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On this page: THE FAMILY FRIEND | 4:30
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last update 28.Mar.07
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The Family Friend   3.5/5   L’Amico di Famiglia
the family friend After The Consequences of Love, Sorrentino is back with another steadily paced but profoundly quirky look into human nature, which plays out like a creepy version of The Merchant of Venice.

Geremia (Rizzo), is a small, hunched-up loan shark in Rome. He's stinking rich, but he lives in stark poverty with his bed-ridden mother (Bindi), pinching every penny. And everyone else's. He worms his way into his clients' life by befriending them, offering to help them in their time of need, then ruthlessly collecting each debt with the help of his cowboy henchman Gino (Bentivoglio) and twin pizza spinners. His latest client is a man (Angelillo) trying to pay for a first-class wedding for his sexy daughter (Chiatti). And the daughter might be Geremia's weak spot.

As one character observes, a family friend is someone who's there when you need him, and also when you don't. Sorrentino films this tale in a languid, observational way that catches tiny details in each scene and continually gives us insights into the characters. It's suggestive and a little surreal, almost Lynchian in its mixture of earthiness and wackiness.

The most clever thing about the film is Geremia's subtle complexity. This is a slimy, manipulative, greedy man whose avarice knows no limits. He's a vulture ready to swoop at the first sign of weakness. Yet Rizzo plays him so we also sense a pathetic longing within him for a normal life. And we also see his disarming charm, how he uses words to distract people from his unsightly appearance.

The characters around Geremia are a little more enigmatic. Next to him they seem completely trustworthy, but little chinks appear here and there--power games, plots and schemes. The subtle way they all circle around each other is loaded with black comedy and offbeat plot twists that make us ask all sorts of questions. The plot does provide most of the answers, leading to a satisfying conclusion that's both surprising and nicely subdued. But then the entire film is subdued, but film fans who are fed up with nonstop action will love it.

dir-scr Paolo Sorrentino
with Giacomo Rizzo, Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Laura Chiatti, Luigi Angelillo, Clara Bindi, Barbara Valmorin, Marco Giallini, Alina Nadelea, Roberta Fiorentini, Elias Schilton, Lorenzo Gioielli, Giorgio Colangeli
Giacomo Rizzo and Laura Chiatti release UK 16.Mar.07
06/Italy 1h39

15themes, language, violence, sexuality
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4:30   4/5
4:30 Relying on visual impressionism and very little dialog, filmmaker Tan creates a sensuous portrayal of lonely adoration in this subtle story of a young boy trying to connect with his guardian.

Xiao Wu (Xiao) is an 11-year-old who basically lives alone. Yes, there's a man taking care of him--his 31-year-old Korean "uncle" Jung (Kim)--but he's always asleep, virtually unconscious, inconsolable after the loss of his girlfriend, Xiao's mother. Every night at 4.30am, Xiao prowls the house, glugging Jung's cough medicine and gazing longingly at the man he needs to feel loved by. During the day, he indulges in pranks, cooks for himself, misbehaves at school and recites dialog along with TV movies. Will Jung ever awake from his funk? Will these two ever connect?

Tan shoots this in long, static takes with very little dialog, maintaining an emotionally atmospheric tone and a sharply subversive sense of humour. For most of the film, Xiao is centre screen while his teacher, doctor and others are out of sight. Even though we never quite know what's going on, we fully understand the thoughts of this cheeky young boy as the camera catches each scene through telling perspectives, sharp angles and inventive reflections.

Yes, it's perhaps too reliant on visuals, with superb set design and a striking use of light and shadow. But it's also finely focussed on the two central figures, often in intimate, vulnerable places--naked in the bath or asleep in bed. Their performances are raw, as both are merely biding time, living in oblivion, the man completely unaware that the boy needs him. And when they occasionally find a tentative connection, it's powerfully tender. And also achingly sad.

This film sits in striking contrast to Tan's kinetic, energetic 2003 film 15. Both examine youthfulness with the same jagged humour and a glimmer of warmth amid the oppressive doom. But this is much more evocative and haunting, touching us in a dreamlike way that forces us to reflect on our own need for human contact. And how our reactions and needs deeply affect those around us.

dir Royston Tan
scr Liam Yeo, Royston Tan
with Xiao Li Yuan, Kim Young-jun, Lim Khang Soon, Goh Chwee, Au Wei Shan, Derick Ng, Ong Liang Kai, Sylvester Chua, Elizabeth Tan, Alice Ho Soon Kim, Margaret Ho, Sim Kah Seok
xiao and kim release Sin 29.Jun.06,
UK 23.Nov.07
06/Singapore 1h33

London L&G Film Fest BERLINALE
12 themes, vulgarity
3.Mar.07 llgff
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Private Fears in Public Places   3.5/5   Cœurs
Private Fears in Public Places Based on the Alan Ayckbourn play, this lively relationship comedy twists its characters up in knots as they try desperately to escape the loneliness of modern urban life. The film feels rather long, but is thoroughly warm and likeable.

Dan and Nicole (Wilson and Morante) are looking for a new flat with the help of estate agent Thierry (Dussollier). But their relationship is in trouble. Meanwhile, Thierry is attracted to his deeply religious colleague Charlotte (Azéma), and she has a couple of surprises in store for him. She also has some surprises for the cranky old man (Rich) she helps care for in the evenings. His son (Arditi) is a barman who keeps Dan company most evenings, encouraging him to place a personal ad. Through this he meets Gaëlle (Carré), who happens to be Thierry's little sister.

Everyone in this story is dealing with loneliness in their own specific way--seeking immediate company, withdrawing into themselves, lashing out, tentatively hoping, doing whatever it takes. The collection of intertwined stories are all quite emotional, as each person must cope on their own with their deep need for companionship. And of course the resulting interaction is warm and wry, funny and sad, cute and complicated.

Resnais' directorial style is slick and assured, and he keeps the focus finely on the characters, making the most of their self-obsessions while keeping them thoroughly engaging. There isn't a weak performance in the cast. Standouts include Wilson's charming rogue Dan and Azéma's constantly surprising Charlotte. Each of these people is thoroughly believable; we can readily identify with the way they cope with bitterness and indignity rather than being alone.

While the editing feels a little slack at times, dragging the film out and indulging in too many mannered snowy transitions, there are some terrific scenes along the way that shift our sympathies as new layers of humanity are revealed. Nicole stomping around diva-like through various potential flats is hilarious; Dan and Gaëlle's first date is sweet and endearing; Charlotte's special treatment for the old man is hysterical. And it's nice that there's more to it than that.

dir Alain Resnais
scr Jean-Michel Ribes
with Sabine Azéma, Lambert Wilson, André Dussollier, Laura Morante, Isabelle Carré, Pierre Arditi, Claude Rich, Françoise Gillard, Anne Kessler, Roger Mollien, Florence Muller, Michel Vuillermoz
scott thomas and cluzet
release Fr 22.Nov.06,
US 13.Apr.07,
UK 20.Jul.07
06/France 2h00

12 themes, language, innuendo
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La Vie en Rose   3.5/5   La Môme
La Vie en Rose Marion Cotillard's staggering performance is the main event in this Edith Piaf biopic. Without her, the film would be somewhat incoherent, even though the story is an astonishing one.

Edith's life was rough from the start, discarded by her prostitute mother (Courau), her madam grandmother and her circus contortionist father (Rouve), she grows up on the rough streets of Paris, singing with her friend (Testud) for money. Then a music producer (Depardieu) launches her career, which hits bump after bump, usually involving even more tragedy. And sometimes love, such as when she falls hard for a boxer (Martins). By the time she's in her 40s, she's a shattered wreck of addictions and injuries. And yet she has to keep singing.

Piaf is played at ages 5 and 10 by Chevallier and Burlet, respectively, then from 16 to 47 by Cotillard. All three are terrific, but Cotillard's sheer range is breathtaking, as is the way she holds each scene in the palm of her hand, capturing the diva of all divas and keeping her edgy, witty, cruel and deeply likeable, all at the same time. Her supporting cast is also superb, and the film's terrific production design holds it together beautifully.

Filmmaker Dahan chooses to tell the story by jumping back and forth through the chronology, from 1918 to 1963. A few flashes back and forward would have been fine, but the film never settles into a proper rhythm, and we never quite fit the events together. This makes it increasingly difficult to engage with the story or characters, and some bad editing choices in the final sequence botch what could have been the much more powerful punch of Piaf's masterpiece, "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien".

Watching her fall into ill health due to an addiction to pain killers and booze strongly echoes Judy Garland. Seeing her desperation for fame and control over her artistic choices is reminiscent of Madonna. It's a little simplistic to reduce her life to these elements (and to leave out, for example, her amazing work for the French Resistance), but this is still a lushly produced, fascinating film about one of the 20th century's most remarkable artists.

dir Olivier Dahan
scr Olivier Dahan, Isabelle Sobelman
with Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, Pascal Greggory, Gérard Depardieu, Emmanuelle Seigner, Jean-Pierre Martins, Manon Chevallier, Pauline Burlet, Marc Barbé, Jean-Paul Rouve, Clotilde Courau, Harry Hadden-Paton
release Fr 14.Feb.07,
US 8.Jun.07, UK 22.Jun.07
07/France 2h20

12 themes, language, some violence
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall