprehensions about sex, death and the love of Jesus with an empathetic sense of adolescence as a solitary pursuit. Fourteen-year-old Anna has returned from boarding school to her village in Brittany where she stays with her mother and her ailing but pagan-spirited paternal grandfather. It seems that sex is in the air everywhere she looks – church included. A pipsqueak choirboy hits on her; her mother’s devotion to the youthful local priest is not strictly ecclesiastical. Quillévéré keeps us on tenterhooks while Anna observes what’s preoccupying the adults, keeps her own counsel and weighs the seemliness of her own brushes with ecstasy. — BG
“Quillévéré mixes this heady brew of contradictory emotions with great delicacy and attentiveness to fine detail.” — Dave Jenkins, Time Out
MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE
A fragile young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) escapes a Manson-like rural cult and seeks refuge with her wealthy, estranged older sister in this unnervingly involving psychodrama. Director Sean Durkin took the Directing Award at Sundance for his remarkable debut.
“Bypassing the celebrity minefield navigated since childhood by her big sisters, Elizabeth Olsen steps onto the radar as a seriously accomplished actor in this mesmerizing drama, which also marks an assured feature debut for writer-director Sean Durkin. On first encounter, the alliterative tongue-twister title begs to be changed… But it turns out to be an eerie fit for a movie in which young women allow their identities to be subsumed or even entirely replaced in their hunger to belong…
What makes Olsen’s performance one of startling maturity and focus is that she’s playing an entirely guarded woman, yet often using little more than the palpable unease in her eyes, she holds nothing back. Her Martha is both unreadably secretive and an exposed mass of raw nerves…
The drama conveys a strong sense of the seductive power of even the most warped community to the emotionally insecure. Stories such as these open doors to all kinds of lurid characterization, but Durkin’s superb cast invariably find multiple shadings in their roles.
The film impresses most in its ability to sustain a mood of quiet dread, kicking up several visceral notches in the occasional stunning explosion of violence or verbal altercation. Right through to its ambiguous ending, the spell is transfixing.” — David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
Medianeras is a fresh, funny take on love in (and for) the city – a romcom in which the lovers have yet to meet. Pinning its flag to the notion that a particular young man and a particular young woman are made for each other, it teases us with the likelihood that they might never meet – especially if they live in neighbouring apartment buildings in Buenos Aires.
Director Gustavo Taretto’s script has each of the two leads invite us into their solitary lives and give us their personal, insider’s guides to their city. (You may want to take notes.) Martìn (Javier Drolas) is a website designer working from his apartment. The film begins with his diatribe against the city’s architects, counterpointed by a deft collage of pairs of mismatched buildings. (Bursting with visual ideas, Taretto clearly loves Buenos Aires the way New Yorker cartoonists love New York.) An architect is just what Mariana (Pilar López de Ayala) has trained to be but she works, instead, as a designer of window displays for up-market stores.
It’s the word that names the featureless walls between abutting buildings that gives the film its name, but a critical perspective on urban design is only one of many things that promise to unite these two. Watching Taretto assemble his case for their getting together is enormous fun. His narrative seems constantly to be nudging them together, setting them up for a meaningful encounter, while they remain oblivious. Each is resolutely convinced that isolation in a confined space is the inevitable fate of the thinking, sensitive 21st-century urbanite. Before this film is over you may be begging the filmmaker to prove them wrong. — BG
Cannes was not short of provocations this year. Markus Schleinzer, a long-time associate of Michael Haneke, offered this creepily believable account of the subterfuges by which an apparently unremarkable middle-aged man keeps a kidnapped young boy locked in his house. — SR
“Look beyond the subject matter to the film itself and you will discover a rigorously responsible, endlessly disquieting piece of work, acutely sensitive to issues of exploitation… Haneke is an obvious influence on a film that strips away emotion and sentimentality to focus on an almost forensic presentation of the evidence… David Rauchenberger is especially impressive at suggesting the vulnerability and steeliness of [the abused boy]… The restraint of his performance is in tune with a film that takes the sting from a white-hot topic and transforms it into a troubling, thought-provoking and quietly disturbing drama.” — Allan Hunter, Screendaily
This audacious and impressive feature debut from documentarian Sergei Loznitsa (Blockade, Revue NZIFF08) takes us on a Kafkaesque journey deep into the literal and metaphorical back roads of darkest Russia, complete with several somewhat Buñuelian diversions. Connoisseurs of Russian cinema may well intuit that the title is deeply ironic, and it is. — MM
“My Joy is filmed with a documentary-maker’s eye – it’s based on true stories – but it’s also a horror story of living ghosts, a portrait of the old weird Russia in which bad luck rules and is passed on by stories, for instance, told to truck driver Georgy by a mysterious old man about his return to Russia after World War II and the chance encounter that destroyed his life. The film’s constantly surprising labyrinthine structure, modelled, according to the director, on the bizarre tree-like structure of the Russian road system… [makes] this a powerfully antirealist film.” — Jonathan Romney, Sight & Sound
Immersed in the world of competitive equestrian vaulting, introverted striver Emma and cool, self-assured Cassandra find themselves drawn to each other, first as friends, then as rivals. Meanwhile, Emma’s eight-year-old sister tests out her own understanding of attraction and power as she attempts to seduce her alarmed teenage babysitter. Incisive direction and unwavering performances by a non-professional cast lend startling force and psychological exactness to this raw, sexually charged drama of adolescent power play and small-town emotional austerity. — BG
“One of the most intense and complex feature debuts to come from Sweden since Lukas Moodysson’s Fucking Åmål, director Lisa Aschan thrillingly subverts the coming-of-age genre, political correctness, gender roles and (without ever becoming graphic) just about everything to do with the depiction of developing sexuality in the taboo-breaking She Monkeys.” — Alissa Simon, Variety
Julia Leigh, the award-winning Australian author of The Hunter and Disquiet, was mentored by Jane Campion on her filmmaking debut – an unsettling erotic fable selected for Official Competition at the Cannes Film Festival.
“It’s a startlingly poised, modern-day fairy tale, a strange marriage of Jane Campion and Lars Von Trier that titillates, terrifies and haunts in equal measure. Emily Browning plays Lucy, a university student who takes up a job as a ‘Sleeping Beauty’. The work is very simple: she is driven to a rural mansion, sedated, stripped, and then given over to rich clients who can do (almost) anything they wish with her…. But Lucy is a strange fish; she has a dynamic passivity that leads her to sleep with overweight strangers on the toss of a coin… Her decision to risk her life with strangers seems to be driven as much by curiosity and philosophical stance as it is by money. Browning’s performance is utterly fearless, suffused with mystery, cold as ice. Leigh’s spare screenplay trusts the audience to fill in the imaginative spaces, and her framing is precise and economical. Fast-rising composer Ben Frost contributes a potent score. What a strange, ensnaring achievement, not least for a first-time feature, Sleeping Beauty is: no male director could have made it.” — Sukhdev Sandhu, Daily Telegraph
“Sleeping Beauty isn’t a perfect film, but it is, in many ways, near-perfect cinema – a unique story, untellable in any other medium, that resists both easy dismissal and glib praise, sinking into the mind with the ungraspable, all-pervading power of a dream.” — James Rocchi, The Playlist
Set with an excruciating eye for period tack in 80s Swansea, this Brit hit marks the auspicious directorial debut of TV comedian (The IT Crowd) and Arctic Monkeys clip whiz Richard Ayoade. Based on Welsh poet Joe Dunthorne’s novel, it introduces the po-faced Craig Roberts as its narrator/protagonist Oliver, a duffle-coated, world-straddling teenage genius tragically unrecognised in provincial Wales, and Yasmin Page as the pyromaniac bad girl of his dreams. Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor are the frazzled parents about whom Oliver worries a lot, with Paddy Considine as the New Age guru who threatens to come between them. — BG
“Ayoade has finally found his cinematic feet. And, boy, can he dance. Submarine is, simply, a joy. A joy jostled by the comedy of discomfort, sure, but like early Wes Anderson (a comparison that no doubt makes Ayoade squirm, but his film bears it well), its quirkier and darker tendencies are leavened by the warmth and likability of his characters. Ayoade even manages to make you sympathise with Paddy Considine’s mullet-crested bullshit guru… Besides flagging up his love for the medium through savvy visual references and some well-played fourth wall-breaking… Ayoade has also cast his debut perfectly.” — Dan Jolin, Empire
“Like the eccentric, hyperactive teenage mind into which Submarine torpedoes us, Ayoade’s film barely rests, darting between Oliver’s everyday routine and his memories, fantasies, fears, oddball observations and quasi-philosophical musings… Like the most successful forays into adolescent existence, Submarine doesn’t quite feel like it’s made by a grown up.” — Isabel Stevens, Sight & Sound
This scarily credible movie about serial killer John Bunting takes Australian cinema’s fertile fascination with its most flagrant outlaws into the realms of pure horror. Targeting alleged paedophiles, gays and other ‘scum’ about whom ‘no one gives a shit’, Bunting and his followers committed 11 gruesome murders in the northern outskirts ofAdelaidebetween 1992 and 1999. As it turns out, the film by first-time director Justin Kurzel eschews the dramatic thrills that murder stories conventionally offer and serves the horrors chilly and chilling, in an atmosphere of creeping depravity. Kurzel sinks us deep into a denatured, rootless suburban netherworld where a controlling, inscrutable monster like Bunting (Daniel Henshall) can hold sway. Our companion into this living horror show is Jamie (Lucas Pittaway), an awkward, abused kid who responds gratefully when Bunting takes up with his mother and encourages him to toughen up. Knowing only as much about what’s going on as Bunting lets Jamie see, we watch as the lost kid becomes a bloated, baffled and bloodied minion of the devil. What’s supremely disturbing and salutary about this portrait of a serial killer is its dogged adherence to the knowable. — BG
“Buyer beware: Snowtown is no ordinary ‘serial killer’ movie. There is no charismatic Hannibal Lector cooking up thrills, no Wolf Creek super-hermit delivering hold-my-hand multiplex horrors. In a triumph of naturalism, debut director Justin Kurzel has brilliantly recreated scenes from Australia’s most notorious killing/torture spree… The entire large cast – many of them local first-timers – are superbly believable.” — Frank Hatherly, Screendaily
Contemporary anxieties about terrorism, disease, climate change and economic collapse as portents of the end of days are brilliantly channelled into Jeff Nichols’ acclaimed psychological thriller. Michael Shannon plays Curtis, a mine supervisor in a small Ohio town, happily married to Samantha (The Tree of Life’s Jessica Chastain) and father to a deaf six-year-old daughter. From the startling moment when we first encounter him it’s clear that he is driven by terrible visions of a coming storm and is fearing for his sanity. — BG
“There’s possibly no more mesmerizing American actor working in any medium today than Michael Shannon. His talents are put to exceptional use in writer-director Jeff Nichols’ devastating Take Shelter… His characterization grips like a vice as he shifts from softness to menace, stillness to panic, incomprehension to crazed, purposeful illumination.
…[This] picture is a masterfully controlled piece of work on every level – from its precise modulation of mood to its piercing emotional accuracy, its impeccable craftsmanship and breathtaking imagery. Rarely have electrical storms, cloud formations and glowering skies had such an unnerving impact or expressed such dark visual poetry.
While at times it conjures suggestions of vintage Polanski-style paranoia in rural America, this haunting psychological thriller is also a quasi-horror movie firmly rooted in slice-of-life reality. An allegory for the troubles of the world bearing down on ordinary people in an age of natural, industrial and economic cataclysms, it taps into pervasive anxiety more acutely than any film since Todd Haynes’ Safe.” — David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
“This award-winning indie discovery is fair warning that the 24-year-old Dunham – who also stars in a role modeled so closely on her life that she shot the film in her family’s stark, artsy loft in lower Manhattan – is a big talent to be reckoned with, a storyteller of gigantic charm and subtlety, and a filmmaker of exciting feminine originality.
In this spare, low-budget existential comedy about having no career path, no boyfriend, no income, and no independent place to live Dunham disguises herself in plain sight as a new college graduate named Aura who’s still smarting after a recent breakup. So she moves back from herOhiodorm to Mom’s NYC place while she figures out what to do next. Aura’s artist mother (played with cool aplomb by Dunham’s artist mother, Laurie Simmons) is underwhelmed by her older daughter’s return; Aura’s sylphier, overachieving younger sister, Nadine (played with teen cheek by Dunham’s sylphier younger sister, Grace Dunham), is positively snotty about having a sibling back in the female mix…
As Aura bravely fumbles with a crummy restaurant job, a couple of feckless guys and frenemy advice from a dreadfully sophisticated childhood friend (a great turn for Dunham’s pal Jemima Kirke), the filmmaker maintains seemingly effortless control of the movie’s vertiginous shifts in scale… Tiny Furniture is the honest story of a young woman’s vulnerable desires and a bemused satire of real-life Gossip Girlhood. It’s a tiny tale of inertia, and it’s also the grand triumph of a young artist with a mature trust in her own unique voice.” — Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly
Drawing riveting performances from Peter Mullan and Olivia Colman, actor Paddy Considine makes a directorial debut that will reward any viewer willing to share his unblinking gaze into the hearts of two violently damaged protagonists. Joseph (Mullan) is a cynical, seething mess of anger and drink, drawn, for reasons we can only dread, to Hannah (Colman). A nun-like thrift-shop worker, she deflects his abusive overtures with kindness. He will not have a bar of her charity, but, while events transpire which confirm his brutal view of the world, he learns that there’s more to Hannah’s grasp on faith and hope than mindless piety. — BG
“What’s surprising is how warm Tyrannosaur feels despite its bleakness; even a mid-film funeral scene is surprisingly full of life. Both Mullan and Eddie Marsan are expectedly stellar, but it’s Colman, a performer better known for TV comedies, who gives the film its deeply moving soul.” — Keith Uhlich, Time Out NY
Confirming the talent shown in her debut Water Lilies (NZIFF08), Céline Sciamma explores, with luminous grace, children’s notions of gender and identity. Ten-year-old Laure and her family have just moved to a new neighbourhood. Her mother is heavily pregnant with a third child, a baby brother for Laure and little sister Jeanne. Androgynous Laure hovers between childhood and something else, still romping around at home with giggly Jeanne in her thrall, but also keen to strike out on her own and enjoy what’s left of the summer holidays. When Lisa, a next-door neighbour Laure’s age, asks Laure her name, she forthrightly responds ‘Michaël’. Soon Michaël, barechested and bold, is playing soccer with the local boys. However, trying out boys’ stuff requires deception that Laure will have difficulty maintaining. Among the terrific, unaffected performances from the young cast, Zoé Héran’s Laure/Michaël is a knockout. — SR
A USEFUL LIFE
Jorge has been devoted to his job at the Cinemateca in Montevideo for 25 years, and his cosy rut is neatly documented in the first half of this concise film. He wanders through the film library, tests and repairs broken seats, introduces tardy guest filmmakers, and struggles to drum up scant business on a local radio show. When drastic funding cuts threaten the closure of the institution, this professional crisis precipitates a charmingly mild personal revolution for Jorge. We observe him awkwardly negotiating life in the outside world with the subtle assistance of the many movie lives he’s experienced while effacing his own. This wry, melancholic film is slyly observed by second-time director Federico Veiroj, and graced with superb black-and-white chiaroscuro and an inventive soundtrack that juxtaposes old movie music with the raucous clatter of projectors and the monastic silence of libraries and archives. — AL
Blazing with torrid sex, mean-ass violence and lurid gangsta fashion choices, this slick, high-octane entertainment from the Democratic Republic of Congo has been both a box office bonanza and the year’s big award winner amongst African films – to the chagrin of those who would take a more sober approach to the fever of corruption gripping every character in view. — BG
“Viva Riva! careens through a multitude of tonally varied but coherently staged scenes of our petrol-bandit hero’s brief, vibrant life running from his Angolan ex-boss… and trying to court a local mobster’s gorgeous moll… Lesbian military commanders, Angolan racism, fellatio behind bars, terrific supporting actors as priests, hookers, madams, endless exchanges of money, goods, and sex – the film has the colour and the grime fit for the dozen films it has stolen from… It’s doubtful there’ll be a more fun film at the [Toronto] festival.” — Daniel Kasman, Mubi.com
THE YELLOW SEA
Director Na Hong-jin reunites with the stars of his cult hit The Chaser (NZIFF09) for another ferocious white-knuckle thrill ride.
“A desperate would-be assassin from a little-known Korean-Chinese community becomes the unlikely moral center of The Yellow Sea, a breathtakingly brutal man-on-the-run thriller with a trenchant basis in gutter-level reality. Gushing more blood and possessing more stamina than any number of Hollywood hack-’em-ups, Na Hong-jin’s pulse-pounding, mordantly funny genre piece is… full-bodied enough to achieve a genuinely tragic dimension.” — Justin Chang, Variety
“An electric, epic crime thriller that should launch the director into top tier of South Korean film directors alongside Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook… One of the smartest and most inventive action films this year… with a darkly funny, demented and memorable baddie, crackling tension and exciting, unpredictable action.” — Kevin Jagernauth, The Playlist
A brief encounter proves mutually disarming for two temperamentally opposite young men in a salty, insightful love story buoyed by sex, drugs and testing differences of opinion. Russell, a pool lifeguard, parties with his straight friends before heading to a bar where he picks up Glen. Glen turns out next morning to be a right live wire, a one-man gay liberation front, not really Russell’s style at all. Could be, though, that what separates these two is stuff that registers deep with them both.
As they goad away at each other, the film offers us the pleasure of seeing them ease up on their practised personas and grow in each other’s eyes. These characters are so layered; their interaction so unpredictable yet well-grounded; and the actors so attuned that their encounter is as engrossing to witness as it is poignant. The topic of gay movie romances for straight audiences is one of several subjected to Glen’s scathing appraisal, but I’m guessing you’d have to be insanely hetero-centric not to take this particular man-on-man affair to heart. – BG
“[Actors] Cullen and New develop a compellingly credible give and take, whether they’re debating the merits of gay marriage, confiding long-suppressed yearnings or, in the picture’s funniest scene, discussing the homoerotic appeal of Rupert Graves in A Room with a View.” — Joe Leydon, Variety
“Like Before Sunrise, the real joy of writer/director Andrew Haigh’s film is in watching two people make bedrooms, overpasses, kitchenettes, and couches feel alive with potent conversation and pregnant silences. As the end to the tumultuous weekend approaches, the camera dreads the impending loss as much as the characters.” — James Renovitch, Austin Chronicle