Saturday, 27 April 2013

Manuela Oyarzún and Paloma Moreno from “Paseo de Oficina” [2012 Chile]

Roberto Artiagoitía makes yet another below-the-line comedy "Paseo de Oficina" [Eng. Title: Office Tour] and it is pretty apparent that it was meant for a DVD audience on Saturday afternoons, preferably with a few cans of beer. The review will therefore be brief, and I'll let you guys decide if you want to spend any time with this...

It's the day out for employees of a department store in Chile, ostensibly meant for 'bonding' and team building. But they've recently been taken over by a foreign chain, and as part of the shake-up, some of the staff are about to be laid off. The store manager uses the occasion to short-list the staff he doesn't get along with - the group who'll be the main characters in the film. One of them - Danae (María José Bello), wants to steal the letters from the manager's assistant and have them destroyed, and asks his friend Lori (Paloma Moreno) to help. The staff welfare officer Leo (Luis Gnecco) uses the occasion to impress his new MD Benedetto (Gastón Pauls), but he's more interested in trying to patch things up with lover Sofia (Manuela Oyarzún) - Leo's friend and colleague. It's not just the MD - most of the staff too are trying to score with someone during the "field-trip". Cue for some tacky humour, innuendo-laden gags, and horny young couples sweating it out behind the bushes and inside the coach cabin...

Whenever it becomes difficult to determine why some films simply 'suck', more often than not it is the screenplay that's the culprit, which is also the case here. There are some well-known faces in the cast, but they too don't raise the film to anything above mediocre. Apart from a decent performance from Luis Gnecco who plays Leo, and a bevy of pretty Chilean girls in their summer clothes, I found very little to keep me enthused. It even makes the director's earlier frat-themed film - Grado 3 appear good..!



The Nudity: Manuela Oyarzún and Paloma Moreno
The film features two noteworthy scenes of nudity - the first is Benedetto's flashback of an earlier successful seduction of a fellow employee - the already married Sofia, played by Manuela Oyarzún, and the second is on a leaky boat between Alexis (Fernando Godoy) and Lorena, played by pretty model Paloma Moreno - it's plain to see she ain't an actress, but bless her for trying..!

Manuela Oyarzún and Paloma Moreno nude in Paseo de Oficina


Thursday, 25 April 2013

Fernanda Torres and Seu Jorge in Casa de Areia [2005 Brazil]


Andrucha Waddington is among some exciting young directors working in Brazil today, and his 2005 drama "Casa de Areia" [Eng. Title: The House of Sand], one of the most memorable Brazilian films I've seen to date. I was mesmerised yet again watching the epic saga that spans sixty years across three generations, while important events of the twentieth century pass by almost unnoticed.

The film starts in 1910, when an elderly and delusional Vasco (Ruy Guerra) arrives with young wife Áurea (Fernanda Torres), and mother-in-law Dona Maria (Fernanda Montenegro) at his newly acquired stretch of land in a remote northern corner of Brazil. Áurea, pregnant, is reluctant to live in what essentially is a sprawling desert with nothing but shifting sand dunes and distant sea in sight, and a colony of former runaway slaves as their only neighbours. Vasco's workers flee with his livestock and supplies one night, and Vasco himself dies in an accident, leaving the two women to fend for themselves in what is an unfinished hut, gradually being swallowed by encroaching sand dunes. They decide to stay put until the child is born, before taking chances in finding their way to a city.

Nine years pass, and they, and the house are still there, with an added household member in the form of young Maria - Áurea's daughter. They befriend Massu (Seu Jorge) from the slave village, and with his help try to leave the dunes through a travelling salt merchant, without much success. Áurea also befriends Luiz, a young captain escorting a scientific expedition, but that escape attempt also comes to pass. Her mother dies too, and Áurea will reluctantly accept life in the dunes to be her destiny. She will learn to love and live with Massu henceforth.

It's not until 1942 that Luiz (the captain) passes through the dunes once again, and reconnects with Áurea (now played by Fernanda Montenegro) and her all-grown-up and promiscuous Maria (played by Fernanda Torres). He agrees to take Maria along with him, while Áurea stays behind with Massu (played by Luiz Melodia).

The final timeline, and in some ways the weakest of the four in terms of credibility, happens in 1969, when Maria, now in her fifties, pays a visit to an elderly Áurea. But it also contains the most intensely philosophical interaction between mother and daughter - one that encapsulates Áurea's saga, and the meaning of life itself.

Aside from the mother-daughter actress duo - the renowned actresses Fernanda Montenegro and Fernanda Torres are mother and daughter in real life too (and also director Waddington's wife and mother-in-law respectively), the star of the film is the sand itself (set in the spectacular Lençóis Maranhenses near the equator - now a national park). Normally a cinematographer's dream location, it posed a particular challenge for Waddington from a storyline point-of-view - it cannot be made to look too touristy. The landscape has to be presented as something oppressive and monotonous, and it was achieved by bleaching the blue skies and golden sands. But there is no taking away the majesty of the scenery, captured beautifully in the cinematography despite the logistical nightmare of the film shoot itself.

There is however one other star in this film - the well crafted screenplay by Elena Soarez - it allows the film's characters to evolve - they're like the sand dunes themselves, and will reach a harmony with it as the film progresses. It is a heart-rending story that touches on love, humanity, and civilisation itself. A characteristic of epic films is latching to a cyclical theme - the characters of Dona Maria and Áurea are supplanted by Áurea and daughter Maria - in a sense one evolving into the other, and it is also physically played out, when Ms. Montenegro reappears to take on the role of a middle aged Áurea, and Ms. Torres becomes Áurea's daughter Maria - rich layers to an otherwise simple film. It is nevertheless an unforgettable gem. and Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [NTSC]
(Beware though, that this DVD has a region-1 lock on it)


The Nudity: Fernanda Torres and Seu Jorge
In a scene, Áurea, resigned to her fate, makes a pass at Massu for the very first time. It is not only passionately played out by Fernanda Torres and Seu Jorge, but well executed by the director, who also happens to be Ms. Torres' husband.

Fernanda Torres and Seu Jorge in Casa de Areia



Monday, 22 April 2013

A pilgrimage of the damned - "Ya tozhe khochu" [2012 Russia]

Two famous films came to mind watching Aleksey Balabanov's adventure drama, "Ya tozhe khochu" [Eng. Title: Me Too] - Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker, and Alejandro Jadorowsky's Fando & Lis, even if the style and visuals are closer to the former.

During an afternoon rendezvous at a Saint Petersburg sauna, ageing rock singer Oleg (Oleg Garkusha) tells his friend Sanja (Aleksandr Mosin) - a bandit, about a place where one could find 'happiness' - a place aptly named the bell-tower of happiness. They decide to drop everything and head to the holy site, and pick up a friend on their way - Yuri (Yuriy Matveev) - an alcoholic, along with his elderly father. As they leave the city, they're joined by a hitch-hiking prostitute named Alisa (Alisa Shitikova).

It will become apparent that the mythical site is located in a region that's experiencing a nuclear winter, having suffered a major catastrophe on the lines of Chernobyl. The landscape and events turn surreal from then on, until they reach the bell-tower that would transport them to a state of happiness...

Even though it could be difficult to understand what the characters were saying most of the time (especially when the DVD forgets to include subtitles), the film's irony cannot be lost on its viewers. The ingenious characterisation of these social outcasts lend credence to the notion that it is the society at large that's the more happier with these people leaving them, rather than the other way around. It is also the mystical and mythological approach of heroes having to endure extreme trials in order to achieve happiness, that's played out with a touch of irony towards the end.

A stand-out feature of the film is its outstanding cinematography - the away-from-tourist-trail images of Saint Petersburg of today, locations reminiscent of Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev and Zerkalo - but against a contrasting backdrop, and the elaborate compositions, makes this a visual treat. The director has consciously avoided mimicking Hollywood - sadly the case in many modern Russian films, and has allowed enough room for us to judge his characters with a sense of humour. Despite the language barrier, I found the film witty, engaging, and enthralling, and for that reason alone, it is Recommended Viewing..!


The Nudity: Alisa Shitikova
During a sequence, there is an astonishing instance of nudity from Alisa Shitikova traversing the countryside stark naked, knee-deep in snow, as her character tries to catch-up with fellow passengers. As far as I can fathom, this is no mean feat even for a ethnic Russian, and my deep respects go to her for completing this scene. If you thought Stallone was impressive in Cliffhanger, wait till you watch this..!

Alisa Shitikova nude in a scene from Ya tozhe khochu


Sunday, 21 April 2013

Building a strictly online relationship - "Offline" [2012 Belgium]

Flemish director Peter Monsaert appears to be yet another exciting prospect from Belgium, and if his future films also turn out to be anything like "Offline", we sure will be in for a treat.

Rudy (Wim Willaert), released from prison after serving seven years, arrives at his home-town to try and pick up the pieces of his life. But it won't be easy - his ex-wife Carine (Patricia Goemaere) is not too keen to hear from him, and Vicky (Anemone Valcke), his grown-up daughter, isn't even aware that he's still alive. Not only should Rudy try and reach out to Vicky - his only connection left in the world, but also prove to her that he's a changed man - that he deserves a second chance. For that he needs to rebuild a trust that was shattered, following a traumatic event that led to his incarceration in the first place. When he does make contact, their relationship will fail to take off, and Rudy is left with the awkward proposition of having to 'communicate' with Vicky, anonymously, online (and don't dads hate that)!

"Offline" is an example of how a simple story about complicated relationships can be eloquently told with the help of a well-crafted screenplay. It is this, along with the fine editing that makes this film an exquisite cinema experience. I'm not generally a great fan of fast edits and frantic shot selections, but on this occasion, it conveys the drama beautifully. Aided by strong performances by the main cast, the well engineered sound, and not least the music by Triggerfinger, this production oozes class. This moving, funny, and heart-warming little gem is definitely - Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Official Site and Trailer | DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Anemone Valcke, and Wim Willaert
The film features brief albeit unavoidable nudity from Wim Willaert playing Rudy, and pretty Belgian actress Anemone Valcke - she plays Rudy's daughter Vicky, saving money for her studies through a webcam site.

Anemone Valcke nude in film Offline


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Saija Lentonen in “Young Love” [2001 Finland]

The title for Arto Lehkamo's film "Young Love" suggests that it was intended as a coming-of-age romantic drama, but I suspect it is a case of wrong labelling...

Thirteen year old Jukka (Joonas Nordman) - a photography enthusiast, is struck by the looks of nineteen year old supermarket assistant Johanna (Saija Lentonen), and notices one night that she's also a neighbour. He takes pictures of her in the nude and clumsily leaves prints in the school's dark room, only for classmates to pass them around, and eventually to Johanna as well. Furious, she barges into Jukka's flat to tell him off, but will agree to pose for him, so that he could promote her as the next supermodel. Jukka also strikes a relationship with his photography teacher Martti (Pekka Lukka) in order to learn more, but the fact that Martti is a homosexual sets rumour mills rolling, and Jukka will in due course realise that Johanna fancies someone older than him.

I'll restrict my critique to a few words as you all know how much I hate making negative comments - this is a film that should have been scripted, directed, and edited differently. For a start, we don't see anything remotely romantic between Jukka and Johanna. Instead of the 'love' angle, the direction and the screenplay should have focused on Jukka's coming-of-age, learning the ways of the world - adapting or rejecting it. Some important elements (like Martti's illness) are astonishingly skimmed-past, and despite there being enough ingredients for a good drama, the young protagonist comes through as someone not that curious about most things, largely due to the wayward direction and editing. Perhaps the same raw footage could yet be edited into something more purposeful, and even given a worthier title..! DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Saija Lentonen
Two scenes in the film feature nudity from Saija Lentonen; when Johanna admires herself in front of the mirror, and later while posing for Jukka's photographs.

Saija Lentonen in Young Love


Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Revisiting Agnès Varda's "Cléo de 5 à 7" [1962 France]

The French New Wave will be incomplete without the redoubtable Agnès Varda - in fact, critics even credit her earlier works as the forerunner of the Nouvelle Vague. Whatever the case, Varda's magnificent 1962 masterpiece "Cléo de 5 à 7" [Eng. Title: Cleo from 5 to 7] is certainly one of the highlights of the venerable film movement.

Agnès Varda, in brief:
A photojournalist-turned-film maker, young Agnés Varda progressed into cinema while helping out a friend. Having watched fewer films than her contemporaries, she started making films in her own natural way without the influence of past masters, and her refreshing approach won instant admirers. Despite the fact that her début feature, "La Pointe-Courte" is widely regarded as the first 'proper' French New Wave film, her filmography has curiously been the most overlooked among her peers (one that the future will hopefully remedy). Her films have also not been widely released on DVD.
Varda's journalistic eye is amply evident in all her film compositions - it is as if her camera probes for that extra bit of information not visible to the naked eye. She is someone who won't be in any hurry to stop the camera rolling during a shoot - distinctly aware of the fact that some moments are simply magical, and can never be recalled even by the most seasoned of actors. It is this extra dimension of observation, whilst retaining a playful fascination with her subject, that separates her from her contemporaries, and combined with the manner in which she de-constructs these images for use, she succeeds in keeping her films simple, and yet, thought provoking.
I haven't been able to find that much reading material in the net on Varda at the time of posting, but recommend this book for those interested in further reading.
[Amazon Book Link] - Agnes Varda, by Alison Smith


Cléo de 5 à 7:
The film follows two hours in the life of Florence aka Cléo (Corrine Marchand) - an up and coming pop singer, walking through the streets of Paris whilst awaiting results for a medical test that might reveal a potentially life-threatening illness. The tarot cards drawn at the beginning of the film will act as the storyboard for events that'll follow. Cléo is young, pretty, and thanks to her privileged upbringing - belongs to that exclusive club in society where even the traffic will slow down to enable her cross the road.

For the best part of the film, we observe Cléo through reflections - from mirrors, and people's reactions on seeing her. The image we register is that of a typically self-centred diva who has an all-encompassing need to look her part. "Wait pretty butterfly, ugliness is a kind of death", she'll tells herself, while pausing to look at the mirror before stepping back into the street. She remains a diva until she starts shedding her layers of carefully constructed veneer during the later part of the film - out will come her wig, her sunglasses, and her hat, as if stripping herself back to her 'natural' form.

She's still just as beautiful as before, like her friend Dorothée (Dorothée Blanck) - posing in the nude for a sculpture class, but now the beauty is accompanied by a poise not seen earlier. The final transformation takes place when Cléo meets an engaging stranger in the park (Antoine Bourseiller) - a soldier who will be leaving to Algeria the following day...


This existential journey by Cléo in the two hours (actually one and a half - the length of the film) of a summer afternoon marks a high-point in the Nouvelle Vague, and will often be referenced as a feminist statement (even if I fail to see the connection). But I find it insightful nevertheless, and more importantly, utterly charming (notwithstanding Cléo's genuine anguish viz. her well-being) in the manner in which Varda whimsically deals with a serious subject. It is a film classic whichever way you look at it, and therefore, Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon 4-DVD Criterion Collection [NTSC]
This is definitely my recommended box-set. The Criterion DVD for Cleo from 5 to 7 alone features 2 shorts - Les fiancés du pont Mac Donald featuring Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina, and L'opéra-mouffe, and a candid interview with Agnés Varda along with the main cast (shot in 2005).


L'opéra-mouffe [Diary of a Pregnant Woman, 1958]
The beautiful short film featuring a young Dorothée Blanck was made when Ms. Varda was pregnant. It's a surrealistic montage created with documentary footage and sketches relating to the circle of love, pregnancy, children growing up, and old age. Ms. Varda mentions that the film was borne out of her concern for the homeless people living in that quarter of Paris. Bold for its day, it is also a memorable time capsule of late 50's Paris.


The Nudity: Dorothée Blanck
Credited as Dorothée Blank, the beautiful actress appears nude as Cléo's friend Dorothée during a modelling session in "Cléo de 5 à 7", and also in the short film "L'opéra-mouffe" made earlier in 1958.

Dorothée Blanck nude in Cléo de 5 à 7 and L'opéra-mouffe


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Scenes from “Das Flüstern des Mondes” [2006 Austria]

Austrian director Michael Satzinger has attempted a genre-bending gay-themed mystery-romance with his "Das Flüstern des Mondes" [Eng. Title: Whispering Moon]. And he pretty much pulls it off!

The complex storyline involves a heady romance between two young men - Jannis (Julian Stampfer) and Patrick (Dominic Hartel, credited as Dominic Hartl), trying to solve the bizarre serial murder of local politicians. Patrick - mute after a childhood trauma, tries to upstage his mother (Liane Wagner) - an investigative journalist, as revenge for causing the suicide of his father, or so he believes. The murder weapon is apparently an exotic Amazonian toad, kept by the owner of a travelling circus. Patrick is equipped with a secret camera as he joins the circus as a help, hoping to record any incriminating evidence. This will lead to an unexpected distraction for Jannis, as he'll have to contend with a potential love-rival in the form of Mo (Julia Shwarz). Events take an expected turn, and lovelorn Jannis will have to face the consequences. But then again, all is not what it seems in this charming little charade...

The film is quite playful in that the plot never follows a straight trajectory - extraordinary twists are inserted into proceedings to heartily parody an Italian Giallo. It's a film of tricks, mirrors, and cheeky mouse-clicks that unexpectedly make an appearance to de-construct the narrative. The circus environment also gives Satzinger a perfect excuse to introduce eccentric characters into the film, which he uses to good effect. Granted - this film doesn't represent the cutting-edge of special effects (and rightly so, as that would otherwise be inappropriate), and it doesn't contain the most convincing of performances either (that'll again not be appropriate for the film) - these imperfections actually add to its unique advantage. It's a quirky film, made with minimal budget, and a degree of wit. The Amazon PAL link below should, by all likelihood, be superior to my unfortunate NTSC letter-boxed edition. Either way, those who like Roland Reber's films will certainly enjoy this quaint little oddity - Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Dominik Hartel, Julian Stampfer, and Julia Schwarz
Two lengthy scenes in the film feature uninhibited nudity; the first is a love scene when Patrick finally relents to Jannis' persuasion. The second is when Mo, while sharing a shower cubicle with Patrick, learns that he isn't strictly gay after all. She also discovers that someone had locked them from the outside and stolen their clothes. Mo begins to panic because it will be daylight soon, and she has a peculiar ailment that makes her allergic to sunlight.

Dominik Hartl, Julian Stampfer, and Julia Schwarz in Das Flüstern des Mondes



Thursday, 11 April 2013

Never too late to rebuild a family - "Pogoda na jutro" [2003 Poland]

Jerzy Stuhr directs and also plays the lead in the mainstream Polish comedy, "Pogoda na jutro" [Eng. Title: Tomorrow's Weather].

Peace and happiness as Jozef has known for seventeen years comes to an end when he's chucked out of the seminary he'd been interned in. He's found to still have a wife and children - and must now re-enter society to fulfil his familial duties. He is collected by wife Renata (Malgorzata Zajaczkowska), whose initial confrontation with the head priest had led to the discovery of Jozef's 'secret' family. She offers to house him for a while out of pity rather than love - she's after all living with a rich boyfriend now. Jozef understands that it would have been unreasonable to expect Renata to keep waiting for him while there were mouths to be fed. The three children have grown into young adults now - son Marcin (Maciej Stuhr) is the cynical campaign manager for a crooked politician, Kinga (Roma Gasiorowska) is rudderless - hanging around with a drug-pushing boyfriend, and Ola (Barbara Kaluzna) - the only one who truly missed dad after he left home, is now starring in a reality show where she lives and does everything else, including having sex with a lucky suitor from a transparent room and in public view, which is also telecast live on television. This is as dysfunctional as families could get, and Jozef finds it hard to stand by and let the family go potty...

It is an entertaining, adequately performed, and well produced comedy that will please most audiences. It is a mild mannered satire on the changing face of Poland since the fall of communism - while many things may have changed, some attitudes apparently remain the same, and the film is Jerzy Stuhr's way of gently poking fun at his fellow countrymen. Recommended Viewing..!

ebay DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Barbara Kaluzna
There are two scenes where Barbara Kaluzna appears nude, and in public too - playing Ola aka 'Klaudia' who performs in a reality show. Jozef had been advised not to go and see her at work, but he couldn't ignore what his daughter does, and gets into the set along with the ogling audience. His discomfort is understandable, as he could do nothing while the crowd cast aspersions on Ola's character...

Barbara Kaluzna nude in Pogoda na jutro


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Scenes from El Guachiman [2011 Peru]

It is not often that we get to review films like this, but since Gastón Vizcarra's low-brow comedy "El Guachimán" [The Watchman] isn't particularly making waves anywhere else, it is perhaps reason enough to find out why.

Alejandrino Falopio (Guillermo Castañeda) - not the sharpest tool in the shed, lands himself a job as a guard for a security firm, but that isn't good enough to impress Laurita (Stephanie Orúe) - the girl he's crazy about, and she'd started looking around for someone who could better provide for her needs. Desperate to make money, fast, 'Falopio' makes off with one of the money bags during a collection-round, sparking a city-wide manhunt and frenzied TV reportage where he's seen by locals as a hero. After Laurita spurns him yet again, he decides to spend the cash on a new set of wheels, expensive hotel suites, and prostitutes. One of them - Sol (Anahí de Cárdenas), discovers his identity and takes him to the cleaners after promising him a good time. The police catch up with him, and Sol along with the cash, but will notice some of the loot still missing...

I think the producers, probably rightly, felt a rags-to-riches plot with a few scantily clad 'chicas' and stale gags would be enough to woo a DVD-audience brought up on a diet of cheesy Hollywood trash-comedies. The stereotyping is so outrageous that no one but the deluded is likely to take it seriously - this is after all the kind of film that people won't openly admit to watching, much less enjoying. Intended for those who secretly enjoyed a Harold and Kumar or an American Pie. DVD Link [NTSC]


The Nudity: Shirley Arica, Anahí de Cárdenas, and Génesis Tapia
Three scenes chronicling Falopio's whore-soliciting escapades contain some unimaginative nudity; the first of these feature Peruvian model Shirley Arica as Laurita (not to be confused with the namesake he was in love with). The second is funny in that Sol (Anahí de Cárdenas) admonishes him for looking at her while having sex. The third is an interrupted session with Génesis Tapia.

Shirley Arica, Anahí de Cárdenas, and Génesis Tapia in El Guachimán


Sunday, 7 April 2013

A Castellitto-family epic about motherhood - Venuto al mondo [2012 Italy, Spain]

Sergio Castellitto is among the few actors who've made a name for themselves as a film director. His latest drama, "Venuto al mondo" [Eng. Title: Twice Born], like the earlier Non ti mouvere, is yet another family project. Based on wife Margaret Mazzantini's novel and screenplay, and also starring his son Pietro, Castellitto and family have constructed a magnificent epic set against the backdrop of the Balkan conflict.

Gemma (Penélope Cruz), a middle-aged Italian woman takes her son Pietro (Pietro Castellitto) to Sarajevo, after being invited by old friend Gojco (Adnan Haskovic) for a photographic exhibition that will also feature Pietro's natural father, the American Diego's (Emile Hirsch) works. This is not Gemma's first visit to Sarajevo; her story, and Pietro's - unbeknown to him, share a deep connection with some of the momentous events in the Bosnian city's history, which we'll learn during the course of their journey.

Gemma first met Diego, a friend of Gojco, at a bohemian commune in Sarajevo during the late eighties, and instantly fell in love - just weeks before her marriage to someone else back in Rome. Predictably, that marriage won't last, and it is only a matter of time before the lovers unite and get married. But events in the early nineties will draw Diego and Gemma back to Sarajevo, where demands for secession from Yugoslavia grow louder by the day. It is during that visit that they meet Aska (Saadet Aksoy), a Muslim musician who comes forward to do the couple a personal favour - Gemma has after all not been able to deliver a child after several unsuccessful attempts...

It is during the second half that the film 'bursts into life'. We will witness the birth pangs of a nation, and Pietro's birth, amidst the carnage that ensues the siege of Sarajevo - quite poetic that a wannabe mother makes this extraordinary effort to bring a new life into the world, while many around her lose theirs.  The Italians are pretty good at these kind of epic sagas, as films such as Bertolucci's Il Conformista and Giordana's La meglio gioventù would testify. Sergio Castellitto has proven once again that he knows how to tell a story through compelling cinema. Using a global cast, he narrates the film using his characters' own natural languages - Italian, English, and Bosnian, and while it may require some getting used to, it is adequately compensated for through exquisite screenplay. The performance by the main cast is of high standard, but I was particularly impressed by Bosnian actor Adnan Haskovic who plays Gojco. This is a well made mainstream film that all in the family should be able to enjoy - Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Penélope Cruz, Emile Hirsch, and Saadet Aksoy
The film features brief nudity from Penélope Cruz - first during a sex scene with Emile Hirsch (also nude), and later while vainly trying to breastfeed the baby. There is nudity also from Turkish actress Saadet Aksoy that'll culminate in a disturbing rape scene.

Penélope Cruz, Emile Hirsch, and Saadet Aksoy in Venuto al mondo


Friday, 5 April 2013

Learning to love imperfect films “L’amore è imperfetto” [2012 Italy]

Francesca Muci's début feature, the ironically named romantic drama "L'amore è imperfetto" [Eng. Title: Love is Imperfect], is a classic case of someone trying hard to make a perfect film. Reason dictates that there never was, and there will never be one; it is in its imperfection that lies the charm. It's the spectacularly convoluted plot however that's the leading reason for this film's 'imperfection'.

It is the story of Elena (Anna Foglietta), told through two timelines - seven years apart. Younger Elena - a proofreader, meets younger Marco (Giulio Berruti) - a model photographer, and falls in love. Marco wants to have a child, but it's only after Elena becomes pregnant that she discovers that Marco actually prefers men. They end their relationship, and Elena moves out after leaving the baby in Marco's care. Elena, thirty five now, meets a much older music producer Ettore (Bruno Wolkowitch) under freak circumstances and falls in love. Meanwhile, a carefree bisexual eighteen year old Adriana (Lorena Cacciatore) also bumps into (the older) Elena and cajoles her into a lesbian fling. There's also a less explored parallel story happening of Elena's friend and flatmate Roberta approaching menopause, and going after much younger men. Meanwhile, as if things weren't complicated enough, Elena ties herself in emotional knots further by revisiting her past, and the daughter she'd completely lost contact with...

The problem with this film is that in trying to be different and yet remain mainstream, it is alienating both the audiences. For starters, having affairs with different sexes simultaneously is a subject rarely seen in Italian cinema - it's the French who love that kind of stuff, let alone placing the film's characters in small-town Bari. Ms. Muci inserts implausible circumstances into the narrative to help explain Elena's existential ethic that's at times devoid of moral value, but pushes her back into becoming a traditional role-model for women later in the film - as spouse and mother.

If one can discount the story (if only), the direction and editing is actually pretty decent, and the film also has the requisite technical merits. The cinematography is good, as is the soundtrack, and the performances are professional. Playing the role of a passively adventurous protagonist, Ms. Foglietta comes across as a seriously talented actress. And coupled with her magnetism and natural good looks, one can hope to see her take on more challenging works in future. One also hopes this was a valuable finding-your-feet exercise for Ms. Muci as a writer, directorial skills notwithstanding. DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Anna Foglietta, Giulio Berruti, and Lorena Cacciatore
The film features nudity on several occasions, and at least one of the sex scenes is positively raunchy - the one featuring Anna Foglietta and Lorena Cacciatore.

Anna Foglietta, Giulio Berruti, and Lorena Cacciatore in L'amore è imperfetto


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Celebrating Balkan spunk in "Zivot je cudo" [2004 Serbia, France]

Emir Kusturica revisits his favourite time and space - the Yugoslavian conflict, in his inimitable style of course, through the romantic comedy "Zivot je cudo" [Eng. Title: Life is a Miracle].

It's the summer of 1992. Luka (Slavko Stimac) is a happy man after he's put in charge of his pet project - rebuilding a pre world-war mountain railway that'll pass through his village, hopefully bringing in tourist traffic from Belgrade and beyond. He loves wife Jadranka (played well by Vesna Trivalic) dearly enough to allow her to walk all over him as she pleases. He's also greatly fond of his footballer-son Milos (Vuk Kostic) who's about to be signed-up by a major league. All's well in the idyllic vale until fault-lines of war crack across his village, stopping in its tracks the launch of his scenic railway. Until then, he never quite gave a thought to the fact that he was a Serb, and that his village was perched between a region that's predominantly Serb-Christian on one side, and Bosnian-Muslim on the other. And despite the approaching sound of guns and the bombing, Luka refuses to acknowledge that there is a war under way, and that pretty soon his village will also be in the firing line. His wife doesn't - she nonchalantly elopes with a visiting foreigner, and neither does his son - after being conscripted into the National Army.

The son is taken prisoner by the Bosnians, and in a desperate bid to obtain his release, his colleagues kidnap Sabaha (Natasa Tapuskovic, credited as Natasa Solak) - a young Bosnian nurse, for a potential prisoner-swap, and force Luka to hold her hostage in his house. Luka couldn't keep her chained up, and before long they fall head-over-heels in love. Their romance will head for rough waters when Luka's wife Jadranka returns to stake her claim, having gone tired of her foreign lover. But Luka refuses to let go of Sabaha, even when events on the ground will pull them apart after UN peacekeepers arrive. Will Luka now resume his once tranquil existence, or go seeking the love of his life in the newly formed Bosnia - only time will tell...

The film is apparently an abridged version of a television series, but having seen only the film, I'm satisfied that it is complete as it stands and there is no need to compare it with other earlier versions. However, I couldn't help comparing it with some of Kusturica's earlier work, notably the brilliant Underground, and Black Cat - White Cat, also made earlier - mostly because of the backdrop of the Balkan war against which they're set. The emphasis on each of the films are different, but there are some noticeable overlaps among the three. This film is nevertheless sunnier, beautifully filmed, and the breathtaking locations are as much the star as the protagonists.

Kasturica has made a conscious effort to project the film as a comedy, as evidenced by scenes of hyperbolic Fellini-style humour and slapstick featured throughout. There are touches of symbolism too, particularly in the use of animals - for instance through the frequently bickering cat and dog of Luka's household (comparable to the Serb-Bosnian conflict, or differences among Serbs themselves), and the lovesick 'suicidal' donkey - also used as a metaphor for destiny, or even wishful thinking. However, this film isn't Kusturica's finest - it is a much simpler film when compared to Underground in terms of depth and calibrated nuance, and is specifically targeted at a mainstream audience with a feel-good craving. The film's tone isn't dissimilar to that of a Roberto Benigni, and for those who enjoyed La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful), this would be Recommended Viewing. DVD Link [PAL]
English Subtitle


The Nudity: Natasa Solak (Natasa Tapuskovic)
The building sexual tension between Luka and Sabaha spills over three quarters into the film, in the form of an exuberant lovemaking scene, followed by some autumnal skinny-dipping. The build-up to the love scene is interesting in that, after an argument, Sabaha will catch up with Luka at his hideout using clues left in the form of discarded clothing. Women obviously love this kind of stuff. :)

Natasa Tapuskovic in Zivot je cudo