My review of the short film The Energy Within is over at Flickering Myth. Starring Paralympian Stefanie Reid in her debut film performance, the 17min film is an inspiring take on focusing mind and body through sporting endeavour.
Based on her own real-life experiences, The Energy Within stars Paralympian Stefanie Reid in her debut film performance.
Across its 17 minute duration, the short tracks the progress of Julie Bennett (Reid) as she attempts to get back into racing competition despite losing a leg in an accident. After finding the courage to approach respected coach George Hart (Daniel Adegboyega), Julie asks to join his team of professional runners. It’s a difficult thing for her to ask, as she has never raced since her accident.
Afraid of what he and her fellow runners (Marie-Helene Boyd and Suzy Bastone) will think of her if she reveals her disability, at first Reid tries to hide her situation by running on a weaker prosthetic limb. The startling realisation that she has to come to terms with her disability in order to become stronger is a powerful message, and it’s dealt with brilliantly in this short film.
The story also sees Reid encountering her next door neighbour (Aasiya Shah), a teenager struggling with her violin practise. An exasperated Reid shares some choice words with the brash youth, guiding her onto trying harder and putting her mind to the job at hand. In her own words, ” The only one who actually cares is you. So if you think you suck, then, yeah, you probably suck…”
It seems to do the trick, as after a brief scene switch the next we hear is the girl trying the notes on the violin again. It’s a well done part of the film, and isn’t over done. It just goes to show that all of us have challenges to over come and how we address them forms part of who we are.
As a whole, the film rapidly showcases the power of sport in focusing the mind and the body. Reid does a great job at bringing her own personal experience of competing with a disability to the screen. She is a strong lead in a story that inspires and informs in equal measure.
THE ENERGY WITHIN will premiere online in March, during the 2018 Winter Paralympics in South Korea.
Review of women’s liberation in Switzerland film The Divine Order over at Flickering Myth and below.
An informative and entertaining drama, The Divine Order tells a serious story in easily watchable fashion, focusing on strong performances from the two leads (Marie Leuenberger, Maximilian Simonischek) as the couple at the heart of the film.
Showing how Switzerland’s female population won the right to vote in 1971, the movie does not barrage the audience with political theory or facts and figures. It simply shows, in a surprisingly light but resolutely inspirational tone, how and why the country’s women did not enjoy political suffrage earlier and what needed to happen in order to gain it.
Nora (Leuenberger) has a peaceful and secure existence in her small Swiss village. Her days are spent looking after her two sons, unimaginative husband (Simonischek) and cantankerous father-in-law. As the contrasting documentary style news images that play in the opening credits remind us, the year is 1971 and major political change is happening throughout the world. And yet, here, in Switzerland the contrast is as clear as the snow peaked mountains in the distance.
The story plays around Nora’s gradual empowerment as she realises that things can’t continue as they always have done. She wants to work, and her husband flat out refuses. He is not even entirely sure why himself; it is just not the done thing in those parts. There are many moments in the film just like this, where received wisdom and old-fashioned ‘tradition’ become embroiled in plain misogyny shock with a potent force. The film is not a difficult watch, it’s true, but that shouldn’t be seen as a criticism. In fact, it manages to get across the central ideas clearly, which when you’re talking about more than half of the population’s right to vote can only be welcomed.
There is humour within the film as well. A travelling workshop taught by a Swedish hippie (TV series The Bridge’s Sofia Helin) shows the local women the philosophy of yoni power and the importance of loving their vaginas. The almost slapstick comedy of this and other scenes broadens the film’s appeal somewhat, and brings the important points it has to make about political identity and power home in clarity.
There are also moments of real violence and infuriating diatribe from the local men, as well as the female head of the anti-women’s right to vote society. These real dangers show exactly why women in remote areas found it difficult to make their voices heard on issues such as this.
Through self-education and determination Nora manages to make a difference to the village, and to the other women, because she is someone. She is herself, and not only a wife and a mother. The basic points are what needed spelling back in the 1970’s, and they retain their urgency today. Petra Volpe’s film does that in an audience pleasing way, and manages to be both insightful and motivating.
My review of the deeply strange fairy tale/folk horror is over at Flickering Myth and below…
Rainer Sarnet’s beautifully strange rumination on love and loss set against a pagan backdrop of fairy-tale and mythological themes is a compelling journey through an unsettling dream landscape. The intense black and white cinematography calls to mind the work of filmmakers as diverse as Bergman, Lynch and Carl Theodore Dreyer, but Sarnet’s film is completely of itself, and manages to create its own fully formulated world.
Set in a surreal version of 19th Century Estonia, local peasant workers survive hunger and the cold through a mixture of begging, borrowing and stealing. Sometimes, in order to cheat death or the Devil, they are even persuaded to give up their souls to the animistic kratts; odd work constructs made from scrap metal and animal bones. These proto-robotic creations bring a sense of dark humour to the film, ambling along and calling out in disembodied voice cantankerous instructions and bleak warnings. The film brings out this working life clearly and in explicit detail. It is as if the day to day concerns of keeping the village in order just happens to involve these jumbled up combinations of souls and objects.
Cinematographer Mart Taniel handles these oddities in entrancing tone and style, with the detail informing the greater world in complex and bewildering beauty. The film places the viewer knee deep in the muck and the mire of the ancient forest village, perfectly bringing to life a place of intoxicating wonder. There is a profound tone of phantasmagoria working alongside the grotesque that makes the villagers reactions to life in the world complete and, in some sense, real and understandable.
Amidst this deeply strange backdrop is what at first sounds like a traditional folk tale. Liina (Rea Lest) is in love with local village worker Hans, who is in turn infatuated with a visiting German baroness. Liina is willing to go to any lengths to win her love, as is Hans, and the whole plot of unrequited love gets mixed up with the greater goings on of life, death and metaphysics. Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England also managed to create this mix of the workings of daily activity with magic and belief interacting in the foreground, and November shares that film’s trippy observation of dream reality from the bottom up.
Pagan philosophy and Christian theology both have sway in this world, as does the threat of the mysterious Plague, an ever-present force, able to take on different forms – at one point appearing as a goat, fans of The Witch will be pleased to see – and keeping the environment on constant edge. The presence of Dieter Laser (The Human Centipede) as the father of Hans’ crush is an archly amusing cue to genre and horror fans that not everything is to be taken at face value. Laser, for his part, plays the role with a wry remove, seemingly always on the verge on a raised eyebrow, but never distracting from the greater show of the dreamscape at large.
In terms of storytelling, Sarnet clearly takes cues from Expressionism, with a disorienting visual style of greater import than dialogue or structure of scene. This combined with the evocative music by Jacaszek and a distinct use of sound, makes the film as beguiling and enticing as any darkly furnished vision of both the up-close and personal, and the beyond.
MyFrenchFilmFestival is online now and features lots of interesting stuff from the Francophone world (ie, not only France but the whole French speaking world).
Here are a couple of my reviews over at Flickering Myth…
The superb psychological thriller Into the Forest
It’s a pretty interesting idea to have a whole film festival exclusively online, and it probably points towards the future. Much as I love cinemas, I guess it’s pretty good to see new and original exclusives at home sometimes too…
MyFrenchFilmFestival is available across the world on multiple streaming platforms. For more information
visit the official site here.
My review of ‘A Woman’s Life’, an adaptation of de Maupassant’s Une Vie, is over at Flickering Myth and below…
Life is never as good or as bad as one thinks, wrote Guy de Maupassant in his novel Une Vie, the source material for this sombre and touching film from Stéphane Brizé (The Measure of a Man, Mademoiselle Chambon).
Essentially this is a story of expectations. Jeanne (Judith Chema), the daughter of nobility in mid 19th-century France has led a sheltered existence for most of her early life. Days spent tending the garden and learning about the natural growth of things with her father the Baron Simon (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) fill the innocent convent school educated Jeanne with happy delight.
This life rapidly changes following a semi-arranged marriage to Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud), an unpleasant young man whose family are not as affluent as Jeanne’s. Emasculated by this fact, he takes every opportunity to stake whatever claims on authority he has – from pettily controlling the temperature of the farm house by restricting the use of fire wood, to far more sinister and abusive actions. The unsuitable young man forces himself upon the maid Rosalie (Nina Meurisse) and also conducts an affair with another member of the aristocracy Gilberte de Fouville (Clotilde Hesme).
A melancholy tone thus descends upon Jeanne’s life. A young woman, once so innocent and in love with nature becomes progressively depressed and dejected by the cruel twists of the events that evolve around her. Her own motherhood offers little hope, merely bringing out the divisions between men and women even more clearly. Constantly brought down by the realities of life, the audience is left hoping for Jeanne to take decisive action. When this does not appear to be likely, the hope switches towards the future and the possibility for change.
A mostly handheld-shot work of dreamlike ambience, the story is partially told through remembered scenes and fractured interpretations of past events. Occasionally scenes, such as Jeanne and lost best friend Gilberte dancing around the garden in their Sunday best are played out more than once, heightening the intensity and Jeanne’s dwelling on previous happier times.
Music is used sparingly in the film, with just one piano piece from Oliver Baumont used throughout. Jeanne’s poetic narration segments are metaphoric diary entries, adding another layer of what is a film of despairing fragility. Finding emotional depth in long scenes with little action or no dialogue, Brizé’s film brings out markings of the anxiety and complex details of the everyday of Jeanne’s life. And it is unmistakably her life – for there is no other perspective on the actual events that have so damaged her and brought her into such despair. This experimental style of approach is a courageous one, telling a tale of personal tragedy with no other witness than the central player herself. A deeply expressive and thoughtful film.
This review also appears over at Flickering Myth.
An entertaining slice of genre horror that moves away from and surpasses its Blaxploitation roots, J.D.’s Revenge takes a sure-footed look at supernatural possession, inner city crime and religious propaganda.
The calm and thoughtful law student Ike (Glynn Turman) is enjoying a night on the town with his friends, taking in New Orleans bars and night spots before venturing into a nightclub hosting a hypnosis act. The violent personality of a 1940’s mobster (portrayed with a haunting intensity by David McKnight) becomes embroiled with his own, gradually taking over and leading to a series of brutal attacks as the spirit in the body of Ike searches for those who led to his murder.
J.D.’s Revenge is a powerful mix of horror and social commentary that brings a surprising view of New Orleans life into play. The mysterious angles and architecture of the place combine with its unique religious history and imagery to provide a powerful backdrop for this unusual and affecting story. Becoming more complex and psychologically moving as it plays out, this is an urban thriller that offers far more than it initially promises. Fantastic suits and funk music too, natch.
Special Features on the Arrow Video release include interviews with producer-director Arthur Marks, star Glynn Turman, audio interview with actor David McKnight and Arthur Marks trailer reels.
The following review also appears at Flickering Myth.
Federico Fellini’s last film is a jaw-dropping experience. Bringing together a surreal template of dream logic with wry humour and sardonic swipes at society, The Voice of the Moon – or in Italian, La Voce Della Luna – provides the magical realism and wonder of life that the Italian filmmaker is best known for.
Adapted from Ermanno Cavazzoni’s poetic novel, the story follows the recently released mental patient Ivo Salvini (Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful) as he navigates his way around a strange and compelling landscape. He encounters the entrancing Aldina (Nadia Ottaviani) by accident and falls in love immediately. As he attempts to win her heart, he finds himself in all sorts of weird, fantastic and phantasmagorical situations, surrounded by various peculiar characters all motivated by unknowable forces. These include Gonnella (Paolo Villaggio), an old man given to wildly paranoid conspiracy theories and also a group of demented brothers determined to capture the moon. This, plus a stirring nightclub dance-off to Michael Jackson’s ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, highlight the bizarre offerings in place from this incredible tour-de-force. Salvini asks no questions of this alternately nightmarish and inspiring backdrop, simply going about life searching for love and contentment while sharing an infectious enthusiasm for the world’s – and the moon’s – oddities.
Initially emerging in 1990 without the attention it deserves, Fellini’s swansong appeared at Cannes out of competition and did not receive any distribution deals in North America or the UK. An influence on filmmakers such as Terry Gilliam (The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys) The Voice of the Moon is further evidence of Fellini’s prowess at experimental styles and techniques that help to create an enchanting and beguiling atmosphere. The director’s earlier works including La Strada, La Dolce Vita and 8½ cemented his place as one of Europe’s most pioneering cinematic artists – this release provides a fresh impetus to reaffirm that status and to celebrate a triumphant career finale.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
• Towards the Moon with Fellini, a rarely seen hour-long documentary on the film’s production, featuring interviews with Fellini, Roberto Benigni and Paolo Villagio
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain
Review of George A. Romero Between Night and Dawn box set over at Flickering Myth and below…
When George Romero passed away in July this year, the film world lost one of its true innovators. A film maker not afraid to try different styles and forms, Romero was best known as the ‘King of the Zombies’ with 1968’s mixture of horror and social allegory Night of the Living Dead a starting point for generations of horror aficionados and independent film makers.
As this collection clearly displays, Romero was equally proficient in other genres. Providing an illuminating lesson in the director’s output between his breakthrough film and 1978’s Dawn of the Dead (the second of his Zombie films), this collection showcases an eclectic storytelling ability and talent at home with a variety of narrative and production techniques.
The first instalment There’s Always Vanilla (1971) is a product of the late 1960’s hippie/free love world view and the implications that has for relationships and inter-personal dynamics. Set up as a comedy romance featuring charming performances from Raymond Laine and Judith Ridley, the film can’t completely escape Romero’s slightly off-kilter vision and disquieting social commentary. This is heightened by the possibility that the lead is possibly communicating from beyond the grave. The film has a disorientating style seemingly borne of the trippy psychedelic movement and also serves to provide insight into the fashion and advertising industries as both shallow and exploitative to women. The lead character may rambles on about ‘chicks’ in a hip kind of way, but this offers more of a shock when the two actually form a real connection beyond that of superficiality and ‘groovy times’.
The second part Season of the Witch (1972) is further evidence of Romero’s gift for producing unsettling truths about social structures, this time in a psychological thriller format. Drawing inevitable comparisons with Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby – indeed that film is even name-checked in the script – and also the Hammer film The Witches, the film is a dark exploration of middle class suburban values and attitudes, particularly in the husband and wife dynamic. In one of her few acting roles before retiring from the industry, Jan White portrays a haunted and bored hausfrau driven to extreme distraction by her teenage daughter’s professor/boyfriend (Raymond Laine, making another appearance) and the introduction of a new craze amongst her fellow wealthy suburbanites; namely, that of witchcraft. In my opinion this is the strongest of the three tales, mixing a genuinely weird and disquieting voyage into the female psyche with strong social observations about middle America. Some of this certainly looks familiar to anyone who caught the recent top example of excellently produced psychological (and psychedelic) horror/drama The Love Witch.
Lastly, is the mixed bag of The Crazies (1973). An interesting premise is let down by a lacklustre second half that dilutes its ideas into a generic 1970s macho action survival movie. Definitely the closest of the three to the later zombie formula that he would perfect, this feels like something of a blueprint. Basing its story around a military virus that has accidentally been released, the plot loses direction about mid-way in and feels slightly confused at points. This could either be seen as imaginative working of the concept – with the idea being that we can never be too sure who is infected and who is not. On the other hand this may be being overly generous and the uncertainty could be the result of below-par acting and unpredictable camera use.
The six discs by Arrow Video compile a wealth of extras and features. Commentaries, new documentaries, interviews, alternate title and artwork are amongst the delights on show.
Review of Le Plaisir at Flickering Myth and below…
In this elegantly crafted piece, Max Ophüls draws inspiration from France’s best known short story writer Guy de Maupassant to concoct a wistfully philosophical examination of the human experience of pleasure.
The three part film begins with Le Masque, a look at an ageing dandy’s attempts to stay young and desirable through dance and socialising. Ophüls captures a dream-like fantastic world of nightlife here, with the camera responding back and forth to the most expressive and extravagant dance moves. The dance of the man, who goes each night to the club wearing a mask to hide his aged visage, is modern in style and could easily fit in to a venue of today. Behind the blurred lights and disorientating music hides a bitter-sweet pleasure; the dancer cannot slow the ageing process, any more than his resigned wife can halt her husband’s quest for never-ending pleasure. A haunting and effecting story that opens up the film in memorable style.
The next segment serves as the film’s longest and most complex. La Maison Tellier follows a day out to the country for the workers at a local brothel after Mme Tellier decides she wishes to attend her niece’s first communion. From that premise itself, we can see various themes of innocence, religion, sexual awareness and, pleasure, all appearing into view. The women are away from the town possibly for the first time ever and see with fresh eyes the workings of country life. The scenes highlighting both the differences and similarities between the niece and the women are profoundly drawn. While the bordello is closed for the day, the Normandy town is thrown into disarray, with local menfolk disturbed by the turn of events. They soon fall into arguments and fights to quell some of their boredom. When the women return, the previous order is resumed, but perhaps with some greater insight.
The last part of the film Le Modèle is the film’s briefest and saddest. An artist becomes captivated by a model (Simone Simon) and the two fall in love passionately and quickly. After they build a life together things begin to dismantle just as quickly, and the artist grows distant and non-communicative. He eventually moves away into a house-share with another artist and the model feels compelled to prove her love. This ends disastrously and she ends up disabled and in constant need of attention. This ‘succeeds’ in keeping the artist at her side as he is now a constant companion/carer.
Le Plaisir is a wonderfully thoughtful film, reworking some of de Maupassant’s primary concerns to fit into a 1950’s cinematic audience. In any case, human wants and desires and quest for pleasure does not essentially change. This film provides a look at the timelessness of the human heart.
Review of exorcism documentary Deliver Us is over at Flickering Myth now and below…
Exorcism. To most of us that spells out unlucky priests gripping onto their crosses, noisy demonic activity and sweary puking possessed kids. In short, horror movies. But as this skillfully produced documentary shows us, the religious practise of exorcism is fully alive and, sort of, well.
Federica Di Giacomo’s startlingly original film presents Father Cataldo as our guide through this fascinating world of hope, faith and hysteria. Thousands of people believe that all sorts of problems and ailments are directly caused by demonic possession. Cataldo, through his weekly mass of liberation, offers a surprisingly frank and self-aware approach to the procedure and an alternately calming and cantankerous hand of assistance to those suffering for non-specific malaise.
The exorcism itself appears to be something like a drop-in therapy session, with a number of different characters from different backgrounds introduced specifically through their connection with the church activity. Some are regular churchgoers and some are assuredly not, drawn to the sessions instead because, literally nothing else works. This kind of helplessness and often sad reality is counterbalanced with the dry Sicilian wit and humour of Cataldo, who brings out the reality of working in this social enterprise.
The film also takes on the wider picture of how the Catholic Church has responded to the growing claims of possession and demonic influence. The number of fully accredited exorcists have gone up worldwide, partly due to a Rome based exorcist-training camp for Catholic priests. These disarming facts and scenes are treated with a journalist’s eye, and no one is made to look foolish or silly.
The audience is left to make its own mind up. One thing is for sure, the presence of a shared community and regular social activity appears to be the real saviour here.
DELIVER US (Liberami) is in cinemas 27th October and on DVD 30th October #DELIVERUSFILM