Shadows Film FestShadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs, videos, revivals and shorts...

< <   F O R E I G N   > >
last update 15.Jun.14
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Chinese Puzzle
3.5/5   Casse-tête Chinois
dir-scr Cedric Klapisch
prd Cedric Klapisch. Bruno Levy
with Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cecile De France, Kelly Reilly, Sandrine Holt, Li Jun Li, Pablo Mugnier-Jacob, Margaux Mansart, Amin Djakliou, Clara Abbasi, Flore Bonaventura, Benoit Jacquot
tautou and duris
release Fr 4.Dec.13,
US Apr.14 sfiff, UK 13.Jun.14
13/France StudioCanal 1h57

london film festival
chinese puzzle Klapisch follows Spanish Inn (2002) and Russian Dolls (2005) with another bracingly realistic romantic-comedy, this time taking his superb cast to New York for another round of growing up as they turn 40. It's a relaxed and generous film in which it's easy to find yourself among people caught up in the complications of modern life.

In Paris, Xavier (Duris) is overwhelmed by the way life iconstantly diverts him from his expected path. After a decade together, his girlfriend Wendy (Reilly) announces that she is taking their children (Mugnier-Jacob and Mansart) to New York to live with another man. So Xavier follows her, moving to Brooklyn and crashing with his friend Isabelle (De France) and her girlfriend Ju (Holt), who happen to be expecting his baby. While he sorts out his visa issues by marrying a neighbour (Li), his ex Martine (Tautou) also drops by for a visit, further complicating everything.

While the events develop in a way that feels loose and organic, Klapisch carefully drops the pieces into place for a wildly ridiculous farcical final act in which all of the characters' messy decisions (or indecisions) collide at the same time. It's so contrived that it wouldn't work at all if the acting wasn't earthy and natural from the entire cast, including the children.

As always, Duris exudes irresistible charm at the centre of the storm as a guy who seems to make decisions without any outside information at all. Xavier's impulsiveness feels irresponsible, and yet Duris makes him likeable simply because we can see how much he cares about the people around him. Tautou and De France are spiky and sometimes a bit wacky in their leading lady roles, but they're grounded by Li's no-nonsense girlfriend and Reilly's droopy ex.

And while the script plays far too loosely with the serious issues of child custody and immigration law, it nicely captures the multi-ethnic make-up of life in any major city, with characters converging from all over the world speaking a variety of languages and creating a shared culture between them. This is a fact of life in today's world that rarely makes it to the big screen, and it leaves us smiling at the possibilities for creating a family from the people around us.

15 themes, language, sexuality, some violence
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Miss Violence
dir Alexandros Avranas
scr Alexandros Avranas, Kostas Peroulis
prd Alexandros Avranas, Vasilis Chrysanthopoulos
with Themis Panou, Reni Pittaki, Eleni Roussinou, Sissy Toumasi, Kalliopi Zontanou, Constantinos Athanasiades, Chloe Bolota, Maria Skoula, Nikos Hatzopoulos, Minas Hatzisavvas, Maria Kallimani, Kostas Antalopoulos
Father's family release Gr 7.Nov.13,
UK 20.Jun.14
13/Greece 1h39

Miss Violence Subtle and sharply well made, this is one of those skilful arthouse movies that is impossible to recommend, simply because it's ultimately so deeply disturbing. But fans of new Greek cinema will find it a fascinating piece of work, especially those looking for a new take on the horror genre.

In urban Greece, a middle-class family is stunned when a young girl (Bolota) leaps from a balcony on her 11th birthday. Reeling with grief, they cling to each other. Father (Panou) holds things together with a careful sense of order: Mother (Pittaki) quietly does what he says, as does eldest daughter Eleni (Roussinou), who has two young children (Zontanou and Athanasiades) of her own. But younger daughter Myrto (Toumasi) is clearly disturbed when Father picks her up from school. And her teachers and social workers can't quite see what might be wrong here.

Actually, it takes quite a while for us to begin to suspect what's happening, as filmmaker Avranas lets us uncover the story's truths as outsiders looking in, which makes it believable that officials haven't yet stepped into this situation. He quietly reveals details of the family relationships, making us squirm in our seats as we consider the unthinkable possibilities. So by the time the reality is revealed to us, we would really rather not know.

All of this is shot and played in such a straightforward way that it can't help but unnerve us. The camerawork suggests a variety of interpretations for every encounter, while the actors work to obscure motivations, just as their characters are doing. It's a clever trick that draws us in relentlessly from the very beginning. These people all look happy and extremely normal, and yet it's painfully apparent that another shoe has to drop somewhere.

Greek filmmakers seem to have an obsession with grim realities hidden behind the veneer of middle-class respectability. See chillingly inventive films like Dogtooth or Alps for equally extreme explorations of the dark human urges most of us manage to resist. This is such a strikingly well-made film, with impeccable writing, direction and acting, that it can't be dismissed as a distasteful nightmare. But it's scarier than pretty much any horror movie you'll ever see.

15 themes, language, sexuality, violence
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
A Perfect Plan
2.5/5   Un Plan Parfait
dir Pascal Chaumeil
scr Laurent Zeitoun, Yoann Gromb
prd Nicolas Duval-Adassovsky, Laurent Zeitoun, Yann Zenou
with Diane Kruger, Dany Boon, Alice Pol, Robert Plagnol, Jonathan Cohen, Bernadette Le Sache, Etienne Chicot, Laure Calamy, Malonn Levana, Olivier Claverie, Jean-Yves Chilot, Muriel Solvay
boon and kruger
release Fr 31.Oct.12,
US Mar.13 miff, UK 13.Jun.14
12/France 1h44
A Perfect Plan French romantic-comedies are supposed to be silly and ridiculous, and this is certainly no exception. But they only work if they win us over in the end. And while there is a certain amount of charm here, thanks to an up-for-it cast and some clever filmmaking, it's never remotely plausible.

When Isabelle (Kruger) falls for fellow Paris dentist Pierre (Plagnol), they seem like the perfect couple. But Isabelle's family has a history of disastrous first marriages, so her sister Corinne (Pol) plots for her to secretly travel to Copenhagen to get married and divorced within an hour, so Pierre becomes the more suitable second husband. On the flight Isabelle meets travel writer Jean-Yves (Boon), and when her plans in Denmark are derailed, she follows him to Nairobi in the hopes of a quickie wedding there. Of course, this only makes everything more complicated.

Everything about this script is impossible to believe. Isabelle and Pierre make such a perfect couple that encouraging the audience to root for their demise is a stretch. Even more absurd is the globe-hopping narrative, which sends Isabelle and Jean-Yves from a face-to-face encounter with a lion (!) on the Serengeti to vodka-infused folk dancing in wintry Moscow. There's only a half-hearted attempt to explain how Isabelle can escape from her practice and, more importantly, her wedding plans.

Even more annoying is that the film is framed at a Christmas dinner, as Corinne, her goofy husband (Cohen), mother (Le Sache) and stepdad (Chicot) recount Isabelle's story to a stranger (Calamy). Not only is this utterly irrelevant, but it makes the central narrative seem even more ludicrous as a series of flashbacks. At least the actors add charm and wit wherever needed.

Kruger has terrific presence on-screen, but looks lost in the slapstick moments. Boon is too much of a loutish buffoon for us to accept that he'll ever win her over, even though the formula says he must. Their chemistry is barbed and absurd, only coming to life in offhanded and irrelevant moments, like their trip on a Russian "vomit comet". So in the end, the film is just about charming enough to win us over, but only if we're desperate to fall in love.

15 themes, language, innuendo
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Secret Sharer
dir-scr Peter Fudakowski
prd Peter Fudakowski, Tom Waller
with Jack Laskey, Zhu Zhu, Hsia Ching-ting, Bao Yin Ni Mu Hu, Leon Dai, Si Qin Chao Ke Tu, KM Lo, Guo Zhongyou, Sittinont Ananvorakhun, Aroon Wanasbodeewong, Ying Wang, Song Bin Zhu
zhu and laskey
release UK 20.Jun.14
14/UK 1h43
Secret Sharer Based on Joseph Conrad's 1909 short story, this strikingly shot film has a mesmerising tone and strong characters. So it's a shame that the story never quite grabs hold, as writer-director Fudakowski fails to generate the needed tension or suspense.

Konrad (Laskey) is a young captain on his first assignment to command a cargo ship sailing from the Gulf of Thailand to Shanghai. But his feisty crew is leery about this interloper. When they abandon ship for a day to teach him a lesson, he rescues a woman named Li (Zhu Zhu) from the sea, learning that she's the wife of another ship's captain (Dai) and wanted for murder. He hides her from both the authorities and his own crew, even as he gets to know them and tries to wins their trust.

The various plot elements are intriguing, as Konrad and the colourful crew members weigh each other up, including natural leader Yang Shu (Hu), drunken dark horse Mong Lin (Hsia) and two hilarious cooks (Guo and Ananvorakhun). Even more intriguing is the way Li helps Konrad understand the culture on the ship; originally from Poland, Konrad may speak fluent Chinese but he struggles to fit in. All of the actors are solid, and Laskey has real charisma as a young guy who has left home for a life of unexpected adventure.

But as the plot begins to kick in, the film runs aground. It seems increasingly improbable that Konrad could hide Li from his nosey crew quite so effortlessly, and the tentative hints of romance between the two are unnecessary and underdeveloped. As is the us-versus-them element of the crew trying to save their ship from being scuttled. This never generates much interest at all, which saps energy from a climactic sequence in which Konrad (with Li's secret help) navigates a perilous route through a series of islands.

After the promising first half, this uninspiring final act is a disappointing let-down. Konrad's internal journey could have been a fascinating story, especially when connected to this mysterious secret-sharer who, like some sort of guardian angel, gives him a few nudges in the right direction. This aspect of the plot is so much more interesting that we wish Fudakowski hadn't bothered trying to ramp up the suspense with something so random and external.

15 themes, language, violence, some nudity
back to the top Send Shadows your reviews!

< <   F O R E I G N   > >

© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall