Nurse Bob's Film Festival Reviews


ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE (Japan): Ever since he was a young boy Machisu has wanted to be a famous artist yet as an adult fame seems to constantly elude him. Convinced by a gallery owner that his paintings are too “ordinary” he resorts to increasingly bizarre methods in order to produce works that are “bigger” and “bolder” giving new meaning to the notion that artists must suffer for their art. Meanwhile, oddly enough, his rejected paintings are mysteriously showing up in galleries and hotel lobbies around town... Takeshi delivers a deliciously subversive poison-pen letter addressed to art critics and posers alike. With middle finger firmly extended he condemns the practice of compromising artistic integrity for the sake of commercial success, and he does so in his own inimitable deadpan style. Tremendously funny, dark as hell and politically incorrect all the way. In other words, Kitano Takeshi.

(Canada) Well made look at the impact of our disposable plastic culture on the environment. Connacher travels from the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the landfills of India documenting the impact of this particularly worrisome form of pollution, interviewing some intelligent and personable talking heads along the way. He’s quick to point out that all is not necessarily doom and gloom however and introduces us to some savvy entrepreneurs who are making a living out of reducing, reusing, and recycling. I liked the engaging, laid back approach he brought to his subject matter, lacing the scientific explanations with just the right amount of humour without talking down to his audience. Informative, entertaining, and more than a little disturbing.

(USA): Antonio Campos’ chilling indictment of the anesthetizing effects of cyber-culture on an entire generation calls to mind the works of Michel Haneke, Gus Van Sant and others. His film focuses on Robert, an average student at an upscale east coast boarding school. Like a lot of adolescents his age Robert spends a great deal of time on the internet looking at youtube clips of other people’s lives, exchanging emails, and masturbating to violent pornography. He also suffers from a very poor self-image which causes him to feel like an outsider most of the time. One day, while filming some scenes inside the school as part of an AV club project, his camera inadvertently records two girls dying of a drug overdose. They were twin sisters and the most popular students on campus. Campos’ film is not about the deaths themselves, rather he explores how students and faculty differ in their approach to the tragedy. The younger generation lives in a world where video clips replace experience and emails replace actual conversations. There is a sense of emotional detachment where unpleasant sights can be fast forwarded, replayed again and again, or frozen in time. The adults, on the other hand, live in a world of facades and social niceties. There is a gulf between their words and their actions which they try to fill with quaint euphemisms and empty sermonizing. Even though the dorms contain posters with slogans such as “Express Yourself” and “Do You Feel” any attempts at original thought are discouraged in favour of group conformity. In one scene repeated throughout the movie we see a line of sedate students standing outside the school’s infirmary patiently waiting for their medications to be dispensed. Campos gives his film a rough and edgy style which highlights its sense of alienation and confusion. Background characters go in and out of focus, people are filmed from the neck down, and scenes are frequently shot off-centre. The pacing is slow and deliberate, the dialogue often terse and purposely shallow. The final scene of Robert’s growing paranoia in an age where anyone could be carrying a hidden camera was superbly done and brought the film to a satisfying, though quietly disturbing, conclusion. Very well done.

(USA): Quique Cruz was a young Chilean musician at the time of Pinochet’s reign of terror in which thousands of artists and activists were arrested, tortured, and sometimes murdered. He ended up spending 6 months at the notorious “Villa Grimaldi” concentration camp outside Santiago. Now living in the bay area he journeys back to Chile in order to perform a musical piece he composed in memory of those who lived (and died) in these camps. Despite some poor camerawork and lack of editing there is still much to be admired here. Cruz himself is quite charismatic as are the talking heads he invites to reminisce about their experiences during this dark time. The music is beautiful and some of the images very powerful. If you are interested in the subject matter at all you’ll enjoy this, otherwise it’s a pass.

THE ATOM SMASHERS (USA): Interesting doc on the international race to build bigger and better particle accelerators in order to find concrete evidence of the Higgs’ boson, that most elusive piece of the atomic puzzle. Being the first to detect this infinitesimally small phenomenon would not only be invaluable in explaining the universe as we know it, it would also earn its discoverer a Nobel prize. Brown and Ross keep the pace brisk and the scientists they interview are both engaging and amiable. Somewhere along the line they even manage to make the mysterious world of subatomic particles accessible to all those armchair geeks in the audience. But when the focus shifts to the Bush administration’s funding cuts to scientific research you realize that this may be little more than an eighty minute PR video. Not exactly worthy of the Discovery channel but worth a peek if you have nothing else planned.

BALLAST (USA): When a twin brother commits suicide the resulting emotional fallout has a profound effect on his estranged wife, son, and surviving brother. As longstanding resentments pit the man and woman against each other, the young nephew finds himself caught in the middle. The boy is desperately seeking a sense of stability in his life but his well-meaning mother is barely able to keep food on the table and his deeply troubled uncle is incapable of providing a strong male presence. Like the ornamental pair of deer on the front lawn all is pretense with little substance. Hammer combines long shots with a handheld vérité style to dramatic effect, concentrating on small gestures and minimalist dialogue in order to tell his story. He also draws upon a wintry palette of cold blues and dilute light to heighten the the sense of disconnection between the main characters....each one frozen in their own personal misery. “Ballast” is an examination of the forces that unite and divide families, the many ways we injure each other and the power of reconciliation. It is also a decidedly masculine film addressing the nephew’s uneasy transition into adolescence and his volatile relationship with his uncle. So why did it fail to have more of an effect on me? To begin with it suffers under the weight of its own entropy...when the characters aren’t brooding on the edge of a bed they seem to be shuffling in circles. Their repetitious behaviour becomes tiresome and fails to elicit any sympathy. Secondly, the acting is glaringly uneven with Tarra Riggs’ powerhouse performance as the mother upstaging the other two actors. All the ingredients of a great film were there for me, it just failed to ignite

BLINDNESS (Canada):  Near-future story in which a sudden pandemic of blindness strikes a large city and begins to spread rapidly.  As the growing number of afflicted are crowded into makeshift isolation camps, martial law begins to degenerate into the law of the jungle.  It isn't long before the veneer of civilization begins to erode and what is left behind is unpleasant indeed.  As usual, Julianne Moore gives a convincing performance with her softly nuanced voice and patrician features.  But even her presence cannot make up for some of the more ludicrous elements of the film.  The way in which the blind are herded into a dormitory that becomes a feces-smeared pigsty overnight is completely unrealistic as is the “Lord of the Flies” subplot which emerges.  In addition, a tidy little "inspirational" ending is further marred by a somewhat condescending voiceover, as if we needed help interpreting the movie for ourselves.  One could argue that the film is actually a metaphor examining the many prejudices that separate us, the way developed countries view the third world for instance.  Its story of an apocalyptic event  and the aftermath that follows could also be seen as any one of a number of catastrophes that threaten social order whether they be a natural disaster or global economic collapse.  But, as the final credits roll, you realize that “Blindness” is little more than a mainstream thriller with a hollow core.

BURN THE BRIDGES (Mexico): Sebastian and Helena are teenage siblings living in a crumbling mansion with their terminally ill bedridden mother. While the maid cooks and cleans the kids have little to do other than play silly games and make sure their mom is comfortable. It would also appear that their relationship is closer than it should be. It’s not until the death of their mother that things begin to change. Not only do they have to deal with the disposition of her possessions, but the question of what to do with the house looms over their heads....should they continue to live in their childhood home, or sell it and use the money to start new lives of their own. “Bridges” is a film about the often conflicting passions of youth. It captures two young people as they take their first small steps towards adulthood, abandoning a comfortable insular existence for the exciting, though frightening uncertainties outside the walls of their estate. While Sebastian yearns to break free, he’s unsure as to how to go about it until an outside love interest provides the necessary catalyst. Helena, on the other hand, finds herself slipping into the role of matriarch left vacant by their mother. She vainly tries to keep the outside world at bay but, like the ants that continually enter the home despite poison traps, reality cannot be ignored forever. Franco highlights the ambiguities of adolescence with remarkable insight. He shows how the process of becoming responsible for oneself can be a scary ordeal. He also reveals that moment in every child’s life when they begin to realize that authority figures are human and therefore fallible. Not a great could use some polish and better editing.....but for a debut effort it hints at better things to come.

CAPTAIN ABU RAED (Jordan): Well-acted drama about a humble airport janitor who finds a discarded pilot’s cap in the garbage and decides to wear it home. The neighbourhood children believe him to be an actual pilot and beg him to tell them of his travels abroad. Rather than set them straight he’s soon regaling them with tall tales of his worldly adventures. Little does he know that his innocent fabrications will have a profound effect on a handful of people including a delinquent boy and a battered wife. Whether he’s shooting a sweeping panorama of downtown Amman, or a quietly lit livingroom, Matalqa has a keen sense of light and balance which makes this feature a pleasure to watch. Furthermore there are some wonderful little cultural’s no coincidence that Abu Raed tells his stories amidst the ruins of an ancient temple. Unfortunately, despite the film’s middle-eastern trappings, the underlying template is pure Hollywood schmaltz a la Steven Spielberg......the music is a bit too dramatic, the story a bit too predictable, and the loose ends tied up a bit too neatly. Sure to be an audience favourite and perhaps even garner an Oscar nomination. But that’s not necessarily a compliment.

CAT DANCERS (USA): The story of Ron and Joy Holiday who, at the height of their career, were one of the greatest big cat Las Vegas-style animal acts.....even rivaling Siegfried & Roy. Composed mainly of old, poorly focused video clips, this documentary traces their rise to stardom and the double tragedy which ended their reign. Along the way we are treated to more information than we really need regarding their sexual shenanigans as well as Ron’s ill-fitting toupees. Looking like a pair of partially embalmed zombie mutants, Ron and Joy are difficult to describe objectively although “repulsive”, “roadkill” and “freakish” come to mind. Avoid at all costs.

CIRCUS ROSAIRE (USA): An intimate look at the Rosaire family who have been staging amazing animal acts for over 9 generations. The camera follows them as they lovingly care for their lions, tigers, and bears (oh my) and wax philosophical on life under the big top and the declining interest in circuses. Okay, I admit that when it comes to documentary subjects that interest me the least it’s a toss-up between aging Latin-American musicians and circus performers. This would make a somewhat engaging 30-minute television spot.....but at 90 minutes you’d better be totally obsessed with dancing chimps and bears on motorcycles.

CLOUD 9 (Germany): At the age of 67 frumpy housewife Inge has a delayed mid-life crisis and begins an affair with a 76-year old man. When she finally confesses her indiscretion to her husband of thirty years angry tears ensue and she realizes she must make a choice. It’s not that her marriage is terrible, Werner is a kind and gentle mate who is comfortably set in his ways. His idea of a fun evening is listening to recordings of trains and watching the news. Karl, on the other hand, brings a certain amount of excitement to her life....he rides a bike and takes her skinny-dipping. With Karl she rediscovers that fluttery exhilaration of first love which she thought belonged only to the young. Despite a few nicely filmed scenes of geriatric sex, Dresen has simply added a small twist to the old love triangle story. This in no way demeans his film as there is much here to admire. The editing is sharp, the acting superb, and the attention paid to small details adds a great deal to the narrative, whether it’s a ticking clock in a silent bedroom or the sound of a distant train whistle. Ursula Werner portrays Inge with a curious mixture of inner strength and almost child-like vulnerability. I couldn’t feel any sympathy for her character but her inner turmoil was painfully evident. A very well made, if ultimately unremarkable film.

(S. Korea): A young coal miner in North Korea is faced with a dilemma. He’s barely able to support his small son and pregnant wife when he discovers that she’s suffering from TB and will die without the proper medication. Since the medicine is not available in his own country he decides to sneak into China, earn enough money as an illegal labourer, buy the medicine and then return home. But when his logging camp is raided by the Communist authorities he finds himself caught up in a group defection at the German embassy and eventually winds up as a political refugee in South Korea. Meanwhile things go from bad to worse and beyond for his wife and son... This is the type of aggressive tear-jerker that usually turns me right off. With its endless scenes of slow-motion tears set to swelling violins it shamelessly tries to rip an emotional response out of you. So why can’t I just walk away from it? To begin with the acting is wonderful. When they’re not bawling their eyes out the actors manage to deliver performances that are both natural and convincing. Secondly the director employs some truly beautiful imagery......the son’s trek through the desert for example, or the father standing silently in the middle of a sudden downpour. The little coda at the end, while the credits are rolling, actually left me misty-eyed. Kim Tae-Kyun saturates his film with a seductive pathos that I found difficult to resist even though I knew full well what he was doing. Is it any wonder “Crossing” is South Korea’s official entry for best foreign language Oscar...

(UK) Brice Laine travels to Togo to document how a group of impoverished rural villagers, mainly women, have come together to form an agricultural collective in order to learn improved farming techniques thereby dramatically increasing their crop yield. Issues of sustainability, quality of life, and female empowerment are explored as well as the hurdles, both economic and social, the fledgling co-op has had to face. It’s heartening to hear strong African voices determined to take control of their future instead of bemoaning the injustices of their colonial past and early results seem to be encouraging. This is the type of low budget, grass roots filmmaking that deserves to be seen.......on TV. With avenues such as The Documentary Channel and CBC’s “The Passionate Eye” available to showcase these productions do they really need to be seen in an International Film Festival? I don’t think so.

DAYS IN BETWEEN (Germany): Agnes is a neurologist who spends her days diagnosing other people’s problems but her own life remains a mystery to her. She has a gorgeous husband who dotes on her, a beautiful home and a collection of good friends but she remains restless. When she is unwillingly given the task of apartment-sitting for a couple she’s never met she becomes intrigued by a series of phone messages left on their machine and strange cryptic postcards in their mailbox. When the man returns unexpectedly they enter into a torrid love affair much to her detriment. I suppose Randl is trying to make a statement on contemporary anomie and disconnectedness, where the people we are supposed to love can be strangers to us and it is easier to find intimacy in the arms of someone with whom you have no history. Certainly all the main characters are slightly removed from reality in one way or another....Agnes’ sister is forever chasing internet lovers, her husband is busy writing a murder mystery, and her daughter is building a treehouse for ghosts. I’m sure there are many layers of meaning at work here, but I just cannot immerse myself in a film when it portrays people doing stupid things for no solid reason. Feeling vaguely unhappy with your perfect life is not sufficient cause to have an affair with a fat dumpy old man. It just comes across as contrived and makes Agnes’ subsequent turmoils seem trite and overdone. “Days in Between” has been compared to “Last Tango in Paris” but I disagree. “Tango” was long-winded and pretentious. “Days” is just long-winded.

THE DESERT WITHIN (Mexico): During the height of the Mexican Revolution whole towns were being wiped out by government forces. The Catholic clergy was specifically singled out as being rebel sympathizers and many members were either killed or exiled to the cities. Elias, a poor God-fearing peasant, seeks out one such priest to bless his ailing wife and her unborn child...somehow the idea of getting an actual doctor never occurs to him. This simple act of misplaced faith has horrific consequences including the death of his wife, and he is forced to flee into the desert with his remaining children and newborn son, Aureliano. Along the way he receives a vision from God instructing him to build a church in the middle of the wasteland as an act of penance or else the children will be punished for his sins. Rodrigo Pla’s profoundly unhappy film deals with the crippling effects of guilt which, left unchecked, can poison a person’s entire life. As Elias waits in vain for divine absolution from without, his personal demons slowly and relentlessly consume him from within, and no amount of prayer and flagellation can subdue them. His emerging church, then, becomes a monument to his guilty conscience...more of a tomb than a place of joy. His manic obsession with his own misery blinds him to the plight of his children who begin to succumb, both physically and spiritually, to the hardships of life in the desert. Aureliano, the embodiment of his father’s guilt, is confined to a private room to protect him from dust and disease. Elias dotes on him as he would a sacred oracle and adorns the fledgling church with his childish drawings as if they were icons of great import. Pla’s use of gothic, almost hallucinatory imagery is profound....flickering candles, a crucifix obscured by shadows......and his inclusion of crude animated sequences is brilliant. He borrows elements from both the old and new testament and yet “The Desert Within” cannot be described as a religious movie. Quite the contrary, the sad truth at the core of its story is universal as demonstrated by the words of Nietzsche which appear at the film’s conclusion, "The desert grows: woe to him who conceals deserts within himself!”

THIS DUST OF WORDS (USA): Documentary on the life, and death, of Liz Wiltsee, a certified genius with an IQ of 200 who succumbed to severe mental illness and spent her last few years living on the streets of a small California community. Despite some impressive camerawork and scholarly narration this film simply has nothing new to say. Liz was not extraordinary as geniuses go.....she did some writing, acted in a few student films, and hung out with beatniks in the 60s. Not to sound too cynical, but there is a glut of documentaries out there about good people becoming unstuck.....and this is not one of the better ones

EDEN (Ireland): As their 10th anniversary approaches Breda and Billy’s marriage has entered into an ice age. Although they still love each other the intimacy they once enjoyed has all but died and their relationship has become a series of dull routines. While she tries to fill the void with erotic fantasies he begins fantasizing about a certain young girl in the neighbourhood. When their plans for a romantic night out go horribly awry all pretenses are stripped away and they must finally face the emotional abyss that has opened between them. The Irish excel at producing small intimate dramas that are both natural and realistic, “Eden” is no exception. What sets this movie apart from the rest however is its amazing camerawork coupled with an eclectic music score that goes from ethereal instrumentals to glaring rock. Recks’ imbues his film with a hypnotic, at times surreal, beauty.....scenes go in and out of focus; colours ebb and floe; long widescreen vistas become painfully intimate close-ups; and time seems to move faster or slower depending on the character’s frame of mind. A wonderfully human story that builds slowly and inexorably towards its bittersweet conclusion.

EL CAMINO (Costa Rica): Little Saslya, twelve years old, lives in a shack at the edge of a garbage dump somewhere in Nicaragua. When she’s not attending school she’s rooting through the dump looking for valuables. At night she cooks dinner for her grandfather and younger mute brother. Sometimes the old man molests her before she goes to bed. Fed up with her life she decides to run away to Costa Rica with her brother on a journey to find the mother that abandoned them 8 years earlier. Yasin tries to transform the road movie that follows into a mystical quest full of spiritual metaphors and ominous portents. She tries to give it a quasi-political spin as we hear various peasants tell their sad tales. I think she also tries to throw in stuff about a young girl becoming a woman. She fails. This is a poorly filmed, poorly conceived, and poorly executed hodgepodge of dimestore symbolism and bad improv. If there had been more dialogue I’d be able to add “poorly scripted” to the list as well.

THE EQUATION OF LOVE AND DEATH (China): Mildly engaging, if somewhat convoluted tale about obsessive love and the lengths some people will go in order to keep hope alive. The story concerns Li Mi, a young, decidedly odd cabdriver who continues to yearn for her lover years after he left town. Her only link to him is a series of photos and a pile of letters he’s sent over the years. She has no problem talking about him ad nauseam to anyone willing to listen, even reading his letters and passing his photos around. Then one day she thinks she sees him getting into a car... “Equation” unfolds like an edgy urban road movie with Li Mi’s customers ranging from a frisky gay couple to a pair of bumbling drug smugglers. Unfortunately it suffers from a confusing storyline filled with narrative gaps and forced coincidences. It could definitely use a good editor to relieve some of the tedium and shore up the plot. The lead actress is amazing though, but even she can’t save this one.

THE FALLEN: A SILENT COLLAPSE (Mexico): When 63 miners were killed in an explosion at a Mexican coal mine the resulting investigation uncovered some nasty secrets about the company itself and the Mexican government. It’s amazing that Joffroy manages to turn such a terrible tragedy into a mind-numbingly tedious documentary. Rather than engage the audience intellectually and emotionally he assaults us with flashing headlines and an endless succession of shrill talking heads. He ends up taking 90 minutes to tell us one world-shaking revelation.....there exists an unholy alliance between politicians and big business. Apparently his next project will be a 2-hour exposé proving once and for all that the world is in fact round.

FAUBOURG TREME (USA) Logsdon and Elie’s look at their colourful New Orleans neighbourhood is at once a love letter, a meticulously documented history, and a fierce indictment of those forces which are slowly destroying it.....namely poverty and governmental indifference. Faubourg Treme was the site of many milestones in Black American history.....including a short-lived but hugely successful civil rights movement that predated Rosa Parks’ historical bus ride by almost 100 years. After hurricane Katrina it was practically wiped out but now, thanks to a few determined residents, it is slowly being rebuilt although its future still remains far from certain. Incisive, intelligent and skillfully made.....definitely worth watching for on television.

FIRAAQ (India): This film takes place immediately after the 2002 Gujarat riots in which 3000 Moslems were killed by militant Hindus. It begins with a very sobering sight, two workmen piling corpses into a mass grave discover the body of a young Hindu among the dead. Aside from this opening scene, Das chooses to bypass scenes of carnage and instead focuses her camera on the personal wreckage left in its wake. The story revolves around 4 main couples: the Moslem couple who vow revenge for the burning of their home; the Moslem musician who tries to play down what has happened despite the admonitions of his assistant; the middle-class Hindu businessman who arrogantly justifies the slaughter even as his wife secretly mutilates herself out of guilt; and a young mixed couple whose inner tensions begin to threaten their relationship. There is a fifth character as well, a small orphaned boy searching for his father who ties the various storylines together. Scenes of the actual riots themselves are reduced to flickering images on the nightly news that can be ignored with the flick of a remote. Das uses examples of everyday cruelty to show how greater atrocities begin. Sometimes the images are dramatic as when a young man is casually killed by an irate homeowner, sometimes they border on the satirical....four men, bent on revenge, argue over a single bullet. Although she sometimes strays dangerously close to soap opera territory, and the dialogue occasionally sounds like a sermon, “Firaaq” is a solid first effort. It would be interesting to hear the differences in reaction to this film between a predominately Moslem audience and a Hindu one given the fact that they have also been the targets of sectarian violence.

FLAME AND CITRON (Denmark): In occupied Denmark during WWII an underground organization of partisans played a key role in the assassination of several key nazi leaders and Danish collaborators. This film is based on the exploits of two such men, nicknamed Flame and Citron. Rather than a straightforward war epic filled with courageous deeds, Madsen takes a much bleaker approach showing the darkness that can dwell even in the hearts of those we call heroes. Both men are dealing with their own personal demons and the endless killings, no matter how justified, begin to take their toll. Furthermore they begin to suspect that those responsible for deciding who is to be “liquidated” may have ulterior motives of their own. “Flame and Citron” has a definite noirish feel to it with its dark lighting, sexy dames and tangled plot filled with double-crosses and false leads....and therein lies its weakness. The convoluted storyline drags the film down considerably and a tacked on love story just seems to get in the way. Furthermore, after watching scene after scene of mob-style shootouts you begin to feel that you are watching a Scandinavian version of “The Godfather”. Finally, the climactic gun battle towards the end stretches the limits of believability past the breaking point. A sincere effort but not all that good.

FOUR NIGHTS WITH ANNA (Poland): Jerzy Skolimowski’s tale of one desperately lonely fellow’s ill-advised attempts to form a connection with the object of his desire takes the notion of obsessive love to a new level.....whether that level is up or down depends on your sensibilities. Leon is a dumpy 40-something man who works in a hospital crematorium by day and cares for his dying grandmother at night. His slow, taciturn nature doesn’t exactly garner many close friends. Anna, on the other hand, is a plump, outgoing nurse with a wide circle of friends who is not above getting drunk and partying on occasion. Since her bedroom window faces his apartment Leon spends many long nights watching her putter around the house before bedtime. He eventually hatches a scheme that allows him to get closer to her.....he spikes her sugar bowl with sleeping pills and then sneaks into her window after she’s passed out. If the premise is creepy, the actual execution borders on the mundane. He spends four nights simply watching her sleep, cleaning her kitchen, mending her blouse, fixing her cuckoo clock, feeding her cat, painting her toenails... He seems content with this arrangement until one fateful day when he witnesses her being assaulted and ends up being unjustly accused of the crime. Skolimowski keeps things darkly comic although this is not exactly a comedy. Leon’s world seems perpetually overcast and muddy, “bleak” would be an understatement. Yet there are images of purity and beauty here....a clothesline filled with white cotton sheets against a backdrop of freshly fallen snow or the novelty wall lamp above Anna’s bed that features an Eden-like scene of lush greenery and blue waterfalls. Indeed there is a sense of sad innocence to Leon’s single-minded pursuit. Where the movie suffers is in its lack of cohesiveness. It comes across as a series of interesting yet strangely empty vignettes that don’t really add up to much. In addition the assault and subsequent legal proceedings seem as if they belong in another film. The final scene, when it comes, is appropriately decisive yet robbed of much of it’s power by a colourless screenplay that presents us with intriguing ideas but fails to follow through. Not exactly disappointing but difficult to recommend.

(Italy): When the nude body of a beautiful teenage girl is found by the side of a lake the task of solving the crime falls to a local police detective, Inspector Sanzio. With multiple suspects but no known motive his work is cut out for him....and then the clues start coming in. This masterfully made film is far from being just another straightforward policier as it examines the forces that motivate people and the false appearances and small lies they use to distance themselves from their actions. As the investigation continues we begin to see vague parallels between Sanzio’s personal life and the emerging aspects of the case. Molaioli brings the story to a satisfactory conclusion and ends his film with a wide angle crane shot that is deceptively simple yet speaks volumes. To say more would be to rob you of a chance to experience this wonderful movie for yourself.

THE GOOD THE BAD THE WEIRD (S. Korea):  Kim Jee-Woon’s hyperactive homage to Sergio Leone plays like a spaghetti western with a whopping big side of kimchi...extra spicy!  Suffice to say it involves a motley crew of colourful ne’er-do-wells in 1930’s Manchuria furiously crossing and double-crossing each other in order to gain possession of an elusive treasure map.  But the plot takes a backseat to the explosive special effects and outrageous cinematography.  At one point the camera seems to be strapped to a bullet as it caroms and ricochets through a crowded train car and out a window.  This is a big bold widescreen action flick that makes no apologies for its wild excesses and although it could have been edited by a few minutes it’s still a trip well worth taking!

HANSEL AND GRETEL (Korea): A yuppie businessman, Eun-Soo, in the middle of a cellphone argument with his pregnant girlfriend ends up rolling his car on a deserted stretch of country road. Dazed and injured he wakes up in the middle of a dark forest where an enigmatic young girl leads him to the “Home for Happy Children” deep in the woods. There he is introduced to Mom and Dad and their two other darling children. The home itself has the cloying quality of a Thomas Kinkade painting with its huge windows full of soft yellow light looking on to a picture perfect yard. One could almost imagine it being made of......gingerbread. Things soon take a sinister turn....Eun’s cellphone won’t work and his requests to use the house phone are put off with weak excuses, there are muted arguments behind bedroom walls, and the parents seems to be putting on an air of forced joviality which barely conceals their underlying anxiety. Without giving too much away, Yim Phil-Sung has crafted an amazing tale which explores the emotional devastation of child abuse and its effect on adult survivors. Borrowing heavily from the titular fairytale as well as elements of Peter Pan he presents us with a sweet facade of childhood innocence. In the “Home for Happy Children” it is always Christmastime.....every room is filled with toys, every face smiles sweetly, and cupcakes are served for dinner. But why are certain rooms so scary? And why does the sole cartoon on TV depict a cute bunny repeatedly ripping the limbs off a teddy bear? The acting is top notch, the children are especially captivating and the dark fairytale atmosphere is consistently maintained. My only criticism is an overly long final sequence that belabours the point of the story with too many pyrotechnics but its a minor setback. Despite a few spooky jolts along the way, “Hansel and Gretel” is really a heartbreaking tragedy.....perhaps that is the greater horror.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY (UK): Poppy is a 30-year old primary school teacher suffering from terminal optimism. No matter what lemons life throws at her she turns them into lemonade.....and lemon meringue pie.......and a lemon tarte. When her bike is stolen she decides to take driving lessons. When a young boy in her class is suspected of being abused at home she winds up bedding the hunky school social worker that comes to interview him. You could describe her as being “ebullient” although “flakey”, “taxing” and “irritating” also come to mind. Those of you who appreciate Mike Leigh’s wonderfully human working class dramas may be disappointed by this frothy little confection that makes a lot of noise but goes nowhere. Although there’s no mistaking the effort Sally Hawkins puts into the role of Poppy, the character herself comes across as flat and too cutesy for words. There are a few laughs along the way of course, the recently dumped Flamenco teacher was priceless and her initial lessons with a somewhat uptight driving instructor were pretty funny as well. What bothers me the most I suppose is the way in which Leigh presents irresponsibility as a virtue. The only voice of reason in the entire film is the married sister, and she is presented as an anal-retentive bitch. There are two key scenes in which Poppy realizes that a goofy smile isn’t enough to overcome life’s unrealistic episode in which she tries to comfort a 300 lb crazy man; and another, arguably the film’s best segment, in which her driving instructor has a psychotic meltdown. Yet both scenes are eventually downplayed and as the carefree chronicles of our manic little dumpling come to a close we see her floating aimlessly on a pleasant pond with her best friend, completely oblivious of her surroundings. Unless the idea of spending two hours watching a pathologically happy scamp blow sunshine out her ass appeals to you I’d give this one a wide berth.

HELEN (UK): When a local girl goes missing the police look for volunteers from the local highschool in order to stage a video re-enactment of her last known whereabouts. It’s hoped that such a presentation may jar someone’s memory and offer up a few clues. To play the role of “Joy” they choose 18-year old Helen, a rather bland and unremarkable student. As the re-enactment progresses however, Helen begins to take her role a bit too seriously....becoming involved with Joy’s parents and even pursuing her boyfriend. Helen is a complete tabula rasa, painfully nondescript to the point of appearing dim-witted....ordinary clothes, ordinary face, monotonous voice....when asked what her dream is all she can think of is sitting by a window somewhere with a glass of water. But when she is given a bright yellow jacket to wear on camera (similar to what Joy was last seen wearing) a sea change begins to take place. Molly & Lawlor have crafted a beautifully realized story about one woman’s quest for a life and identity of her own. They fill the screen with images of both individuality and uniformity.....a group of teenagers move together like a pack, a lone musician plays his clarinet under a tree, a policewoman addresses a group of students but as the camera shifts we realize that we’ve been looking at a reflection in a mirror. They use the highschool’s amateur production of “Brigadoon” as a metaphor for Helen’s dawning awareness of her own history as she slowly discovers the long-repressed reasons for her reticence. This is a highly stylized and demanding film. It unfolds with a measured slowness that some may find difficult to sit through. Personally I found it completely engrossing thanks in large part to Annie Townsend’s marvelous portrayal of Helen. Definitely one of my top movies this year.

HUNGER (UK): Set in the early 80’s, “Hunger” recounts the events leading up to Bobby Sands’ six-week long hunger strike in Northern Ireland’s notorious Maze prison. Sands was serving a twelve-year sentence for I.R.A. activities and his hunger strike was part of an ongoing campaign to have I.R.A. inmates classified as political prisoners by the English government. Sands died from self-imposed starvation along with 8 other men. Director McQueen started out as an artist and it shows. “Hunger” is powerfully filmed with long deliberate takes that rely as much on imagery as dialogue to tell the story. Although it is told mainly from the prisoners’ point of view, it is not a political film as such. Rather it is a film about the power of ideology......the passions that drive us and make us willing to sacrifice anything, even our very lives, for a higher cause. Conversely it also shows the emotional turmoil of those who begin to doubt the beliefs on which their actions are based. In filming Sands’ self-sacrifice McQueen makes definite comparisons to the story of Christ. In one scene a guard holds his emaciated body in a pose reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pieta and in another deeply moving sequence an orderly slowly applies salve to his many bedsores. This can be somewhat problematic depending on your own personal opinion of the I.R.A. and it’s activities....and Sands is definitely not presented as a sympathetic character. Personally I didn’t see the compassionate Shepherd of the gospels but rather an angry revolutionary Christ ardently, perhaps recklessly, embracing his cross. The performances are excellent all around, the script sharp and intelligent especially the exchange between Sands and a priest who tries to dissuade him, and the cinematography truly inspired. The final scenes are pure poetry.

I AM GOOD (Czech Republic): As the film opens we are introduced to a colourful group of misfits who gather every now and then at the local dive where their lives consist mainly of drinking, gambling and friendly bullshitting. However, when one of their members loses his life’s savings in a professional scam they hatch an elaborate plan to con the con-artists. Hrebejk’s droll little comedy is one of those sunny feel-good films that make you leave the theatre smiling. Even though he aims a few well-placed digs at his country’s communist past and the new consumerism that has taken its place the laughs remain strictly non-partisan. It may take a little while to gain momentum but the wait pays off big time!

THE ISLANDS PROJECT (Canada) Master Chef Michael Stadtlander travels from his farm in Ontario to the Gulf Island of BC in order to document a gastronomic odyssey. Accompanied by a small cadre of acolytes crowded aboard a vintage school bus-cum-gourmet kitchen he sails from one town to another in order to prepare lavish meals using only local ingredients.....even the place settings are composed of found obects: glass bottles, seashells, driftwood... Despite my initial reservations I found myself warming up to this slightly eccentric cook with his disarming smile and dry sense of humour. And the meals he prepares are exquisite, you can almost taste them. Once more we have an engaging documentary that would be perfect for television.....The Food Network comes to mind........but not on a big screen. If you are a huge fan of cuisine that is both innovative and unusual you will get a kick out of this, but I don’t think it’s worth a $10 ticket.

JCVD (Belgium): What starts out as Jean-Claude Van Damme spoofing his own films turns into another Jean-Claude Van Damme film with perhaps a tad more insight and self-deprecating humour. The movie begins as JCVD returns to Belgium.....tired and almost broke thanks to an ongoing bitter divorce. When he’s informed that the cheque he gave his lawyer in L.A. has bounced he cabs it to the nearest post office in order to send out a money order. Of course the post office he chooses is in the process of being robbed and he is immediately taken hostage. Before the film ends we are treated to a few martial arts moves, a lot of yelling, and a handful of messy deaths. Most of the humour consists of “in” jokes which would only make sense to those familiar his films.....although the flattened pigeon that he steps over at one point is a pretty funny dig at John Woo. Furthermore, in the middle of the film he suddenly steps out of character and delivers a long, rambling monologue directly at the audience. The purpose of this oration is unclear, but it seems to revolve around how humble and undeserving he is. In the end we have a movie in which Van Damme attempts to cash in on Van Damme, and when you think of it isn’t that what Hollywood is all about?

LET HIM BE (Canada) An obsessive young filmmaker becomes convinced that John Lennon is still alive and living somewhere in small-town Ontario. To prove his suspicions he enlists the aid of his reluctant girlfriend who, along with a van full of rented video equipment, accompanies him on his quest to capture the elusive artist on tape. This little low-budget gem could best be described as a mockumentary about the making of a mockumentary and for the most part it succeeds admirably. Even though McNamee’s tongue is planted firmly in cheek, he still manages to cast a critical eye on such topics as the artistic narcissism and questionable ethics inherent in the making of many documentaries not to mention the professional integrity (or lack thereof) of the filmmakers themselves. Cute, at times very funny, and the natural performances of a very talented cast more than make up for the film’s few shortcomings.

THE LOVE OF MR. AN (China) It is a universal truth that as the price of camcorders goes down, the number of people with delusions of being a filmmaker goes up. Case in point, this very long and very tedious look at 89 year old Mr. An who carries on an affair of the heart with a younger woman while his sharp-tongued wife never misses a chance to rebuke him. We follow this little Asian version of George Burns around while he dances a bit, goes into the hospital, comes out, eats a bowl of rice.....well, you get the idea. There is one poignant scene in a cemetery, the rest is about as exciting as medication time at the old folks’ home.

(Estonia): After an attempted suicide, young Magnus is taken in by his estranged father.....a slovenly whoremonger and drug abuser who never quite figured out how to nurture either one of his children. Their emotional pas-de-deux forms the basis of this wholly captivating and painfully honest film. Director Kousaar challenges us with a heady mixture of harsh reality and dreamlike impressionism as we follow Magnus’ downward spiral into drugs and mental illness. Mixing images that are at once both sacred and profane he delivers a complex and unsettling cinematic experience. Quite an impressive debut from a 26-year old director.

MY MARLON AND BRANDO (Turkey): A road movie cum film diary that follows one rather pathetic actress as she journeys from Istanbul to Iran in order to be reunited with her flamboyant Kurdish boyfriend......a fellow actor whom she spent all of three weeks with earlier on. Somehow the director got the impression that audiences would love to watch this chubby little stalker as she whines to her friends, makes desperate phonecalls to her beau and goes on interminable bus rides. As a bonus she reads some of her embarrassingly sappy love letters in English as if to show us she can be annoying in not one but two languages. Boooooring!

O’HORTEN (Norway): After a long and distinguished career as a train conductor 67-year old Odd is facing imminent retirement with a mixture of dread and fatalistic resignation. His entire working life was based on timetables and punctuality so he finds the sudden chaos of everyday life a little bewildering. Then one night, after a series of increasingly bizarre encounters on the streets of Oslo, he meets a peculiar old man and his life is never quite the same again. Hamer has made a warmhearted Scandinavian comedy that invites us to laugh at life’s wonderful absurdities. He surrounds the character of Odd with gentle reminders of his own mortality yet balances the film with piercing images of almost transcendent beauty.....a train speeds across a field of dazzling snow; a twinkling star becomes the light at the end of a tunnel. The underlying message is clear, no matter how old we may become we are always capable of being surprised. A joy from start to finish.

ORZ BOYS (Taiwan) Director Yang delivers what so few filmmakers are able to achieve....a truly authentic film about growing up. Mixing warm reality with animated flights of fancy, he tells the tale of two little misfits who happen to be the best of friends. Their long summer days are filled with harmless mischief and juvenile musings until impending adolescence begins to loom on the horizon... Yang is well aware that children are as mystified by adult behaviour as we are of theirs....a fact he puts to good use throughout the movie. Furthermore he portrays the gradual loss of childhood innocence in a very novel and poignant way. Beautifully executed and a real treat from start to finish.

PACHAMAMA (Bolivia) Filmed entirely amongst the Quecha people of the Andes this story follows a young boy as he embarks upon his first salt caravan. Joining his father and a herd of llamas he travels for 3 months, trading salt for other necessities from the villages through which they pass. Along the way he learns some lessons about the harshness, and beauty, of the world around him. Using the journey as a metaphor for adolescence is not new in cinema, and in that respect Pachamama has nothing new to say. What impressed me about this film was the sweeping cinematography and wonderful use of bright primary colours. It also offered a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of these isolated people. Unfortunately, about halfway through you begin to realize that Matsushita’s vision far exceeded his grasp and it all begins to fall flat. A ruthless editor could have made a world of difference.

PARKING (Taiwan): After stopping by a bakery to pick up some cake for his wife, a young executive returns to his car only to discover someone has double-parked next to it, effectively boxing him in. His subsequent all-night search for the car’s elusive owner(s) brings him face to face with a motley assortment of Taipei’s night-time citizens.....from an elderly couple grieving for their lost son to a young prostitute desperate to escape the clutches of her angry pimp. But when he meets a kindly, enigmatic barber you begin to realize that the director has delicately transformed this dark urban comedy into a deeply spiritual journey. Chung proves to be a master of light and composition, each frame perfectly balanced with strong geometric shapes and rich vibrant colours. Furthermore he demonstrates amazing artistic restraint, letting his story proceed naturally without forcing the audience to make connections. An amazing first feature in which a carefully placed shadow or tear-filled eye often speak louder than words.

PLASTIC CITY (China/Brazil): There’s a whole lot of male posturing going on in Yu Lik-wai’s long and boring story about a turf war between two Asian crime lords living in Brazil. The film starts in the wilds of the Amazon and ends up in the crime-riddled slums of Sao Paulo. Along the way we are subjected to the usual scenes of violence, philosophical non-sequiturs and a few muddled sequences that are apparently supposed to be deeply symbolic but come across as cheesy MTV videos instead. Yu asks us which is more civilized, the natural jungle or the man-made urban variety. After two hours of tedium my answer is, “Who gives a shit?!” For serious cinemasochists only.

[REC] (Spain): Zombies go primetime in this ferociously effective shocker from Spain! When the crew of a reality-based television show decide to film a typical nightshift at a Barcelona fire station they end up getting more footage than they bargained for. It all starts when the station receives a report of an elderly woman screaming in her apartment. As they arrive on the scene they are joined by the police and a lobby full of concerned residents. With cameraman in tow Angela, the lovely anchorwoman of “While You Were Asleep”, manages to stay just one step behind the men as they force their way into the old lady’s home. That’s when the party really starts! Grandma, it would appear, is not herself tonight and this prompts everyone to make a hasty retreat....only to discover that the building is now under quarantine and surrounded by armed soldiers. Balaguero and Plaza film the entire movie from the TV cameraman’s point of view. The result is a heightened sense of immediacy and stifling claustrophobia as the camera continually jerks and pans while Angela shouts, “Keep filming, keep filming!” Once the tension begins it never lets up until you find yourself squirming in your seat. With a running time of only 75 minutes not one shot is wasted, not one line of dialogue superfluous. The ending, when it comes, is one of the creepiest sequences I’ve seen in a long time. The Americans have already made their own version of [REC] and are releasing it as “Quarantine”, but it can’t possibly be better than the Spanish original. Scary, scary stuff.

RELIGULOUS (USA): “Grow up or die” is Bill Maher’s admonition as he travels throughout The U.S. and Israel observing how religious fanaticism can be found at the root of most of the world’s evils whether it be simple bigotry or a bloody jihad. Maher not only pisses on the various altars he encounters, he breaks them up and uses them for kindling. He mercilessly skewers the hypocrisy, contradictions and outright bullshit that constitutes “fundamentalism”.....whether he’s interviewing the curator of the world’s first “Creationism Museum” or chatting up the uneducated yahoos at a “Truckers Chapel”. From the science-fiction delusions of Scientology to the serpentine rhetoric of Islam no one is above reproach. The problem with obeying the “Voice of God”, he concludes, is that it usually turns out to be the self-serving voice of man... At times “Religulous” seems more of a stand-up routine than a serious documentary, but you’ll be laughing so hard you won’t care. Michael Moore doesn’t even come close.

REVANCHE (Austria): Three people from opposite ends of the social spectrum......a policeman and his wife living comfortably in their designer home, and an angry ex-con on the run with his prostitute girlfriend.....find their lives intertwined after a sudden tragedy. What follows is a dark odyssey of recrimination, guilt and revenge that stretches from the blackest recesses of the human heart to the calm cool light of redemption. Spielmann knows when to push his audience in the right direction, and when to simply let the story unfold under its own momentum. He makes excellent use of natural settings, even incorporating the elements into his dramatic narrative, and his use of religious symbols is highly effective yet subtle. Bravo!

SECRET MUSEUMS (Belgium): Erotic art, whether it’s novels, paintings or sculpture, has been around ever since some caveman put two rocks together and yelled “BALLS!” Unfortunately a great deal of the world’s erotic treasures have been destroyed, defaced or lost as society’s “artistic sensibilities” endlessly fluctuate between bohemian excess and prudish suppression. Much of what remains is confined to private collections or locked drawers in museum basements. Woditsch takes his camera all over Europe interviewing collectors, curators, and critics in order to give us an historical perspective on erotic art and those forces which create, maintain, and censor it. Sometimes funny, sometimes shocking, it would certainly add a little culture to the Playboy Channel.

SERBIS (Philippines): The Pinedas live in a series of dingy apartments atop the porn theatre which is their main source of income. The ironically named “Family” cinema specializes in zero-budget softcore films but the majority of patrons consists of hustlers and their clients. While matriarch Nanay is out suing her husband for bigamy the rest of the clan are busy with their own intrigues. Meanwhile the theatre itself is falling apart around them. Mendoza’s caustic look at the trials and tribulations of one particularly dysfunctional family lends itself to more than one interpretation. It’s a sad look at the breakdown of the family unit which reflects a greater social disorder; it’s also a darkly humorous satire on religious hypocrisy and consumer culture. Nanay fills her apartment with Catholic paraphernalia and condemns immorality and “queers” even though she ekes out a living peddling smut and turns a blind eye to the promiscuous sex occuring a few floors below her. In one segment reminiscent of the fish scene in “La Dolce Vita” a goat runs onstage during the screening of a “religious” skin flick (St. Michael is about to bag a babe) and causes mass pandemonium. Mendoza avoids a musical soundtrack and instead uses the various street noises as a constant background cacophony....honking horns, people yelling, and the muted prayers of the occasional religious procession all go unheeded. The sets are an interesting mixture of sacred and hedonistic with lurid depictions of women vying with crucifixes and statues of the Virgin. Unfortunately “Serbis” suffers from a lack of directorial discipline. Many scenes spin out of control and the episodic structure of the film is sloppily edited. Furthermore all those handheld shots of people running up and down stairs become nauseating after a while. I did enjoy myself, but I can’t say I’d recommend it.

SITA SINGS THE BLUES (USA): Nina Paley’s wonderfully retro-looking animated feature draws parallels between the story of a contemporary woman (herself) being unceremoniously dumped by a longterm boyfriend and the Hindu epic of the Ramayana which recounts the rocky relationship of Rama and Sita. Both women thought they had found the love of their lives only to discover that sometimes men can be real jerks. Paley’s low-tech animation makes for a gorgeous psychedelic treat filled with vibrant colours and whimsical characters. She continuously shifts across timelines.....from a drab apartment in NYC to the glorious heyday of Hindu mythology.......employing different forms of animation along the way. I especially enjoyed the running commentary provided by a comical trio of rather confused shadow puppets that had the audience laughing out loud as they argued over the finer points of the ancient text. True to the title of the film, Sita does indeed sing the blues or at least lip-synchs to some 1920’s torch songs. Not being a fan of this type of music I found these interludes more distracting than entertaining and they caused the film to drag on in parts. In spite of this one drawback though, I still found “Sita” to be a rainbow-coloured charmer.

SNOW (Bosnia): “Snow” takes place in the remote Bosnian village of Slavno which, aside from an aging imam and one strangely silent young boy, is populated entirely by women. During the war all the able-bodied men were taken away by Serb troops and never heard from again. The women eke out a meagre existence selling preserves by the side of a seldom traveled road until one day a couple of slick businessmen from the city appear with a tempting proposition. They represent a foreign interest which wants to buy up all the surrounding land for a huge development project and is willing to offer each household a considerable sum of money providing they pack up and leave. The impact of their visit leads to repercussions and revelations that neither the men nor the women are quite prepared for. Begic has crafted a powerful yet understated film about coming to terms with the past before you can move toward the future. The women of Slavno are frozen in place by grief, a grief they cannot express properly as long as the fate of their men is in doubt. Without bodies to bury they are plagued by doubt...some are consumed with bitterness and some are in denial, some turn to God and some turn to materialism. While one young daughter is forever searching for news of her missing father, another woman treats her husband’s old razor as if it were a sacred relic. Only the little boy may hold a clue as to what happened, but he has withdrawn into himself and is unable to speak. This is a fine ensemble piece with the actresses playing off one another flawlessly. Although based in gritty reality there are moments of pure magic as when an old woman gathers up discarded scarves and bits of cloth in order to weave a most curious prayer rug. Begic knows the value of silence in creating a mood, whether it’s an angry stare during a violent windstorm or a child reaching up to embrace a gentle fall of snow. A marvelously visual film with a satisfyingly hopeful ending.

STILL WALKING (Japan): It’s been 15 years since their eldest son died trying to save a drowning boy and the elderly Yokoyamas are preparing for the annual family reunion which marks the occasion. When the two surviving children arrive with their spouses and children in tow everything seems to be in order, but as the night wears on we begin to see that all is not as tranquil as it appears. This modest little masterpiece has been compared to the works of Ozu, and rightfully so. Hirokazu deftly reveals the small joys and petty tyrannies inherent in all families yet his touch remains as light as a butterfly’s wings, never preaching and never resorting to cheap theatrics. His characters are wholly human and therefore vulnerable, possessing both the capacity to love and the ability to hurt. This duality is expertly brought out in the clever dialogue where even the simplest statement can contain a hidden barb or an unexpected tenderness. All the trademark elements of Ozu are here; distant trains, curls of smoke, tombstones, sunlit gardens...yet this is not a simple imitation of style. Hirokazu has a deep awareness of the tenuous forces at work within families...the little regrets and compromises, the resentments and longings and, ultimately, the love that underlies it all. He may have borrowed some of the master’s tricks, but his vision is uniquely his own. Excellent!

TEAK LEAVES AT THE TEMPLE (Indonesia) A Free Form jazz quartet joins traditional Javanese musicians for a session of music and dance at the famous Borobudur Temple. The Javanese music was rhythmic and easy on the ear......the free form shit sounded like a group of monkeys were let loose in an orchestra pit. I lasted 7 minutes.

THREE MONKEYS (Turkey): As the story opens we see a lone man driving his car down a deserted country road late at night. As his car recedes into the distance we hear a sudden squeal of brakes....he has hit and killed a pedestrian. It turns out the driver is an aspiring politician facing a crucial election and news of this mishap will certainly end his career. He convinces his chauffeur, Eyup, to take the rap, promising to support the man’s wife and son while he’s in jail, and paying him a larger sum upon his release from prison. Eyup’s decision has unforeseen consequences on his family. During the nine months he’s incarcerated his son drifts into delinquency and his wife has an affair...with the politician. Ceylan’s painterly rumination on the subjective nature of “right vs. wrong” is anything but subtle...winds howl, thunder crashes, and even a novelty ringtone provides the voice of divine judgement. His characters exist in a moral vacuum and no matter how many times they are doused with water they remain unclean. Like the three monkeys of the title they will not face the corruption which permeates their world, nor even speak its name. In keeping with the film’s operatic appearance Ceylan makes clever use of visuals and sound....more than once we see the image of ships gathered around a lighthouse and in another scene the son angrily confronts his mother about her adultery (without actually saying it) while in the distance we hear the Moslem call to prayer borne faintly upon the wind. While the action may drag a bit towards the end Ceylan has one more trick up his sleeve. In one masterstroke he brings all the elements of the movie together for a finale that is surely one of the most magnificent closing scenes I’ve ever witnessed.

TOKYO (France/S. Korea): Three different directors give their take on Japan’s capital city with three very unique short films. In the first episode by Michel Gondry a young woman goes apartment hunting with her boyfriend, a wannabe director with questionable talent. As he begins to lose himself in his work....a very badly done sci-fi flick....she begins to feel increasingly insignificant. Her poor self image eventually brings about a physical change that is both macabre and very funny. In the second episode Leos Carax takes a darker turn as we follow the destructive adventures of a horrid little troll-like man living in the sewers of Tokyo who emerges on a nightly basis to wreak mayhem among the law-abiding citizens above. Carax takes a novel approach at examining the effects of urban paranoia, xenophobia and fervent nationalism on a country’s psyche that is alternately hilarious and vaguely disquieting. Finally, Bong Joon-Ho offers us a slightly twisted yet strangely relevant look at a budding romance, 21st century style. An agoraphobic man holed up in his obsessively orderly home falls in love with the pizza delivery woman.....a woman whose actions and emotions are controlled by buttons located on various parts of her body. It takes a supreme effort of will (and a big earthquake) to finally bring the two of them together. In concept, “Tokyo” is nowhere near as good as last year’s “Paris, Je t’aime” but it still possesses a certain zeal that makes it highly watchable. You could do worse.

(Poland) Young Stefek believes he has the ability to manipulate the forces of destiny in order to fulfill his own desires. However, when he focuses his powers on reuniting his estranged parents things don’t exactly go according to plan. Although firmly anchored in reality Jakimowski adds just the right amount of whimsy to this delightful look at one child’s magical view of the world. He skillfully avoids cloying sentimentality and instead relies on his very talented cast (the young boy is wonderful) to draw us in and suspend our disbelief. It’s a sunny slice of life to be sure, but sometimes that’s just what you need.

(Japan): In the early 70s two radical student groups in Japan united to form the “United Red Army”. This docu-drama attempts to recreate the story behind their formation and subsequent illegal activities. Mixing grainy stock footage with a poorly made student film makes for a very confusing and very boring mess and quite a few of us walked out after the first 30 minutes. Oh, just to warn you, it’s THREE HOURS LONG. Run away, run awayyyyy!

(Israel): I’m always amazed by the power of animation to tell a story in a way no live-action film can match. Ari Folman’s dreamlike use of anime to describe the subjective nature of memory is a work of art from start to finish. The film begins with a former soldier recounting a nightmare to an old army buddy (the director himself). In the dream he sees a pack of malevolent black dogs running amok in the streets of his town. The dogs eventually gather beneath his window and glare at him with bared fangs. He concludes that this dream must be related to the horrors he witnessed during the Lebanese war. When Ari tries to reflect on his own war experiences however, he discovers that he can’t remember anything about those terrible days except for one mystifying vision.....he sees his platoon emerging naked from the sea, everything bathed in the golden light of illumination flares. This prompts him to seek out and interview the other soldiers he served with until gradually all the pieces begin to fall into place. Folman combines surreal imagery reminiscent of “Apocalypse Now” with an eerily evocative musical score to make you feel as if you are coming in and out of a fevered haze. He explores the transmutability of unpleasant memories as our psyches try to twist them into something more palatable. It comes as no surprise then to discover that a group of men can walk away from a shared experience with completely different accounts of what happened. In the words of one character, “Memories can’t take you where you don’t want to go...” Unlike the drugged vacancy of “Waking Life”, “Waltz with Bashir” is dead sober. A gorgeous film that is as mesmerizing as it is disturbing.

WELCOME TO THE STICKS (France): Phillipe is a timid manager with the Post Office who dreams of getting a choice posting on the Cote d’Azur. Somehow he manages to screw up his one big chance and instead finds himself assigned to a rustic village in the far north much to the chagrin of his somewhat spoiled wife. Life in Pas de Calais is quite different from the sunny climes of the south. The weather is temperamental for one thing and the local yokels speak a horrible patois that is barely understandable. Since he has to live in this French version of Siberia for a minimum of 2 years he soon realizes he has to adapt or go crazy. This is a very funny, warmhearted comedy which gets much of its humour from Phillipe’s ongoing culture clash with a host of colourful locals. Even if you are not familiar with the in-jokes surrounding southern France’s view of its northern counterpart the laughs still come fast and easy....they even survive subtitling for the most part. Well worth seeing!

THE WITCH OF THE WEST IS DEAD (Japan): Mai is a troubled young teenager.....alienated from her parents and refusing to go to school. Having exhausted all other avenues her mother drops her off at her grandmother’s house deep in the woods hoping that the old woman (an English ex-pat and possible witch) will be able to do something for her. Using fairy tale archetypes when filming a story about adolescent angst is not new....”The Company of Wolves” is a sterling example.....but rarely has it been done so badly. Every frame practically drips with syrupy treacle right up to the painfully contrived ending. The performances are lukewarm at best, the script “precious”, and the musical score sounds like it was composed by Mister Rogers. It’s enough to make your teeth rot.