Thursday, 29 May 2014

A review: "Mikra Anglia" [2013 Greece]

A scene from Mikra Anglia Andreas Constantinou and Pinelopi Tsilika in Mikra Anglia
Pinelopi Tsilika and Maximos Moumouris in Mikra Anglia Sofia Kokkali and Pinelopi Tsilika in Mikra Anglia

Pantelis Voulgaris, a highly respected director in present day Greek cinema, scripts a modern version of a Greek tragedy with his romantic epic "Mikra Anglia" [Eng. Title: Little England].

Set from 1930 onwards - not exactly contemporary, but modern all the same - it retells a love affair between a girl and a sailor in a Greek island nicknamed 'Little England', and follows their trials and fortunes amidst momentous changes taking place around them and in the wider world.

Spyros (Andreas Constantinou) is second mate in a merchant ship, passionate about the sea, and ambitious enough to dream of becoming a captain one day. After the sea, the one that he apparently hold dear is twenty year old Orsa (Pinelopi Tsilika), eldest daughter of an equally ambitious matriarch named Mina (Aneza Papadopoulou).

During one of Spyros' voyages, when his uncle (Christos Kalavrouzos) asks Mina for the hand of her daughter in marriage to his nephew, she rejects the offer, telling him that she'd already accepted an offer from Nikos (Maximos Moumouris), a ship captain. Despite her knowledge of the couple's feelings for each other, Mina had, in her perceived wisdom, decided to break the pairing so that her daughter might not have to suffer his potential philandering in future, like her own sailor-husband who'd been running a parallel family in Argentina all these years.

An anguished Orsa nevertheless resigns to her fate and follows her mother's wishes. Returning from hospital after delivering her first child, Orsa is shocked to discover that Spyros, now a captain in his own right, had asked for the hand of her sister Moscha (Sofia Kokkali) and is soon to get married. The two couples will end up living under the same roof, and an unhappy Orsa, often alone during Nikos' frequent trips, will have to put up with the nightly sounds of lovemaking from upstairs between Spyros and Moscha. And using her physical contact with Moscha, who is completely unaware of her husband's earlier love affair, Orsa will seek intimacy through proxy, with the person she'd been denied through marriage...

The film follows their fate well past Moscha's discovery of Orsa's affair and the second world war, and the way the two sisters finally reconcile with each other. It is a moving drama made on an epic scale, also touching on topics that Voulgaris had already delved into on an earlier occasion (Nyfes, 2004). The cinematography is breathtaking and the art direction captures all the relevant details from the period. At two and a half hours, the film carries an epic dimension and interestingly, instead of adopting an operatic tone, Voulgaris concerns himself with the way in which the protagonists deal with the aftermath rather than focusing that much on the tragedy itself. The end result is an absorbing and passionate romantic drama with a non-operatic narrative, that is also straightforward to follow. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon Blu-ray Link


The Nudity: Sofia Kokkali and Pinelopi Tsilika
Two brief scenes feature topless nudity - the first is when Orsa massages Moscha after she takes a dip in cold sea waters. The second instance happens towards the end of the film, when Orsa recounts a secret rendezvous with Spyros, post their marriage.

Sofia Kokkali and Pinelopi Tsilika nude in Mikra Anglia aka Little England



Friday, 23 May 2014

A film review: "Crime Delicado" [Beto Brant, 2005 Brazil]

Beto Brant, whose films hitherto were mainly crime thrillers (including the very exceptional O Invasor), breaks genre and ventures into the unknown with his fragmented and stylistic exploration of love, sex, and art, through the drama "Crime Delicado" [Eng. Title: Delicate Crime].

Marco Ricca in Crime Delicado Marco Ricca and Lilian Taublib in Crime Delicado
Lilian Taublib in Crime Delicado Lilian Taublib in Crime Delicado

Antonio (Marco Ricca] is a respected theatre critic - something of a celebrity in his own right, and renowned for his pithy, uncompromising observations on the plays that he reviews. He lives on his own, and can often be seen in a nearby restaurant during mealtimes.

It is on one of these occasions that Antonio notices Inês, a twenty-something woman casting glances at him from across the room. He joins her and they get chatting. Soon, he's with her in her apartment, trying to figure out what to do next, for he's only been made aware that she's an amputee after she gets up to leave with him.

The awkward encounter however kept playing in Antonio's mind, and before long, he becomes obsessed with her - her fragility, and her imperfect beauty. He also becomes jealous when he finds out that she's a nude model for a middle-aged painter, lives in his apartment, and possibly also has a strong sexual relationship with him. This will lead Antonio into dangerous territory, that will culminate in an accusation for rape, after he invites himself into her apartment late one night.

The courtroom testimonies, shot in black and white, are interspersed with other back events that paint the picture of an Antonio who's plainly clueless about real women and love in practice, despite his grasp of these subjects when seen in arts. The back-stories will also depict the making of an erotic painting, with the painter José (played by Felipe Ehrenberg, a painter in real-life) working intimately in the nude with his model Inês (played by Lilian Taublib, an amputee herself).

José's impassioned defence of his artwork will triangulate a connection between art, sex, and love - themes that director Brant had wanted to explore. In addition, the film features snippets from plays that Antonio reviews, whose segments were selected to further its theme. But on at least three occasions, the film also takes on a poetic tone, including the final scene where we see Inês in an art gallery with José's artworks on display.

The film makes a case that we humans can be just as obsessed with imperfection, as we might with perfection - that obsession is indiscriminate, and doesn't follow logic, whether the object we're obsessed with is captivating or banal. Inês may seem banal to some, but she discovers her specialness through the artist's eyes, whose vision and craftsmanship is heightened in return, through the bond that they create.

While the scene of the painting-creation may remind viewers of Rivette's La Belle Noiseuse, their context and subtext are entirely different - one is striving to find beauty and sensuality, while the other is trying to strip away the veneer. The film nevertheless fabulously explores its theme without inhibition - the actors too collaborate in the endeavour wholeheartedly, and is therefore Highly Recommended Viewing..!

  • The film also features Cláudio Assis - another contemporary Brazilian director, in a memorable scene where he appears as a drunkard
  • The film's cinematography is by Assis-regular, Walter Carvalho - it's heartening to see that these brilliant mavericks do like working with one another
DVD Purchase Link [NTSC]


The Nudity: Lilian Taublib, Felipe Ehrenberg, and Maria Manoella
There are two scenes featuring nudity - the first is from Maria Manoella who plays stage actress Maria Luiza, seemingly grovelling to Antonio for a favourable review, only for her to judge him in kind later. The second, longer scene features a bold and uninhibited Lilian Taublib and Felipe Ehrenberg working on the painting, in a rare instance of an amputee actress appearing completely in the nude for film.

Lilian Taublib, Felipe Ehrenberg, and Maria Manoella nude in Beto Brant's Crime Delicado


Sunday, 18 May 2014

A film review: "Otel-lo" [2012 Spain]

A scene from Otel-lo A scene from Otel-lo

Catalan writer-director Hammudi Al-Rahmoun Font makes his feature film début with "Otel-lo", an interpretation of one of Shakespeare's famous tragedies (Othello). The film might have been made with a ridiculously minuscule budget, but it hardly mattered. It manages to vividly bring to life the necessary drama regardless, one that even the Bard might have approved of.

Shakespeare's works have been adapted and reinterpreted all over the world in almost every sphere of human discourse, thanks to their universal appeal - if you strip away the medieval trappings against which the plays were set and examine their essence, that is perhaps as perceptive an observation of raw and universal human nature as one might find. Othello has remained a popular subject in cinema for this very reason. It might have been made a number of times, but this simple film by a 'rookie' director nevertheless still surprises us with a unique take.

It begins with a film director (played by Mr. Al-Rahmoun Font himself) conducting casting sessions for his forthcoming adaptation of Othello. We see on the chair Youcef (Youcef Allaoui) - a Moroccan Spaniard, and later Ann (Ann M. Perelló) - a born-and-bred Spanish woman, answering to camera some of the director's intimate questions. We learn that they both have their respective partners that they're until now loyal to, and also happy living with. They, who've never acted in film before, are to play Othello and Desdèmona respectively.

While they struggle to strike the on-screen sexual chemistry required for portraying a newly married couple (Othello and Desdèmona), Ann finds it surprisingly easier to get along with the actor playing Othello's Lieutenant Cássio (Keke Fernandez) - the character with whom Desdèmona will later be accused of having an illicit affair in the play. Their affinity doesn't go unnoticed by Youcef, watching with unease from sidelines as the two pillow-fight, giggle, and begin to flirt with each other on the set.

In other words, and using a Shakespearean reference, the green-eyed monster of jealousy had just been awoken for Youcef. And this is exactly what the director, aptly named Iago (the play's antagonist and Othello's ensign who sows the seed of mistrust in his master using lies and deceit), had wanted from his actors. He orchestrates proceedings henceforth to let his actors' passions inflame even further and run riot in order to capture the drama that he needs, with scant regard for their psychological trauma.

The film forcefully presents its argument against some questionable ethics in cinema, known to have also been practised by some of the greatest film directors, and ponders the extent to which a director can manipulate or exploit his actors in order to get their desired result. Shot with hand-held camera movements like in an undercover documentary, and with minimal lighting, the film, whilst recreating a claustrophobic atmosphere, was designed to give viewers the feeling that they're watching the film-shooting in person, and at close quarters.

As a result, the viewer could barely pause or look elsewhere - the director, exploiting an innate penchant for voyeurism among us, had successfully hooked us in from the very beginning, by having us listen to the characters' intimate goings-on and private conversations. The performance, particularly by Ann M. Perelló, is convincing and there are occasions when she makes the film her own.

But what stands out is the style with which it was made - you could call it a workshop or masterclass even - on directing, or at the very least, in handling a cast, and getting the most from them. I haven't seen footage of a Stanley Kubrick directing, but from what I'd read about him, it mustn't have been that dissimilar to this. Catalan art has often been known for its quirks, with a totally unique take on everything under the sun, and this film happily reinforces that stereotype. Highly Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Ann M. Perelló and Kike Fernandez
Pivotal to the drama is a sex scene, purportedly imagined by a jealous Othello, of a sexual affair between wife Desdèmona and his Lieutenant Cáccio - Iago succeds in coaxing a shy and hesitant Ann to participate in a sex scene that will also feature her in the nude.

Ann M. Perelló and Kike Fernandez nude in Otel-lo


Sunday, 11 May 2014

A film review: "Illusion" [2013 Germany]

Roland Reber, no stranger to controversy with his persistent recourse to eroticism, continues his exploration of human behaviour and their secret desires through his latest drama "Illusion".

A scene from Roland Reber's Illusion Carolina Hoffmann in Roland Reber's Illusion
Roland Reber and Carolina Hoffmann in the film Illusion Marina Anna Eich and Antje Nikola Mönning in Roland Reber's Illusion

The film incorporates several of Reber's pet themes like lust, nymphomania, greed, and entitlement, that lay lurking behind people's respectable façades. The illusion they represent, and delusions that they harbour, are at the centre of the film's concerns. But it also acknowledges people's justification for the illusions that they create about themselves, before making a concerted argument against them.

Three conventional couples and two singletons are taken from their surroundings and placed inside a bar - to mingle, interact, and fantasise. The premise is vaguely reminiscent of Luis Buñuel's 'The Exterminating Angel' in the way the director places his 'subjects' in a glass cage of their own making and observes them with amusement as they suffocate. The difference here however is the film's quasi-prophetic tone, and the fact that one amongst the eight bar-guests is also doing the observing.

He captures images of guests with a mobile phone, ostensibly for his Facebook page - he, who himself lives in an illusionary world of 'friends' and 'likes', is also the most detached among the lot. The bar itself is intended as a metaphor, as a halfway place where mask-wearing illusionists are given a reality-check, just as the social networking site also represents imaginary social mobility. It's plain to see that the couples have turned up at the bar looking for some excitement in their otherwise dull lives, but when they find it, they simply couldn't enjoy it as much...

Appreciating Illusion, and director Reber who also plays God in the film, requires a disassociation from conventional narrative - while events take place linearly, individual fantasies and visual metaphors are also inserted in between, and it will not always be apparent as to whose fantasies they represent. As in his other films, the comedy drama liberally quotes from the Bible whilst simultaneously indulging in the erotic.

Apart from the usual cast who double-up as crew (or vice-versa in some cases), the film also introduces a new member of the WTP stable, cast in a stellar role - the fresh-faced, young, and a rather cute Carolina Hoffmann. Multi-faceted Antje Nikola Mönning, apart from playing a bored housewife with wanton desires, is the film's music director, and whilst she shares production duties with Patricia Koch, Marina Anna Eich, and Roland Reber, is also credited as the assistant director. The film, as it stands, might have its little foibles - its overindulgence on special effects and a fixation with gaudy lighting being just two of them, but it is an altogether well rounded and presented feature along the lines of The Dark Side of Our Inner Space, with the exuberance of 24/7 The Passion of Life. It is Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL] | Blu-ray Link | Official Trailer and Website


The Nudity: Marina Anna Eich, Antje Nikola Mönning, Carolina Hoffmann, Wolfgang Seidenberg, and others
The film contains intermittent nudity and sex - some explicit. A heady scene in particular, features a restrained Antje Nikola Mönning being groped and fingered by masked men who later form a queue to take turns with her character. Marina Anna Eich briefly appears nude in a couple of scenes - she plays a married woman with lesbian feelings, and newest member Carolina Hoffmann also appears nude in a number of scenes.

Marina Anna Eich, Antje Nikola Mönning, Carolina Hoffmann, Wolfgang Seidenberg, and others nude in Illusion


Thursday, 8 May 2014

A brief review: "Marina" [2013 Belgium, Italy]

Stijn Coninx's biographical film "Marina" is about the early life of Rocco Granata, an Italian born Belgian immigrant who'd later become a pop-sensation in his country and beyond. The title refers to his first hit single by the same name.

Cristiaan Campagna with Donatella Finocchiaro and Luigi Lo Cascio from the film "Marina"! Cristiaan Campagna and Marte Bosmans from the film "Marina"
Cristiaan Campagna from the film "Marina" Evelien Bosmans and Matteo Simoni in the film "Marina"
Matteo Simoni in Marina

The film begins in the late forties with Rocco's father Salvatore (Luigi Lo Cascio), a blacksmith by trade, leaving family behind to work the coal mines in Belgium. A year later, missing his kids and worried if his wife Ida (Donatella Finocchiaro) might be having an affair, Salvatore asks his family to join him. When they arrive, Ida could hardly conceal her disappointment after seeing the ramshackle tenement they'll be living in.

Growing up in a Belgian industrial town, young Rocco (Cristiaan Campagna, Matteo Simoni) realises that he will always be seen by locals as someone different, a foreigner who does not belong there, and the local greengrocer isn't any exception, whose blonde daughter he'd already begun to fancy.

Rocco also has a passion for music, and spends most of his spare time practising with his accordion. Rocco's father - he had to sacrifice his own musical ambitions in order to feed his family, urges him to pursue music only as a hobby.

The grocer's daughter Helena (Evelien Bosmans), upon whom Rocco has had a crush since childhood, had now grown into an attractive young lady, and during a conversation urges him to participate in a talent show.

Success in the show will help him form a travelling band, with which he'll perform in clubs and various events until he gets 'discovered' by a music producer. His first album will soon top the charts in Belgium, several European countries, and later America, launching him into a long and successful career in music.

As mainstream films go, this is not a bad one at all, and it contains some decent production values too - the mainly Italian cast give a fine account of themselves. A good chunk of the film is particularly focused on the xenophobia and discrimination prevalent in Belgium at the time, which while no different from any other part of the world during the fifties, will nevertheless remind audiences of modern day parallels when it comes to immigration and integration. Recommended Viewing..!


The Nudity: Evelien Bosmans and Matteo Simoni
There's brief nudity during a single scene between the characters played by Evelien Bosmans (Helena) and Matteo Simoni (Rocco). They make out on top of a barge after getting their clothes wet during a frolic. They're interrupted by Rocco's musician-pal who'd come to pick him up for their first studio recording. Helena is momentarily left standing naked on top of the barge after Rocco runs off to join his friend.

Evelien Bosmans and Matteo Simoni nude in Marina


Friday, 2 May 2014

A film review: "SM-rechter" [2009 Belgium]

For his directorial feature-length film début, Erik Lamens had chosen a sensational court case from late nineties' Belgium as his subject. "SM-rechter" [Eng. Title: SM-Judge, Ger. Title: SM Richter] dramatises the story of a sitting judge who was convicted of assault and battery, for having a BDSM relationship with his wife of twenty five years.

Not only did the case shed unwelcome light upon sex lives of people in high places, it also exposed some of the inherent flaws in the way criminal law can be interpreted, but more importantly, it shook the very foundations upon which civil liberties and individual freedoms are based, after the system objected to a consenting couple choosing to live differently within the confines of their own privacy. The film unapologetically narrates the story from the couple's point of view.

Gene Bervoets in "SM-Rechter" Veerle Dobbelaere in "SM-Rechter"
Gene Bervoets and Peter de Graef in "SM-Rechter" Gene Bervoets and Veerle Dobbelaere in "SM-Rechter"

Koen (Gene Bervoets), a widely respected and admired judge, will have to come to terms with the fact that Magda (Veerle Dobbelaere), his wife of fifteen years, had been diagnosed as suffering from depression, when six months after loosing her job, she has a nervous breakdown in front of friends and family during a party.

When the couple come close to separating, a desperate Koen persuades Magda to open up and explain the reason for her desire to leave, and discovers to his dismay that Magda had been harbouring secret fantasies involving S&M for over thirty years. Out of love for his wife, and in a bid to preserve his marriage and family, Koen acquiesces to her wish to be dominated and subjected to pain.

With a daughter entering a precocious age, and finding it difficult to live out Magda's desires at home, the couple start visiting a S&M parlour to fulfil their needs. Magda begins to enjoy life once again - she could finally be herself and not feel ashamed about it, and Koen, while still unable to comprehend why anyone would want to have pain inflicted upon them, nevertheless goes along with her wishes, even when he's aware of potential consequences to his career if word of their lifestyle were to get out.

When authorities investigating a known criminal unexpectedly stumble upon the couple's activities, the prosecutor who seems to hold a grudge against Koen, brings the full force of the law to bear upon him. Koen will be convicted for assault despite his wife's testimony, and unceremoniously sacked from his job, without his pension. The case caused a sensation and split the nation, with some wholeheartedly approving of Koen, while others saw it differently. Koen's subsequent appeal to the European Court of Human Rights was also rejected, but the real-life couple upon whose life the film is based, continued to live together even at the time of the film's production.

Adversity couldn't tear this couple apart, and that is what the film passionately tries to convey - that a strong relationship is founded on honesty and mutual trust, and far from being exploitative, their's was one of true love, to the extent that the protagonist was even willing to sacrifice a distinguished career in order to make things work between them.

The low key film surprisingly manages to emanate a warmth belying its dark subject matter, and its scenes of whipping, piercing, and other forms of bondage doesn't in any way dehumanise the compassionate drama unfolding. It's a triumph for the director and the actors involved, and one that was also approved of by the actual judge-wife couple who were involved in the preproduction stages.

What is not surprising however, is WTP International - itself no stranger to matters concerning BDSM, picking up this film for distribution in Germany. Their DVD comes with Dutch and German audio, with optional English subtitles. It also includes interviews from the director (who speaks in English), and the real-life couple upon whom the film is based (in Dutch with German subtitles). However, this is not a docu-drama centred around BDSM - it is essentially a love story, but nevertheless depicts some BDSM practices in a matter-of-fact manner without overly sensationalising it, and will therefore appeal even to those not into BDSM. It is Recommended Viewing..! DVD Link [PAL]


The Nudity: Veerle Dobbelaere and Jesss van BeShibari
There's intermittent nudity in scenes featuring bondage, domination, and sex, and Veerle Dobbelaere appears nude in some of them. Apart from one breast piercing sequence, scenes in the film are relatively tame by today's standards. There is also brief nudity from Jesss van BeShibari, a professional S&M model, during a rope bondage, and she also body-double's for some of Ms. Dobbelaere's scenes. For those interested, there are more images of Ms. BeShibari in her own website.

Veerle Dobbelaere and Jesss van BeShibari nude in SM-Rechter