My review of Jonas Carpignano’s The Ciambra is over at Flickering Myth and below.
In a small Romani community in Calabria, Italy, Pio Amato is desperate to grow up fast. Amidst a backdrop of tensions between the local Italians, recent arrivals from African countries and his fellow Romani, Pio must decide what route to go down in his quest to become an adult.
There is a wonderful moment in The Ciambra, Jonas Carpignano’s haunting depiction of a boy’s struggle with adolescence, where our lead character witnesses a vivid waking dream of a horse walking around the city streets. This vision of freedom beautifully juxtaposes Pio’s ideas of his community’s past with his own more tightly constrained present on the streets of Gioia Tauro, Calabria.
The film follows Pio (Pio Amato) as he tries to figure out how best to prove himself to his family as a responsible provider. This need only intensifies after his older brother and role model Cosimo is arrested by the local Carabinieri. We see Pio smoking, drinking and fooling around in nightclubs and taking on small-time hustles with little direction. His lack of motivation in life and problems with finding any kind of meaning are powerfully displayed and point towards a future that is not yet decided, but one that is, we suspect, potentially full of further sorrow and difficulty.
The film uses non-performers as its cast and the effect is an increase in the natural documentary style of the feature. The scenes featuring Pio and the whole extended Amato family have a tumultuous rhythm and flair that appear largely unscripted, as if the audience has just been admitted to a place at the chaotically boisterous dinner table.
The film’s writer and director Jonas Carpignano (Mediterranea, 2015) spent years based in Calabria, and his knowledge of the region has certainly paid off for this feature. There is an authenticity about the backdrop and the tense atmosphere of everyday life, as different communities of Italian, Romani and Africans live around each other with an abiding level of mistrust.
The film is specifically about Pio though. And taken purely on this level it is a successful and emotionally rich depiction of a boy growing up. The relationship between Pio and Ayiva (Koudous Seihon), a newcomer to Italy from Burkino Faso, is central to the story, which is less about plot and more about the turbulent emotions behind feelings of family loyalty and identity.
Ayiva is really the boy’s only true friend, and the film’s potent insight into how people from different cultures and backgrounds can understand each other- if only for a brief segment of time- provides some small piece of light in an otherwise bleak, yet compelling, outlook of a life on the fringes. The Ciambra is a difficult film to experience, but an important one, with much to say about desperation, hope and society.
THE CIAMBRA is released in UK cinemas on June 15th
Since moving to Sydney, I have started working with the film collective Knowledge Variable.
We are producing art films with a focus on the experimental and strange, the avant-garde and the poetic and the mysterious and the magical.
I’m looking forward to writing, acting in and producing new films and ideas.
Check out our youtube channel here.
Island Zero is a decent low-budget paranoid suspense thriller. My review of Island Zero is over at Flickering Myth now
I’ve been trying my hand at some acting recently here in Sydney. I’ve been working with the talented filmmaker Darcy Prince on some short experimental pieces. If anyone would like to see his work it is here on the youtube channel Knowledge Variable.
The films involving me can be viewed on this playlist.
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.