Films unlikely to be showing at your local multiplex...
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last update 26.Oct.05
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Carmen in Khayelitsha   4.5/5
U-Carmen eKhayelitsha
A Cape Town theatre company adapts Bizet's Carmen for the big screen, sung in the Xhosa language while maintaining the sensual energy and culture of the township setting. It's a staggering achievement--a skilful film that brings an old story to life while giving us a new glimpse of life in South Africa.
  The fiery-eyed diva Carmen (Malefane) works in a cigarette factory in the Khayelitsha township. Men are fascinated by her; women are sick of her vampy ways. She catches the eye of young police officer Jongi (Tshoni), who has a troubled past he can possibly sort out by marrying his brother's widow. But Carmen works her wily ways on him, convincing him to join her band of smuggler friends. Then a local boy made good, the opera singer Lulamile (Kedama), comes back for a triumphant concert, and the community has a new focus. As does Carmen.
  Using Bizet's original music, the filmmakers adapt the songs to the settings brilliantly; Xhosa has a beautiful musicality to it, and the subtitles are easy to follow. The performers also manage something virtually impossible: they create earthy, believable characters while singing opera in the dusty streets. It's absolutely jaw-dropping--bracingly authentic and wonderfully artistic at the same time, with acting that's cinematically layered and detailed, never remotely stagy.
  In addition to translating the lyrics and writing the English subtitles, Malefane gives a lively, wrenchingly powerful performance as the spicy, fickle Carmen. We can easily see why men fall for her ample figure and teasing smile. The only minor problem is that the plot itself has a couple of badly ill-defined jumps in it; we're never sure what happens to trigger the final series of events between Carmen and Jongi, which badly weakens the final emotional punch.
  Anyone familiar with the story won't have a problem, but this makes it slightly incomplete as a film. Even so, this is magical filmmaking that works on all sorts of levels. The portrayal of South African society is jolting and engaging, with generous doses of bawdy humour and grit, including a jab at the concept of idyllic 'freedom'. Simply unmissable.
dir Mark Dornford-May
scr Pauline Malefane, Andiswa Kedama, Mark Dornford-May
with Pauline Malefane, Andile Tshoni, Zorro Sidloyi, Andiswa Kedama, Joel Mthethwa, Lungelwa Blou, Andries Mbali, Ruby Mthethwa, Zweilungile Sidloyi
malefane release SA 1.Apr.05,
UK 21.Apr.06
05/South Africa 2h00
Golden Bear:


12 themes, language, some violence
22.Oct.05 lff
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Lemming   4/5
The team behind Harry, He's Here to Help is back with another deeply seductive dramatic thriller. They get seriously under our skin as they deconstruct the perfect marriage, and chill us to the bone.
  Alain and Benedicte (Lucas and Gainsbourg) are the model couple: young, beautiful and successful. Alain is developing a complex system to keep an eye on household problems; Benedicte is taking time off to settle into their new home. They have Alain's new boss Richard (Dussollier) and wife Alice (Rampling) over for dinner, but Alice's terrible behaviour shocks everyone. Over the next few days, Alice worms her way into both Alain's and Benedicte's lives, causing almost as much havoc than the tiny lemming Benedicte finds in the kitchen drain.
  This is slick, insinuating filmmaking, with music, camerawork and a screenplay that are loaded with subtext, hints that reality is bending in the minds of the characters, odd coincidences and beautiful settings that take on a freak-out feeling. We are as disoriented as Alain is, and Lucas is terrific as a guy whose world is subtly upended around him. Is all of this in his guilt-ridden mind? Is there something supernatural at work? Or is this just how relationships go? Whatever it is, by the end, he's a wreck!
  Meanwhile, Rampling thunders through her scenes like a force of nature--her still, steely destructive power is absolutely terrifying. Gainsbourg and Dussolier have less flashy roles, but still invest them with mystery and energy. And even with all of the outrageousness, these are four real people we recognise and believe in.
  Moll and Marchand maintain a perfectly honest tone amid their playful suggestiveness. This is a warm, funny, tense film that sucks us in and surprises us at every turn without ever being contrived. Night-time wanderings, creepy sounds, home invaders large and small--even the lemming itself, which is kind of like some harbinger of doom, has a rational explanation. But it's the story's personal level that engages and terrifies us. This is essentially a noir thriller about the fragility of relationships and the vulnerability of men. Fiendishly clever.
dir Dominik Moll
scr Dominik Moll, Gilles Marchand
with Laurent Lucas, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Charlotte Rampling, André Dussollier, Jacques Bonnaffe, Véronique Affholder, Michel Cassagne, Florence Desille, Emmanuel Gayet, Félix Gonzales, Nicolas Jouhet, Fabrice Robert
dussollier, gainsbourg, lucas and rampling release Fr 11.May.05,
UK 28.Apr.06
05/France 2h09

Cannes Film Fest London Film Fest

15 themes, language, violence
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Stranded   3/5
There's not much to this short feature, but it does have its moments, and boasts some nicely relaxed performances. It's also a rare film about teens that actually shows them like they are.
  Claudia (Lung) is constantly battling with her younger sister Penny (Browning), while their dad (Morgan) is too stunned by grief over their mother to really notice. He just lets them get on with life--and basically they have to take care of him. When two young kids move into their small house, Claudia gets fed up and moves into her mum's old car, then startsputting it back together with help from her kleptomaniac sort-of boyfriend (Hoflin). But what they all really need to do is actually deal with their wife/mother's absence.
  The film's strength is the way it approaches its subject with honesty and humour. It's filmed in a natural style, with offhanded performances that bounce back and forth, either introspective or fiery and very little in between. The superb actors are wonderfully unaffected, letting us believe them and their interrelationships, especially since the harsh or dismissive things we witness don't reflect the actual way they feel about each other.
  Meanwhile, O'Brien's script dares to acknowledge something most teen movies never do: that teens swear like troopers and use vicious psychological tricks when they fight. And Claudia is unsurprisingly interested in sex--not obsessed or sniggery or expectant, just ready to give it serious consideration. This gives the film a kind of gentle rom-com feel that makes it watchable even when the family stuff gets a bit heavy. It's also lightened by glimpses of the community in which they live (the film was shot in a Melbourne suburb)--most notably a couple of goofy guys from a local church school who are genuinely concerned but not remotely trusted. This, combined with a sparky attitude, helps overcome the simplistic answers the script offers to this troubled family.
dir Stuart McDonald
scr Kathleen O'Brien
with Emma Lung, Emily Browning, Robert Morgan, David Hoflin
browning and lung release UK 23.Oct.05 lff
05/Australia SBS 52m
London Film Fest
15 themes, language
25.Oct.05 lff
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A Woman in Winter  2.5/5
For his third feature, inventive Scottish filmmaker Jobson boldly turns his micro-budget to a low-key sci-fi thriller. Even without expensive effects, it looks amazing, but it's so subdued that we might not be awake to see it.
  Michael (Sives) is a quantum physicist watching a distant star that's about to flare into a black hole, or something, possibly proving his time-bending theory. His colleagues (Lynch and Flemyng) are sceptical. The same day he spots the star, he meets the mysterious Frenchwoman Caroline (Gayet) and moves quickly into a warm but strange relationship. Could either Michael or Caroline be circling around in time to meet each other? And talking to a shrink (Cox) doesn't help.
  This is slick, gorgeous filmmaking. Jobson mixes ethereal direction with clever lighting and editing to flood scenes with colour and keep the entire film in a dreamlike limbo. Characters float through the scenes, interacting and reacting, but seemingly existing on different planes. Sets are elegant and almost iconic in the way they echo shapes, colours, textures, light and shadow. And the musical score is evocative and moody as well.
  Which is all very good. But when the plot itself also carries this elegiac tone, we're in trouble. There's no energy or humour as characters mope through each scene with varying degrees of hopefulness. Conversations between the excellent Sives and Gayet feel like they're played out in slow motion. And then it begins to get ponderous and pretentious, with a bizarre church sequence and lots of dialog about how love is the only meaningful thing in the universe.
  Jobson is technically skilful and hugely ambitious. With this elusive existential collage, he seems to be aiming for a British Donnie Darko. But he completely misses that film's strength: the surrealism is grounded in a real world that's actually romantic, funny, energetic and meaningful, giving it space to take off on flights of time-travel fantasy. This film has some spectacular sequences, and some terrific ideas (such as the way time stands still for Michael). It looks stunning, and appears to be fiendishly clever. But honestly, for a film about time, it feels like it'll never end.
dir-scr Richard Jobson
with Jamie Sives, Julie Gayet, Brian Cox, Susan Lynch, Jason Flemyng, Natasha Watson, James Watson
sives and gayet
release UK 21.Oct.05 lff
05/UK Tartan 1h38
London Film Fest
12 adult themes, some violence
24.Oct.05 lff
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