Friday, August 31, 2012


Well, it is time for me to reveal my top ten for MIFF 2012, so with out further to do, lets get straight into it:


So there you have it, for the second consecutive year, an Iranian film has been my favourite of the festival.  Unusual though, "Facing Mirrors" was the only film from Iran that I saw at this year's MIFF, but obviously its quality was so great that it still took my number one spot.  I want to point out two titles that I was unable to see due to clashes in my schedule that had the potential to make this list and they were Ben Wheatley's "Sightseers" and Abbas Kiarostami's "Like Someone In Love" (which sadly I missed to see the woeful "V/H/S").  Well that's it for another year, I look forward to doing the whole MIFF experience again next year, but until then it is time to resume my regular reviews.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

ALPS - MIFF 2012

This was the final film I saw at this year’s MIFF and sadly it wasn’t the best film to go out on.  “Alps” is the new film from Greek filmmaker Giorgos Lanthimos who previously made the controversial but much loved “Dogtooth” back in 2009.

“Alps” is about a group of people who come together to create a business where they are hired by the family of the recently deceased to impersonate their loved ones who have just passed to make the grieving process easier to handle.  They are given personal belongings from the family and lines to say to make it seem more realistic for them.  Things are going well with the business until one of the women becomes too involved with the family she is working for.

The problem for me with “Alps” was that I could not buy into the ridiculous concept of the film at all.  I couldn’t understand how anyone would want someone pretending to be a family member they have just lost.  It seemed so insensitive and this group was exploiting the pain and loss from these poor people.  If I cannot believe in the concept then it makes it hard to react positively towards the film as well, which I didn’t.  I also felt that Lanthimos had no idea what he wanted to do with the idea because he does not take it anywhere dramatically interesting.  It is a major disappointment.

Performances are all very average too but this is also due to the structure of the premise because these people are paid to say certain lines, and the delivery of these lines are very stilted as some of them are delivered in English.  Even Ariane Labed who I thought was fantastic in “Attenberg” last year is poor here although I loved the scenes of her rhythmic gymnastics she performs.  I know that Labed during the making of “Attneberg” didn’t speak Greek so had to learn her lines phonetically, so I wonder if the same happened here.

Even from a visual standpoint I found “Alps” to be very disappointing.  There was no style whatsoever in regards to the shooting style and it was just ugly to look at.

I really do not have much to say about “Alps” except that I did not understand the point of it at all and I’m not sure director Giorgos Lanthimos really knew what he wanted to do with it either.  Unfortunately it was not a good way to end this year’s MIFF on.

2 Stars.


Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt” is a stunningly good film about a kindergarten teacher that is wrongly accused of the sexual abuse of a four year old girl.  This is such a well made film about a potentially prickly subject which thankfully Vinterberg does not sensationalize.

Lucas is a well liked and trusted kindergarten teacher in the local community, loved by everyone, the teachers, children and their parents.  He is best friends with Theo whose young daughter Klara attends at the kindergarten where Lucas teaches.  Theo and Lucas are very close to one another having been best friends for most of their lives and Lucas gets along very well with everyone in Theo’s family.  Lucas’s own family life is a little sadder because he is divorced and his only son, Marcus, lives away with his mother.  Due to the kindness and love Lucas shows Klara she develops a little kid crush on him, and one day at kinder she makes him a heart and plants a kiss on his lips.  Lucas naturally tells her that kissing on the lips is only for parents and that she should give the heart to one of the boys in case.  Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, even if the woman is only four years old.  Klara who is very upset by the rejection tells another kindergarten teacher that Lucas has shown her his penis and that it was erect.  This starts the ball rolling when an innocent man is persecuted and judged for something he did not do because the word of a child is always considered true.  Lucas is investigated and after the parents are told some signs of abuse to look out for, suddenly more children come forward, all telling the same story of being abused in Lucas’s basement at home.  The police arrest Lucas and take him away to search his house for evidence.  Not surprisingly they find none, but of greater interest is the fact that the police find out that Lucas has no basement.  Without further to do they release Lucas due to him having done nothing wrong.  However even though the police have released him, he has been judged by public opinion and they still consider him guilty and continually torture this poor man who used to be one of their trusted peers.

I loved this film so much due to the beautifully way it has been handled.  For the most part the film is about human behavior when they become a pack.  Reason seems to be pushed aside if the consensus of the group says someone is guilty even though there is no proof of guilt.  The performance from Mads Mikklesen’s is nothing short of greatness, it is a sensitive performance as we observe this man as everything is taken away from him for something he did not do.  It is interesting to watch how he at the beginning he believes everything will be fine, he will talk to Theo and work it all out, and as the film gets more serious for him, the more he realizes it isn’t going to end well for him.  He suddenly isn’t calm anymore but angry and you can feel he has a rage inside him, but importantly he never takes it out on Klara herself, rather the adults that should know better.  Throughout the film, he never holds a grudge with Klara, he understands she is a child and didn’t realize the seriousness of her actions, but the parents are a different matter entirely.  At regular intervals in the film, Klara tries to tell the adults that she made it all up, but the adults never listen to her, not properly, because they tell her it did happen and she has just forgotten it, confusing the poor child.  I know I singled out Mikklesen’s work here, but everyone in the cast is amazing making this drama very real and scary.

The script by Tobias Lindholm and Vinterberg himself is incredibly layered, very intense and sensitive, all in one.  Again, let me see that the fact that it isn’t over sensationalized makes the film so much better because it doesn’t make it seem like it is out to make big statements just to tell a good story.  The point of the film is to not judge someone straight away without knowing the full facts, and to sometimes question what a child is saying if it doesn’t sound right.  Personally if I was in Theo’s position, I do not know what I would do and who I would believe, my child or my best friend, it is an incredibly difficult position to be in and the way it is handled in the film is very realistic.

The only flaw I had is the ending which is set a year later but this is because if I was in Lucas’s position and had what happened to him in the entirety of the film, I am not sure I would be as diplomatic as him, so for me, it didn’t feel as real as the rest of the film.  However, the very end of the film, I very much liked when they are all out on Marcus’s first hunt, and Lucas is reminded that the suspicion will never end, not really.

Overall I was blown away by the sensitivity and power shown in “The Hunt”, it is a magnificent film.  Mads Mikklesen won the award for Best Actor in Cannes this year for his performance as Lucas and it was definitely well deserved.  In fact this is a brilliantly acted and scripted film all round.  With only minor flaws, “The Hunt” is a film well worth checking out.

4 Stars.


I have made it known that I am currently in the discovery phase of Sion Sono’s directorial career, as I am slowly trying to go through each feature and determine whether or not he is actually any good.  Sometimes he is amazing, while other times he drops the ball entirely, however he always remains interesting.  His latest film was to be a straight adaptation of a manga titled “Himizu”, but after the March 11 earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit Northeast Japan, and particularly Fukushima in 2011, Sono decided that he couldn’t ignore it and thus re-wrote his script to incorporate the aftermath of the terrible tragedy.  It is amazing to think two months after the disaster, Sono was actually shooting on location there.

“Himizu” is about a fourteen year old boy named Sumida who has a terrible home life.  His father is regularly drunk and makes a habit of telling the boy that he isn’t wanted and it would be best for everyone if he just died, while his mother has a habit of bed-hopping with any man that chooses her fancy.  Neither of them care about Sumida who refuses to believe his life is worthless and to give up just because of the life and family he has been born into.  Despite his parent’s selfishness, Sumida is a genuine guy who lets victims of the tsunami who have lost everything to live on his property in make shift tents.  He also lets them use his bath to regularly clean themselves.  Eventually Sumida’s mother abandons him with one of the guys she has met causing him to leave school to operate the family run business which is a shack that hires boats to people.  Noticing his absence from school, Sumida’s stalker Keiko goes off to see what is wrong with him.  Keiko is a beautiful and bubbly young girl, who always sees the positives in things and although she admits her actions are like those of a stalker, she really has just got a severe crush on Sumida.  Seeing how much trouble he is in, Keiko and the tsunami victims help Sumida to fix up the shack to improve business.  Suddenly a car full of gangsters pulls up and demands to see Sumida’s father.  When Sumida explains that the loser isn’t there, the gangsters beat him up and tell him it is now his problem to find the guy and to get him to pay back the six million yen that he owes them.  Eventually Sumida’s dad arrives on his doorstep again asking for money and to let him know how unwanted he is.  This time though Sumida has had enough, he has been pushed too far and he explodes into violence, killing his dad.  Thinking his life is now over, his mind starts to shut down as he slowly goes insane.  Before he is put away for life he decides to do something good for the community and decides to go out into the streets and kill and terrorize the evil doers of the world.

Personally I thought that “Himizu” was a fantastic film and one of Sion Sono’s best.  I would also argue that this is his most mature film to date, and definitely his most optimistic.  There is a darkness that is associated with Sono’s work and his outlook on human life is never usually seen in a positive light so it was amazing to see such a positive message in “Himizu”.  The story within “Himizu” acts as a parable for what those tsunami affected areas of Japan are currently going through.  Sumida loses everything in this film or he assumes he has but what he eventually finds out that is he has a lot of people who are willing to look out for him and get him back on his feet.  When he initially rejects the help to do it all on his own, things do not go well for him, but when he realizes that there is no shame in excepting help, his life gets back on track.  How this relates to Japan is obvious, even though you are in pain except the help from others and life will get better.  The overriding theme of “Himizu” is “Don’t give up!”.

I thought that the two young actors who played the leads of the film, Shota Sometani as Sumida and Fumi Nikaido as Keiko, were fantastic.  They gave real nuanced performances and played their characters beautifully.  Sometani was especially good because his character goes through so much in the film, and he is fabulous and never over-acts.  Nikaido is equally good because while you initially think that her character is just all giggles and bubbles without any depth, you see that Keiko also has a very similar home life to Sumida with parents who care little for her.  Nikaido is a different person in these scenes as I guess we get to see the real, behind closed doors Keiko.  This doesn’t mean that Keiko is faking during the rest of the film, she is a genuinely positive person who only wants to help the boy that she loves while he is self destructing, which hurts her so much to see. My main complaint with Sono films is that he lets actors overact too much, but that is less of a problem here than most of his films.  While it is true that the peripheral characters like the tsunami struck neighbours and the gangsters are defined much more broadly than the main characters of the film, I do not believe the actors overact in their scenes.  It is interesting to note that the majority of these characters are played by the cast of Sono’s “Cold Fish”.  It is nice to see them doing such small roles for their friend, but it is a shame that Megumi Kagurazaka is so underused.  I feel I need to make mention of Denden’s performance as a local gangster here because it is such a small role but he is magnificent in it, and I felt like I owed him to mention it after I panned his turn in “Cold Fish”.

The biggest flaw of “Himizu” is the portrayals of the two kid’s parents.  They are just horrible but so overdone that they do not feel like real parents rather caricatures.  They are so bad to their kids that you find it hard to believe, especially Keiko’s parents who are building something for their daughter to hang herself on.

While this is an optimistic picture at heart, Sono fans do not despair because his trademark darkness and weirdness is in full effect during the middle of the film when Sumida starts to lose his mind.  It suddenly becomes very dark and bleak but this is what we have come to expect from Sono.  I must also make mention quickly of the look of “Himizu” which has been really well shot.  This would have been a difficult film to shoot with a lot of night work and weather based elements to endure as a lot of the film happens in heavy rain.  I hated the cheap look of Sono’s previous “Guilty Of Romance” and it is good to see he is back on the right track here.

Overall, I was very impressed by Sion Sono’s “Himizu”.  It was great to see him put aside the darkness to present an optimistic message to the people of Japan to never give up, it may look grim now, but it will get better, so do not give up.  I have got to say the images of the actual devastation from the tsunami are eye-opening just to see how much carnage there was by this natural disaster and I applaud Sono for including them so soon after the disaster hit.  Although I have still yet to see “Love Exposure”, “Himizu” may be Sion Sono’s best film yet, if not it is certainly his most mature.

4 Stars.


“The Lion Of The Moguls” was the final Jean Epstein silent film that was showing at MIFF this year and sadly it was my least favourite of them all, at least from a visual standpoint.

Somewhere in India, Roundghito-Sing, the popular guard of the castle is banished from the kingdom by the Grand Khan, the king of the kingdom, for saving a young woman from Khan’s sexual advances.  In fact, the king sends his men to kill the young guard, but he ends up escaping and finding help on a large boat that happens to be passing nearby.  On board the boat is a film crew shooting a new film with big time actress Anna.  Although a star, Anna doesn’t seem particularly happy and the reason for this is the constant attention forced on her by the film’s financer Mr. Morel.  Although unfamiliar with the art form of cinema, it turns out that Roundghito-Sing is quite the actor and he gives up his past life to become a movie star.  He and Anna become a couple but always in the background lurks Mr. Morel and his money.  Morel eventually comes up with a plan to frame the naïve actor and have him sent to jail, leaving Anna all to himself.  The film ends with the cops closing in on Roundgito-Sing, his Indian friends looking for him too, and Mr. Morel hanging around for the prizes.  The reason also for the strong and instant connection between Anna and Roundghito-Sing is something in his story relates very closely to Anna’s mysterious past.

As I mentioned above this was my least favourite of the Epstein silent films screening at MIFF this year.  It is not that the film is bad, in fact it is quite entertaining, it is just so standard.  There is nothing special about “The Lion Of The Moguls”, it is really just a generic romance that was quite regular in the silent era.  Even the usual Epstein visual flourishes that are his trademark are missing save for a few scenes.  Visually the best scene in the film is one where Roundghito-Sing goes to a nightclub and gets seriously drunk.  Epstein blends image upon image expertly giving a great appearance to the actor’s intoxication.  Epstein also warps and blurs images in this scene to create the desired effect.  Other superimpositions in shots include a scene when Anna feels Mr. Morel to be smothering her and many images of Morel appear together in the frame.

When the film began in India, I was worried, because all of these scenes just felt so fake, nothing looked real at all, so when the action shifted to the world of cinema, I felt a little relieved.  It was almost like the filmmakers had no idea what India looked like and just made it up from their imagination.  I suppose the basic strands of the plot exist in these scenes set in India, but they certainly underwhelmed me.  In fact it wasn’t until towards the end when everybody was closing in on the couple that I really started to enjoy “The Lion Of The Moguls”, though the finale at the masque ball I thought was clichéd but really well handled.

Overall “The Lion Of The Moguls” was just your standard run of the mill romantic melodrama with a few of Epstein’s visual flourishes sprinkled within.  It is not a bad film at all, and it would probably be a nice introduction for people unfamiliar with silent cinema, but for an Epstein film it was incredibly bland and for that reason I was disappointed in it.

3 Stars.