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last update 5.Feb.16
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dir-scr Piotr J Lewandowski
prd Alexandra Kordes, Meike Kordes
with Jannis Niewohner, Andre M Hennicke, Julia Koschitz, Thomas Sarbacher, Barbara Auer, Max Mauff, Leon Seidel, Carsten Strauch, Ella-Maria Gollmer, Robert Alexander Baer, Romina Kuper, Matthias Lodd
Hennicke and Niewohner
release Ger 6.Oct.16,
US 7.Feb.17
16/Germany 1h39

Jonathan With this introspective German drama, filmmaker Piotr J Lewandowski loads conversations with subtext that hints at both the characters' back-stories and where they might go from here. And in daring the audience to identify with a selfish protagonist, the film's themes become remarkably complex. It's not always easy to watch, but it's moving and important.

On an isolated farm that provides work for ex-addicts, 23-year-old Jonathan (Niewohner) is caring for his dying father Burghardt (Hennicke) and running the operation with his Aunt Magda (Auer), who isn't on speaking terms with her brother. Burghardt doesn't want to talk about why, because it has something to do with Jonathan's deceased mother. A distraction arrives in flirty new carer Anka (Koschitz), and then Burghardt's old swimming pal Ron (Sarbacher) turns up to help. But Jonathan's not sure who he is or why he wants to be so involved.

The film is viscerally shot, lushly designed and fluidly edited. Writer-director Lewandowski surrounds Jonathan with friends and family whose interaction gets into his head. Each is making decisions, but he feels like he is at the mercy of everyone and everything else - running the family farm, worrying about his dad and aunt, unable to escape to Berlin with his pal Lasse (Mauff). So discovering hidden truths about his family makes him understandably crazy.

Performances are understated, playing off the minimal dialog. Niewohner is an intriguing lead; the camera loves him, centring on his searching eyes and easy physicality. This reveals his artistic sensitivity, which he expresses in a variety of ways, and he's complex enough to sometimes be surprisingly unlikeable. All of the side characters feel like real people with lives of their own. And when Burghardt's connection with Ron begins to come into focus, it adds new meaning to the entire premise.

The layers of interaction in this film are intensely involving, never taking a simplistic approach to the characters or relationships. There's an earthiness to everything from Burghardt's illness to Jonathan and Anka's giddy naked romps in the forest. Scenes are honest and sensitive, packed with insight that's never obvious. This is a gentle, knowing film about how our difficult decisions send us in directions we never thought we'd go, for better or worse, as it were. And having the nerve to face the hardest truth is less painful than living with an easy lie.

15 themes, language, sexuality
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A Man Called Ove
4.5/5     MUST must see SEE     En Man som Heter Ove
dir-scr Hannes Holm
prd Annica Bellander, Nicklas Wikstrom Nicastro
with Rolf Lassgard, Bahar Pars, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, Tobias Almborg, Chatarina Larsson, Borje Lundberg, Klas Wiljergard, Poyan Karimi, Simon Edenroth, Stefan Godicke, Johan Widerberg
pars and lassgard release Swe 25.Dec.15,
US 30.Sep.16
15/Sweden Nordisk 1h56

a man called ove With a dry sense of humour and deep undercurrents of emotion, this Swedish comedy-drama explores the life of a man who never felt like he was in control of his destiny. It may feel a bit long, but this is a charming film packed with surprises, wonderful characters and important ideas.

In small-town Sweden, Ove (Lassgard) is a relentless grump who misses his dead wife. After 43 years on the job, the kids running the factory have made him take early retirement, so all he has left is patrolling his housing estate to strictly enforce the rules. He also plans to join his wife, but this is interrupted by the arrival of Iranian neighbour Parvaneh (Pars), her husband Patrik (Almborg) and their two lively children. Plus a stray cat. Anarchy seems to be taking over the neighbourhood, and Ove can't even kill himself in peace.

The film flicks back to Ove's childhood with his widowed, inarticulate father (Godicke), as well as his young adulthood (played by Berg) and his charming courtship and marriage to Sonja (Engvoll). There's also his hilarious friendship with neighbour Rune (Lundberg), who drives a despised Volvo rather than a Saab, the only car Ove would ever consider. All of this offers insight into the present day, as Ove's control-freak methods are is his way of dealing with how helpless he feels in the face of both fate and the "whiteshirts" who run the world.

Performances are warm and engaging. Even as the surly old Ove, Lassgard offers little glimpses into the character's thoughts and feelings. And as the more likeably awkward younger Ove, Berg is thoroughly endearing, generating strong chemistry with the smart, gorgeous Engvoll. It's easy to see why she pounces on him, and how her absence has left him a shell of a man. So watching these over-involved new neighbours soften his edges is both entertaining and meaningful.

There are some powerfully moving scenes that put the annoyances of everyday life in perspective. Without ever taking itself seriously, this is a story about the inexorable progression of time and the change it brings whether we want it or not. It's about fighting random turns of fate, cruel officials and general public idiocy for just a bit of dignity. But most importantly, the film reminds us that even when we feel that there seems to be little point in going on, there's always plenty more life to live.

12 themes, language
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4/5     MUST must see SEE
dir Pablo Larrain
scr Guillermo Calderon
prd Juan de Dios Larrain
with Luis Gnecco, Gael Garcia Bernal, Mercedes Moran, Diego Munoz, Pablo Derqui, Michael Silva, Jaime Vadell, Alfredo Castro, Marcelo Alonso, Francisco Reyes, Alejandro Goic, Emilio Gutierrez Caba
bernal release Chl 11.Aug.16,
US 16.Dec.16, UK 7.Apr.17
16/Chile 1h47

london film festival
Neruda Bracingly intelligent and artistic, this fictionalised dramatic thriller follows Nobel-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda over two years as his government tries to arrest him for being a communist. The film cleverly weaves a poetic sensibility into its central cat-and-mouse narrative, which traverses all over Chile, from the sea to the Andes. With big ideas and great characters, it's a stunner.

Famed for his evocative poetry, which resonates among the working classes, Pablo (Gnecco) is a senator in Chile's parliament in 1948, when right-wing President Gonzalez (Castro) decides to crack down on communists. So Pablo goes underground with his painter wife Delia (Moran), abandoning their sprawling artistic home for a tiny flat, where their handlers try to plot an escape from the country. On his trail is Oscar (Bernal), a second-generation policeman who tenaciously tracks his prey while Pablo slyly leaves clues for him to follow.

The central idea is that these two men are fuelling each others' obsessions, essentially creating each other's stories without ever having met. Gnecco and Bernal play them with layers of complexity that are unapologetic about the apparent contradictions. Gnecco's Pablo is a compassionate politician who's also a wanton hedonist, indulging in alcohol and prostitutes. Confronted by one fan, he's not sure if his ideals require him to have a simpler life or if it should be possible for everyone to live like he does. By contrast, Bernal's Oscar is darkly and hilariously focussed, sure of his task regardless of the politics.

Structured as an extended pursuit, the film paints a surreal picture of Chile, both ideologically and geographically. The opening scene features senators meeting in an enormous men's room, a pointed jab at the boys' club mentality that appreciates counter-opinions but can't accept them. Other settings include Pablo and Delia's rabbit warren-like home, safe houses in various strata of Chile's class system, luridly seedy brothels, winding vertiginous roads and ultimately the ice-capped Andean peaks.

Larrain directs this with his usual offhanded skill, harking back to films of the period with striking design that evokes 1940s noir classics. Oscar's incessant narration adds witty touches to every scene, along with other amusing elements highlighted in the snappy editing. And even the minor side characters are vivid and compelling, looking to Neruda for inspiration and occasionally finding it if he's using what Delia calls his "poet's voice" to triumph the dignity of ordinary life. Although his own life was anything but ordinary.

15 themes, language, violence, nudity
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The Red Turtle
4/5   La Tortue Rouge
dir Michael Dudok de Wit
scr Pascale Ferran, Michael Dudok de Wit
prd Toshio Suzuki, Vincent Maraval, Pascal Caucheteux, Gregoire Sorlat
voices Emmanuel Garijo, Tom Hudson, Baptiste Goy, Axel Devillers, Barbara Beretta
magalhaes release Fr 29.Jun.16,
US 20.Jan.17, UK 26.May.17 16/France Studio Ghibli 1h20

london film festival
The Red Turtle With virtually no dialog, this gorgeously animated film tells an engaging and offbeat story of survival. The emotional complexity is remarkable, as it takes the audience on a compelling odyssey that's thrilling, harrowing and emotionally resonant. The surreal plot turns might make it a bit difficult to engage with at times, but where it goes is endlessly surprising.

A man is thrown around in the stormy sea, clinging to his overturned lifeboat, then flung onto a deserted island beach. There he encounters a range of creatures, including crabs, sea lions and a school of baby turtles as he searches for water and food. With so few options, he sets about building a raft. But the island itself doesn't seem to want to let him leave, as an enormous red turtle continually smashes his raft. In a fit of rage, he drags the turtle onto the beach, where it transforms into a woman.

The hand-drawn animation looks like a storybook come to life. Watercolour images are far more tactile than the much more plasticky digital style of animation used by the Hollywood studios. This allows for some striking touches, such as how colourful rocks, trees and forests fade into black and white when night falls, lyrically blurring the line between dreams and reality. And the sound mix is skilfully detailed to evoke both the natural world and our hero's internal journey.

The film captures a vivid sense of this man's desperation, even though his dialog consists only of visceral noises. And there are several breathtaking sequences along the way, such as the terrifying early moment when he slips from a cliff into a narrow cavern. And the arrival of a tsunami later on is heart-pounding. His reactions to everything that happens are both startling and understandable. And where this goes is impossible to predict, as the filmmakers inventively blend ideas from castaway stories and ancient folklore.

In both the edgy realism and the imaginative flights of fancy, this film grips the audience with visual artistry and narrative momentum. Even more riveting is the sumptuous emotional odyssey the story traverses, going beyond survival to explore issues of family and legacy. The plot does turn almost outrageously dreamlike, making it difficult to fully follow it into some rather Lynchian ripples. But the details of every moment are so powerful that it can't help but be both thoughtfully provocative and deeply moving.

PG themes, violence
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