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last update 5.Nov.17
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dir Semih Kaplanoglu
scr Semih Kaplanoglu, Leyla Ipekci
prd Semih Kaplanoglu, Nadir Operli
with Jean-Marc Barr, Ermin Bravo, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Cristina Flutur, Lubna Azabal, Mila Bohning, Hal Yamanouchi, Jarreth J Merz, Nike Maria Vassil, Rainer Steffen, Hoji Fortuna, Mehmet Yilmaz Ak
flutur, dobrygin and barr
release UK Oct.17 lff
17/Turkey 2h07

london film fest
Grain With a gorgeous visual sensibility augmented by expansive monochrome cinematography, this Turkish odyssey explores big issues about the future of humanity through a meandering narrative following a man across a dystopian landscape. It's a bit obtuse at times, dipping into allegorical surrealism and arthouse nuttiness, but it's also utterly riveting, both for its epic plot and its big ideas.

Errol (Barr) is a seed specialist in a future society in which crops have been modified to the point of extinction. Desperate for a solution, he hires guide Alice (Flutur) to escort him and young scientist Andrei (Dobrygin) beyond the electric wall and out into the dead zone to track down missing agricultural expert Cemil (Bravo). And once they find him, Errol struggles to keep up with Cemil's offbeat experiments as they traverse the desolate mountainous countryside on their way to an abandoned mosque.

The film's opening act is shot in stunning urban locations that look both current and futuristic, hinting that this isn't happening too far ahead in time. Indeed, it feels like a natural progression of today's inequality. Only the lucky few are allowed to live in the walled-off cities, which rely on wheat provided by Nova Vida, the monolithic corporation that runs pretty much everything. Beyond the barrier, the soil has been poisoned and biodiversity is gone. So while Errol is looking for a quick cure, Cemil is seeking signs that earth is healing itself.

These are very big ideas, and conversations centre on "particles" within all living things that signify life and health. Barr is excellent as the outsider through whose eyes we enter this bizarre world, and he's superbly balanced by a cheeky, knowing performance from Bravo. Other characters come and go from the film quite suddenly, leaving us wondering about their fate. But all of the actors dig in to create people with fascinating back-stories. And the settings are amazing.

Filmmaker Kaplanoglu takes an ambitious approach to this project, painting an epic journey on a vast canvas. The landscapes are simply spectacular, dotted with the ruins of an advanced civilisation that didn't survive the changes. So is this a parable about Turkish history, or the whole world? The religious imagery (a burning bush, temptation in the wilderness) is pointed, and yet the story searches for meaning within the characters' humanity. Whatever the filmmakers had in mind, it's a beautifully head-spinning trip.

15 themes, language, violence
10.Oct.17 lff
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Santa and Andres
4/5   Santa y Andrés
dir-scr Carlos Lechuga
prd Claudia Calvino, Carlos Lechuga
with Lola Amores, Eduardo Martinez, George Abreu, Cesar Dominguez, Luna Tinoco, Ederlys Rodriguez, Celia Ledon, Maikel Alexi Sanchez, Juan Jose Castillo, Arturo Infante, Alejandra Rivas, Carlos Lechuga
amores and martinez release US 10.Nov.17
16/Cuba 1h45

Happy End This vivid, fascinating Cuban drama is a remarkable depiction of the fear that leads to systemic discrimination. So it's no wonder that the film was banned in its home country (but it has travelled to festivals around the world). With minimal dialog, the script provocatively explores big ideas, as writer-director Carlos Lechuga carefully understates the themes to make them even more powerful.

In 1983, Santa (Amores) is sent to eastern Cuba to keep known outsider Andres (Martinez) away from the press for three days as they cover a local government forum. She sits just outside his bare house on an isolated hillside, resisting any interaction and preventing him from going out to buy ingredients to make the sweets that earn his living. Santa has never questioned the official line of thinking, so believes this gay writer harms "the image of the revolution". But as she gets to know him, she begins to doubt what she was taught.

The film opens with a caption about how, after the 1958 revolution, artists were either locked up or fled, especially if they were gay or religious. This adds an instant zing to the film, setting themes gurgling under the surface. Santa is observant but bored, and her hardline boss (Abreu) warns her that Andres will take advantage of her lack of experience. Meanwhile, the local community is wary around Andres, who has endured horrific abuse at the hands of both doctors and thugs who want him to be like everyone else.

The acting is internalised and very raw, creating strongly resonant characters who are deeply engaging, especially as they begin to open up to each other. Martinez adds a wounded quality to the kind, generous Andres, whose life was derailed simply because the government didn't like his sexuality. As Santa, Amores is scowly and sullen to begin with, but softens as she learns about Andres' history. As the connection between these two damaged people grows and changes, all kinds of wrinkles emerge.

Where this story goes is clever and involving, as Lechuga resists the predictable narrative line. This sometimes makes the movie feel meandering and slow, but every scene is packed with meaning, pushing the characters and themes forward. Along the way, the film quietly comments on a lost generation of talented artists, silenced because those in power were afraid of them, not because of their political ideas, but because of who they were. And the film feels terrifyingly relevant today.

15 themes, language, violence, nudity

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This Is Our Land
3.5/5   Chez Nous
dir Lucas Belvaux
scr Lucas Belvaux, Jerome Leroy
prd David Frenkel, Patrick Quinet
with Emilie Dequenne, Andre Dussollier, Guillaume Gouix, Catherine Jacob, Anne Marivin, Patrick Descamps, Charlotte Talpaert, Mateo Debaets, Coline Marcourt, Tom Robelin, Corentin Lobet, Cyril Descours
duquenne and gouix release Fr 22.Feb.17,
US May.17 siff, UK Oct.17 lff
17/France 1h57

london film fest
This Is Our Land With an earthy sense of authenticity, this drama takes a controversial approach to French politics. There's an urgency to the premise that shifts this from a gently pointed drama into something rather darker and scarier, which makes it perhaps a little muddled. But the film highlights the insidious idea that both politicians and bigots are happy to change strategies if they have a chance of winning, even though they'll never change their goals.

Near Calais, overworked home care nurse Pauline (Dequenne) barely sees her kids (Debaets and Marcourt), can't get her father (Descamps) to stick to his diet and has started seeing the beefy Stephane (Gouix). So she isn't quite sure what to do when her doctor colleague Philippe (Dussollier) proposes that she run for mayor. She thinks it's a joke, especially the fact that it's the far-right party that wants her. But she decides to take a leap, even though it means upending her life and finding herself at the receiving end of some harsh public opinion.

A liberal who believes most right-wing politicians are fascists, Pauline is tempted in because the party is led by a woman (Jacob). And also because she's tired of politicians across the spectrum who do so little to help the average person. But the casual racism thrown around by her friends is deeply disturbing, as is the party's nationalistic message and tacit endorsement of bigotry. But they also want Pauline to break up with Stephane, because as an anti-immigration activist he's too right-wing even for them.

Performances are wonderfully natural and understated. Dequenne is terrific as a young woman pulled into a situation she knows isn't quite right, but she can't resist the confidence everyone has in her. She's also smart enough to know that she's being used, and to work out a way to stand up for herself. Opposite her, Dussollier is slippery and eerily reasonable, while Goiux nicely balances Stephan's nice-guy surface and militarised, gun-happy reality.

The way the film gets inside of extreme ideologies is deeply chilling, quietly exploring the way political parties use deep-seated bigotry for their own ends, rather than challenging it. Also unsettling is how the children are soaking up their parents' ideas, becoming terrified of a non-existent Islamic threat to the point of accompanying Stephane on his war games. Yes, as the political stakes increase and ultimatums are given, the melodrama sometimes obscures the point.

15 themes, language, violence

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