filmsandmore

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Capharnaüm

Capharnaüm or Capernaum is a confusing title. Merriam Webster defines capharnaum as a confused jumble or a place marked by a disorderly accumulation of objects. While chaos is an apt description of the situations the title really doesn't do justice to this political film about the effect on children of poverty and poor parenting decisions.

Ostensibly Capharnaüm is a courtroom drama as approximately 12-year-old Zain sues his parents in a Lebanese court. But this is just a framing device for telling the story in an extended flashback. The story of a few weeks of Zain's life and family and by extension the story of the bottom rungs of Lebanese society, especially its children. Zain's parents can't remember what year he was born. He has a lot of siblings and being the eldest still at home he feels responsible for the others, especially his 11-year-old sister Sahar. The family lives in a small, dirty apartment owned by a local shopkeeper who has the hots for Sahar and for whom Zain works for as a delivery boy. Zain's mother runs a small-time drug smuggling operation involving the kids, who also sell juice to commuters at rush hour. Zain's father's occupation is not mentioned.

As bad as the initial situation is it gets worse when Zain runs away from home in anger after an unsuccessful attempt to protect Sahar. Eventually, Zain ends up living on the streets trying to look after a refugee toddler when its mother disappears, presumably arrested.
Much of the cast are not previously professional actors and Zain, in particular, who is in almost every scene pulls off an amazing performance. His character's resourcefulness, cynicism, anger and compassion drive the story. While the subject matter is depressing, this is not really a depressing story. Zain's go-with-your-gut instinct approach to life is too much fun to watch. I can only dream of coping with the bad things in life with the aplomb that he does.

Other reviews are divided into those that say that Capharnaüm is too sentimental and emotionally manipulative and those that say it is unsentimental and gritty (and in defence point out that emotional manipulation is at the core of filmmaking). I wonder if the divide is actually between those that were made uncomfortable and wanted to dis the film and its message versus those who accept the dual attack on parents and the system that leads to poverty and refugees. I presume that director Nadine Labaki (who has a bit part in this film and previously started in 2008's Caramel) made this film for a Lebanese audience, a country with 4 million Lebanese and 2 million refugees (mostly from Syria). We are not used to hearing from Lebanese about refugees, which contrasts with the endless reports crisis caused by 1 million Syrian and African refugees arriving in the EU with its population of 500 million.

Ian's rating 5/5 Anne's rating 4/5

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Foxtrot

It was back to Israel for Foxtrot, but this time for was a Jewish Israeli film, Like Wajib it was a family drama, but unlike Wajib it features Jewish Israelis and we're talking a funeral rather than a wedding.

Foxtrot centres on a middle-aged Israeli (Michael) who lives with his wife  (Dafna) and two young adult children (Jonathon and Alma) in a high-rise apartment in Tel Aviv. Jonathon is currently serving in the IDF and is stationed in the north of Israel. The film opens with a knock on the apartment door and it's two soldiers, announcing that Jonathon has been killed. They're coy about the details, and suggest that viewing the body is unnecessary and undesirable. They act with impressive efficiency - you get a sense of the IDF being an unstoppable well-oiled machine

So we view the family's different reactions to the news, get to meet a few other relatives and get to know people a bit better. Michael's mother is a holocaust survivor who's losing her memory, Michael served in the IDF himself.

Then the first plot twist - the soldiers are back, announcing they got things wrong, and although a Jonathon Feldman has died, it isn't their son. So now there are different kinds of angst to go through. Initially Michael and Alma are fighting, later they find some  mutual consolation in their joint confusion and anger.

Then it's off to the north of Israel and seeing Jonathon's  day-to-day existence. He and three fellow solider live in a container and monitor an isolated checkpoint. There's very little going on but there's some drama when they're inspecting a carful of young Arabs and they mistake a beer can for a grenade and open fire, killing all the occupants. In an almost surreal scene, the ever-efficient IDF sends a massive truck with a bulldozer on the back and the car and everyone in it is buried
 forthwith.And then we have a second plot twist which you can see for yourself if you go to the film.


One of Foxtrot's main messages is that serving in the IDF is bad for you - mentally and physically. You get caught up in. it, and it changes you forever. A sub-message is that surviving the holocaust blights your relationships. And while these are not the cheeriest messages, it was a pretty engrossing watch. Foxtrot was directed by Samuel Moaz who directed Lebanon (set inside an Israeli tank in the 1982 war with Lebanon) which we have also seen,

Anne's rating 3.5/5

Girl

Girl features a teenage boy in the process of becoming a girl. She's called Lara (previously Victor) and has just moved cities along with very supportive father and much younger brother. She's been provisionally accepted into the local and very prestigious ballet school. She's taking puberty-delaying medication and will soon be old enough to take hormone replacement therapy. A raft of supportive medical professionals are accompanying Lara and her Dad on this painful journey.

It's hard to think of a more physically and emotionally demanding course of action than changing
gender while attending a ballet academy which is physically and emotionally demanding in itself. So watching the film, we're experiencing the journey even if we don't understand it.  I imagine that's how Lara's father felt - that he was experiencing the journey form the outside. Lara clearly wants to be a girl very badly and she dislikes her male body and is prepared to go to great lengths to change it. I can support that want and that aim but I don't understand it. I don't know why she feels that way, and I was hoping that Girl might give me an insight and it really didn't, so that was a bit disappointing. Perhaps it's a bit much to expect a teenager who is having hard time to articulate why they want something so badly. There are times that I want what I think being a physically imposing man would give me (especially when I'm in a business meeting) but I don't want to be a man. I'm interested in why someone would want to change sex rather than change they way they're treated, especially when transgender people aren't treated in exactly the same way as cis-gender people.

I'm digressing from the film itself which is very, very well acted and compelling. It is somewhat traumatic, and I didn't read about the self harm aspect in the NZIFF programme because Girl hadn't been rated by the censor when the paper version was printed. If I had known I may not have gone.

When I was talking to a friend about the festival and what we'd seen, he said "the best film that I saw that you probably shouldn't see because it's too upsetting was The Cleaners" And that's how I feel about Girl - a good film that you probably shouldn't see.

So no rating on this one. I could give a zero because cleaning the over would have been more fun, but that would be denigrating the acting and the film-making in a most uncharitable way.

Wajib- The Wedding Invitation

Like "The Reports on Sarah and Saleem", Wajib is a film that features Arab Israelis. A family story set in Nazareth, it uses the familiar scenario of adult child visiting the family home to illustrate the life of Arab citizens in Israel.

Shadi is an Arab Israeli architect who lives in Italy. His father (Abu Shadi) and his sister live in Nazareth, which is where he grew up. His sister is about to get married, and Shadi is home for the wedding. Their mother lives in America having left her husband and Israel when Shadi and his sister were children.

Most of the  film takes place over the course of a day. Shadi and his father are driving around Nazareth hand-delivering wedding invitations. As result we get to meet many of their family and friends and see inside many homes. Shadi and Abu Shadi have lots of opportunity to talk while they're in the car. As is often the case when you spend time with family, they find each other both irritating and endearing. Shadi is trying to give up smoking, and Abu Shadi, who has heart trouble and is supposed to be giving up, shows no interest in doing so. We learn that Shadi's mother leaving her husband continues to be an embarrassment, and we learn that Shadi was sent to Italy when he got into some political trouble when he was younger. He's much more anti-Israeli than his Dad ,and is outraged when he discovers his father is proposing to invite one of his Jewish friends to the wedding. We learn that Arab tradition is still important, and that delivering wedding invitations in Nazareth is  a parking nightmare and that you'll be forced to drink enough coffee to keep you awake for a week.

Wajib is a pretty gentle film that's illustrative without packing much of an emotional punch. The characters are like-able and they have a relatively pleasant lifestyle compared to their counterparts in the West Bank and Gaza but there are constraints  to that lifestyle

Saleh Bakri who is an Israeli-born Arab himself, rejects the Israeli label, preferring to describe himself as a Palestinian - you can read about that.here.  Saleh has been described as the sexiest man in Israel and if you're looking for a reason to go and see the film, an extended opportunity to admire him is a valid one. There's a nice  inter-generational contrast between Shadi the son who wears a floral shirt and his hair in a topknot and Abu Shadi who wears muted colours and a flat cap.

Anne's rating 2.5/5

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Mega Time Squad

Mega Time Squad is a slightly fanciful tale set in Thames. Antony Tennet plays John, the feckless employee of local crime boss Shelton. John is prevailed upon to stage a heist against the local triad, and he agrees in order to impress Shelton's sister. A Chinese bracelet stolen along with a tyre-full of money gives John the ability to duplicate himself and travel backwards in time, and this leads to many a comic moment and general silliness. There are car chases, guns, violence and swearing but this film  comes across as benign and life-affirming.

Mega Time Squad was sequestered in the incredibly strange section of the film festival programme, which seems like a potentially audience-limiting decision. While not as main-stream or high budget as, say, Sione's Wedding, it was at least on par with How To Meet Girls From a Distance and shared many qualities with both those films - especially how the characters talk, behave and interact. A more accurate description than incredibly strange would be fast-paced , off-beat comedy. Despite the film festival's categorization, it's coming out on general release later in the year.


Director/Writer Tim van Dammen says "Mega Time Squad celebrates Kiwi-ness, particularly the way Kiwis speak" and that was a very enjoyable aspect of the film. The scenario of the self-confident obnoxious individual who surrounds himself with  self-effacing conflict-averse characters is one we're all familiar with  and Jonny Brugh does an excellent job playing the obnoxious Shelton.  I liked the escapist element and the recognisable setting. We've spent a lot of time in Thames and it's always fun to see somewhere you're familiar with on screen.

It's fair to say I loved Mega Time Squad. I really can't think about it without smiling

Anne's rating 4.5/5. Ian's rating.

Woman at War

Hella is a much-loved choirmaster and secret eco-warrior. She also has a 3 piece band that appears wherever she is to provide a soundtrack for her life and when they aren't available there are 3 Ukranian women in national costume to sing instead. These are slightly surreal aspects to Woman at War, this year's Icelandic comedy. Hella's eco-warrior activities mostly revolve around shorting out high-voltage powerlines feeding a steel (or aluminium) plant. Her life is complicated when an application to adopt a Ukranian orphan four years earlier is suddenly accepted. Our quixotic heroine is undaunted by the forces of the government and nature.
This is a laid back, light hearted shaggy dog story, which will teach you a couple of new uses for dead sheep and how to shoplift a typewriter. There is also an unfortunate Spanish speaking cycle tourist who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time and you will see and hear a Helicon.

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Ian's rating 3.5/5

Border

Tina works in customs at a Swedish ferry terminal. She is a valuable member of the team because she has an amazing sense of smell. Tina is particularly ugly. One day she processes a passenger she finds fascinating and the attraction is mutual. This has a knock-on effect on Tina's relationships with both her boyfriend and her dad. Tina, who has been bullied all her life, blooms as a result of this encounter. Border is another film that should have been categorised in the NZIFF's Incredibly Strange section and I can't say much more about what happens without giving too much away.
Border is a film about the marginalised in society and different strategies for those people to deal with the rest of society. It is also brings some old Scandinavian ideas up to date, by incorporating them into a modern story.

After reading other reviews I see that some reviewers are shocked by seeing ugly people having sex on screen.

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Ian's rating 3.5/5

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Ancient Woods

 Nature documentaries are a staple of television channels, so obviously you don't have to go to the theatre to see them. The best nature documentaries provide a kind of immersive experience, and are free from annoying voice-overs or ad breaks. They should be the next best thing to being there and sometimes they're better than being there because a camera can go where humans can't.

The Ancient Woods takes the viewer to Lithuania, where there's an incredible diversity of wildlife. Moose and mice, owls and vultures, snakes and deer, crows and capercaillies, ants and bees. The footage is stunning, and often quite funny. It was a little slow but the I have forgiven the slow bits because the good bits were so good. There was very clever camera positioning, and I enjoyed being fearful for the life of the dormouse until I realised that snake that was pursuing it was very tiny.

Being in the woods, even vicariously, is definitely an immersive experience, especially when it comes to sound. It seems European forests are noisy places, and some of the creatures make surprising sounds. When I went to the exhibition at Zealandia and saw the animated moa models and heard them growling, I thought this was completely fanciful but now that I've seen the western capercaillie  (an incredible bird that's like a cross between a turkey and a cassowary, pictured below) I think that moas may well have growled.

I think on the whole I prefer my stunning visuals to be accompanied by stirring music but I can see that without its current soundtrack The Ancient Woods would be missing something important.

Anne's rating 3.5/5


The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

We've seen quite a few movies about Palestinians who live in the West Bank (Paradise Now, A Wedding in Ramallah, Omar, Private, The Zoo) but few about Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. So  The Reports on Sarah and Saleem broke some new ground in terms of both that and interaction between Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens.

So in this movie, Sarah is a Jewish Israeli cafe owner, and Saleem is a Palestinian who delivers croissants to her cafe. They move in different circles but they both live in Jerusalem. They both have distracted spouses - Sarah's husband David is an officer in the IDF and is often away and Saleem's wife Bisan is pregnant and is declining sex because it's bad for the baby. So they have motive, proximity and opportunity for the affair they embark on. The bakery van provides a handy venue. You could say their affair was bound to lead to trouble but it seemed harmless enough initially.

The event that really starts the trouble is a late-night trip to Bethlehem. Despite the plan to pretend Sarah is foreign by having her only speak in English, she's rumbled as Jewish and some unhappy Arabs not only give Saleem a hard time, they report him to the authorities, and things escalate from there.

Any affair has potentially troublesome ramifications and I guess the plot revolves around the many ramifications that this affair had, in this politically and racially charged part of the world. Many of them were unexpected, and I was never bored and never knew quite what was going to happen next. This movie is quite woman-centric for a Middle-Eastern film and I liked how Sarah and Bisan didn't just roll over and do what their husbands wanted. I liked how interesting and well-acted some of the lesser characters were - Saleem's lawyer Maryam and the bald Israeli security guy in particular..

Jerusalem looked beautiful as always and the similarities and differences between Jewish and Arab Israelis were nicely highlighted.

Anne's rating 4.5/5 Ian's rating 4.5/5

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Guilty

The detectives who feature in crime novels, particularly Scandinavian ones, are usually troubled souls. They're a bit too devoted to their jobs, and as a result their relationships fail. They're a bit prone to cutting corners to get a result in a case, and so are often in trouble with their bosses but they inspire complete loyalty from their work partners.

Asger Holm, the star character in The Guilty is just such a Scandinavian police officer. He's been suspended from regular police duties since he shot a criminal and has been reassigned to working in the call centre answering 112 emergency calls. A routine evening in the centre is coming to an end when a woman who has been abducted by her husband phones in and we see Asger's detective and organisational skill at work despite him never leaving the desk.

Asger is a huge character and he features in every scene. He's compassionate and thoughtful, persuasive, determined  and unwavering. He's a classically flawed hero and he is totally worth watching - both for his character and his hugely expressive and largely flawless face.


The film is very clever, with the plot detail  unfolding with each phone call between Asger and the woman  (Iben), and Asger and Iben's daughter, a Asger and the staff who dispatch offices and cars around the city . (The instant nature of the dispatches is truly impressive if you've ever been made aware of New Zealand's rationing of police resources). Despite being filmed entirely in the call centre, the Guilty keeps you on the edge of your seat, as a thriller should, and the realisation that things are not exactly as you first thought is nicely gradual.

Anne's rating 4/5, Ian's rating 4.5/5

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Good Manners

Good Manners is misfiled outside the NZIFF's Incredibly Strange section. It is an urban Brazillian horror film among other things, which starts with pregnant Ana interviewing nannies in an upmarket apartment. She hires Clara who moves in to work as a housekeeper prior to to the birth. The impassive Clara contrasts with the flighty, impulsive, Zumba obsessed Ana. Despite the difference in social class and personality the two develop a close bond, which holds them together when odd things start to happen.

When the story of Ana and Clara came to an end and I expected the credits to roll, but there is jump of 8-10 years and a new plot starts. Good Manners is like a double feature, two stories back to back, with Clara as the linking character. This time Clara is in charge, running her own pharmacy and looking after her son.
I didn't know there were home ultrasound kits
There is more humour than horror in Good Manners and some stylish set pieces. It is also one of a surprising number of films at this year's festival which are either lesbian centric or with lesbian content.

Ian's rating 3/5

Friday, August 10, 2018

Rafiki

Your dad and my dad are rivals, is it Okay for us to be friends? This is the first question confronting Kena and Ziki in Rafiki. Their fathers are rival candidates in the upcoming election. But the initial attraction between the skateboard riding, soccer playing Kena and Ziki with her huge earrings and pink and blue dreds, moves onto kissing. Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya and the local pastor regularly preaches against it, so coming out as a lesbian is dangerous. But the two girls can't keep away from each other.
Rafiki is a simple story set in a colourful Nairobi suburb. The passion the two girls have for each other is communicated by their recklessness. The charm of the film is not only stubbornness of Kena contrasting with the flirty Ziki but also the colourful exotic setting (to non-Africans) but also the directness and emotional expressiveness of the dialogue. I was left with slight disappointment at the end at how little plot there was, a feeling of is-that-all-there-is? But remember that this is an issue film which wants to communicate is message in a positive feel-good way rather than a complex drama.

The film is adapted from a Ugandan short story and has been banned in Kenya.

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Ian's rating 3.5/5 Anne's rating 3/5

Holiday

Director Isabella Eklöf's Holiday is set in the bright sun and colours of a Turkish resort town. Bikinis, swimming pools, clubwear, nightclubs and colourful amusement parks. It is a film about power relationships.


Sascha is the trophy girlfriend of Michael, a Danish gangster more than twice her age. From Michael's point of view, there isn't much of a downside to this relationship. For Sascha, it is more of a trade-off. Endless leisure time and material benefits on one side and verbal, sexual and physical abuse on the other. Is it a reasonable trade-off?

Michael, family and close colleagues are on holiday at a coastal Turkish villa. Consequently, Sascha is isolated from anyone outside Michael's circle of friends, with only casual holiday contacts which she certainly can't rely on to counterbalance Michael et al. Understandably Sascha takes a cautious, timid and mostly passive role in proceedings though her most dramatic act is certainly decisive as is the subsequent decision. Sascha's passivity and her lack of lines leave it very much up to us to conjecture what is going on behind the sunglasses.

While ostensibly filmed from a Male Gaze perspective, the camera often shifts to view Sascha and what is happening to her in a non-glamourous way. There are also plenty of scenes to disturb (including a rape). There were 2 walkouts in the showing I was at (one loudly telling us what he thought).

My initial reaction was that the message of this message was that women should burn their pushup bras, miniskirts, bikinis and high heels and put on their baggy overalls and comfortable shoes. But on further consideration perhaps Isabella Eklöf wants us to consider our relationships and the relationships of those we might judge in all their facets, trade-offs and consequences. What do people get from their relationships? What is the downside? How easy is it for them to get out of situations?

After reading other reviews, I see I am not alone at finding this a difficult film to process.

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Ian's rating 2.5/5

Thursday, August 09, 2018

And Breathe Normally

Social commentary through drama is the sort of film we expect from Ken Loach. But And Breathe Normally is by Ísold Uggadóttir and therefore set in Iceland, which probably looks pretty bleak for much of the year and where buildings and other trappings of human life tend to look out of place.

Lara is trying to improve her life. A life which comes with baggage, including tattoos, debts, people she is trying to avoid, a flat she can't afford and a 4 or 5 year old son. She is just starting a job as border guard at Keflavík International Airport. Anxious to impress on the first day on passport control, she notices an imperfection in a French passport of a woman heading for Canada. The woman, Adja from Guinea-Bissau, is also a solo mother with a daughter in Canada and completely out of her comfort zone in Iceland. She is sent to a prison, and then to a downtown boarding house for people awaiting asylum decisions or deportation. Meanwhile, Lara has a major crisis of her own, which leads her to cross paths with Adja again.


Some suspension of belief is required here and there in order to take the plot seriously and to engineer the ending that Ísold Uggadóttir is aiming for, but And Breathe Normally is none-the-worse for that.

And Breathe Normally champions the cause of those on the fringes of society and those who feel they have to break rules when those rules are designed for the benefit of others. There is also a sly, casual promotion of the sisterhood and a super cute kid.

Ian's rating 3.5/5 Anne's rating 3.5/5

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Shoplifters

Shoplifters is the most popular film in Japan so far this year. It also won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

The Shoplifters are a family that supplements their menial jobs with petty crime. One night they come across a little girl who is cold, hungry and apparently abandoned. They notice her bruises and decide to informally adopt her without involving the authorities who might ask awkward questions about their criminal activities. For a while things work. Summer arrives, the family goes to the beach. Everything looks good until the wheels fall off and the police get involved.


Shoplifters is a gentle comedy that humanises a bunch of people at the margin of society. It helps that it stars two very cute little children. It also raises an awkward question about what should authorities do with a child that has been illegally adopted or stolen but brought up very well by parents who acquired the child illicitly. What is the best for that child?

I noticed that the Society to Prevent Shoplifting is mentioned in the credits.

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Ian's rating 4/5 Anne's rating 3/5