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last update 24.Oct.17
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Even Lovers Get the Blues
3.5/5  
dir-scr Laurent Micheli
prd Camille Meynard, Laurent Micheli
with Marie Denys, Tristan Schotte, Adriana Da Fonseca, Gabriel Da Costa, Severine Porzio, Arnaud Bronsart, Gael Maleux, Juan Bernardo Martinez, Philippe Grand'Henry, Adrien Letartre, Luc Schiltz, Arieh Worthalter
bronsart and porzio release Bel 30.Aug.17,
UK 6.Nov.17
16/Belgium 1h35
Even Lovers Get the Blues With this ensemble drama, Belgian writer-director Laurent Micheli takes a frank approach to sex, even if some simplistic cliches pop up here and there. Once the six main characters and their interconnections become clearer, the loose tone makes the story feel realistic. And while the film feels somewhat indulgent, it also offers striking observations on the nature of modern relationships.

When her boyfriend Hugo (Maleux) dies suddenly, Ana (Denys) is badly shaken. And so are her friends. Dahlia and Graciano (Da Fonseca and Da Costa) opt to spice up their relationship with some roleplaying. Barman Louis (Bronsart) wants to start a family with singer girlfriend Leo (Porzio), but she isn't sure, and their relationship becomes tense as a result. As Ana tries to distract herself with anonymous sex, she befriends Hugo's younger brother Arthur (Schotte), who seems to sleep with every man he meets, including Graciano, who invites him to crash on their sofa.

The film opens with couples hooking up: in bed, in a toilet, in a car and via a sex-date app. The connections that follow are sometimes funny and energetic, sometimes sad and desperate. And lots of issues flare up along the way. Just over halfway in, the story jumps ahead four months as a perky musical number gets the characters to sing while preparing to head out on an epic camping trip together. Of course, on the shore of a picturesque lake, honest feelings start to emerge.

Porzio and Bronsart have the most serious characters, a couple that knocks the air out of their relationship and struggles to regain momentum. Da Costa is charming as the hugely likeable Graciano, although his issues with both Dahlia and Arthur are more stereotypical, leading to a hard decision. But both Da Fonseca and Schotte find intriguing angles on their characters. Oddly, Denys has the most one-note role as a woman who simply can't regain her equilibrium.

Through these six people, Micheli has the chance to touch on some big themes. But the various story strands sometimes seem more melodramatic than truthful. As each relationship stumbles into darker territory, the film becomes more simplistic, sidestepping the harder complexities. Repressing sexuality, seeking solace in random encounters, suffering violence as an outsider - these are a bit too cliched to say anything very meaningful. But the film is sharply well shot and edited, with an adept cast that brings out layers that touch a nerve.

18 themes, language, sexuality, drugs
24.Oct.17

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Félicité
4/5  
dir-scr Alain Gomis
prd Alain Gomis, Arnaud Dommerc, Oumar Sall
with Vero Tshanda Beya, Papi Mpaka, Gaetan Claudia, Nadine Ndebo, Mua Mbuyi, Modero Totokani, Bavon Diana Landa, Claudine Lumbu, Chef Veyi, Gloire Mengi, Nathan Mulumba, Sephora Francoise Monga
beya release Fr 29.Mar.17,
US 27.Oct.17, UK 10.Nov.17
17/France 2h09

BERLIN FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
london film fest
Felicite Bursting with Congo's vibrant culture, French filmmaker Alain Gomis tells an involving story in the style of a documentary, following his characters closely through an emotional journey. The film artfully avoids unnecessary dialog, often letting a speak instead. And while the story is rather grim, there's a smile-inducing wry undercurrent of hope and even a flicker of warm romance.

In a lively Kinshasa bar, singer Felicite (Beya) entertains the crowd with expressive performances. When her 14-year-old son Samo (Claudia) has a motorbike accident, she needs cash for hospital treatment. Her colleagues offer help, but they have problems of their own. So Felicite travels around the city, contacting friends and relatives, all of whom make excuses. When Samo comes home and struggles with his recovery, Felicite finds unlikely assistance from her hulking refrigerator repairman Tabu (Mpaka), a regular member of her audience who's usually in trouble because he drinks too much.

The story is punctuated by music as well as textured pitch-black nighttime sequences. During both, the camera wanders around, capturing glimpses of internal life in the community. And Felicite's strength shines through it all, both as an independent woman and as a mother determined to help her son. In one of several powerful scenes, Samo's father (Totokani) shouts her down, "You wanted to be strong, but you raised a thug!" In another, her aunt (Mbuyi) sneers that she's turned ugly. But a wealthy man (Landa) takes reluctant pity on her desperation.

Beya is viscerally natural, revealing Felicite's steeliness as she struggles to find the extra money she needs. A proud, tough, likeable woman, she's determined to thrive against all odds. She's also literally singing to save her son's life. Opposite her, Mpaka is terrific as a nice guy loser who rises to a challenge, perhaps finding a reason to stay sober one night at least. The ways he bonds with both Felicite and Claudia's impassive Samo are awkward and surprisingly charming.

This is a harsh depiction of this society. No one will repay money Felicite loaned them, forcing her to turn to the police, who want their share. And there's a sequence beautifully rendered in overlapping images as neighbours offer empty platitudes about God's will while disturbing her peace and abusing her hospitality. Then there's a sharp tonal shift in the second half, becoming a lyrical, sometimes surreal odyssey as Felicite digs deep into her understanding about what it actually means to be a strong woman.

12 themes, language, sexuality, violence
24.Oct.17
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Happy End
4/5  
dir-scr Michael Haneke
prd Margaret Menegoz
with Isabelle Huppert, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Mathieu Kassovitz, Toby Jones, Fantine Harduin, Franz Rogowski, Laura Verlinden, Hassam Ghancy, Nabiha Akkari, Loubna Abidar, Franck Andrieux, Dominique Besnehard
huppert release Fr 4.Oct.17,
UK 1.Dec.17, US 22.Dec.17
17/France 1h47

CANNES FILM FEST
TORONTO FILM FEST
london film fest
Happy End This may be as close as we'll ever get to Michael Haneke lightening up. Although even if it's packed with offbeat wit and characters who verge on farce, there's no escaping that this is essentially a comedy about suicidal and murderous urges. Families don't get much more dysfunctional than the one depicted on-screen, and the film also taps into the current economic divide, being a story of the very wealthy in a region known for its desperate refugees.

In Calais, Anne (Huppert) runs the family construction business. A major accident is causing trouble for her slacker manager son Pierre (Rogowski). Anne lives with her forgetful father Georges(Trintignant) as well as her doctor brother Thomas (Kassovitz) and his timid wife Anais (Verlinden). When Thomas' ex-wife is taken ill, his 13-year-old daughter Eve (Harduin) also moves in. She's obsessed with posting videos of her life online, perhaps revealing a little too much about her interest in drug-induced death. And it's clear where she gets this, as Georges makes a bold attempt to end his life.

A bracing complexity keeps the audience on its toes, unsure whether to laugh at or be horrified by these people. Haneke directs with a spry sense of timing, playfully observing some seriously disturbing behaviour. And hovering through it all is the glacial expertise of Huppert's Anne, annoyed but unruffled, quietly orchestrating both the company's merger with a London firm and her engagement to her lawyer (Jones).

Watching this dry backroom dealing, it's not surprising that Georges wants to escape. Trintignant offers a wry performance, sometimes befuddled but usually razor sharp, watching his family business turn into a corporate monolith. Kassovitz is excellent as a man with too much on his mind. And Rogowski has a remarkable physical presence, giving an unforgettable karaoke performance. But the scene-stealer is young Harduin as a girl everyone underestimates.

The fact tha this is happening amid Calais' migrant chaos is clearly important, and this theme tangentially crosses the main plot threads. The frustration is that Haneke seems to be trying to say something about all of this, but his message isn't coming through with any focus. Instead, he stirs in so many big ideas that we become preoccupied with them. And most of the topics are proper head-spinners. Watching the film is like having a mental workout, which is pretty amazing for what's essentially a black comedy. So perhaps Haneke's goal is to let the audience make of it what they will.

15 themes, language, violence
27.Sep.17
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Strangled
3.5/5   A Martfüi Rém
dir-scr Arpad Sopsits
prd Gabor Ferenczy, Attila Tozser
with Karoly Hajduk, Gabor Jaszberenyi, Zsolt Anger, Peter Barnai, Zsolt Trill, Zsofia Szamosi, Monika Balsai, Andras Rethelyi, Piroska Moga, Valentin Venczel, Dora Sztarenki, Anna Meszoly
Jaszberenyi
release Hun 10.Nov.16,
UK 17.Nov.17
16/Hungary 1h58

london film fest
Strangled Based on a true story, this dark, stylish thriller builds dramatic suspense as it chronicles a serial killer in a small Hungarian town. Revealing the cold-blooded murderer from the start, the film sometimes feels a bit draggy as we wait for the cops to connect the dots, but it's packed with terrific characters who are conflicted and relatable.

After confessing under duress to killing his girlfriend in 1957, Akos (Jaszberenyi) is sentenced to life in prison. Seven years later in the same provincial town, Detective Bota (Anger) is trying to work out who attacked young factory worker Agi (Sztarenki) and perhaps another woman (Balsai) as well. As he works on the case, Bota struggles against interference from young prosecutor Zoltan (Parnai), who draws connections between these attacks and a series of murders. He also finds parallels in Akos' case, which officials are reluctant to re-open.

Without being flashy, director Sopsits gives the film a lush, shadowy sheen that draws the audience in, although the repeated woman-in-jeopardy motif quickly begins to feel queasy, as does the postmortem nudity. It's also unnecessary to so explicitly depict the killer (Hajduk) fetishising the bodies of his victims. Even so, Sopsits avoids sensationalism, taking a realistic approach to both the growing drama and some action moments. It's also a stark portrayal of wilful corruption and the torture and mistreatment of prisoners.

Ander is terrific as the sardonic detective annoyed by pretty much everything around him. His weary tenacity is engaging, although his fumbling romance with Akos' sister (Szamosi) feels contrived. As the innocent man in prison, Jaszberenyi is sympathetic but oddly stubborn, depicting a mix of the horrors of prison life, the agony of injustice and guilt over other past sins. Meanwhile, Hajduk has an even more difficult role as the grotesque killer, a family man who accidentally attacks his own wife and plays mind games with Akos.

At its core, this isn't a particularly complex case, and the film is more of a potboiler than a thriller. But the unfolding events open up some seriously charged angles, especially in the exploration of how the state would rather leave an innocent man behind bars than admit a mistake. "There are no serial killers in this country," one official insists. There are some powerfully personal moments along the way as well, and by getting under the skin of the characters, Sopsits also gets under the skin of the audience.

15 themes, language, violence, sexuality
14.Oct.17 lff

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