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

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last update 16.Oct.16
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The Innocents
4/5   Les Innocentes
dir Anne Fontaine
scr Sabrina B Karine, Alice Vial
prd Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
with Lou de Laage, Agata Buzek, Agata Kulesza, Vincent Macaigne, Joanna Kulig, Eliza Rycembel, Katarzyna Dabrowska, Anna Prochniak, Helena Sujecka, Mira Maluszinska, Dorota Kuduk, Pascal Elso
de laage and friends
release Fr 10.Feb.16,
US 1.Jul.16, UK 11.Nov.16
16/France 1h55

london film festival
The Innocents Based on real events, this harrowing true story is told with sensitivity and humanity, making it easy to engage with every step along the way. Even though the setting is somewhat alien - it's a Polish convent at the very end of WWII - the story resonates with themes that are instantly identifiable, especially the choices everyone has to make between following the rules and showing some compassion.

In 1945 Poland, French Red Cross doctor Mathilde (de Laage) is treating survivors of the Nazi horrors. Then she meets the nuns at a local convent, many of whom are pregnant after being raped by German and Russian soldiers. The piety of Mother Abbess (Kulesza) and the timid novices makes Mathilde's work tricky, but she perseveres with the help of French-speaking Sister Maria (Buzek). Then as she begins delivering babies, a new layer of guilt and shame descends on the women. But Mathilde hesitates telling her sensitive Jewish colleague Samuel (Macaigne) about her side job.

Fontaine directs with a realistic sense of optimism. Even as the story takes in some grisly events, there's a sense that the worst is over for these victimised young women. At the centre, de Laage is engaging as the outsider who takes us into this locked-down convent, where women huddle hiding from the horrible world outside. What they have been through is unspeakable, and de Laage gives Mathilde an openly sympathetic face combined with pragmatic assistance. This makes the people around her that much more vivid.

As in the Oscar-winning Ida, Kulesza grips her scenes fiercely as the quietly tyrannical Mother Abbess. Her harsh demeanour obscures a deep desire to protect these nuns even if it means losing her soul in the process. Buzek brings a more open-minded realism as Maria, a women who has seen hell and dares to hope for the future. And Macaigne is superb as Mathilde's cohort, a sweetly sardonic man who doesn't take much nonsense from anyone.

Thankfully, most of the awful events recounted in this story take place off-screen. But there are key moments that bring the reality home, from an encounter Mathilde has with a group of drunken Russians to a variety of childbirth sequences. This story is full of personal agony, both physical and spiritual, and yet the movie manages to never feel grim or hopeless. It's about the difficulty of stepping away from the past in order to begin healing.

15 themes, language, violence
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The Salesman
dir-scr Asghar Farhadi
prd Asghar Farhadi, Alexandre Mallet-Guy
with Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti, Babak Karimi, Mina Sadati, Mehdi Koushki, Farid Sajjadi Hosseini, Ehteram Boroumand, Maral Bani Adam, Sam Valipour, Mojtaba Pirzadeh, Shirin Aghakashi, Sahra Asadollahe
Alidoosti and Hosseini
release Irn 31.Aug.16,
UK Oct.16 lff, US 27.Jan.17
16/Iran 2h05

london film festival
The Salesman Here's yet another almost overpoweringly perceptive everyday drama from Asghar Farhadi, putting a normal couple through a series of events that push them to the breaking point. The plot centres on unexpected conflicts that provide challenging comments on both morality and forgiveness. This is a subtle, personal film that holds the audience in its grip, unable to work out where it might be going next.

When an excavation next door threatens the stability of their tower block, Emad and Rana (Hosseini and Alidoosti) need to find a new place to live. But the previous tenant of their new flat hasn't quite moved out, and when one of her rumoured gentleman callers returns while Rana is home alone, she's badly injured in the encounter. This threatens the local stage production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, in which Emad and Rana are starring. Especially since Emad is now consumed with finding the man responsible for his wife's ongoing emotional trauma.

The assault itself is left deliberately vague, as Rana doesn't want to talk about it. But the dodginess of the whole situation creates a growing fissure in their relationship, as well as in the friendship between Emad and Babak (Karimi). It also ultimately leads to an intense encounter with the family of the interloper. All of this may be steeped in specific elements of Iranian culture, but the feelings are strikingly universal, including Rana's wariness and Emad's yearning for revenge without the help of the police.

The cast is earthy and natural, creating characters who are like people we know. There are several vivid side roles, such as a diva-like actress (Sadati) with a super-cheeky young son (Valipour). These people are so well written and played that it's easy to imagine them having a full life when they're not on the screen. At the centre Hosseini and Alidoosti are simply excellent, avoiding obvious emotions for something much more subtle and resonant.

Farhadi is a master at highlighting the ripples that throw people out of their otherwise easily ordered lives. Everyone breaks the rules in one way or another, but these transgressions only sometimes have repercussions. And any fallout is often unpredictable. Farhadi is cleverly exploring the idea that it's rarely the big issue that proves to be our undoing, it's the small lie or the petty lashing out that rattles our foundations.

12 themes, language
16.Oct.16 lff
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Sweet Dreams
2/5   Fai Bei Sogni
dir Marco Bellocchio
prd Beppe Caschetto
scr Valia Santella, Edoardo Albinati, Marco Bellocchio
with Valerio Mastandrea, Berenice Bejo, Guido Caprino, Barbara Ronchi, Nicolo Cabras, Dario Dal Pero, Emmanuelle Devos, Roberto Herlitzka, Fausto Russo Alesi, Piera Degli Esposti, Fabrizio Gifuni, Miriam Leone
ronchi and cabras release UK Oct.16 lff,
It 13.Nov.16
16/Italy 2h14

london film festival
Sweet Dreams Italian maestro Marco Bellocchio makes bold movies, and this one feels deeply personal as it explores the very Italian topic of the mother-son bond. It's beautifully shot, with insinuating performances and an ambitious approach to the narrative structure. But it's also oddly over-serious, and the fragmented style of storytelling stubbornly refuses to properly let the audience into the characters' inner lives.

As a 9-year-old in 1969, Massimo (Cabras) refuses to believe that his beloved mother (Ronchi) has died. He certainly doesn't accept that she asked God to take her to heaven. And later (now played by Pero) when his father (Caprino) tells him that she had a sudden heart attack, he doubts that too. Then in the 1990s, Massimo is working as a journalist when he becomes famous for an essay about his mother. But a panic attack reminds him that he hasn't dealt with her death. Thankfully, a sexy doctor (Bejo) is there to help.

This story is told out of sequence, framed by scenes in 1999 as Massimo packs up his father's flat. The transitions are smooth and nicely played, and each strand of Massimo's story has strong resonance. But all three actors play him as a cold, eerily matter-of-fact guy who not only isn't in touch with his own feelings but also shows a sociopathic antipathy to everyone around him. There are some likeable (or rather pitiable) moments, but not many.

Bellocchio shoots this as an historical epic soaked in its periods: the late 1960s are colour-drained, the 1970s decadent, the 1990s darkly confusing. Massimo struggles through each, unsure of himself and unable to trust anyone he knows. That he never questions the truth is indicative of his incurious personality, so how he became a journalist is anyone's guess. But perhaps this is all part of his Italianness, so in awe of his mother than he never questions her sainthood.

The various strands do weave together into a coherent overall story, although there's nothing particularly engaging about it. Perhaps this is because the film is so formal and moody, only capturing a few brief moments of off-handed authenticity amid all of the brooding murkiness. Massimo's journey is likely to resonate with anyone who has mommy issues, and there are lovely touches in each relationship in the film. But since the characters don't seem to care about anyone else, why should we?

15 themes, language, violence
4.Oct.16 lff
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dir-scr Marco Berger
prd Marco Berger, Martin Farina
with Gabriel Epstein, Lucas Papa, Nicolas Barsoff, Francisco Bertin, Arturo Frutos, Andres Gavalda, Juan Manuel Martino, Dario Mino, Gaston Re
papa and epstein
release Arg 18.Aug.16,
UK Oct.16 lff
16/Argentina 1h45

london film festival
Taekwondo Essentially a mash-up of writer-director Marco Berger's Hawaii and producer-codirector Martin Farina's Fulboy, this film places nine athletic young men in an isolated house for a sweltering summer getaway and observes the physicality between them. There's a hint of a plot between two of the guys, and a few traits emerge here and there, but the movie is basically a tactile, tantalising tease that pays off only in the final moments.

For the summer holidays, Fernando (Papa) invites his taekwondo cohort German (Epstein) to a resort-style house in the countryside, where seven of his buddies are horsing around in the pool, playing tennis, sweating in the sauna and generally just lounging around in very little clothing. As they talk about their girl troubles, German has a secret crush on Fernando. Everyone jokingly suspects that Leo (Bertin) is probably gay, and three guys take advantage of visiting young women. So German is terrified to admit his feelings.

Yes, this is another film from Berger dealing with suppressed homosexuality in a society in which casual machismo is the only accepted attitude. As in Hawaii, the two characters dance around each other all the way through the otherwise plot-free movie, with the added distraction of a house full of near-naked men. Each of these guys has a distinct personality and back-story, which helps add interest to the freeform filmmaking, building quiet tensions and camaraderie within the group.

But nothing really happens. There's some subtle jealousy and a bit of intrigue here and there. And everything is gorgeously shot in the sunshine, as these young men display endless confidence in their super-fit bodies, only covering them up if they go out at night to raid the local nightclub. Otherwise they engage in little competitions, text girls on their phones, have conversations about various issues or sleep in strikingly picturesque poses, as if they are daring someone to touch them.

This is a vivid depiction of a society that feels open but neglects to deal with sexuality in a healthy way, forcing men to lie both to themselves and others. There's one telling discussion about how gay men have it tougher because they have to pretend to be straight to survive, while bisexual guys can have their cake and eat it too. And there are also offhanded chats about the religion and politics that grip this culture. But everything is so relaxed, like a dreamy fantasy, that you might feel like curling up among them and taking a luxuriant nap.

15 themes, language, sexuality
1.Oct.16 lff
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