Shadows Film FestShadows off the beaten path
Indies, foreigns, docs, videos, revivals and shorts...
On this page: LEVIATHAN | PRESIDENT | 10,000 KM

< <   F O R E I G N   > >
last update 9.Nov.14
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
5/5   MUST must see SEE
dir Andrey Zvyagintsev
scr Andrey Zvyagintsev, Oleg Negin
prd Sergey Melkumov, Aleksandr Rodnyanskiy
with Aleksey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Roman Madyanov, Sergey Pokhodaev, Anna Ukolova, Aleksey Rozin, Alim Bidnenko, Lesya Kudryashova, Kristina Pakarina, Aleksey Pavlov
serebryakov and lyadova release UK 7.Nov.14,
US 31.Dec.14
14/Russia 2h22

34th Shadows Awards

london film festival
abu dhabi film festival
Leviathan Russian filmmaker Zvyagintsev takes a staggeringly clever look at power, specifically the political and religious power, with a plot inspired by the biblical story of Job. Lyrical photography and open performances make it utterly gripping as the story deepens and the themes expand. Watching it is like reading a great novel, enveloping to such an extent that you feel different when it ends.

In a rundown fishing town in northwest Russia, Kolya (Serebryakov) is fighting the mayor Vadim (Madyanov), who has issued a compulsory purchase order on the home/workplace he built with his own hands. So he calls his lawyer friend Dima (Vdovichenkov) in Moscow to come help fight city hall. When they unsurprisingly lose their case, Dima has some dirt on Vadim that should give him the upper hand. But things are complicated by entangled relationships with Kolya's younger second wife Lilya (Lyadova), and his surly teen son Roma (Pokhodaev) can't cope with any of this.

This extraordinary film starts as a simple tale of a man fighting the system before spiralling out to reveal a much bigger picture. For the constant recitations of the Russian legal code, no one pays much attention to it: this world is controlled by the monetary power of the Church and the State. Indeed, the title comes from Hobbes' classic essay about how these twin pillars are meant to protect society. But then leviathan is also the beast from the Book of Job. And no one here is heroic; each vodka-soaked character is deeply flawed, but not everyone pays the consequences.

The film is directed and acted with staggering skill. There isn't a false moment, even when Zvyagintsev artfully opts to keep key moments out of the frame. Infused with black humour, the performances are razor sharp even with the fairly constant inebriation. Mikhail Krichman's glacial photography creates a startlingly vivid sense of the setting, bolstered by a Philip Glass' swirling, evocative score.

All of this may be a wicked jab at Putin's authoritarian rule, but the themes resonate far beyond Russia's borders. Despite all of the resonant symbolism and intensely wrenching themes, this is a story that gets deep under the skin, exploring that point where what seems like a free and fair society reveals itself to actually be constricting and oppressive. We don't like to admit these things, but Zvyagintsev seems intent on making sure that all of us open our eyes.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
29.Oct.14 adff
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
dir Mohsen Makhmalbaf
scr Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Marziyeh Meshkiny
prd Maysam Makhmalbaf, Mike Downey, Sam Taylor, Vladimir Katcharava
with Misha Gomiashvili, Dachi Orvelashvili, la Sukhitashvili, Guja Burduli, Zura Begalishvili, Lasha Ramishvili, Soso Khvedelidze, Dato Beshitaishvili, Eka Kakhiani, Nuki Koshkelishvili, Elene Bezarashvili, Tekla Javakhadze
orvelashvili and gomiashvili release UK Oct.14 lff
14/Georgia 1h45

london film festival
You and the Night Now based in London, exiled Iranian filmmaker Makhmalbaf pulls no punches in this blackly comical political adventure. Set in an "unnamed country" (it was filmed in Georgia), it's a story of political oppression told from perspectives that are rarely represented on screen with this much honesty and warm humour, forcing the audience to consider the themes from unthinkable angles.

When revolution breaks out, the President (Gomiashvili) quickly gets his stoic wife (Kakhiani) and bickering daughters (Koshkelishvili and Bezarashvili) into a plane out of the country. But his young grandson (Orvelashvili) refuses to leave. On the way back to the palace, they're ambushed and go on the run, swapping clothes with a rural barber (Begalishvili), visiting Grandpa's old friend Maria (Sukhitashvili) and hiding out with a group of just-released political prisoners. But the hunt for the dictator is expanding, and bounty on his head is increasing by the minute.

Yes, the generic allegory is rather on-the-nose, but the script explores a wide variety of issues as this odd duo - savvy old man and cosseted 5-year-old - traverses the country in search of a way out. While His Majesty's family lives in extreme luxury, the citizens are unemployed and hungry, furious about the tyrannical rule that has seen their friends and relatives arrested and executed for minor crimes. So is their yearning for harsh vengeance justified? Is it possible to build a fair democratic society on the basis of the same violence they've been subjected to?

Cleverly, Makhmalbaf keeps the audience's sympathies with the President, played with intelligent charm by Gomiashvili. This is mainly because his first priority is to protect his little grandson, initially trying to obscure the nature of the threat, then casting it as a lavish role-playing game. Even though the child is spoiled and demanding, he's still innocent, and young Orvelashvili is remarkably consistent in a difficult role.

The interaction between this central duo and the people they meet along the road is sparky and unpredictable, encompassing all manner of atrocities that grim realities recognisable from recent headlines. It's a startling approach to such a heated topic, and aside from avoiding depictions of the worst moments, Makhmalbaf never sugarcoats things. It may be overwritten, but the film has a creeping emotional undertone that becomes deeply, darkly moving as the complex, telling climax approaches.

12 themes, language, violence
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
10,000 Km
4.5/5   MUST must see SEE  
aka: Long Distance
dir Carlos Marques-Marcet
prd Tono Folguera, Sergi Moreno
scr Carlos Marques-Marcet, Clara Roquet
with Natalia Tena, David Verdaguer
tena and verdaguer
release US Apr.14 diff,
Sp 15.May.14, UK Oct.14 lff 14/Spain 1h43

london film festival
10,000 Km Spanish filmmaker Marques-Marcet gives this film such a disarmingly realistic tone that it almost feels like a doc. From the intimate 24-minute opening take to a series of webcam chats, this seems like real people living out a long-distance relationship. Impeccably shot, edited and played, it's impossible to watch this film without seeing yourself on-screen.

In Barcelona,music teacher Sergi (Verdaguer) is studying for his boards while his girlfriend Alex (Tena) is a photographer. Then one Sunday morning, Alex is offered a one-year artistic residency in Los Angeles, and Sergi can't move until he has qualified. So she goes without him, determined to keep in touch by Skype. But that's the easy part: maintaining an intimate relationship is a lot more difficult, and both begin to question each other as the weeks roll on. After three months, they're both feeling lost and lonely, and know that something has to give.

The opening single-take is a remarkable scene that sets everything up, from the closeness of their relationship to their plans for the future (they're trying to get pregnant) to the shock of her job offer. From here the film becomes a series of video chats that intriguingly explore the difference between social networking and firsthand interaction, most notably the need for physical contact.

Verdaguer and Tena give realistic performances that make the most of the improvised dialog. These are attractive, likeable people whose relationship feels almost overpoweringly real, and each conversation works on several emotional levels. They believably play Sergi and Alex as a couple who has been together for seven years, mutually supporting with private jokes and witty give and take (especially when they attempt cybersex the first time). She works the webcam into her art, while he fights a bigger emotional battle.

As the plot kicks in, filmmaker Marques-Marcet begins to add some theatrical touches (when Sergi feels threatened he adds a layer of clothing), but it's fascinating watching them say the things that the other wants to hear, even though they know better. "Tell me what you're not telling me," Sergi begs. "You don't want to be with me, you want me to be with you." Yes, this depiction of long-distance relationships will strike a nerve to anyone who's been in one. Living separately can't help but isolate you, so it becomes a fight to stay connected. And this involving film also reminds us that nothing else matters when we're dancing together.

15 themes, language, sexuality
back to the top R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom
dir Jacob Cheung
scr Kang Qiao, Wang Bing, Guo Jinle, Shi Heran, Zhu Yale
prd Yu Dong, Bu Yu, Victor Koo, Jerry Ye, Jeffrey Chan
with Fan Bingbing, Huang Xiaoming, Vincent Chao, Tong Yao, Yi Dahong, Wang Xuebing
huang and fan release Chn 25.Apr.14,
UK Oct.14 lff
14/China 1h43

london film festival
The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom An epic tale of conspiracy and war combined with a sweeping romance, this film has all the elements to be a classic. But filmmaker Cheung rushes through it erratically, leaving the plot nonsensical, the battles incoherent and the love story flat. Bursting with energy, it's like a 12-hour miniseries roughly chopped down to 103 minutes: overcrowded, rushed and exhausting.

It's 17th century China and the clans are restless. To maintain their privileged position, the Wudang send their new young leader Yihang (Huang) to deliver the Red Pills to the emperor. But things go wrong and he ends up on the most-wanted list, just as his grandfather is murdered by Jin leader Duyi (Chao), who frames Jade Rackshasa (Fan), the warrior ruler of Fort Luna. When the two fugitives meet up, they forge a bond that turns steamy. Meanwhile, the emperor's conniving eunuch Wei (Yi) has his own nefarious plan.

This is a story of political games-playing, military strategy, betrayal and subterfuge that moves so briskly that it's impossible to grasp what's happening. On-screen captions disappear before there's time to read them. There seem to be endless factions in this conflict, but just keeping the central figures clear is hard enough. And every now and then the warring screeches to a halt for some doe-eyed romantic slushiness between Yihang and Jade, whose hair turns white when she thinks she's been betrayed.

Based on the classic 1950s wuxia novel, the fight sequences involve whizzy wire work, some of which is genuinely eye-catching. But most of the action is chaotic, forcing the audience to strain through the dodgy 3D to see what's happening. The problem is that nothing is remotely involving. The political intrigue, attacks and especially the love story are all played broadly and unconvincingly. The actors aren't bad, but they're eviscerated by choppy camerawork and editing.

Even so, there's a genuine complexity to the characters and situations. The various villains have eerily sympathetic motives, and each person discovers the limits of his or her power. But the central figures of Yihang and Jade feel like amalgams of various movie characters: heroic, super-powered, impulsive and tragic. Huang and Fan dive into the roles with gusto, but they're unable to bring them properly to life without a consistent tone or plot.

12 themes, language, violence
back to the top Send Shadows your reviews!

< <   F O R E I G N   > >

© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall