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last update 23.Nov.16
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Elle
4/5  
dir Paul Verhoeven
scr David Birke
prd Said Ben Said, Michel Merkt
with Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Judith Magre, Christian Berkel, Jonas Bloquet, Alice Isaaz, Vimala Pons, Raphael Lenglet, Arthur Mazet
huppert
release Fr 25.May.16,
US 11.Nov.16, UK 24.Feb.17
16/France 2h10

36th Shadows Awards
BEST ACTRESS:
ISABELLE HUPPERT

CANNES FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
LONDON FILM FEST
Elle With a bold tone that's bracingly matter-of-fact, this pitch-black comical thriller takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride with an extraordinary woman who refuses to just accept whatever life throws at her. It's a twisty, surprising story that takes several disturbing turns, offering Isabelle Huppert another wonderfully complex role, while director Paul Verhoeven adeptly plays with audience expectations.

Videogame entrepreneur Michele (Huppert) unapologetically approaches every situation, perhaps because her father has spent 40 years in prison for a violent killing spree that the media linked her to at age 10. As a result, she's reluctant to call the police when a masked intruder breaks into her home and assaults her. Her ex-husband Richard (Berling) and business partner Anna (Consigny) are appalled. Her neighbours Patrick and Rebecca (Lafitte and Efira) offer support. But Michele is more annoyed that she has to help her dim son (Bloquet) and his psycho pregnant girlfriend (Isaaz).

David Birke's script is a riot of innuendo, as strangers in the street call out insults as Michele walks by, her loved ones question her decision-making, and the mystery of her attacker's identity grows increasingly urgent. The story unfolds briskly, with blasts of wit both in Verhoeven's direction and Huppert's deadpan performance. It's a tour-de-force role, a woman who simply refuses to do what anyone expects of her. Huppert plays Michele's offbeat reactions with a clever mix of understatement and wry, jagged humour.

This sometimes leaves the other characters seeming a bit perplexed as they try to work out what Michele is up to. But they understand her unique past, linked to a horrific crime that was turned into a sensationalistic movie, which pops up on TV now and then. Everyone either offers her advice or wants something from her, but she does everything on her own terms. All of these colourful people are skilfully played, but Huppert leaves them in the background.

The wild journey through this narrative is underscored with spiralling layers of subtext, often with a hilariously vicious edge. For example, the Christmas dinner Michele hosts includes passive-aggressive (or sometimes flat-out aggressive) jabs at everyone around the table. When her mother (Magre) suffers a stroke, Michele thinks it's a trick to get her to visit her father in prison. And when Michele has a car crash, who she calls is genuinely chilling. It may end up as little more than a deranged, nerve-jangling thriller. But it skilfully leaves us gasping for breath.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
8.Oct.16 lff
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Esteros
4/5  
aka Estuaries
dir Papu Curotto
scr Andi Nachon
prd Andi Nachon, Papu Curotto, Pablo Destito, Santiago Podesta, Pablo Destito, Pablo Giles, Maite Echave
with Ignacio Rogers, Esteban Masturini, Joaquin Parada, Blas Finardi Niz, Renata Calmon, Maria Merlino, Felipe Tito, Marcelo Subiotto, Pablo Cura, Mariana Martinez, Mercedez Gonzalez, Emiliano Rajzner
masturini and rogers release US 18.Nov.16
16/Argentina 1h23
esteros With an introspective approach that quickly gets under the skin, this Argentine drama explores the connection between our childhood and adult selves as it traces two friends reuniting after a long absence. The film is gentle and observant, engaging and warm, and ultimately surprisingly pointed. It's also strikingly photographed in an unusually beautiful location.

Young teen pals Matias and Jeronimo (Parada and Niz) bond while spending the summer on Jero's parents' isolated farm on the estuaries. Years later, Mati (now Rogers) returns from Brazil to Buenos Aires with his girlfriend Rochi (Calmon), reuniting with Jero (Masturini) and unearthing some unexpected feelings as they catch up. They also take a trip down memory lane, travelling out to the farm for a few days, and Mati admits that he wonders what might have happened if he'd never left.

The film flickers back and forth between the boys' lively summer adventures and their much more thoughtful renewed acquaintance as young men at least a decade later. Their conversations are tentative, as they remember old likes and dislikes and find out what the other has been doing all these years. They also dance around the elephant in the room. Yes, the film is exploring their sexual experimentation that fateful summer, after which Jero accepted his homosexuality, while Mati's family moved to Brazil, and he found a girlfriend.

Performances are understated and earthy, making the most of the spare screenplay, which uses its words carefully to cut through the surfaces. Rogers captures Mati's private neuroses, an inability to be in crowds, confront his true feelings or let down his guard. By contrast Masturini beings out the likeable Jero's honest, observational approach to life. These things are intriguingly present in the warm performances of younger actors Parada and Niz as well. And of the supporting cast, Calmon gets some properly beefy scenes all her own.

There's a lovely reference to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as these two young men return to the waterways and re-enact their childhood horseplay. They're at that age where they're beginning to understand that they don't have long to act on the dreams of their childhood, or maybe it's too late already. But this time Mati gets a chance to explore something he's always wondered about, and even though director Curotto annoyingly obscures all physical intimacies, the emotions resonate strongly.

15 themes, language, sexuality
13.Nov.16
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One Kiss
4/5   Un Bacio
dir Ivan Cotroneo
prd Francesca Cima
scr Ivan Cotroneo, Monica Rametta
with Rimau Ritzberger Grillo, Valentina Romani, Leonardo Pazzagli, Thomas Trabacchi, Susy Laude, Simonetta Solder, Giorgio Marchesi, Sergio Romano, Laura Mazzi, Alessandro Sperduti, Eugenio Franceschini, Denis Fasolo
pazzagli, grillo and romani
release It 31.Mar.16,
US May.16 siff,
UK 21.Nov.16
16/Italy 1h42
one kiss From Italy, this is a fascinating exploration of bullying culture from an offhanded angle. Mixing comedy with some seriously dark drama, the film focusses on three vivid central characters who are remarkably realistic, and their interaction and situations refreshingly resist the cinematic formula. Despite its breezy tone and positive message, this is not a feel-good movie. It's a pointed statement against quietly accepted bigotry.

Recently orphaned, the 16-year-old Lorenzo (Grillo) moves from Turin to live with new adoptive parents (Trabacchi and Laude), and enters his new school with an unapologetically fabulous flourish. He befriends the outcast Blu (Romani), who understands that her life has to get better than this. Meanwhile, sporty Antonio (Pazzagli) struggles academically and copes with loneliness by imagining his dead brother (Sperduti). So Lorenzo and Blu invite him to join them as they take on the haters both in school and in the surrounding community. But there are rather a lot of them.

Director Cotroneo keeps the pace snappy, adding witty fantastical touches as Lorenzo spreads colour everywhere he goes, refusing to give in to daily bullying. All three of these kids are ruthlessly taunted on social media, yet refuse to accept that suicide is the only option to this unbearable life. Their mini-flashmob to Blondie is rather amazing, as is their reaction to being framed for vandalism. And where the story goes is complex and unpredictable, with some very tense edges as conflicts develop both within and outside their tight circle.

The acting is superbly naturalistic. Grillo, Romani and Pazzagli are believable as school losers whose inner joy makes them the most attractive people on campus. Their romantic interaction is believably understated, as Lorenzo likes Antonio, who in turn likes Blu but perhaps isn't so sure about his sexuality. It's also intriguing that their parents are all understanding and supportive, a rare thing in a teen movie. Even in their mistakes, their love for their children sharply underpins the entire movie.

The interaction between the kids, parents and teachers is unusually complex all the way through the film. The central theme here is that finding like-minded friends is the key to surviving life's most difficult moments. And while the darker elements of angsty adolescence turn up as expected, including a few particularly grim moments, the way the film grapples with them is unusually honest and resonant, right to the shocking climax.

15 themes, language, violence
21.Nov.16
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Staying Vertical
3.5/5   Rester Vertical
dir-scr Alain Guiraudie
prd Sylvie Pialat, Benoit Quainon
with Damien Bonnard, India Hair, Raphael Thiery, Christian Bouillette, Basile Meilleurat, Laure Calamy, Sebastien Novac, Baptiste Roques, Adrien Marsal, Tangi Belbeoc'h, Mathieu Milella, Mathieu Philibert
bonnard
release Fr 24.Aug.16,
UK Oct.16 lff, US 27.Jan.17
16/France 1h40

CANNES FILM FEST
london film festival
Pamilya Ordinaryo Bold and full-on, this parable from Alain Guiraudie has a wilfully absurd story that gets increasingly symbolic as it goes along. This is a provocative exploration of the creative process, likening it to giving birth and nurturing a particularly fussy infant while threatened from various sides. And it's underscored with a jaded sense of humour that keeps things lively, plus a central character who is oddly sympathetic.

When writer Leo (Bonnard) takes a hike to find inspiration for a screenplay, he meets shepherd Marie (Hair), worriedly guarding her flock from preying wolves. They have a baby together, which Marie abandons for city life. So Leo stays and helps her father (Thiery) on the farm. Meanwhile, Leo is fascinated by the model-like young Yoan (Meilleurat), who lives in a nearby village with the much-older Marcel (Bouillette). And when Yoan runs off, Leo ends up looking after Marcel too. Meanwhile, his producer (Novac) is chasing him for that script.

Guiraudie is an unflinching filmmaker, and packs this film with surreal situations and offbeat touches, including a sudden close-up of childbirth that feels almost horrific. The timeline is also an issue: years gallop past in the blink of an eye while Leo struggles to write even a word of his script, visiting a holistic doctor (Calamy) in a dreamy forest for help. Perhaps Leo is seeking these distractions to avoid having to work. Or maybe he's just waiting for some ideas. Although he fails to notice that what's happening around him is outrageously cinematic.

Bonnard plays Leo as a hapless nice guy who would rather be pushed around by circumstances than take control of his destiny. Still, he's relentlessly curious and has some strong inner urges that lead to several full-on sex scenes (one final sequence is jaw-dropping). Intriguingly, the people around him aren't much more direct in their approach to life, and the cast members play them with plain-faced passivity and oddly repressed sexuality.

Essentially a movie about writer's block, this film is infused with suppressed queer desire. All of the men look at (and touch) each other lustily, but seem unable to express any romantic inclination at all. Sex is animalistic and fateful, adding to the film's rather mesmerising pagan overtones. In other words, there's so much going on here, both on the screen and between the lines, that the film can't fail to stimulate thought and emotion. And what it all means will spark some lively discussions.

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