October 28 2015
Our reviewers spread out far and wide to view films from France to Israel and Palestine to Mexico…
“The Idol” – director: Hany Abu-Assad, (UK, Palestine, Qatar, Netherlands, United Arab Emirates).
THIS is a hugely inspiring and uplifting story based on the true story of Mohammed Assaf – winner of the “Arab Idol” singing competition in 2013.
Hany Abu Assad is an Oscar nominated Palestinian filmmaker (for his films “Paradise Now” and “Omar”) who presents the story of Assad as an engrossing biopic.
“The Idol” begins in 2005 when 10-year-old Mohammed (Qais Atallah) along with his older sister, Nour (Hiba Atallah) and two friends Ashraf (Ahmad Qassim) and Omar (AbdelKarim Abu Baraka) are schoolchildren living in Gaza and are obsessed with music. Nour realises her brother has a gift for singing and the friends dream of forming a band and performing at the Cairo Opera House.
Although the rule is never work with children; the director has drawn heart-warming performances out of the young cast – especially since it’s the first time, Qais and Hiba have ever performed professionally and were cast via Skype from Palestine.
It’s a joy to behold their endeavours of how they go about trying to raise money to get kit for their band. Their attempts include religious singing, singing at weddings in Gaza, selling fish on the beach, and even tangling with smugglers!
Sadness is mingled with happiness when Assad discovers his sister, has kidney problems and realises the difficulties of living a ‘normal life’ as a Palestinian in Gaza. The brutality of life in Gaza is shown with unflinching honesty.
The children grew into young adults and the cast change to reflect that story, and the older Mohammed (Tawfeek Barhom) – who has just about given up and lost sight of his dreams finds himself re-invigorated when he runs into an old friend.
But, there are more obstacles in his way, such as not being able to travel to get a visa to travel to Egypt for the auditions and then finding himself at the end of a very long queue in the hotel without the correct ticket.
Undeterred, he scales the walls to get in and sings to the other contestants, before being offered a ticket by a fellow Palestinian contestant, who realises that Mohammed has a better chance of winning if he gets into the trials. “The Idol” is a wonderful film with much to enjoy. (SB)
ACV rating: ***** (5/5)
“Chevalier” – Athina Rachel Tsangari (Greece).
The year, 2015, might be the year of women in cinema, but the second effort of Athena Rachel Tsangari, “Chevalier” concerns itself with the fragilities of male identity. On a boat trip, six men set about rigorously – and arbitrarily – testing each other, whatever the task.
No behaviour is too small to avoid scrutiny, and with criteria and method of assessment all improvised, it results in a holiday that becomes an exercise in social examination. It observes, whether it’s the prominence of a morning erection, or the ability to withstand cold weather without a jacket, that no self-respecting man will, or should ever, accept defeat. Tsangarai mocks the tragic yet hilarious need to compete without betraying any contempt for her score-keeping characters, making “Chevalier” as affectionate as it is absurd. (SC)
ACV rating: ****
*“Chevalier” was named best film at this year’s BFI London Film Festival Awards 2015
“Chronic” – Director-screenwriter Michael Franco, (Mexico-France)
DETAILING the life of David (an excellent Tim Roth), a full-time care giver for the terminally ill, “Chronic” is an unsparing character study that unfolds in distant, nonintrusive takes of intimate moments. Calling into question David’s awkward grasp of personal and professional ethics, “Chronic” does a decent job of showing how conflicts can arise in this grey area where the nature of the work is so intimate, and some level of detachment is necessary too.
David is a caregiver with a Jesus complex, believing no one else knows how to care for his patients like he can. Less an investigation of the profession, than a sketch of one solitary cog in the care industry – director Michel Franco does touch on issues of assisted suicide and professional ethics but might have extended the scope of his focus further – “Chronic’s” main interest is primarily as a “Taxi Driver” or “Shame”-like portrait of a socially uneasy, often bristly loner with a tragic void in his life. (SC)
ACV rating: ***
“My Golden Days” – Arnaud Desplechin (France)
A SORT of prequel to his 1996 “My Sex Life…or how I got into an argument”, Desplechin’s movie is unutterably French in both execution and theme and therefore not for those who like their films with Anglo-Saxon bearings. If you’re are going to make a relationship movie now, it has to surpass the intensity and breath of “Blue is the Warmest Colour”. This doesn’t, though its fans (and there will be many) will suggest it is exploring different territory and is considerably more nuanced. Not really, but it would be wrong to suggest this has no merit and is wholly self indulgent (at just over two hours). The opening is thrilling and suggestive of another movie altogether – it’s like an old spy caper with genuine anxiety and fear for the central characters. From this almost unlikely episode in anthropologist Paul Dedalus’ (played mercurially as an adult by the always splendid Mathieu Amalric), teenage life we are thrown back into time – when he has left school to attend university and returns to meet the woman of his dreams. Cue over an hour of their tortured relationship with neither being faithful or wholly loving towards the other. The end when it came was something of a relief – it shouldn’t have been, because along the way there is something deep and powerful about first loves and how it affects (the romantic) life beyond – and small town life versus the pull of the big city and its own mores – but to an Anglo-Saxon cinematic sensibility Desplechin overplays his talented hand and cast, to a more continental one, perhaps he does it justice. (SR)
ACV rating: **
“Red Leaves” Bazzi Gete (Ethiopia/Israel)
WHEN patriarch Meseganio’s wife dies, the Ethiopian who has been in Israel for 30 years, sells the family home and starts to make impromptu visits at his grandchildren’s houses. His unannounced visits, made with a sense of entitlement, provoke a clash with spouses, grandchildren and ultimately, tradition, modernity and familial hierarchies. When his children fail to grant him the hospitality he expects, Meseganio is forced to recognise his diminished power, a fall from grace he is loathe to acknowledge and desperate to reverse. His failed attempts are turned into a series of tableaux-like scenes by first time director Bazi Gete, who uses the dinner table as a battleground for these disputes of power and control. A dark –night-of-the-soul ending sees a swift escalation in drama that previous scenes don’t quite anticipate, but as a portrait of a man unable to comprehend his place in the modern world, “Red Leaves” exerts a queasy power. (SC)
ACV rating: ***1/2
“Evolution” – Lucile Hadzihalilovic, (France).
THE SECOND offering from Lucille Hadzihalilovic, her follow-up to 2004’s “Innocence” is alternately beguiling, disquieting, and depending on your cinematic proclivities, either enticingly ambiguous or frustratingly inconclusive. Combining Cronenberg-ish body horror, childhood fantasy and underwater visual poem, its depiction of a hospital run by sinister Stepford Wives-like nurses grooming young boys for reproduction is disturbing, while the boys’ relationship with the sea is beautifully meditative. It’s visually serene, but “Evolution’s” aesthetic charms don’t entirely compensate for its lack of coherence. It promises much that sadly seems to peter out in its long takes of stillness. “Evolution” has much to recommend in the way of atmosphere, but while it piques intellectual intrigue, it never makes good on its conceptual promise. (SC)
ACV rating: ***
“Paulina” – Santiago Mitre, (Argentina-Brazil-France).
TRAINEE lawyer Paulina wants to trade in her career to teach politics near the Paraguayan border. But her good intentions are challenged when she arrives at her new workplace. A fellow teacher tells her that her pity for her students will be her downfall, and that beneath her pure motives to help society lies a fear of those she wants to help.
Her altruistic inclinations look set to fade when she meets the sexual violence of a group of drunk locals. Seemingly lapsing into denial, her politics become even more rigid, dictating a fallout that unfolds in an increasingly unpredictable fashion involving issues of class privilege, judiciary biases, the emotional difficulties in processing violence, and notions of victimhood in the wider social hierarchy.
A questioning film that interrogates middle class guilt, and risks reinforcing stereotypes of rural, working-class masculinity to do it, it is a powerful piece, reminiscent of 2012’s equally unforgettable “Twilight Portrait”. (SC)
ACV rating: ****
Contributors: Sunil Chauhan (SC), Suman Bhuchar (SB) and Sailesh Ram (SR)