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Indies, foreigns, docs, videos, revivals and shorts...

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last update 5.Jan.12
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Mysteries of Lisbon
4/5  Mistérios de Lisboa
dir Raoul Ruiz
scr Carlos Saboga
prd Paulo Branco
with Adriano Luz, Maria Joao Bastos, Ricardo Pereira, Clotilde Hesme, Afonso Pimentel, Joao Luis Arrais, Albano Jeronimo, Joao Baptista, Martin Loizillon, Julien Alluguette, Lea Seydoux, Melvil Poupaud
Mysteries of Lisbon release Por 21.Oct.10,
US 5.Aug.11, UK 9.Dec.11
10/Portugal 4h32

london film fest
Mysteries of Lisbon Based on Camilo Castelo Branco's 1854 novel, late filmmaker Ruiz's ambitiously layered drama is relentlessly difficult to follow. And yet it's so gorgeously assembled that it will keep die-hard film fans happy for all four and a half hours.

Teenager Joao (Arrais) has no idea who his father is, he doesn't even have a last name. Raised by Father Dinis (Luz), he learns that he's the illegitimate son of a countess (Bastos) whose vile husband (Jeronimo) keeps her as a maid. It also turns out that Joao is actually Pedro, son of a nobleman (Baptista). As the years pass, Pedro (later played by Pimental) finds his life deeply entwined with the dashing Alberto (Pereira), while Father Dinis reveals surprising connections through his own history.

The film is exquisitely designed and shot, as Ruiz's subtly subversive direction shifts scenes before our eyes. This reveals darker subtext, playing with memory and identity as the characters travel through a twisty epic narrative. It's not easy to keep up, as Ruiz's mischievous style throws us off by leaping around in time as characters change their names to reinvent themselves. Paying close attention offers clever layers of intrigue. But Ruiz probably didn't care if we understood every nuance.

Indeed, the skilful storytelling is instantly gripping, with scenes playfully conveyed through Pedro's most treasured possession: a puppet theatre. Thus adds offbeat wrinkles to the sense of fatalism as these people live lives not quite their own. Through mirrored scenes, flashbacks, shifting perspectives and a swirl of memories and expectations, the stories within stories unfold in a rush of feelings and images that don't always hang together.

Even though we're not always sure who we're watching or how characters interconnect, the film is a powerful exploration of deeply human urges, from sex to justice to a yearning to understand our identity and destiny. All the way, Ruiz makes wry, resonant comments on these characters as the film's witty complexity, wide range of storylines and sheer length overwhelm us. Every scene is visually and emotionally gorgeous, and yet the quantity strains our attention to the breaking point. No wonder it was originally made as a TV series.

PG themes, violence
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Romantics Anonymous
4/5   Les Émotifs Anonymes
dir Jean-Pierre Ameris
prd Nathalie Gastaldo, Philippe Godeau
scr Jean-Pierre Ameris, Philippe Blasband
with Benoit Poelvoorde, Isabelle Carre, Lorella Cravotta, Lise Lametrie, Swann Arlaud, Pierre Niney, Stephan Wojtowicz, Claude Aufaure, Philippe Laudenbach, Marie-Christine Demarest, Jacques Boudet, Alice Pol
poelvoorde and carre release Fr 22.Dec.10,
US 25.Nov.11, UK 2.Dec.11
10/France 1h20
romantics anonymous Almost criminally charming, this French romantic-comedy is very slight, but it's so enjoyable that we love every minute. And by centring on emotionally damaged people, it even has a few strongly resonant moments. Not to mention the chocolate craving it induces.

A member of a Romantics Anonymous group, Angelique (Carre) is crippled by her emotional reactions to other people, mainly men. So when she starts to fall for Jean-Rene (Poelvoorde), her new boss at a chocolate company, she doesn't know what to do. This is complicated by the fact that Jean-Rene is even more paralysed by fear than she is, and that she is secretly one of Paris' finest, most legendary chocolatiers. And Jean-Rene's company is in desperate need of something new to boost sales.

The film has a bouncy, comical tone from the start, letting us know that this isn't going to be a stressful ride for us as viewers even as the characters struggle with every encounter they have. The courtship between Angelique and Jean-Rene is both agonisingly awkward and warmly hilarious. Their first date, from Angelique's hiccoughs to Jean-Rene's sweat-drenched shirts, is beautifully played. And it gets better from there, even when a clever variation of the rom-com structure kicks in.

Carre and Poelvoorde give performances that are open-hearted and timed to perfection. The film threatens continually to tip over into silly farce or goofy slapstick, but it keeps its balance, making us care about these people as we feel their internal struggles and also each new discovery. The supporting characters are terrific as well: tiny roles that are integral to the plot and played with bright personality, most notably the four chocolate-makers played by Cravotta, Lametrie, Arlaud and Niney.

It's refreshing to see a small film that doesn't try to be anything more than a warm, witty romance between two normal people. A Hollywood remake would feel bloated and sappy where this is brisk and delicate. It would also be cast with beautiful, younger people who look like movie stars. And while this film is fairly simplistic, it's also an intriguing exploration of crippling emotional shyness that might inspire viewers who are reluctant to take the plunge.

12 themes, language, sexuality
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dir Eric Khoo
scr Yoshihiro Tatsumi
prd Tan Fong Cheng, Eric Khoo, Phil Mitchell, Freddie Yeo
voices Tetsuya Bessho, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Motoko Gollent, Hiroaki Osada, Hiromi Oi, Tadashi Saito, Nahoko Kodama, Mike Wiluan, Mikio Mori, Toshihiro Minemura, Kazuyo Kiyota, Sayaka Sugiyama
Tatsumi release Sin 15.Sep.11,
UK 13.Jan.12
11/Singapore 1h34

Tatsumi Singaporean filmmaker Khoo uses animation to explore the life and work of gekiga pioneer Yoshihiro Tatsumi. The film is visually gorgeous and packed with strongly emotional moments, although it doesn't quite hang together.

With the publication of his first manga comic in the 1940s, Tatsumi was spotted as a rising star. But his material was far to adult-oriented for the more child-friendly manga genre. So he created an all-new genre, gekiga, darker and more realistic comics aimed at adult readers. It takes quite a few years before he achieves fame, as he works in the shadow of his idol Osamu Tezuka. Now a beloved figure at age 75, Tatsumi says he still has worlds he wants to draw.

This narrative is interrupted times for five of Tatsumi's fictional stories, each of which hinges on a bleak twist of fate, like eerily realistic Twilight Zone episodes. Hell follows a boy photographer into the aftermath of America's WWII nuclear attack. Beloved Monkey centres on a young guy struggling to find his purpose in life. Just a Man is about a husband who embarks on an affair out of anger at his annoying wife. Occupied looks at a comic artist who turns to porn when his career hits the skids. And Good-bye follows the ill-fated affair between an American G.I. and a Japanese woman who has given up on her future.

With frank depictions of violence and sexuality, each story's darkly unexpected turn sends chills down the spine. And filmmaker Khoo stresses the emotional resonance in both the stories and the less-engaging biographical segments to explore the fleeting nature of success. Using a variety of expressive comic-book styles from Tatsumi's work, the animation blends colour, black and white and sepia images, both still and moving, while adding uncanny depth, texture and light.

The way the imagery quietly shifts is breathtaking. Although the jarring structure, a mopey musical score and Tatsumi's somewhat ponderous narration undermine the spiky character interaction. So the film feels both melodramatic and over-reverent. But it's fascinating to see how Tatsumi's somewhat gruelling stories sprang from events in his life. Fans will love it. And newcomers will be inspired by this introduction to a remarkable artist.

15 themes, grisly violence, sexuality
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The Well-digger’s Daughter
4.5/5   MUST must see SEE   La Fille du Puisatier
dir-scr Daniel Auteuil
prd Alain Sarde, Jerome Seudoux
with Daniel Auteuil, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Kad Merad, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Sabine Azema, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Emilie Cazenave, Marie-Anne Chazel, Coline Bosso, Chloe Malarde, Brune Coustellier, Ilona Porte
auteuil and berges-frisbey
release Fr 20.Apr.11,
UK 9.Dec.11, US 20.Jul.12
11/France Pathe 1h47
The Well-digger's Daughter For his directing debut, actor Auteuil remakes Marcel Pagnol's 1940 classic into a twisty, involving romance. It's thoroughly engaging all the way through, leaving us with a surge of emotion we rarely get at the cinema.

In rural pre-War France, Pascal is a widower (Auteuil) with six daughters. The oldest is 18-year-old Patricia (Berges-Frisbey), who's starting to notice boys. She's reluctant about a plan to fix her up with Pascal's employee Felipe (Merad), and instead flirts shamelessly with Jacques (Duvauchelle), a dashing pilot who literally sweeps her off her feet. But her secret courtship with Jacques doesn't go as planned. Then war breaks out and both men are called to battle, leaving Patricia pregnant. And Jacques' parents (Azema and Darroussin) don't want to know

The film is shot with a lovely attention to detail and an unrushed pace that carries us lightly into the story using gentle humour and a vivid sense of the characters. When Patricia is lured to Jacques' private room, we sharply feel her fear about violating the rules of propriety, even as we never think that Jacques is up to anything nasty. When she finally gets up the courage to tell her father what has happened, the scene is heart-wrenching.

The piquant dialog is beautifully written, while the themes of clashing classes and family reputation quietly build in intensity. So much of the story takes place in between the lines that the film holds us tightly in its grip. As things progress, and pride and tradition rear their ugly heads, the story takes turns that are both harsh and gorgeously tender. This allows the Auteuil to develop lovely layers of complexity that move us deeply.

A rich mix of characters and a timeless story make this film hugely entertaining as well, with strong waves of emotion and brittle humour and moments in which we hold our breath wondering which way things might go. This is a film about people trying to navigate a tricky situation with honour and honesty, and the point where fundamentally decent people clash on principles that they have no control over. It also reminds us that sometimes the route to doing the right thing is extremely difficult to navigate.

PG themes
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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall