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last update 23.Oct.16
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Heal the Living
4/5   Réparer les Vivants
dir Katell Quillevere
scr Katell Quillevere, Gilles Taurand
prd Philippe Martin, Justin Taurand, David Thion
with Tahar Rahim, Anne Dorval, Emmanuelle Seigner, Kool Shen, Bouli Lanners, Monia Chokri, Dominique Blanc, Alice Taglioni, Finnegan Oldfield, Theo Cholbi, Gabin Verdet, Alice de Lencquesaing
verdet and rahim
release UK Oct.16 lff
16/France 1h43

venice film festival
london film festival
Heal the Living Openly emotive and darkly resonant, this French drama quite literally centres on matters of the heart. It's beautifully assembled and acted on various fronts. And even if filmmaker Katell Quillevere sometimes drifts closely toward sentimentality, the movie remains a clear-eyed portrait of a group of people facing various sides of a life or death battle.

When 17-year-old Simon (Verdet) is declared brain-dead after a car crash, his mother (Seigner) and estranged husband (Shen) face the hard question of organ donation with their son's doctor Thomas (Rahim), while the top surgeon (Lanners) and a nurse (Chokri) wait in the wings. Meanwhile, Claire (Dorval) is waiting for a new heart, supported by her busy young-adult sons (Oldfield and Cholbi). She's also surprised to run into and rekindle her bond with her ex, the pianist Anne (Taglioni). Then when the fateful day arrives, cardiologist Lucie (Blanc) and her team kick into gear.

Director Quillevere holds these plot strands lightly, keeping the film's delicate balance around the collision of these fateful events. With rich cinematography by Tom Harari and a sensitive piano-based score by Alexandre Desplat, the film strikes an emotive, involving tone from the start, pulling the audience into each character's thoughts. This allows Quillevere to undercut any melodrama, diverting into a variety of perspectives, including lusty fantasies and much darker worries. Plus evocative flashbacks from Simon's life.

The cast is excellent across the board, with each actor offering an openly emotional performance. At the centre, Rahim is an engaging and compelling presence, as Thomas balances respect for Simon, compassion for the family and the urgency of these impossible choices. Dorval offers a strongly internalised turn as a woman who has accepted her fate and doesn't dare to hope for a miracle (or even two). And Segnier and Shen offer some sharply pointed drama in their pivotal scenes.

Quillevere shoots the key events with striking visual touches, then steps back from more invasive private moments. What this does is build a huge emotional weight as the story progresses, with each character's distinct personal story and perspective combining into a 360-degree portrait of the situation. Sometimes this feels like a public service piece about seatbelt safety and organ donation, but the surge of suspense and the lovely final scenes make it much more than that. And the most striking point is that it's the quality of life, not the length of it, that counts.

15 themes, language, grisliness
5.Sep.16 vff
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Never Ever
3/5   À Jamais
dir Benoit Jacquot
scr Julia Roy
prd Paulo Branco
with Mathieu Amalric, Julia Roy, Jeanne Balibar, Victoria Guerra, Elmano Sancho, Jose Neto, Hugo Pedro, Rui Morisson
amalric and roy release Fr 23.Nov.16
16/France 1h26

venice film festival
Never Ever Based on the Don DeLillo novel The Body Artist, this French drama has a horror-mystery sensibility that's genuinely freaky. Playing with themes of artistic invention, mental instability and loneliness, it's a haunting story of one young woman sliding beyond the realm of reason. So it's a bit frustrating that the plot feels oddly thin, making its points early on and then going in circles before reaching the striking finale.

At a film festival, biker-dude filmmaker Rey (Amalric) meets young performance artist Laura (Roy) and immediately falls for her. This means unceremoniously dumping his current girlfriend Isabelle (Balibar), the actress who has starred in all of his films. And the next script was for her as well, so Rey abandons it. He even goes so far as to marry Laura. Then the relationship begins to affect his work, and he falls into a slump and leaves. In the days that follow, Laura's life alone in his rented beach house begins to become very surreal.

Jacquot sets up the story cleverly, adding strong emotional undercurrents to each scene, so what we see is clearly only a part of what's happening. These characters are a bundle of mixed emotions, lingering feelings and nagging fears, which means that it's not easy to predict what they'll do next. And as the film progresses, there's also the question of what is real and what is a delusion, both for the characters and for the audience.

Amalric and Balibar have so much presence that they tilt the balance away from the bland Roy's far more central character. Oddly, as she also wrote the script, Roy barely registers on-camera as a fully fledged human being: she looks great, but has a coldness that's inaccessible, leaving Laura's turmoil feeling not nearly as wrenching as it should be. Meanwhile, Amalric and Balibar are so complex and messy that we can't take our eyes off them. Especially as the lingering embers of their relationship cause further ripples.

The film has a very dark tone that creates plenty of dramatic intensity. This paves the way for the gradual shift from creepy drama to supernatural thriller, combining flashbacks and ghostly apparitions to explore confusing feelings of grief and anger. But since most of the final act takes place in the head of this petulant young woman, it's not hugely involving. The musical score suggests suspense we simply can't feel, and the movie stubbornly holds its trump card for a genuinely impressive final scene. But by then it's too late to have the proper impact.

15 themes, language, sexuality
9.Sep.16 vff
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Pamilya Ordinaryo
dir-scr Eduardo W Roy Jr
prd Ferdinand Lapuz, John Tan
with Ronwaldo Martin, Hasmine Kilip, Maria Isabel Lopez, Sue Prado, Ruby Ruiz, Moira Lang, Karl Medina, Erlinda Villalobos, Domingo Cobarrubias, Paolo Rodriguez, John Bon Andrew Lentejas, John Vincent Servilla
martin and kilip
release Ph 31.Aug.16
16/Philippines 1h47

venice film festival
Pamilya Ordinaryo Relentlessly grim in its realism, this is a drama of desperation from the streets of Manila. It explores an underclass of people living rough with no chance of getting a fair shake. Even though the central story is hugely compelling, justice is elusive here. This is bracingly honest filmmaking that finds glimmers of humanity at every turn, even as hope seems to disappear.

Jane (Kilip) is just 16, caring for her month-old son while living on the street with 17-year-old husband Aries (Martin). Surviving with small acts of thievery, Aries is understandably wary of the cops. Then when Jane gets some of help from transsexual stranger Ertha (Lang), she lets her guard down. And Ertha steals the infant. In a panic, Jane and Aries search the neighbourhood. After the police abuse Jane when she asks for help, they make their plea on local radio and TV, sparking both vile abuse and leads that may not go anywhere.

Writer-director Roy shoots the film in an urgent, hand-held style, sticking close to Jane and Aries as they resort to various acts of desperation, all of which seem to lead them into even more danger. Scenes are punctuated with CCTV footage, capturing their actions along the way like evidence that can be used against them at a trial. Except that they are actually the victims. All anyone sees when they look at this young couple is a pair of criminal urchins.

Performances are raw and urgent, skipping scene-setting and plot exposition to drag us straight into each situation. Kilip and Martin are superb in the central roles, so good in fact that it's difficult to believe this isn't their story. Kilip especially conveys a striking range of emotional transparency as a smart girl with lots of attitude who is shaken to her core by what happens. And Martin is magnetic as a guy who alternates between sweetly protective and verbally abusive.

All these young people need is someone who cares, but clearly they've never had that before. Instead of a tirade against the ugliness of homelessness, this film feels more like a stark portrait of a failed society that's trying desperately to ignore its problems. The fact that people with money have a better shot at justice is simply wrong, and yet it's not actually different in the West. And the idea that, by doing nothing, the wealthy are actually stealing the future from these poor youngsters is genuinely horrific.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
1.Sep.16 vff
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The Woman Who Left
4.5/5   MUST must see SEE   Ang Babaeng Humayo
dir-scr Lav Diaz
prd Lav Diaz, Ronald Arguelles
with Charo Santos, John Lloyd Cruz, Michael De Mesa, Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, Noni Buencamino, Marj Lorico, Mayen Estanero, Romelyn Sale, Lao Rodriguez, Jean Judith Javier, Mae Paner, Kakai Bautista
santos and cruz
release Ph 28.Sep.16, UK Oct.16 lff
16/Philippines 3h48

36th Shadows Awards

The Salesman At nearly four hours long, you'd think this Filipino epic would try the patience. But no, this riveting odyssey is a straightforward story of revenge and redemption with strong echoes of life anywhere on earth. It may feel like binge-watching an entire miniseries, but Lav Diaz's filmmaking is worth experiencing on a big screen, as he shoots in a style that's deceptively rough and old-fashioned, but is packed with skill, wit and some big surprises.

Cleared of murder after 30 years in prison, Horacia (Santos) wants to tie up the loose ends of her life. First she contacts her daughter Minerva (Lorico), making sure she and her family are fine. Then, before going in search of her missing son, she returns to the place where she was accused of murder and begins quietly stalking the man responsible: her ex, the wealthy gangster Rodrigo (De Mesa). During this time, she befriends street salesman Magbabalot (Buencamino) and cross-dressing hooker Hollanda (Cruz), who desperately needs her help after being attacked by homophobic thugs.

Inspired by Tolstoy's story God Sees the Truth, But Waits, this film inexorably moves forward. From the vivid prison setting, in which Horacia's best friend (Centenera-Buencamino) fatefully reveals a secret, the audience travels through a variety of settings, encountering an array of fascinating people. The film's heart is the friendship between Horacia and Hollanda, an odd couple whose intense connection reveals layers of meaning for both women.

Santos delivers a staggering performance. Hortensia has learned to keep her cards close to her chest, but can't help but let her emotions slip out, especially in her small acts of kindness (including an unforgettable rendition of Somewhere). In Santos' eyes, we can see Hortensia's mind spinning as she concocts her plan. And Hollanda throws it off course in unexpected ways. Cruz elicits raw emotions as Hollanda, more than making up for the moments that feel physically overplayed. Hollanda's final scene is a heart-stopper.

Shot in black and white with long, complex takes, Diaz makes every moment of this extended drama count. Sharply observant writing and directing is augmented by detailed production design and finely tuned performances. He also draws on timely news headlines to touch on corruptible government, vigilante criminals and the impact of events in other Asian countries. This is such a big, profound film that it's often overwhelming in its impact. And the final image is both provocative and haunting.

12 themes, language, violence
8.Sep.16 vff
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