108 posts categorized "Foreign"

February 15, 2018


Vivre Sa VieIn 1962 French New Wave provocateur Jean-Luc Godard shifted stylistic filmic gears as lucidly as Miles Davis revolutionized music. Artistic experimentation was in the air. For his fourth feature Godard took Marcel Sacotte’s book about prostitution in Paris as inspiration to create a fascinating cinema vérité styled character and social study. Godard’s groundbreaking camera techniques add intimacy, suspense, and mystery to his documentary approach to sensitive subject matter. The dramatic effect is memorable as it is meaningful. Every aspect of the movie is effortlessly iconic, not the least of which is the stylish personality profile that Anna Karina fulfills. 

Anna Karina

Never before had the backs of heads and shoulders been exploited to such a delightfully dramatic extreme. Hair styles express nuances heretofore unknown. Broken into 12 chapters, “Vivre Sa Vie” takes a non-judgmental view of a character who is nonetheless doomed.

Godard’s wife at the time Anna Karina is transfixing Nana, a lovely young French actress driven to take up prostitution after meeting a pimp. Forth-wall-breaking moments allow the audience to connect with Anna Karina’s guileless yet fragile beauty in support of her aspirational character. The emotion and intellectual nature that Karina transmits is every bit as affecting as Renee Falconetti in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s brilliant silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” from 1928. Indeed, Godard references Dreyer’s masterpiece in “Vivre Sa Vie” when Nana goes to a screening at a Parisian cinema.

Anna Karina

“My Life to Live” has just as much social currency today as the day it was released even if its gangster trope ending lets Godard off the hook all too easy. Here is a unique film that takes daring chances while rooting itself in neorealist filmic soil. You can feel its grounded sense of immediacy and truth.  

Anna Karina

Not rated. 85 mins. (A) (Five stars — out of five / no halves)

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Groupthink doesn't live here.

Jean-Luc Godard's fourth film features Godard's wife-at-the-time Anna Karina as an actress-turned-prostitute in this ground breaking example of the French New Wave. Stone Delicious IPA seemed like the perfect beer to go along with this equally attractive film. 

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Groupthink doesn't live here.

February 09, 2018


Lamant_doubleFrance’s ever-reliable and prolific auteur François Ozon (“Swimming Pool”) confirms his place as an inventive filmic storyteller with a precise sense of style, suspense, emotion, and tone. 2018 has its first great film.

Based loosely on Joyce Carol Oates’s novel “Lives of Twins” (written under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith), “Double Lover” is an alluring erotic mystery built on a puzzle of the flesh. Surrealism and magical realism come into play. You could easily imagine David Cronenberg directing it but the film wouldn’t be near as good if he had.

Jérémie Renier (from Ozon’s 1999 erotic thriller “Criminal Lovers”) plays twin psychoanalyst brothers Paul Meyer and Louis Delord.

Marine Vacth, the unforgettable star of Ozon’s recent “Young & Beautiful,” plays Chloe, a 25-year-old museum guard with model looks who suffers from unexplained stomach pains. Chloe becomes Paul’s patient before the sessions turn romantic to the point that they move in together with Chloe’s expressive cat Milo. Another cat character figures into the storyline as well. Yes, here is a movie with two feline characters played by cats. Brilliant.  


Rarely, if ever, has a mainstream filmmaker made such explicit use of a woman’s vagina to such sinewy narrative effect. The film opens with a close-up view inside Chloe’s vagina from her OBGYN’s vantage point before morphing into an eye. Hitchcock had nothing on Ozon. Later in the film we watch an interior view of Chloe’s orgasming vagina (in black-and-white) during sex with Renier’s BDSM master Louis Delord. However biologically pornographic these sequences sound, they are composed in service to the film.

Double Lover

This is visceral stuff. Such a high-wire act is not easily achieved. Ozon exerts exquisite control over the diabolically twisted proceedings that draw in a deft turn from Jaqueline Bisset.

To be sure, there are some BDSM sequences between Louis and Chloe that seem sexually abusive if you discount the master/slave relationship at play. Tricky. Ozon balances the scale with a scene of Chloe pegging Paul, even if Paul says he only did it for Chloe.

Double Lover

“Double Lover” is an ideal Valentine’s Day movie for the adventurous. It gets you in the head, heart, and loins.

Rated R. 107 mins. (A) (Five stars  — out of five / no halves)

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Groupthink doesn't live here.

January 10, 2013


BarbaraDespite the limited scope of its predictable narrative, “Barbara” remains a compelling character study thanks to Nina Hoss’s enigmatic performance in the title role. ‘80s era Iron Curtain Germany is the setting for co-writer/director Christian Petzold’s pedestrian tale of attempted escape into Western Germany for Barbara Wolff, a pediatric doctor. Demoted to a small rural hospital from a prominent position at an East Berlin for requesting an exit visa, Barbara secretly plots with her boyfriend on the outside for her to escape. However desperately she wants to leave East Germany’s repressive atmosphere, Barbara still gravitates to caring for the young patients that she cares for. Hans Fromm’s (“Jerichow”) precise cinematography lends itself to the film’s compressed sense of apprehension. Still, “Barbara” runs its course too soon and with little to no surprise for the viewer. Here is a rainy day movie to appreciate the skills of a refined German actress elevating a mediocre script to something entertaining if not wholly satisfying.

Rated PG-13. 115 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

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October 22, 2012

The Other Son

The Other SonViewing the Palestine-Israeli conflict through a switched-at-birth plot device proves compelling, though not entirely worth the price of admission in director Lorraine Levy’s uncoordinated melodrama. Weighing ever so slightly on the side of the Palestinians' plight, the filmmakers lay the narrative groundwork around the families of two young adult boys switched as babies during a battle that rocked the hospital where they were born. Emmanuelle Devos is exceptional as Orith Silberg, the French-born mother of Joseph (Jules Sitruk). Joseph’s turn to follow in his Israeli military father Alon’s (Pascal Elbe) footsteps, calls for a blood test that delivers the film’s inciting evidence. Formerly proud of his presumed Jewish heritage, Joseph suffers an identity crisis after his Rabbi deems him no longer Jewish.

Yacine Al Bezaaz (Mehdi Dehbi) — Alon’s and Orith’s biological son — has been studying medicine in Paris before returning on vacation in Palestine to discover his part in the confusion endured by his parents and brother.

Although the ensemble performances are sound, the film’s structure is unsteady. A failure in plot development results in a forced third-act climax that rushes the story to its artificial conclusion. “The Other Son” is a well-meaning drama that only begins to scratch the surface of a volatile conflict that claims prisoners and causalities while resolving little.

Rated PG-13. 105 mins. (C+) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)

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June 20, 2012


Klovn_the_movieEasily the most ribald and politically incorrect comedy to come out of the 21st century’s second decade, Mikkel Norgaard’s “Klown” smacks funny bones you didn’t know you had. Certain to provoke prudish audience members to walk out before the movie hits its stride, “Klown” goes artfully over-the-top while pressing its cascade of outrageous situations into a volcano of comic explosions. Based on a Danish television show of the same name, the story follows the exploits of Frank (Frank Hvam) and Casper (Casper Christensen). Casper and Frank go on a canoe trip that Casper has privately dubbed the “Tour de Pussy.” Horny Casper places pussy above fatherhood in his hierarchy of life’s priorities. Frank, however, has just found out about his girlfriend Mia’s (Mia Hjortshoj) pregnancy — which she hesitated to disclose because she doubted Frank’s potential to be an adequate father. Mia considers an abortion. Capitulating to his anxiousness to prove Mia wrong about his nurturing abilities, Frank kidnaps her 11-year-old nephew Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen) and takes the unsuspecting boy on the canoe trip. What follows is a series of embarrassing and humiliating events that mark Casper and Frank as two of the biggest idiots you could imagine. Relationships and classic psychology are tested in this diabolically funny movie, which Hollywood already has plans of mucking up with a remake.

Rated R. 99 mins. (A) (Five Stars - out of five/no halves)

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March 13, 2012

The Kid With a Bike

Kid with a bikeThe Dardenne brothers tweak their polished neorealist formula of personalized socially conscious cinema. Once again, we are exposed to their hometown of Serain, Belgium. This time, however, composed music plays a central role. The Dardennes continue the focus of their oeuvre on the plight of Belgian youth. The result is a somewhat less than convincing story about a troubled 11-year-old boy named Cyril (Thomas Doret).

Having been recently abandoned by his single-parent father Guy (Jérémie Renier), Cyril searches desperately for his missing dad and for his bicycle, which has also gone MIA. The manic boy escapes from a boys' home to return to the empty apartment he once occupied with his father. Pursued and dragged by his keepers back into the group home, Cyril throws himself at a visiting woman waiting in the home’s lobby. Hairdresser Samantha (Cecile de France) helps Cyril find his bike and agrees to look after the violence-prone boy on weekends. Samantha is at a loss to understand Cyril’s self-destructive impulses, which land him in a string of violent altercations. Still, Cyril's fortunes improve when Samantha agrees to keep him with her full time. Cyril’s guardian angel helps him track down his deadbeat dad at a restaurant where he works. Guy eventually makes clear he wants nothing to do with his needy son. The filmmakers explore too shallowly Guy's reasoning for essentially throwing his son away. This, coupled with a lack of perspective on Samantha's backstory, weighs heavy on the film as a narrative contrivance that is fortunately mitigated by Thomas Doret’s exceptional performance.

In spite of its all-too-obvious machinations, “The Kid with a Bike” touches on social ills in a straightforward fashion without preaching. When Cyril falls in with a neighborhood thug to perform a violent crime with no reason other than to try to win the approval of an older male figure, we see clearly what the filmmakers are getting at. A kid with a bike is nothing without both a mother and a father.

Not Rated. 87 mins. (B-) (Three Stars - out of five/no halves)

February 16, 2012


BullheadJacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts) is not your run-of-the-mill Flemish mafia thug. He has serious emotional and physical issues stemming from an attack by the son of one of his father’s criminal partners. Jacky belongs to a family of Belgium cattle farmers who use growth hormones to increase profits. Debut writer/director Michael R. Roskam based his gut-wrenching crime drama on the true story of a Belgian veterinarian who was murdered in the mid-‘90s.

The murder of a local investigator causes Jacky to advise his boss not to rush into inking a deal with De Kuyper (Sam Louwyck), an illicit meat market kingpin from a neighboring region. Not that any of his gangster cohorts take the steroid-pumped Jacky seriously enough to follow his instructions. Jacky is of course correct in guessing that a police investigation is in full swing, and the he and his compatriots could be swept up in its net.

Roskam’s gift for cinematic storytelling comes through in every affecting frame. The filmmaker’s scrupulous use of flashbacks brings the audience into a visceral empathy with Jacky, whose daily injections of testosterone explain much of his erratic behavior and his private turmoil. With his blunted facial features, Flemish actor Matthias Schoenaerts (“Loft”) is ideally cast for the role. Schoenaerts’s gutsy performance is remarkable. At heart, Jacky is a sensitive and intelligent guy trapped in a body that doesn’t belong to him anymore. A subplot involving his best friend from childhood seals the film’s character-study aspect with an added dimension of deeply seeded context. “Bullhead” is an unconventional mafia story told through the eyes of a damaged-goods protagonist you can’t help but feel for.

Rated R. 124 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)

January 09, 2012

Miss Bala

Miss BalaTreating dramatic convention like it was industrial garbage director/co-writer Gerardo Naranjo's attempt at agitprop cinema is a frustrating mess. While "Miss Bala" may have some effect of reducing tourism to Mexico's Baja region, where the story takes place, it comes off as an exploitation film made to fan the egos of its filmmakers. Newcomer Stephanie Sigman plays Laura Guerrero, a homely peasant girl from Tijuana with an unreasonable dream of competing in the local Miss Baja beauty pageant--no telling why the film isn't titled "Miss Baja." Laura stumbles into a party full of American DEA agents to meet up with her best friend just as a local mob of hit men attack the fiesta to wipe out everyone present. The filmmaker's attempt at making the shoot 'em up violence entertaining with tricks of light has the opposite effect. Laura miraculously survives but makes the time-honored mistake of putting her trust in a corrupt police officer who simply hands her over to the men responsible for the previous night's bloodletting. Mob-leader Lino (Noe Hernandez) hatches a hair-brained scheme to leverage Laura into the fraudulent Miss Baja Beauty Pageant so she can get next to a local General Lino wants to assassinate. Talk about hackneyed storytelling. There isn't much story here, and what little there is is barely enough to keep a fully caffeinated viewer awake. It's confounding why so much critical praise has been lavished on "Miss Bala" during its tour of film festivals. Here is a low-budget fiasco that should have gone straight to DVD.

Rated R. 113 mins. (D+) (One Star - out of five/no halves)

October 19, 2011

Le Havre - NYFF 2011

Le-HavreAki Kaurismaki's humanist themed comedy of manners and intentions is a whimsical allegory about the desperate plight of immigrants and the communal actions needed to address the issue. There's an air of magical realism in the film's tone that places shoeshine man Marcel (Andre Wilms) in the unique position of harboring a young illegal immigrant named Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) from West Africa in Marcel’s French hometown of La Havre.

Marcel leads a frugal existence with his loving wife Arletty (Kati Outinen) in a small house on a little back street of the sleepy seaside town. The couple's minimalist lifestyle still allows for simple pleasures. With his wife's approval Marcel slips out to his favorite bar for an aperitif while Arletty prepares their dinner. Arletty doesn't want her husband know she's dying from cancer. So it comes as a shock when she has to be rushed to the hospital for an extended stay. When a dock guard hears the cry of a baby coming from a sealed shipping container, local officials are called in to open the giant London-bound metal box. Inside are a group of immigrants from which Idrissa escapes before running into the sympathetic Marcel who agrees to help the boy get to London to reunite with his mother.

Filmed with a deliberately simplistic regard, Kaurismaki embraces a regional sense of identity that allows supporting characters to flourish. Police Inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) gets wind of Marcel’s complicity in hiding the boy, and makes his position clear to Marcel. Enjoyable scenes between Darroussin and Wilms play out with a suspenseful sense of deadpan humor. As with all of the Finnish auteur’s films, there’s a bitter sweetness at play. When Kaurismaki adds the story’s final grace note it comes as rich reward. Few filmmakers have such delicate command of the poetic potential of cinema.

Not Rated. 93 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)

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