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 Mary and The Witch’s Flower, the first anime from Studio Ponoc, is over at Filmink and below…
Mary, an imaginative and inquisitive young girl, is spending the last week of the summer break with her great aunt Charlotte at the village of Redmanor. Bored at home with no working TV set or friends of her own to play with, she tries to help out around the house, but constantly drops things due to her clumsiness. This boredom, plus anxiety over her self-image and red hair, brings out a multitude of worry and stress ahead of the new school year. After not immediately seeing eye to eye with local boy Peter, she meets his two cats Tib and Gib wandering through the misty woods. Following the cats directly leads to the discovery of a bunch of eerie fly-by-night flowers growing in the wild. She takes them home and before knowing too much about it, Mary and Tib are whisked away into the sky on a broomstick.
Eventually crashing into Endor college (no relation to the Forest Moon in Return of the Jedi, Star Wars fans), a training camp for would-be witches and magic users, Mary (voiced by Ruby Barnhill) is immediately enrolled as a student on the strength of her impressive powers. Unbeknowst to headmistress Madam Mumblechook (voiced by Kate Winslet) and head scientist/mage Doctor Dee (voiced by Jim Broadbent), all of Mary’s magic comes directly from the fly-by-night flowers. With some quick thinking and a little deception, she manages to keep the unexpected untruth going for an entire day, impressing the college with not only her magic skills, but also her red hair, which is a sign of tremendous power. However, when the untruths begin to mount up, Mary indirectly puts her new friend Peter in danger. She begins to discover exactly what kind of experiments Doctor Dee is undertaking, and just why he and Madam Mumblechook are so obsessed with the so-called witch’s flower.
The first movie from Studio Ponoc, this new anime is directed by Hirmoasa Yonebayashi, an acclaimed graduate of the famous Studio Ghibli. Known for When Marnie Was There and Arriety. Released in both the original Japanese with English subtitles and a dubbed version featuring well-known actors, the film creates a spellbinding atmosphere of classic wonder with a lively script that zips along at a fast pace. While not veering off so far into the fantasy (there is only one non-human with a speaking part, the fox or dog-like Flanagan, the caretaker of the College’s broomstable) of Spirited Away style-surrealism, the world is exceptionally well-drawn and creates an energetic and transporting fairy tale.
Based on Mary Stewart’s children’s novel The Little Broomstick, the film takes rural England as its setting and conjures up the country landscape vividly. Drawing comparisons with Ghibli favourite Kiki’s Delivery Service as well as the Harry Potterseries of books and films, Mary and The Witch’s Flower can hold its head above the magic lava with the best of stories about young witches. With a powerful message of trusting animals and the natural world above and beyond science and technology – sometimes referred to as ‘magic’ – this is a delightful film that kids – and adults – of all ages will enjoy and remember fondly.
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.
Review of Brit crime/horror film is over at Flickering Myth and below…
Writer/director James Crow (Curse of the Witching Tree) makes stylish use of genre mixing in this feature, with a blend of British crime thriller and supernatural horror keeping suspense up to the max with plenty of surprises in store. Calling to mind the 1970’s psychological thriller output of Hammer Films (films like Demons of the Mind and Fear in the Night (both 1972) or more recent examples of Brit Horror crime thrillers such as Kill List (2011) which meld different genre elements into a horror film, House of Salem delights in never really letting the audience know where it’s going. Both weird and unnerving, it succeeds in creating a disarming level of edgy terror.
Following the abduction of young Josh (Liam Kelly) by a group of big-city clown masked villains, the group soon finds out that their safe-house is not so safe. Receiving their demands for cash becomes the least of their concerns as it becomes apparent that the child is wanted for something completely different and far darker. A grim playfulness takes part in the situation and the location’s psyching out of the gang, with blood and shadows messing with their heads and disrupting the usual work-rate of a kidnapping job. All of this unsettling weirdness and well captured strange visions moves the story away from its crime thriller beginnings into strange horror.
The performances are notably good, with Jessica Arterton (the debut of the cousin of Gemma Arterton) interacting well with both Liam Kelly’s stolen kid and Leslie Mills’ bullying tough-guy boss. The sense of the gang stepping out of a Brit crime drama into something far darker adds a whole other level to the movie, and scenes of the group struggling to figure out exactly what is going on have a dreamy, surreal quality to them that works well.
The main criticism is that the film could have been edited of a few scenes just before the climactic ending – which although chilling is working with one too many ideas and a whole load of characters, some introduced without much background information or actual need. By the time that the majority of characters have been killed off and new ones have appeared, a little of the drama has been lost. However, at its best House of Salem is a creepy example of a devilish horror thriller mixed with Brit crime and home invasion genres, with a decent amount of scares and surprises thrown in.
The following review of the documentary feature ‘Europe at Sea’ appears below and over at Flickering Myth.
Europe at Sea, an hour-long documentary film covering a wide range of issues all centred on the EU’s ability to cope with the various threats to its security, is a skillfully produced investigative feature.
Focusing on Federica Mogherini, the head of the EU Foreign and Security Policy as she formulates a global approach to world and European issues, the film mixes her personal responses to the job with insightful journalism on the ongoing issues of the day.
Mogherini is in effect the lead of this film, and her willingness to discuss and put across new ideas in the planning and development of security issues is the film’s most important comment. Her relative youth for such a high position is looked at, with her experience and ability being cited alongside the EU’s desire to bring fresh ideas into play for tackling new and unexpected concerns.
Produced by the film company Springshot, the documentary blends powerful cinematography with animated segments to present hard-hitting facts and information. A balanced and occasionally dryly humourous voice-over also helps to contextualise the quick delivery of information. Designed partly to take viewers away from dull political rhetoric and ill-informed tirades, Europe at Sea takes a close look at how Europe is able to combat the rapidly growing security and humanitarian challenges that are present both within and outside its borders.
The sobering and disquieting footage of the migrant crisis and its impact is one of the areas the film looks at in detail. Operation Sophia – named after a rescued Somali woman’s baby born on a German frigate and operating since 2015 – is followed closely as the camera crew were allowed exclusive access to their working schedule in the Southern Mediterranean Sea.
The film also examines the implications of Donald Trump’s America, the threat of North Korea and the confusion surrounding the UK’s Brexit vote. All of this is presented taking a methodical and balanced approach, making the most of both the powerful visuals and Mogherini’s practical and professional approach to showcase the essential work being done.
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