Nurse Bob's Film Festival Reviews


Please note these are just thumbnail reviews due to time constraints

Accused (Netherlands): Based on a true story, a nurse is tried and convicted of murdering several patients even though the prosecution's arguments rely on nothing but circumstantial evidence. A bitter indictment of the Dutch legal system and one hell of a courtroom drama.

Anomalisa (USA): If love is a battlefield then Michael Stone has already surrendered in this amazing stop-motion animated feature. A motivational speaker by trade, Michael’s life is falling apart at the seams with a loveless marriage, a string of loveless affairs, and a crippling sense that existence itself is nothing more than mundane rituals and dull monotony—even the faces and voices which surround him seem indistinguishable from one another. Things appear to change one night however when he meets a pretty young office clerk who is attending one of his out-of-town lectures. Shy, not particularly bright, but exhibiting a uniqueness which enthrals him, Lisa seems to be exactly what Michael is lacking in his life. But can you truly love someone when your own heart has given up long ago? A brilliant script coupled with painstaking and highly imaginative animation (including a beautifully poignant sex scene) make Anomalisa one of this year’s revelations.

A Perfect Day (Spain): At the close of the Balkan war a body is found floating in a village well. Fearing an outbreak of disease should the corpse decompose and contaminate the water supply foreign aid workers Tim Robbins and Benicio Del Toro set about removing it—but their efforts are constantly thwarted by bureaucratic red tape, hostile locals, and a couple of strategically placed dead cows. A wholly derivative satire replete with the usual stale jokes about U.N. inefficiency and the madness of war underscored by the usual sobering images of bombed out homes and winsome orphans. And just to make things spicy there’s some tacked on sexual tension as Del Toro’s ex-lover, a Russian overseer, joins in the fun. Not content to let his audience figure out the glaring ironies for themselves however, director Fernando León de Aranoa closes this surefire crowd pleaser with a syrupy montage that’s sure to have socially conscious popcorn-munchers cheering in their seats.

A Tale of Three Cities (China): When widowed Chen runs afoul of customs officer Fang their initial animosity quickly turns into an epic romance which manages to survive the Japanese Occupation, the Cultural Revolution, and a treacherous escape to Hong Kong where they eventually conceive the future Jackie Chan. Overwrought with weeping violins, slo-mo good-byes, and bawling children, Mabel Cheung's teary Chinese version of "Dr. Zhivago" still manages to entertain by its sheer audacity if nothing else.

The Anarchists (France): In 1899 Paris an undercover police officer infiltrates a cell of fin-de-siècle terrorists intent on toppling the bourgeoisie. Unfortunately he soon finds himself in an ethical quandary when he not only falls in love with one of the ringleaders but also receives a disturbing insight into the political machinations behind his assignment. Lots of the highbrow chinwagging one expects from French films of this sort but the performances are top notch, the story compelling enough, and the period touches are pretty to look at despite some incongruously modern background songs.

The Assassin (China): The Imperial Court of 9th century China is threatened by a handful of rogue states who are intent on consolidating their power. In order to protect the status quo a young female assassin is sent to kill the strongest of the rebel lords but complications soon arise for the man in question once shared a romantic bond with her and now her sworn duty is in direct conflict with the yearnings of her heart. Curiously filmed in a 4:3 ratio, director Hou Hsiao-Hsien nevertheless manages to fill his small screen with ravishing asymmetrical mise-en-scènes delineated by rich silks and guttering candles, mountain peaks and forest roads, sylvan waterfalls and moss-covered boulders. Those expecting a martial arts actioner will walk away disappointed for this is a slow, languorous piece of art whose frustratingly opaque storyline takes a backseat to its visual pageantry.

Chevalier (Greece): A chartered boat cruise turns into a monumental pissing contest for six acquaintances hellbent on finding out which one of them is the “best overall man”. With pens and notebooks in hand the guys begin grading each other on everything from poise and attitude to sleeping habits and relationships (and yes, they get the measuring tape out as well). But what starts out as a gentlemen’s wager to pass the time quickly escalates into a vicious machismo contest that even has the boat’s crew placing their own bets. Athina Rachel’s hilariously deadpan send-up of male posturing features a cast of XY stereotypes (braggart, nerd, midlife crisis guy…) beating their chests and flinging dung at one another yet she does it with such aplomb that even male members of the audience have no choice but to surrender to the inanity of it all. Fun!

Chronic (Mexico/France): Hospice nurse David Wilson (a downbeat Tim Roth) specializes in home care. Fastidious and always willing to go above and beyond his duties, David is also in the habit of insinuating himself into patients’ lives through various bizarre and inappropriate ways. Clearly suffering from the throes of professional burnout, there is an even darker explanation for his strange behaviour which writer/director Michel Franco slowly reveals through dropped conversations and emotionally laden glances. Despite some stilted dialogue (does everyone in David’s life speak in a depressed monotone?) and an abrupt ending which only adds to the story if taken metaphorically, this is still a realistic portrayal of one man’s dysfunctional search for approval and absolution.

The Club (Chile): Sweet-natured Sister Monica oversees a home for wayward priests where guilty pastors are sent to do penance but usually wind up just drinking and gambling. And then a dark secret from one priest's past shows up in the backyard and refuses to be quiet sparking a visitation from an avenging angel in the form of a Vatican auditor. With her charges under siege and her livelihood threatened Monica's angelic halo suddenly takes on a sinister glint. It's always fun to see a director rip the Church a new asshole but writer/director Pablo Larrain's caustic satire about the sins of the Fathers coming home to roost is enough to make Buñuel wince. Ouch!

The Daughter (Australia): A boorish jerk returns home for his estranged father's second wedding. Surrounded by family and friends (and a lot of alcohol) skeletons soon pop out of closets as everyone tries to figure out who fucked whom, who lied, and whose wounds hurt the most. A maudlin and emotionally sterile soap opera weighed down by a sophomoric script and pop psychology symbolism (fly little injured duck...FLY!) The impressive cast have their talents wasted and a ridiculously pretentious soundtrack of choral music borders on blasphemy.

The Dinner (Italy): Two brothers on opposite sides of the ethical divide--one a cool calculating lawyer, the other a moralistic surgeon--find themselves in a deep psychological quandary when their two teenage kids are involved in a horrific crime. Excellent performances and a refreshingly non-Hollywood script. Best ending ever!

Disorder [Maryland] (Belgium): Fresh from a tour in Afghanistan, war veteran Vincent (Euro-hunk Mathias Schoenaerts) is barely managing to keep his PTSD symptoms at bay through denial and self-medication. When he’s hired as a temporary bodyguard for the pampered wife and child of a Lebanese businessman living in France he sees it as easy money with little responsibility. But the businessman has some rather deadly enemies and Vincent quickly finds himself fighting to keep his charges alive while his mental health begins to take a nosedive… Brilliantly acted and directed, with a pulsing techno score that ratchets up the tension and an erotic edge that lingers right up until the hauntingly intense final frame.

Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon (USA): When I was an awkward adolescent there were a few things that shaped my (unfortunate) sense of humour: Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Saturday Night Live, and most importantly, National Lampoon Magazine. This entertaining documentary examines the meteoric rise and sad fall of the best English language satirical magazine to ever grace a newsstand not to mention launching a dozen careers from Chevy Chase to Bill Murray. Resolutely non-PC and sure to offend. Oh how I wish I had saved my stack of back issues.

Edweard (Canada): During his career, pioneering 19th century photographer Eadweard Muybridge took over one hundred thousand photographs of people and animals on the move in what was to become the largest study of motion in history. In this assured biopic we see a brilliant man obsessed with the science of kinetics often spending hours behind an array of box cameras while his subjects engaged in the most mundane tasks---stooping, jumping, running, sweeping---usually in the nude so as to highlight the interplay of muscle and tissue. Unfortunately he also harboured a darker obsession with his much younger wife whose marital indiscretions, brought on my his long absences, eventually led to tragedy and a notorious court case. Superb cinematography capturing the essence of Muybridge's work is further enhanced by fine performances and a literary script. As someone who is not a fan of English-Canadian films I must take my hat off to director Kyle Rideout.

The Falling (UK): "The Devils" meets "Picnic at Hanging Rock" in this uneven and ultimately disappointing story set in a British girls' school circa 1960s. Sexual stirrings, shameful secrets, and a repressive autocracy result in a highly metaphorical fainting epidemic. Or is it magic? There is a thin line between psychodrama and psychobabble, a fact obviously lost upon writer/director Carol Morley.

45 Years (UK): Fifty years after she died while hiking in the alps an old man's first love is found perfectly preserved in a glacier—a turn of events which sends his wife into a psychological tailspin just days before their 45th wedding anniversary. But which partner is worthy of sympathy? A tepid script is brought to searing life thanks to the combined talents of Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling.

From Scotland with Love (UK): In much the same vein as Terence Davies's "Of Time and the City", Virginia Heath gathers a dizzying montage of archival film clips and home movies from Scotland to give us an impression of the country and its people circa fin de siècle to the disco era. But unlike Davies' bleak ruminations on Liverpool Heath celebrates the ballsy Scottish spirit as her barrage of visuals sends us back and forth through time. The accompanying music by King Creosote lends a touch of the ethereal. Amazing!

High Rise (UK): Ben Wheatley once again opens doors best left closed in this angry and despairing look at the savage beast which lurks beneath our civilized veneer. When a young doctor moves into London’s newest state-of-the-art condo development he is immediately caught up in an escalating class war as residents from the lower levels demand their fair share of the building’s amenities only to meet with growing resistance from the hedonistic upper floors while the godlike project architect Mr. Royal (get it?) struggles to maintain some degree of equilibrium from his lofty penthouse. Of course in typical Wheatley fashion if a little blood and violence gets a point across why not dump truckloads of it all over the screen to really drive the message home—and so begins an odyssey of orgies, murder, and demented consumerism with social order going out the window (at times literally) and the lunatics taking over the asylum. One could take it as a psychodrama featuring a Freudian smackdown between the id and superego (The Architect eventually goes toe-to-toe with the raping pillaging Mr. Wilders from the 2nd floor) but the fact that the building itself resembles a raised middle finger and Wheatley throws in a capitalist rant from the Iron Lady herself just for good measure makes me lean more towards the sociopolitical. A great premise marred by cinematic overkill.

Hilda (Mexico): Bored rich bitch Susanna fancies herself a social activist because she observed a student revolt 50 years ago and read a few paragraphs of Marx. What happens when she forms an obsessive attachment to the new maid becomes a farce straight out of the mind of Buñuel. It's social satire served up dark and scathing, just the way I like it!

Home Care (Czech Republic): Vlasta is a small town community nurse who spends as much time caring for her dysfunctional husband and daughter as she does for the eccentric patients on her route. When she suddenly finds herself in need of TLC however the tables are not quite turned in her favour for no one seems prepared to care for the caregiver. Trying everything from creative dance to alternative medicine, Vlasta’s slow journey towards infirmity will be marked by several bittersweet epiphanies and a healing confrontation or two. Alternately laugh-out-loud hilarious and sadly poignant, Slávek Horák’s charming little slice of life drama detailing Vlasta’s evolution from stoic handmaiden to vocal self-advocate wraps it’s sardonic wit in layers of warm humanity. Cynical yet loving, fatalistic but not despairing, pensive yet never taking itself too seriously—in other words, a Czech film.

In Transit (USA): Director Albert Maysles films passengers aboard the Amtrak "Empire Builder" running back and forth between Chicago and Seattle in order to present us with a slice of American Life. What we actually get is a dollop of drunks and losers with the truly interesting people relegated to mere appetizers. Having ridden this train many times in the past I find it fascinating that a 76-minute documentary can actually seem longer than the three-day trip itself.

In Your Hands (Denmark): Despite her ethical misgivings a nurse agrees to accompany a terminally ill patient (suffering from a debilitating motor-neuron disease) to Switzerland where he hopes to avoid a prolonged death by checking into an assisted-suicide clinic. A few side trips and heated confrontations en route will cause the truculent and embittered Neils to review his past while the emotionally repressed Maria takes stock of her future. Although director Sammanou Sahlstrøm plays the "transformative card" a few times with slow-motion passages set to a bluesy guitar, and a highway interlude provides a glaring metaphor, the overall tone is kept stark and unsentimental. And the ending, when it comes, is devastating in its sheer simplicity. Truly moving.

I Saw the Light (USA): Before he succumbed to alcohol and painkillers at the age of twenty-nine, country legend Hank Williams recorded dozens of number one hits and sold over eleven million records. Along the way he also endured a rather rocky love life with disillusioned wives, angry mistresses, and a few unexpected children. Unfortunately, despite a knockout performance by lead Tom Hiddleston (who did his own singing), Marc Abraham’s biopic seems to skip a few chapters in Williams’ life resulting in an uneven mix of loose ends and blind alleys which not only fail to convey the man’s popularity but downplay his artistic talents. What we’re left with is a mildly engaging, emotionally neutral story of a handsome hick who sang a few tunes and drank too much. A real pity.

Ivy (Turkey): When the owner of their cargo ship declares bankruptcy, six men are stranded aboard the rusting hulk as it floats off the coast of Egypt. With their passports seized by Egyptian authorities the sailors and their captain are stuck in a legal limbo with dwindling supplies, no money, and no relief in sight. And as the days turn into weeks the oppressive monotony begins to take its toll on their minds leading to all sorts of mayhem and madness. A visceral study in claustrophobia and the breakdown of social norms as well as a rip-roaring Freudian horror story!

James White (USA): With no money, no job, and no clue, James White is an angry young man without a cause. Taking up residence on his mother’s couch he spends most of his waking time drinking, fighting, and self-medicating while burning as many bridges as he can. But when his mom is diagnosed with aggressive cancer right on the heels of his father’s funeral, James’ already juvenile coping skills leave him ill-prepared to be his mother’s keeper. Josh Mond’s searing character study tracing his protagonist’s self-implosion achieves a level of intimacy rarely seen on the big screen with cameras following a perpetually addled James from blaring discotheques to tearful bedside embraces. Watching this young man sabotage his every step secure in the knowledge that life somehow owes him something makes for harrowing viewing and marks lead actor Christopher Abbott as the next star to watch out for.

The Lobster (UK/Greece): In a secluded corner of Europe there stands a lonely hearts hotel where customers are given 45 days in which to meet a compatible mate and fall in love or else they are turned into the animal of their choice and released into the nearby forest. No exceptions. Into this tyrannical setting comes a young man fresh out of a loveless marriage accompanied by his pet dog (who used to be his brother). At first intimidated by his surroundings, and then disillusioned, David eventually escapes and joins an underground group of "loners" where he soon discovers that life on the other side of the fence comes with its own restrictions. Yorgos Lanthimos' absurdist comedy of conformity and pigeonholing---you must be straight or gay, not bi, and shoes don't come in half sizes---can be taken as a wry political allegory (right/left polarization) or a sad commentary on the state of interpersonal relationships in this age of high-speed internet and instant gratification (the banal conversations and wooden acting are painfully deliberate). Whatever your take this is one head-scratcher that will leave you anything but neutral. Imagine a dating service run by Franz Kafka…

London Road (UK): London Road in Ipswich, England, was a relatively quiet, dingy working class neighbourhood until the arrival of street prostitution and all its accompanying ills sent the conservative locals into a tizzy. And then in 2006 five prostitutes were found murdered and the resulting media frenzy shone an unwelcome spotlight on both the town and its inhabitants leading to an urban revival of sorts as the people of London Road took steps to repair their tarnished image. Writer Alecky Blythe journeyed to Ipswich in order to record first hand accounts from residents, media personnel, and sex trade workers alike, encouraging people to offer up opinions on how the killings affected not only their personal lives but the life of their neighbourhood as well. Taking these verbatim transcripts director Rufus Norris, along with the National Theatre, does a most curious thing—he turns them into a lousy Sondheim musical complete with dancing residents and singing reporters. Hopelessly skewed with the locals portrayed as shallow boorish prigs while a trio of prostitutes chant about their unhappy lives, this sanctimonious revue of handpicked quotes, endlessly repeated, comes across as corny and unbalanced. Perhaps more emotionally revealing song and dance numbers from the streetwalkers and less local “colour” may have helped balance the picture, but if I lived on London Road I’d be pissed right off.

Louder Than Bombs (Norway): Reality, dreams, and shifting timelines underscore Joachim Trier's brilliant film exploring all the myriad ways we photoshop our memories in order to make "the truth" more bearable. Two years after war photojournalist Isabelle Reed's death in a car accident her husband and two children are in a psychological standoff with dad trying to protect the youngest son Conrad from an uncomfortable truth, the older son Jonah evading a few truths of his own, and Conrad desperately trying to ignore everyone's self-deception by immersing himself in dark fantasy. And then a newspaper article meant as a tribute to the late Isabelle shakes the family's delicate equilibrium to its very foundation. A stellar cast and award-winning director take a tricky screenplay and score a small cinematic coup.

Monty Python: The Meaning of Live (UK): Now a gang of raucous septuagenarians, the comedy geniuses who immortalized dead parrots and silly walks reminisce on their pasts and futures while rehearsing for their final farewell tour. If you love the Flying Circus this is a must-see.

Mustang (Turkey): A innocent frolic at the beach with some male school mates turns into a sexist nightmare for five sisters when the rumour mill suggests that there was more than swimming going on. But being berated by their uncle and grandmother (their parents are dead) and hauled to the doctor to check the state of their virginity is just the beginning as the young women find themselves prisoners in a home that slowly morphs into a prison. Youngest child Lela watches helplessly as her older siblings slowly succumb to the patriarchal demands foisted upon them----but she also harbours a growing resentment towards the males that want to control her life... Brilliant performances highlight this engrossing tale of a cultural and religious misogyny which sees women as willing pawns while excusing men of the most heinous crimes.

My Friend Victoria (France): Narrated by her friend Fanny, the sad tale of Victoria--a little black girl with the misfortune of constantly running into benevolent white folks (huh?)--unfolds in a confusing blend of caucasian guilt and internalized racism. Or something. If the director meant to cast a disparaging eye on France's lingering colonial mindset his movie is about 50 years too late and 30 minutes too long. Flat, tedious, and fraught with contradictions.

My Internship in Canada (Canada): An endearingly naïve activist from Haiti is hired as a personal assistant to a beleaguered Quebec MLA in this droll satire on all things Canadian....but most of the arrows are pointed directly at Harper. The scenes where the dumbfounded aide tries to tell his countrymen how things are done in Canada are the funniest. The audience howled, I merely smiled a lot. Not bad.

My Skinny Sister (Sweden): Pudgy, awkward, and feeling the first pangs of puberty, Stella seems resigned to living in the shadow of her gorgeous older sister Katja, a promising figure skater and the apple of her parents’ eyes. But Katja has been hiding the fact that she has an eating disorder and when Stella accidentally discovers her sister’s dark secret the two girls call an uneasy truce—until Katja’s deteriorating health forces Stella to break her silence. Unlike Breillat’s vitriolic Fat Girl, Sanna Lenken keeps her savvy tale of sibling jealousy at a slow simmer, never exploiting her sensitive subject matter but instead using it as a catalyst to show how family bonds, no matter how tenuous, run deeper than we expect. A warmhearted, often funny look at one little girl growing up and growing wiser.

One Floor Below (Romania): When a woman is murdered in the apartment below his own, responsible family man Sandu knows far more about the case than he’s willing to tell the police. The reason behind his silence, and the fallout it engenders, may strike a nerve with Romanians but it translates poorly to North American audiences making for a rather dull exposé. Good performances however, especially Sandu’s rather naïve son whose fascination with violent video games gives rise to some ironic sleepwalks.

100 Yen Love (Japan): Female slacker meets washed-up boxer for a non-love story that combines the best parts of "Rocky" with Kevin Smith's "Clerks". The word "quirky" was made for movies like this.

Our Little Sister (Japan): Director Kore-eda Hirokazu once again proves he is the rightful heir to Ozu in this completely disarming family drama which examines the abiding strength of familial bonds and the necessity of forgiving one’s parents. When they travel to the funeral of their estranged father three adult sisters are introduced to their little half-sister Suzu whom dad sired with his second wife before moving on to number three. Bringing her back to the family home where they live, all three take an immediate liking to the impressionable young girl with eldest sister Sachi acting as surrogate mother. But Sachi has issues with her own mother, and when the woman in question pays her daughters an impromptu visit old scars are laid bare and Sachi is forced to acknowledge just how much parents live on in their children. A gentle, loving film doused in pastel shades and showcasing Kore-eda’s ability to wring poetry out of the commonplace with wind chimes and cherry blossoms swaying to warm breezes, slow-moving trains wending their way home, and four giggling sisters collecting shells on a sandy beach. A beautiful little gem.

The Piper (Korea): Towards the end of the Korean war a crippled peddler and his unwell son seek food and lodging in an isolated mountain village which just happens to be under siege from hordes of bloodthirsty rats. Agreeing to get rid of the rats for a small fee the peddler works some unexpected magic with his flute and sends the rodents scurrying. But when the crooked chief and highly superstitious villagers betray the peddler in a most horrific way it is suddenly time to pay the piper for real. A dark and bloody fairy tale for grown-ups which casts a grim eye on the various ways the masses are controlled by those in power whether it be through religion, nationalism, or plain fear-mongering. Great cast, tight directing, and CGI effects that will have you checking under your seat!

Rams (Iceland): Despite living across from each other on the family sheep farm, estranged brothers Gummi and Kiddi haven't spoken to one another in forty years. Petty jealousies and the occasional comeuppance seem to be the only way they care to interact. But when tragedy strikes their respective flocks the two men respond in very different ways---until an even greater tragedy forces them to become closer than they've ever been before. Typically droll Icelandic humour permeates every frame of this delightful Scandinavian take on the Cain vs Abel myth which will have you alternately laughing and cringing right up to the unexpectedly poignant final frame.

Room (Ireland/Canada): The only existence five-year old Jack has even known is the interior of the tiny shed where he was born and in which he and his mother are being held captive by "Old Nick", the creepy man who only visits to drop off groceries and take mom to bed. Convinced by his protective mother that only "room" is real and everything he sees on TV is merely flat and pretend, Jack is ill-prepared when a daring escape plunges him headfirst into the World. But freedom is a wholly objective experience as mother and son soon discover, and "room" can take many forms. A brilliant examination of the emotional trauma ironically inflicted on survivors who are rescued from a greater trauma. Destined to be another one of my 10 best this year.

The Royal Tailor (Korea): Haute couture is raised to royal heights in this visually dazzling historical epic set in 17th century Korea. When royal tailor Dol-Seok finds his position threatened by talented young upstart Kong-Jin each man tries to outdo the other by aligning himself with one of the women vying to be the next queen. Their goal? Design a gown to (quite literally) die for. Hilarious and heartbreaking in turn, although it could have stood a bit of editing. The costumes, of course, are breathtaking.

The Second Mother (Brazil): Although firmly ensconced in the wealthy São Paulo family she’s been serving for years, kindhearted live-in housemaid Val still knows her place in the grand scheme of things. And then her estranged daughter comes for a prolonged visit and the girl’s somewhat hostile indifference to the established class system not only gives Val a series of hilarious conniptions it also sends the rich bitch wife of her employer into a bourgeois meltdown. But when Val discovers her daughter has something of a skeleton in her own closet both women have some serious reflecting to do… A wonderfully lighthearted comedy that manages to skewer middle-class foibles without the usual vitriol and sarcasm. In the role of Val, Regina Casé delivers pure comedy gold!

Son of Saul (Hungary): Hungarian Jew Saul Auslander is an inmate at an unspecified concentration camp where his assigned duties include emptying the gas chambers and stoking the crematorium fires. Numbed by the carnage he has witnessed Saul nevertheless feels a pang of resistance when he steals the body of a young boy who has just been gassed, “adopts” him as his son, and decides to risk everything, including his own life, to see that the child receives a proper Jewish burial. László Nemes’ immensely moving story of one man’s determination to reclaim some shred of his humanity uses sight and sound to completely immerse its audience in a waking nightmare. Shot in a 1.37:1 ratio Nemes focuses his cameras on Saul’s sagging shoulders and bowed head which fill the lower part of the screen yet only partially obscure the horror around him as piles of fresh corpses are methodically sent to the ovens and naked prisoners are shot through the head before being thrown into pits. Moving wraithlike through this Dantean landscape of bonfires and screams Saul’s allegorical quest may seem foolhardy and hopeless, but in Nemes’ capable hands it is elevated into a tale of purest nobility.

Sparrows (Iceland): A somewhat pampered city boy learns a few harsh lessons in life when his mother leaves him in the care of his alcoholic father who lives in a shithole backwater village where sex, drugs, and fisticuffs seem to be the only things that people live for. A melancholy coming of age story told with typical Icelandic candour offset by gorgeous landscapes and an angelic score.

31st October (India): Following Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi's assassination at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards, mobs of outraged Hindus took to the streets in a wave of violence and vandalism which left as many as nine thousand Sikhs dead. In the midst of the carnage however a few brave Hindus went to great lengths to protect their Sikh friends. The real tragedy in Shivaji Patil's film is that he somehow manages to trivialize this horrible massacre by turning it into a preachy Bollywood weeper. Zombie-like performances are rendered almost comical by insufferable slow-motion close-ups while a deafening score of screeching violins frustrates all attempts to nod off. Ham-fisted and manipulative crap cinema.

Three Stories of Love (Japan): A lonely widower can't move past his grief; an unhappy housewife discovers that sometimes the grass is not greener on the other side of the fence; a bitter divorce case causes a gay lawyer to re-examine his own failed relationship. These separate stories form the backbone of writer/director Hashiguchi Ryosuke's quiet triptych of broken lives in search of a mend. In the hands of a lesser talent this could have been a big maudlin slice of unhappiness but Ryosuke's calm hand and clever touches (a rubber ducky has never been so crucial) ensures a bit of sunlight reaches into the darkest places. Alternately heartbreaking and bleakly humorous---another one of my top ten. Be sure to stay until the final credits have ended.

Three Windows and a Hanging (Kosovo): During the Serbian conflict four women from a small Kosovo village are raped by enemy soldiers while their husbands are away at war. Four years later one of the women comes forward with her story and is immediately scapegoated by the village men for not only bringing shame upon their community but for also casting doubt as each man begins to look at his own wife with renewed suspicion, especially the local mayor who may know more than he's telling. A potent and angry film looking at an ingrained culture of misogyny which forever blames the victim while exalting the fragile male ego. Bookended by a group of nitpicking old men forever arguing over inconsequential nonsense, director Isa Qosja uses austere imagery and reserved performances to keep his audience at an emotional arm's-length---the result is both moving and infuriating.

Tikkun (Israel): "It must be so hard to go from your world to ours..." says the cute secular motorist to the ultra-orthodox hitchhiker she just picked up. And that pretty much sets the tone for Avishai Sivan's trancelike pastiche of Haneke and Lynch exploring one fundamentalist Jewish man's crisis of faith. Presented in stark B&W and shot through with religious allegory and shocking visuals this is one of the most controversial and powerful films to emerge from Israel in years. Destined to be in my top 10.

The Treasure (Romania): Cash-strapped Costi is convinced to go on a treasure hunt by his debt-ridden neighbour Adrian who is convinced that his great-grandfather buried a small cache of gold and jewels on the family estate during the communist invasion. Armed with a taciturn “metal detector guy” and a pair of shovels the two men head out to seek their fortune—but first they must contend with a few finer points of Romanian law, a history lesson or two, and a pair of unimaginative policemen. This bone dry satire from director Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania’s master of understatement, may not be as caustic as his previous offerings but he still manages to skewer his beloved country just the same. From Costi’s annoying habit of being honest (he loves reading Robin Hood to his wide-eyed son) to Adrian’s penchant for lies and tall tales, Porumboiu provides ample opportunity to laugh, albeit through slightly gritted teeth. And of course, being Romanian, the humour is all about deadpan faces, personal quirks, and mundane conversations that carry more stings than a nest of hornets. A slightly ludicrous coda and abrupt ending provides the final kick.

Victoria (Germany): One warm Berlin night Victoria, a seemingly innocent naïf, emerges from a pounding underground dance club and meets up with four ne’er-do-wells who take an immediate liking to her. Partying into the wee hours of the morning Victoria bids the men farewell and heads off to the coffee shop where she works. But fate and circumstance intervene and before she knows it she is not only falling in love but volunteering to take part in an armed robbery as well. Of course things don’t go exactly as planned and what began as a pleasant evening turns into a morning of mounting disasters… Director Sebastian Schipper has made one of this year’s most astonishing movies—a gutsy thriller filmed in one amazing take with a handheld camera constantly hovering around Victoria as she manoeuvres her way in and out of buildings, cars, and city streets while she and her newfound buddies weather one crisis after another. This wild cinematography combined with a keen sense of light and colour transform a quiet warren of downtown streets into a neon jumble whose hellish discotheques and soaring rooftops seem more like a setting for Goethe’s Faust than contemporary Berlin. Definitely one of my top films this year.

Ville-Marie (Canada): Over the course of a few days in Montreal the lives of four people will intersect: the European actress with a dark secret; her estranged son; a paramedic haunted by his military experience; and a burnt-out nurse with family issues of her own. The one thing they have in common--a gaping hole in their lives--will eventually unite them in various unforeseen ways. Too many coincidences and tidy connections for my liking but the acting is first rate and director Guy Èdoin balances the pervasive loneliness with a little life-affirming erotica. The deliberately ambivalent ending was played well.