Saturday, 22 December 2018

Monday, 17 December 2018

We're on the LAMB

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Good news, everyone!  We're now a member of the Large Association of Movie Blogs!  If you head on over there right now you may just glimpse us featured in the "Newest Lamb" section.  The LAMB is the world's largest directory of movie blogs (so it's not just a clever name), and you can visit it at any time from this site by clicking on the permanent button I've installed at the bottom of the page...

Monday, 10 December 2018

Kill Switch (Tim Smit, 2017)


In een toekomstige wereld heeft de multinational Alterplex een eeuwigdurende energiebron ontworpen. Dankzij de M-Theorie en de theorie over het dupliceren van materie, zijn ze erin geslaagd om een parallel universum te creëren. Geloof me, de hele theorie wordt in de film uit de doeken gedaan. Niet dat ik er veel van begreep. Er wordt lustig gebruikgemaakt van wetenschappelijke termen zoals ruimtedimensies, kwantum deeltjes en zwaartekracht portalen. Het enige verschil tussen ons universum en dit duplicaat, is dat er geen organische bestanddelen aanwezig zijn. Het is dus eigenlijk een reusachtige, levenloze batterij waar de moderne wereld energie uit kan winnen. Iets wat noodzakelijk is geworden, daar het energieverbruik op onze planeet fenomenaal gestegen is.


Will Porter (Dan Stevens, The Ticket), een natuurkundige die ook voor NASA gewerkt heeft, wordt door Alterplex aangeworven als oplossing bij eventuele problemen. Indien er een instabiliteit wordt vastgesteld, wordt hij naar het parallelle universum getransporteerd waar hij een kubusvormig object in de gedupliceerde toren moet plaatsen. Alterplex heeft er alles voor over om hem in te lijven. Zelfs de overplaatsing van zijn zus (Charity Wakefield) en haar zoontje Donny (Kasper van Groesen) is geen probleem. Zelfs voor de beste medische begeleiding voor Donny wordt gezorgd. Een aanbod waar Will geen neen tegen kan zeggen. Ook al heeft hij in eerste instantie geen benul van wat hem te wachten staat.

En schijnbaar is zijn opleiding niet grondig geweest, want op het moment dat hij effectief door een portaal naar dit ander universum gaat, blijkt hij grotendeels niet te weten wat er aan de hand is. Zelfs de melding Redivider op de kubus zegt hem niks. Dan Stevens loopt dus eigenlijk de gehele film verward en hulpeloos rond terwijl hij zich afvraagt waarom er toch menselijk leven aanwezig is en allerhande objecten uit de lucht vallen (objecten die op de werkelijke wereld spoorloos verdwijnen). Dat hijzelf niet gekopieerd werd vind deze natuurkundige vanzelfsprekend blijkbaar. Redelijk onlogisch toch.


Qua verhaal stelt het allemaal niet erg veel voor. Het is vooral het FPS perspectief dat de meeste aandacht eist. En ook aardig op de zenuwen begint te werken naarmate het verhaal vordert. Misschien dat PS4 aanhangers hier enthousiast over worden, maar ik geloof nog steeds niet in dit concept. Hetzelfde principe werd in Let's Be Evil en Jeruzalem gehanteerd en ook niet echt geapprecieerd door ondergetekende. Als ik zin heb in een FPS, dan plug ik mijn PS4 wel in. Dan heb ik tenminste de controle over het verloop van het verhaal. Verwacht je dus weer aan een heen en weer zwierend beeld waarin allerhande statussen getoond worden. Ook Dan’s monologen lijken enkel volgepropt te zijn met steeds dezelfde weerkerende uitroepen zoals “Oh my God!”, “What the hell is this?”, “Let's go!”, “Come on!” en “Run! Run! Run!”. Ik ben er zeker van dat in Chariots of Fire minder rondgelopen werd als in deze film.


Qua acteren is het ook al niet zo overweldigend. Dan Stevens was waarschijnlijk niet lang aanwezig op de set, daar we hem het overgrote deel van film toch niet te zien krijgen. En als hij al in beeld komt, kijkt hij telkens met die verbaasde, onwetende blik. Bérénice Marlohe tracht de hele tijd haar meest fotogenieke gedeelte van haar gelaat te gebruiken (haar diep uitgesneden decolleté eist aan het begin de meeste aandacht) en heeft hoogstwaarschijnlijk een overenthousiaste medewerker in de schminkafdeling ter beschikking gekregen (gezien de riante hoeveelheid mascara dat er gebruikt werd). Is er dan niets positiefs te melden. Jawel hoor. Ik was aardig onder de indruk van de gebruikte SE’s. Neen het is niet vergelijkbaar met de peperdure SE’s van pakweg Star Wars of Avatar (je kijkt er dus niet naar alsof je van de hand Gods geslagen bent) en het is soms wel overduidelijk dat het gecomputeriseerde beelden zijn. Maar toch waren ze niet slecht deze beelden. En dat het zich afspeelde in het toekomstige Amsterdam, was ook een aangename verrassing. Kill Switch heeft dezelfde tekortkoming als Lights Out. Beiden films zijn voorafgegaan door een kortere you-tube versie die voor de nodige hype hebben gezorgd op dit medium. Het resultaat is in beide gevallen een film met een ijzersterk concept, waar je het gevoel krijgt dat men enorm veel moeite heeft gedaan om het kortverhaal zo lang mogelijk te rekken. Dus na verfilmingen van PC-games en boekverfilmingen, is het misschien ook wijselijk om niet meer YouTube succesjes naar het grote doek te verhuizen. 

Peter Pluymers

Images: SquareOne Entertainment

Thanks to Peter for this review; don't forget that you can read more of Peter's work here (in English) and here (in Dutch).  Please note this article is copyright © movie-freak.be 2017.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino, 2018)


Moordvrouw star Renée Soutendijk is back on the big screen in this lavish, controversial remake of Dario Argento's classic 70s horror.  The past few years may have seen Soutendijk become a fixture on RTL 4, but recently both the Amsterdam-born actress and her Moordvrouw co-star Thijs Römer have enjoyed parts in theatrical films.  Soutendijk, of course, is well acquainted with the silver screen, with her many film credits including some of Paul Verhoeven's early work; she also gained much attention for her portrayal of Hannie Schaft in The Girl with the Red Hair.  Her presence in Suspiria appears to be the result of some homage casting by director Luca Guadagnino, who has also included Fassbinder favourite Ingrid Caven and "slow cinema" doyen Fred Kelemen among his eclectic ensemble.  At the other end of the spectrum, the film features the likes of Fifty Shades starlet Dakota Johnson and Marvel actor Tilda Swinton (admittedly, the latter is no stranger to arthouse fare, and both actresses have worked with Guadagnino before).  Argento, who has a producer credit on the new film, also went with some surprising actor choices for his original, casting old pros Alida Valli and - in her final film role - Joan Bennett.

Guadagnino's film is set in 1977 - the year Argento's film was released - and the basic premise is the same as the earlier movie: young American Susie (Johnson) arrives in a wet and windy Germany to study at a prestigious dance school.  Susie's arrival coincides with the disappearance of fellow student  Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz), who's convinced that the academy is run by a coven of witches.  It's no real secret that Patricia is actually telling the truth, and she tries to impart this information to her psychotherapist, who in turn tries to tell the police that the girl's disappearance is the work of the women in charge of the school.  The West Berlin police have little time for such tales, given that both the city and the country are in the grip of a fear perpetrated by the Red Army Faction; as Suspiria unfolds against the backdrop of the German Autumn, you could say that two types of terror are simultaneously at work here.  Such a move grounds proceedings in a reality that was wholly absent in Argento's film - a work which could easily be viewed as a colour-saturated fever dream.  As fascinating as the Baader-Meinhof story is, I'm not convinced that Guadagnino's idea is the better of the two.


While either one of these two plot threads would be enough for one movie (cf. Argento's Suspiria and The Baader Meinhof Complex), Guadagnino and his scriptwriter David Kajganich add on another layer involving German national guilt and the holocaust; at times, this aspect provides some poignant moments, yet at other points it feels borderline distasteful.  Linked to this element, however, is a sad and touching story involving Patricia's psychotherapist, the inconsolable Dr. Klemperer (Lutz Ebersdorf), whose wife (Jessica Harper, star of the original film) vanished in the chaos of 1943.  Klemperer regularly crosses divided Berlin to visit the couple's East German dacha, where he feels the sadness especially keenly.  The doctor's tragic story is obviously a motivating factor in his determination to solve the disappearance of Patricia, but his enquiries inevitably lead him to the sinister dance academy and its icy lead choreographer Madame Blanc (Swinton), who presides over a number of matrons (played by Soutendijk, Craven and Sylvie Testud, among others).  Klemperer tries to warn another student, Sara (Mia Goth), of the sinister nature of the academy, but she angrily dismisses his claims; Sara has befriended Susie, who we should remember is both the film's main character and the star of ominous dance show Volk, which the students are preparing for a public performance.

Suspiria is something of a paradox: there was absolutely no need to remake Argento's masterpiece (which is now available on an outstanding 4K UHD disc), yet the very idea of doing such a thing provided a level of intrigue which made it, at least for me, one of the most anticipated films of 2018.  An inherent weakness of the new film is that Guadagnino is no director of horror, let alone an Argento, and it's obvious that he's looked to other areas to compensate for this; the film is never scary, and it falters whenever it has to deal with familiar genre tropes - although it is occasionally unsettling.  It is, incredibly, nearly a full hour longer than the original, and wears its pretension on its sleeve as it languidly moves through its "six acts and an epilogue".  And, while immaculately photographed, it doesn't come close to replicating the unique visual aesthetic of Argento's film.  There are lots of other reasons why the film shouldn't work, but, just like the witches featured here, it sure knows how to cast a spell.

The closest point of comparison for the movie is Gus Van Sant's Psycho - both films share a perverse aim in remaking an established masterpiece, and the two remakes stand as bizarre art exercises whose existence is infinitely stranger than any of their content.  Which is saying something in the case of Suspiria, which is an elliptical, fragmented rumination on motherhood and collective memory masquerading as a horror film.  However, the movie does very much succeed in creating a strong sense of time and place: Bowie's Berlin is that most atmospheric of settings, and the film is certainly an immersive experience which pulls you down the rabbit hole right from the off.  The performances are committed, too, with Johnson making for a surprisingly appealing lead, while Goth continues to impress.  But the film very much belongs to Swinton, whose work here is nothing less than staggering - it's best if you can go into the movie without doing too much reading up on it, as you'll find the experience to be all the more rewarding if you're ignorant of certain facts; at the very least, make a point of avoiding the film's IMDb page until after the screening.  Guadagnino's take on Suspiria, then, is a quite unique beast: pointless, yet also a must-see.

Darren Arnold

Images: image.net

Monday, 26 November 2018

The Girl in the Spider's Web (Fede Álvarez, 2018)


Brabant native Sylvia Hoeks stole more than a few scenes in last year's excellent Blade Runner 2049, and she portrays a similarly villainous character in The Girl in the Spider's Web, which is also a sequel - or is it?  While it follows the 2011 adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this latest film skips the next two books and jumps ahead to the fourth instalment in the Millenium series, which was the first in the saga to be written by David Lagercrantz following the death of Stieg Larsson.  And while David Fincher, director of the 2011 movie, here returns in the form of executive producer, this latest film features an all-new cast.  Confused yet?  If not, consider also the Swedish trilogy of movies based on Larsson's books, which were combined and augmented to create TV miniseries Millennium, with the resulting show subsequently cut in three to form new, extended versions of the trilogy.  Great material for a Venn diagram.

So, where does The Girl in the Spider's Web fit in to this chaotic canon?  Is it part two?  Part five?  Or even part four, if we simply go with the order of the books?  I have no real idea, but as this new film appears to be a reboot it could quite reasonably be seen as the first in a planned new series, one which probably won't go any further if the box office takings thus far are anything to go by.  The expensive 2011 film of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo did eventually drag itself past the $100 million mark in its domestic market (thanks in no small part to the casting of Daniel Craig), but was largely met with indifference, and few clamoured for a sequel; The Girl in the Spider's Web, while made on less than half the budget of Fincher's film, will probably meet with similarly modest success.  It appears that English-language movies of the Millennium series have proved something of a tough sell to audiences long saturated in Scandi-noir; the books, on the other hand, continue to sell by the boatload.


In any case, The Girl in the Spider's Web works as a standalone film, so you'll be just fine if this marks your first experience of any of the Millennium stories.  Lisbeth Salander, the girl who hurts men who hurt women, is played this time around by Claire Foy, and the British actress acquits herself very well.  The film is still in its early stages when we witness the cheering sight of her stringing up some woman-beating lowlife, but Lisbeth's bread and butter is soon abandoned in favour of a plot revolving around Firefall, a computer program which can access nuclear codes around the globe (and which sounds, in both name and purpose, much like an unused Bond idea).  If this wasn't based on a book, you'd swear that the entire plot was written on the back of an empty Ahlgrens bilar packet.

Salander is tasked with retrieving the program from the Americans after its author (a miscast Stephen Merchant) has misgivings about his creation, and a job which may have taken an entire film to complete is dealt with most swiftly by our heroine.  Of course, there's much more to come, as Lisbeth isn't able to hold on to the program for long as it's plucked from her hands by an international crime syndicate known as, yep, The Spiders; cue numerous frantic chases around a Stockholm where apparently no-one speaks Swedish.  The syndicate has more than one link to Lisbeth's murky past, and their identities emerge following some digging by Salander's journalist ex Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason).


Hoeks enters the film fairly late on, although her part is the important one of Camilla, the sister who was left behind when Lisbeth escaped their abusive father (a pre-credits scene fills us in on the girls' traumatic childhood).  As you may expect, Camilla is resentful of the fact that she was left to face her father's depravity alone, and she turns up as a grown woman in no mood to forgive.  Although you can sort of understand where she's coming from - Lisbeth's departure presumably doubled Camilla's torment - her father is infinitely more deserving of her ire than her sister.  Despite Camilla's harrowing backstory, Hoeks' role here is another unsympathetic one following her turn in the Blade Runner sequel, and she should perhaps be wary of becoming typecast in such parts.  Foy, on the other hand, is inhabiting a role very different from her one in TV show The Crown, and she should consider herself rather unlucky to have starred in two films this year which have performed well below expectations; Neil Armstrong biopic First Man, in which Foy played the astronaut's wife, also never really got off the ground in terms of box office.

While this reboot certainly has a slick, streamlined and uncomplicated feel to it, it lacks real urgency or tension, with Lisbeth's near-invincibility telegraphing her survival in even the tightest of corners.  It also largely dispenses with Blomkvist, arguably as big a part of the Millennium series as Salander, and reduces him to an inconsequential supporting character (despite Gudnason's prominent billing).  Director Álvarez, as the man behind Don't Breathe and the Evil Dead remake, is someone who might have been expected to bring much more of an edge to the story, but the end result is as unmemorable as it is ordinary, with only a couple of flourishes reminiscent of his inventive prior work in evidence here.  While it's always a serviceable film, and far worse movies will fare much better in terms of revenue, The Girl in the Spider's Web's inevitable hasty retreat from multiplexes will almost certainly spell the end for Lisbeth's big-screen adventures.  Perhaps we should all just stick to the books?

Darren Arnold

Images: Sony

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Holiday (Isabella Eklöf, 2018)


Dutch actor Thijs Römer gives a strong performance in Holiday, a film in which title and content are completely at odds with one another; while it may be set in a seemingly cheerful sun-kissed location (see the above picture for an example), Isabella Eklöf's debut makes for a horribly uncomfortable watch.  Well-acted and impeccably shot in an icy style which conspicuously recalls the work of severe Austrian auteurs Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl, Holiday is, quite predictably, a film much easier to admire than it is to like.  For something set exclusively in a balmy climate, it's probably the most chilling film of the year, and the warmth of its depicted beaches and marinas evaporates long before it can reach the viewer.  At the screening I attended, the director introduced the film and said she'd experienced many extreme reactions - some have embraced the film, others have detested it; regardless of where you stand on Holiday at its bleak conclusion, chances are that the film will stay with you for some time after the end credits roll.


While enjoying a holiday on the Turkish Riviera, Römer's Thomas gets chatting to fellow tourist Sascha (Victoria Carmen Sonne).  During their initial, mildly flirtatious encounter in an ice cream shop, you'd think that these two were just ordinary people living normal lives, but while Thomas is certainly a regular guy - and a bit of a dreamer, having packed in his job to buy a yacht - Sascha is part of a vicious criminal gang headed by the noxious Michael (Lai Yde).  An early marker for who we're dealing with here comes in the form of an incident on the beach, in which a Francophone tourist is humiliated and ridiculed simply for asking Michael and Sascha's group to turn their music down.  This is one of the more innocuous events in the film; Michael's objectification of everyone is spelled out in an unnerving scene in which he repositions the limbs of the seemingly sleeping Sascha, thus quite literally treating her like a doll.  As Sascha spends a bit more time with Thomas, it appears as if this affable character might just be Sascha's route out of the life she's trapped in; indeed, in most other films, the romance would blossom and Sascha would escape the vile crime boss - but Eklöf has other ideas and no intention of delivering anything so feelgood.  The outcome provokes feelings not dissimilar to those stirred up by Michael Haneke's Funny Games (either version), and you do sense that Haneke would approve of Eklöf's confrontational film.


It's very hard to review Holiday and ignore the elephant in the room - but that's precisely what I'll try to do here (even though I'm aware I've just alerted you to said elephant).  But suffice to say that I didn't appreciate someone taking the stage, pre-film, to issue a warning about some of Holiday's content - if Isabelle Eklöf wanted such a notice, wouldn't she have incorporated one into her film, à la William Castle/Gaspar Noé? (Irréversible, still that most shocking of Noé's works, is clearly another influence on Holiday).  Such an announcement, while no doubt borne of sound intentions, was a terrible distraction from Eklöf's immaculately-assembled work, and the effect was most reductive.  But while Holiday has many impressive aspects, it's ultimately a tough film to recommend, and a strong nerve is required to get through its 90 minutes or so.  If you are interested in seeing the film, you may want to do a little more reading up on it to see if it's for you; furthermore, the content raises real questions regarding acting boundaries.  With its ironic title and rather misleading publicity stills, Holiday is certainly one to approach with caution, but it will be interesting to see what Isabella Eklöf comes up with next.

Darren Arnold

Images: image.net

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Coincoin and the Extra-Humans (Bruno Dumont, 2018)


Police captain Van der Weyden is one of the more memorable characters in recent television history (OK, I must admit I don't watch much TV), and since this character - played by the untutored Bernard Pruvost - first appeared in Bruno Dumont's Li'l Quinquin, I've been itching to see more of him; that show, which ran to four episodes (and also played in cinemas as one long film), was always ripe for another series.  A sequel is now finally here in the form of Coincoin and the Extra-Humans and, happily, second time around proves no obstacle for the director and his fine cast of non-pros who, four years on, effortlessly slip back into this surreal and occasionally very troubling world.  Bruno Dumont has been no slouch between these two series, pumping out both Slack Bay and Jeannette, the latter of which, like Quinquin, enjoyed near-simultaneous big and small screen releases.


As with Li'l Quinquin, this latest endeavour consists of four episodes of around 50 minutes each.  Pretty much everyone from the first show is back for this caper - even Lisa Hartmann's Aurélie, and if you saw the first series and are wondering how this can be possible, just watch and you'll see - oh, you'll see.  Whereas Van der Weyden's bizarre investigation last time around was at least rooted in reality with its hunt for a murderer (who, predictably enough, was never revealed nor apprehended), this series jumps off the deep end from the start as a strange black magma is splatting down from the skies.  This substance proves mystifying enough to both police and civilians, but its true menace is only revealed each dusk as it releases a floating light which proceeds to invade an unfortunate, seemingly random local resident, who then spawns a doppelgänger; rinse and repeat.

In addition to the antics of Van der Weyden and his sidekick Carpentier (Philippe Jore) - who spends much of his time stunt driving their Citroën C4 police car - there is of course plenty of screen time for the title character, played by Alane Delhaye.  As you may have noticed, he now goes by the name Coincoin - presumably as he's no longer a quinquin, or small child.  While many of the returning cast members look pretty much the same as they did before, the biggest change, predictably, comes in the appearances of the child actors, who in the space of four years have gone from kids just out of primary school to teens on the cusp of adulthood.  In these intervening years, Coincoin has separated from Eve (Lucy Caron) and over the course of the new series gets romantically involved with the flighty Jenny (Alexia Depret), daughter of the regional leader of sinister political party the Bloc.  Like Coincoin, Eve has also moved on to another partner, but it's clear that these childhood sweethearts still harbour some feelings for one another.


Although Coincoin and the Extra-Humans has one foot planted in slapstick, it does take the time to touch upon some serious concerns, such as the European migrant crisis and the rise of the far right - the Bloc clearly a proxy for Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement national, much like the fictional RNP were in last year's Chez nous (when Le Pen's party were still known as the Front national).  A disconcerting development occurs when some of the Bloc's foot soldiers talk about travelling to Calais for a "bonfire"; thankfully, this appears to be little more than bravado, although the group's walk through a tunnel which plays home to some migrants makes for a tense couple of minutes.  But these darker aspects are largely kept in the background, never getting in the way of an investigation which, if you know this director, is never likely to lead to much of consequence.  Rather, Dumont is fixed on his characters and their interactions, and the forensics of police work - just as in Slack Bay, Humanity or indeed Li'l Quinquin - prove to be of no real interest to the director.  As is usual for Dumont, the landscape of his own back yard here proves to be a character in its own right, and DP Guillaume Deffontaines - in his fifth collaboration with the director - serves up some wonderfully evocative widescreen cinematography.

While the vast majority of the actors seen here were in the first series, there are a couple of additions to the cast which will arouse interest among Dumont scholars: Nicolas Leclaire, whose performance in Jeannette was a comic highlight, turns up here as Jenny's uncle, but the real shock comes in the form of an appearance by Humanity's Emmanuel Schotté who plays, er, another of Jenny's uncles (or should that be "uncles"?)  Schotté's only screen role prior to Coincoin was in Humanity, for which he won the best actor prize at Cannes; you can't help but feel that he went into exile on account of the backlash afforded to the controversial Humanity, on which Cannes' David Cronenberg-led jury bestowed two other prestigious awards.  There's something quite touching about his reappearance here after nearly 20 years away from acting, and it seems only fitting that his second (final?) role is in something directed by Dumont.


Needless to say, Coincoin and the Extra-Humans comes highly recommended, and it's amazing how it follows Li'l Quinquin so seamlessly.  It's hard to pick which of the two series is better, but that all eight episodes could play as a single, fluid work is testament to the remarkable consistency on display here.  While the cast will all, presumably, go back to doing whatever it is they normally do (Pruvost is a gardener at a centre for disabled people), a third adventure with these characters would be extremely welcome, so let's hope it eventually materialises.  With much of the dialogue presented in undiluted ch'timi, Dumont proves to be as intransigent as ever; that said, who would have thought that the director and star of the bleak, severe and austere Humanity would one day reunite for a knockabout TV comedy?

Darren Arnold

Images: 3B Productions

Friday, 26 October 2018

What Happened to Monday? (Tommy Wirkola, 2017)


Toen ik de synopsis las van deze film, was ik ogenblikkelijk opgewonden, want het concept sprak me enorm aan. Toen ik exact één jaar geleden de film The Thinning bekeek, was ik ook benieuwd naar het eindresultaat omdat ik het basisidee magistraal vond. Spijtig genoeg was het in mijn ogen een mislukte poging om het te lanceren als pilootfilm om er nog enkele hersenloze vervolgen aan te breien. Ik vrees dat ze die plannen opgeborgen hebben. Ook in Seven Sisters (oftewel What Happened to Monday? zoals de film in de V.S heet) speelt de overbevolking de mensheid weer parten. Erger nog. Door de klimaatsveranderingen zorgen extreme droogtes ervoor dat er een schaarste heerst qua voedsel. Een genetische ingreep door de wetenschap brengt soelaas maar heeft één vervelende bijwerking. Het aantal meerlingen die geboren worden, neemt drastisch toe. De oplossing van het ene probleem is nefast voor het andere prangende probleem. Een nieuwe wet wordt gestemd waardoor het alleen toegestaan is om één kind te verwekken. De onwettige kinderen worden middels cryoslaap gestockeerd tot betere tijden aanbreken waardoor ze wel een toekomst hebben in deze wereld.


Zo verliep het dus niet bij de familie Settman. Daar is het de grootvader (Willem Dafoe) die ervoor zorgt dat de zeven zustertjes in groots geheim opgroeien. Uit praktische overwegingen geeft hij elk kind als naam een weekdag, zodanig dat ze op latere leeftijd weten op welke dag ze de woonst mogen verlaten. Op die manier leven ze als zevenling het bestaan van een individu. Het principe van de beruchte drie musketiers “Eén voor allen en allen voor één” vervalt in het niets. Ben je een fervent fan van Noomi Rapace, dan is deze film de vervulling van een natte droom. Ze speelt namelijk de rol van elk zusje in deze familie. Elk hun eigen uiterlijk, karakter, nukken en intellect. Verwacht je dan ook aan veelvuldige scènes waarbij ze duelleert met woorden tegen zichzelf. Een getrukeerde monoloog eigenlijk. Het deed me terugdenken aan de fratsen die Eddy Murphy al demonstreerde in The Nutty Professor, maar dan niet zo hilarisch en zonder flauwe moppen waar flatulentie bij komt kijken.


Noomi Rapace speelde een schitterende rol in Män Som Hatar Kvinnor, was innemend in Dead Man Down en maakte indruk op mij in Child 44. Hier is het niet haar acteren dat een voorname plaats inneemt. Het zijn de technische hoogstandjes die ervoor zorgen dat ze een gedenkwaardige rol speelt. De perfect gemonteerde dialogen en toch wel ingenieus in elkaar gestoken vechtscènes zorgen ervoor dat ze schittert op het grote doek (in zevenvoud). Spijtig genoeg is dit niet voldoende om er een indrukwekkende film van te maken. Het is uiteindelijk niet meer dan een thriller met sciencefiction elementen. Er was voor mij maar één fragment waar ik ademloos naar gekeken heb en dat is de eerste confrontatie tussen een deel zussen en diegenen die het lang bewaarde geheim willen elimineren. Verder was het een heel onderhoudende film maar indrukwekkend was het echt niet.


Het decor zag er futuristisch genoeg en deed me soms denken aan Blade Runner. De algehele aankleding was perfect verzorgd. Vanzelfsprekend staat Noomi Rapace grotendeels in de schijnwerpers waardoor de rollen van Glenn Close, als stuwende kracht achter het overheidsapparaat CAA, en Willem Dafoe als aanvulsel aanvoelen. Vooral Glen Close, die zich weeral als een rasechte Cruella DeVil gedraagt, is een nogal eendimensionaal personage. Voorts was het ook niet zo moeilijk om te raden hoe de film zou aflopen. Al bij al voelde het aan alsof de hele film gedrapeerd werd rond een ingenieus concept en een pienter uitgedachte gimmick.

Peter Pluymers

Images: Splendid Film

Based in Belgian Limburg, Peter Pluymers watches many movies and blogs about them here (in English) and here (in Dutch).  My sincere thanks go to Peter for his contribution here, and I hope to feature some more of his fine work in future.  Please note this article is copyright © movie-freak.be 2018.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Etangs Noirs (Pieter Dumoulin / Timeau De Keyser, 2018)


Named after the Brussels Metro station (which you might know as Zwarte Vijvers), Etangs Noirs is a modest yet thoroughly absorbing movie which provides incontrovertible proof of how the journey can be infinitely more interesting than the destination.  This Belgian production features strong writing and well-judged performances, and although its London Film Festival performance today is currently showing as sold out, it might be worth checking just before the screening to see if any returns are available.


The premise is a simple one: Jimi, a rather earnest young man, receives a package at his Cité Modèle apartment; while the apartment number is correct, the parcel was actually intended for Sayenna, who lives in the next building.  Jimi attempts to deliver the parcel to Sayenna, but she's out, and her elderly neighbour isn't much help.  Most of us have found ourselves in a similar situation at one time or another, and our options are usually fairly straightforward: leave the parcel outside the door; find a neighbour who'll agree to take it; or leave a note with contact details.  Jimi doesn't exercise any of these options - he even has the chance to lob the parcel through an open window - but appears hellbent on delivering the parcel personally.  And that's his first mistake.


Obviously, if Jimi took the expected course (or if Sayenna was at home) then we wouldn't have much of a film, but his determination to literally deliver leads him on an odyssey across Brussels, where he spends plenty of time riding the Metro as he tries to track down the elusive Sayenna.  Does she even exist?  Does Jimi have some sort of relationship to Sayenna and/or the unknown contents of the box he ferries around?  Jimi is a polite, solemn but rather jumpy young man, and we start to wonder if this is all as routine as simply sorting out an incorrectly delivered package.  While in Sayenna's building, Jimi encounters the disconcertingly over-friendly Benny, who promptly enlists Jimi's help in catching his escaped canaries before offering to take care of the parcel.  Benny frequently sees Sayenna around in the hallways of the building - or at least that's what he says.


There's something in Jimi's plight that most of us will be able to relate to - the simple five-minute job which soon escalates into a major drama, and Jimi's obsession with his task soon takes over both his days and nights. There's something of Scorsese's After Hours at play here, although this is an altogether significantly more muted affair.  The filmmakers prove especially adroit when it comes to putting us in Jimi's shoes, yet the viewer will almost certainly feel a helpless frustration rarely betrayed by the rather inscrutable protagonist; it's an impressive balancing act which endures for the film's duration.  With its atmospheric shots of the endless subterranean corridors of the Brussels Metro, Etangs Noirs stands as a haunting, engrossing and frequently unnerving tale, told with refreshing economy.

Darren Arnold 

Images: Accattone Films

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, 2018)


In Rambo II and Cobra, George Pan Cosmatos directed two Sylvester Stallone films which could hardly be more 80s; these movies stand as two of the more memorable examples from  that decade's glut of violent action cinema.  Cosmatos died in 2005, but with Mandy his son Panos revisits the era of his father's greatest successes (that said, many consider 1993's Tombstone to be his finest hour or two).  Mandy is set, quite specifically, in 1983 - a year in which much heavy metal still had a relatively threatening edge before being eclipsed by the silly excesses of hair metal.  Cosmatos Jr.'s film, somewhat surprisingly, opens with the sounds of King Crimson - not a metal act as such, but one whose prog stylings certainly influenced many a concept album (metal and otherwise) of the 80s and beyond.  And Mandy, with its simplistic story, overblown treatment and intricate, fantasy artwork-inspired tableaux, plays very much like a metal concept album.

Nicolas Cage's Red lives a quiet country existence with Mandy (Andrea Riseborough); the two are clearly besotted with each other, but their idyll is shattered when they're captured by order of Linus Roache's cult leader.  Mandy is the one they really want, but she refuses to play the cult's game and therefore meets a horrific fate, which the despairing, helpless Red is forced to watch.  The buildup to this is slow and deliberate, but after roughly one hour Cage - and the film - fizzes to life as Red sloshes a bottle of booze over his wounds and down his neck, all the while letting out a series of feral yells.  His plaintive cries have virtually nothing to do with his physical pain, but rather are all he can do in the face of a horror he can never unsee.  The scene is as disturbing as it is riveting, and it pretty much serves to demarcate the film's two very different halves.  The second half, as you will probably  have guessed, sees Red exact bloody, brutal revenge. 


Cage, as we all know, is a truly great and fearless performer, and in Mandy he gives as committed a performance as you'll see this year.  In the film's first half, he has very little to say or do, and he patiently sits on the sidelines until his moment comes; these early passages are largely dominated by British actors Riseborough and Roache, and, good as these two are, you can't help but find yourself marking time before the beast in Cage in unleashed.  A third British actor, Richard Brake, also appears, inviting comparisons with Rob Zombie's not entirely dissimilar films; Brake's memorable turn was the best thing about Zombie's most recent feature, the sloppy 31

Mandy's story may be nothing new, but Cosmatos is just as big a star of the film as Cage; he directs with such confidence as he creates this nightmarish, colour-saturated world (running these two mighty close, however, is late Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson, whose score is a perfect fit for the unnerving, hallucinatory imagery).  Refreshingly, the director hasn't just set out to make a wink-wink 80s sendup; all too often, filmmakers can't help but ridicule the cheesier aspects of the decade, but there's a sincerity to Cosmatos' vision, albeit one which doesn't come at the expense of humour.  Before watching the film, I half expected something approximating a mirror of video game Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon - a ridiculously fun, tongue-in-cheek pastiche of 80s action movie tropes (featuring the voice of Michael Biehn, no less) - but happily both the director and his cast harbour somewhat loftier ambitions.  Cosmatos can even throw in a cameo from Bill Duke, known to so many for his roles in 1980s smashes Commando and Predator, without any risk of overplaying his hand.  

It's quite tough to convey just what it is about Mandy which gets under the skin.  It's certainly not a film for everyone, and at just over two hours it may prove off-putting as it initially looks as if it's the sort of thing that should run for a scant 80 mins or so.  Some will inevitably walk out, but make it to the end and it won't be long before you're itching to experience this one again.  It's already played to two packed houses at the London Film Festival, and has a third and final screening there today; it will also be available to buy on DVD/Blu-ray just in time for Halloween.

Darren Arnold

Images: RLJ Entertainment

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Dear Son (Mohamed Ben Attia, 2018)


The Dardenne brothers serve as co-producers on social realist drama Dear Son, with the influence of the esteemed Belgian auteurs very much in evidence; the film contains many features familiar from the Dardennes' work, such as natural, authentic performances, judicious editing, and a cinéma verité sensibility.  Likewise, the domestic crises which so often form the basis of the brothers' films are present here, and you wouldn't be too surprised if someone told you that Jean-Pierre and Luc were the film's actual directors; high praise indeed for Mohamed Ben Attia.


The film, which screens today at the London Film Festival, sees amiable dock worker Riadh edging towards retirement, while he and wife Nazli enjoy a fairly peaceful life in their modest Tunis apartment.  The only real worry they have concerns their son, Sami, who is nearing both the end of school and some critical exams.  Sami is a polite, studious but rather withdrawn boy, and his academic exertions appear to be taking their toll: migraines and vomiting are a regular occurrence, yet all medical tests come back clear.  He's not a loner by any means, and we see him attend a party with some school friends; however, the relative feebleness of Sami's smile in a group selfie is noticeable.  Much later on, Riadh will find himself in a similar situation: at the end of his rope while a celebration rages all around.

With Riadh and Nazli growing increasingly concerned, the situation takes a drastic downturn as Sami suddenly disappears.  His schoolmates can shed no light on where their friend may be, but it soon becomes clear to both us and Sami's parents where the youth is headed.  His destination is slightly too obvious - although there have been few, if any, explicit clues up until now that this was in the offing.  Riadh takes it upon himself to track down the errant Sami, selling the family car and scratching together enough money to fund a trip which we all - Riadh included - know is unlikely to end in success.


As Riadh, Mohamed Dhrif is note-perfect, with his careworn features conveying way more than his dialogue as the father's worries escalate.  It's as good a performance as you'll see this year; not remotely showy, but always completely believable  The film also has some subtle, interesting points to make about parent-child relationships, especially those where the offspring have left the family home.  At one point, a defeated Riadh says all he wants is for his son to be happy; the wise man he's engaged in conversation with claims that while all parents say that, in truth it's the parents' own happiness which matters.  This is a sad, poignant and moving work, yet one which unexpectedly ends on a quite lovely grace note.

Darren Arnold

Images: image.net

Monday, 15 October 2018

Second Time Around (Dora Garcia, 2018)


If you're up for something niche today, you might want to head to the London Film Festival for Dora Garcia's "staged documentary", but be warned that this is the sort of film which punishes you should you let your attention wander in the slightest.  Lacanian psychoanalysis comes under the microscope here, as does its high-profile proponent Oscar Masotta and his "happenings", some of which are reenacted in this Belgian co-production.

Second Time Around basically consists of four segments, the first three of which feature re-staged Masotta pieces.  Proceedings kick off with To Induce the Spirit of the Image, a controversial work in which a score of actors are paid to stand around and be watched for an hour; you may very well be rightly thinking that this doesn't sound like anything out of the ordinary - after all, aren't actors paid to be watched?  However, when said thespians are almost invariably bourgeois and are pretending to be working class and impoverished for the sake of a living art installation, it's not hard to see why some find such an exercise to be distasteful.

Second up is The Everlasting, a lively discussion in a library in which politics and psychoanalysis are the dominant topics.  Despite brazenly flouting library protocol - you wouldn't want to attempt to engage in quiet study while this conversation's in full flow - the sequence is intermittently interesting and I did learn something about the finer points of Peronism; this sort of material certainly wasn't covered in Evita.

The Helicopter follows, and this segment - which remakes what is arguably Masotta's most famous happening - sees a helicopter flight witnessed by a group of people, who then have to relay what happened to another bunch who didn't see the event; the idea (I think) is that those who did see the copter have to process their knowledge so it becomes information, which can then be absorbed by the others.

Somewhat perversely, the last piece isn't based on Masotta's work, despite sharing its title with that of the film.  In Second Time Around, Garcia revisits Julio Cortazar's short story of the same name, and we witness citizens being interviewed by what are presumably government officials.  This improvised piece is highly effective, and succeeds in unnerving and engaging the viewer as it recreates the climate of Argentina's disappearance-strewn period of state terrorism.  Perhaps surprisingly, it actually proves to be the pick of the film's four scenarios, despite Masotta's Lacan-influenced work taking up much more of the running time.

Chances are you'll know if Garcia's experimental exercise is or isn't for you.  While it certainly is a hard film to tune in to, you don't have to have a PhD in Neo-Freudianism to navigate Second Time Around's admittedly choppy waters.  You can buy a special pass which allows you to sample any three of the LFF's Experimenta offerings for a discounted price.

Darren Arnold

Image: Auguste Orts

Trailer

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Keep Going (Joachim Lafosse, 2018)


With the likes of Our Children and After Love, writer-director Joachim Lafosse has proved to be the go-to guy if you want a film focusing on fraught family situations.  His habit of essaying extremely dysfunctional relationships continues with Keep Going, a film which sees Lafosse step outside of his usual domestic setting as mother and son Sybille and Samuel (Virginie Efra, Kacey Mottet Klein) undertake a horseback trek across Kyrgyzstan.  The backdrop may be radically different, but the dynamic is typical Lafosse; the surly, aggressive son is either listening to his iPod or berating his reasonably patient mother and/or the natives they encounter in the remote region they ride across.  Samuel is further isolated in that he speaks no Russian, yet Sybille is fluent in the language; you can sense his seething resentment towards his mother as she frequently explains what others are saying.


The pair's journey is a dangerous one, not only in terms of the rugged terrain but also because their sparsely-populated route frequently puts them in very vulnerable positions, where no help would be available should nefarious types swoop on them; warnings from locals go unheeded by these Western European tourists.  The film isn't very old when Sybille furnishes Samuel with a pistol - if you've seen Mottet Klein's impressive performance in Shock Waves (which also plays at the LFF), you'll be very aware that this is not a guy you should hand a gun to.  Given that the two have taken this break partly to get Sam away from some violence-related trouble back home (he assaulted a teacher and may well be facing a jail term), this really does not look like one of Sybille's better decisions.  That said, who better to have on your side than a hothead who doesn't mind wading into a fight?  But of course, that assumes he's on your side.

This setup instils a sense, pretty much from the off, that something very nasty is just around the corner.  Such feelings are intensified through this being Lafosse; the shattering Our Children has conditioned us to expect a difficult family situation to develop into something truly hellish.  As such, you can never really relax while watching Keep Going, and the shots of Samuel and Sybille setting up their tents and campfire each night make you wonder if they'll see the dawn.  At one stage, Samuel even claims that a reptile has found its way into his tent, and asks if he can sleep next to his mum; but is it really something else in the environment which spooks the young man?


While Keep Going is very much a two-handler, the huge, sweeping vistas ensure the film is never in any danger of feeling stagey.  And although it may at times look like an epic western, the intimate clashes between mother and son are at the core of the film; both Efra and Mottet Klein are terrifically believable here.  Joachim Lafosse may well be overdue a bad film, but thankfully Keep Going isn't it.  Its unfamiliar (for this director, anyway) milieu proves that Lafosse can take his own brand of unsettling drama far from home and not miss a beat.  In the age of bloated running times, its 80 minutes or so is a refreshing change, and there's a wonderful economy to the storytelling here.  You can catch it at the London Film Festival today and tomorrow.

Darren Arnold

Images: image.net

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Rafiki (Wanuri Kahiu, 2018)


The Netherlands Film Fund and the Hubert Bals Fund both have a hand in Rafiki, which screens at the London Film Festival today and tomorrow.  While its intentions are sound, unfortunately this year's BFI Flare Special Presentation is at best a serviceable drama which, even at well under 90 minutes, stretches out its thin and overly familiar story.  A bit more urgency would have been welcomed in a film which features some appealing performances, yet doesn't really give its actors enough to do.  The lively opening credits signal a fun, vibrant piece of work, but it doesn't take long for the film to run out of steam.


Kena and Ziki are two young women who start the film on very opposite sides: their politician fathers are running against each other in an upcoming election, although the film, surprisingly, doesn't delve into the dads' political stances .  The girls seem most wary of each other, and the situation escalates when Ziki and a couple of her friends tear down some posters promoting Kena's father.  Things rapidly mellow when the politicians' daughters get together over a drink and, upon realising that talking to each other is actually good fun, hostilities come to an abrupt end.  So far, it's engaging stuff, but the film soon becomes a bit of a slog as it essays the subsequent story of Ziki and Kena, with every development telegraphed way in advance.  The two leads are quite good, but it all feels too underpowered to really resonate in the manner clearly intended by director Wanuri Kahiu.  This is a pity, as there's obviously the kernel of a good idea here which never really evolves into anything very meaningful.


Where Rafiki (translated as 'friend' in the opening titles) really does succeed, however, is in its capturing of the atmosphere of the Nairobi neighbourhood in which it's set.  The shots of the bustling, colourful streets make for fascinating viewing, yet all too often we're pulled away from this interesting milieu, which proves most frustrating; Kahiu has an obvious knack for capturing the sights and sounds of the Kenyan capital, and it's a shame that this couldn't be channelled into something more productive.  The film does have something important to say about attitudes in present-day Kenya (it was initially banned in its home country), but it's too simplistic to have much of an effect, and when a message is wrapped this clumsily it will struggle to travel very far.  Thus, Rafiki stands as a squandered opportunity, although its cast and crew may well have better work than this in them; a degree of talent is clearly evident here.  But what we have this time around, unfortunately, is a film which deserves your goodwill but not your time.

Darren Arnold

Images: image.net

Friday, 12 October 2018

Girl (Lukas Dhont, 2018)


Girl, Belgium's entry for the Oscars, is a sincere and affecting tale which successfully captures the turmoil experienced by 15-year-old Lara.  Screen portrayals of teenage angst are nothing new, but in Lara's case there's an added complication in that she was born a boy and is currently awaiting sex reassignment surgery.  Actually, there's yet another complication: Lara wants to be a ballerina, and the gruelling classes she endures cause serious damage to her feet.  But if you think watching Lara nurse her bloodied toes is grim, you ain't seen nothing yet; late on, Girl features a scene which may have you bolting for the exit, or at the very least watching through your fingers.

Lara lives with her incredibly supportive father and much younger brother; her family life is generally pleasant, plus she's pretty much accepted by her peers at school.  As such, two potential (and predictable) lines of major conflict are snuffed out from the off.  Lara's battle is mainly with herself; she's incredibly tough on her body, in almost every sense, and the added stress of the punishing dance sessions leads to a situation where she's no longer in sufficiently good condition for surgery.  Oh, Lara, why couldn't have looked after yourself a bit better?  Then we could all have avoided that scene.

Girl is by no means the first film to focus on a transgender character, and in recent times we've had the likes of the sublime Laurence Anyways as well as Oscar-winners The Danish Girl and Dallas Buyers Club.  With these films still fairly fresh in the memory, Girl struggles to turn up much which feels especially new, although it is a very assured debut by director Lukas Dhont.  The film features a terrific, unshowy central performance from Victor Polster, whose cisgender status hopefully won't distract from his knockout turn here.  Lara is very likeable, and it's sad to see someone who people warm to being so hard on themselves.  Despite being surrounded by people who care for her - irrespective of what gender Lara may be - this fierce internal war destroys virtually all the happiness in the teen's life, and leaves her feeling extremely isolated.  It's most painful to watch.

While large chunks of Girl feel like stuff we've all seen before, it's important not to overlook how helpful the film could be to those in similar situations; while there's much to admire about Lara, her misjudged methods serve to make Girl a cautionary tale.  It's a bold, heartfelt piece of filmmaking, and it screens at the London Film Festival tomorrow and on Monday.

Darren Arnold

Image: image.net

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Freedom Fields (Naziha Arebi, 2018)


Freedom Fields, a production backed by the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (via its Bertha Fund), is a likeable look at Libya's female footballers.  Women's football has enjoyed a much higher profile in recent years, with both media coverage and general awareness greatly increasing.  The fact that so many clubs and nations now field skilled and competitive teams is a welcome sign of progress, and the 2015 World Cup in Canada was broadcast to many countries around the world (the film, coincidentally, is a Canadian co-production).  However, and despite the wide acceptance in mainstream sporting circles, there will always be some women who remain truly up against it as they strive to play.  Such a struggle is endured by the women of Libya's national side, who, despite operating in post-Arab Spring times, find official backing hard to come by as they push to take part in an international tournament.

While football is a huge deal - and motivating factor - for these women, we get to glimpse other aspects of their lives; one is training to be a doctor, another is a petro-physicist, and there's some affecting insight into how the turmoil in Libya has left some displaced with little chance of returning to their proper homes.  With the struggles already facing the women, you really wish they'd catch a break as far as football is concerned; one member of the team poignantly points out - after things go a bit wrong in a match - that to be Libyan is to be unlucky.  Given the herculean efforts evidenced here, which so often produce little or no reward, it's hard to argue with such a statement.

Freedom Fields is an effective and engrossing documentary which follows these intelligent, determined, witty and frequently very funny women as they do all they can to play the beautiful game.  Their perseverance knows few bounds, and shots of the ladies cutting grass by hand as they fashion a training area is a good marker for the dogged approach taken by the group.

Arebi's film, which took many years to make, is nicely photographed (by the director) and deftly edited, and you'll most likely lurch from one emotion to another as you first smile along with the team before going on to share their extreme frustration.  You'll find yourself willing these inspirational women not only to play, but to win.  It screens at the London Film Festival today and tomorrow.

Darren Arnold

Image: image.net

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

De Natura (Lucile Hadžihalilović, 2018)


Although her career dates back to the 1980s, Lucile Hadžihalilović has made just two feature films - Innocence (2004) and Evolution (2015); in their respective years, both of those excellent Belgian co-productions played at the London Film Festival.  Hadžihalilović returns to the LFF with this new short film, which screens as part of the festival's This is the Sound, This is the Picture programme on 16 and 17 October.  Across her output to date, Hadžihalilović has developed a highly distinctive style; she's an interesting filmmaker, yet also a highly frustrating one as she - like her husband and occasional collaborator Gaspar Noé - makes too few films (eleven years separate her full-length efforts).  That said, two feature films are not the sum total of her career so far, as, in addition to her important contributions to a number of Noé's films, she has directed a clutch of shorts prior to De Natura - although this new film marks her first work since Evolution.


As with both of Hadžihalilović's features, the focus of De Natura is firmly on children, and the film follows two young girls at the height of summer.  Hadžihalilović is very interested in both the girls and their bucolic surroundings, as we see (and hear) a flowing stream, a crackling fire, rustling leaves, and so on.  There's no story as such, but rather what we have here is a visual tone poem, a slice of Cinéma pur which takes things back to the notion that film is a visual and aural medium; as if to reinforce this point, the negligible dialogue isn't subtitled.  The film could play anywhere in the world without the need for any translation, and it prompts us to ask: shouldn't we be able to watch any film anywhere and have it speak to us?  Doesn't a film essentially fail when it relies on its dialogue, thereby ignoring the emotional responses which can be elicited by sounds and images?  Regardless of how you might answer those questions, De Natura does well to throw them up while simultaneously casting its spell.


Hadžihalilović's De Natura screens at the LFF just a few weeks after the general release of Gaspar Noé's Climax - as already noted, neither filmmaker churns them out, so it's a welcome coincidence to have a new film from each within such a short space of time (although it has happened before - Noé's Love was released in the same year as Evolution).  The two works could hardly be further apart, however, with the lush, lyrical De Natura pretty much the antithesis of the frenetic, hypercharged Climax.  Unlike in both Innocence and Evolution, the children of De Natura appear to exist in a world devoid of menace, although Hadžihalilović's track record programs us to initially assume that something sinister is afoot in the forest where the girls merrily play.  The absence of such a threat marks a nice change of pace for this director, and the film adds yet another layer of intrigue to her slim, if impeccable, oeuvre.

Darren Arnold

Images: META Cinema

Saturday, 6 October 2018

A Walk in the Woods (Hugo Frassetto, 2017)


This cheerful Belgian co-production screens on the 20th of October as part of the London Film Festival's Animated Shorts for Younger Audiences, and although it's not among the strongest efforts on show in that excellent programme, it's the sort of thing that should go down well with the youngest of viewers.  That said, it seems rather strange that a film aimed at very young children will play at the LFF in a subtitled version, as some tiny tots' reading skills - assuming they're in place to begin with - will be given quite a workout here.  While it's good that the collection of shorts includes a mix of both dubbed and subbed fare (and yes, I know that essentially all animated films are dubbed), it seems slightly unfortunate that A Walk in the Woods, out of all the films on offer, is one of the handful that will screen in their original language with English subtitles.


The simple story sees a quintet of young wolves having fun in the woods.  Each cub wears the mask of an animal; all the masks are different, and, as you might reasonably expect, none are of wolves.  These disguises are a neat touch, and their effectiveness is twofold: they tap into the wide perception of wolves being duplicitous and, equally importantly, present us with the endearingly absurd spectacle of animals pretending to be other creatures.  There's nothing nefarious about these cute little ones, however, and they're completely preoccupied with playfully taunting their dad, continually checking on his status as they hunt for suitable hiding places.  Oh, and did I mention that the main mode of communication is song?  It's all quite charming, even if older children won't find too much to get their teeth into here. 


Repetition and rhythm are both strong features of A Walk in the Woods, and as such it all seems very predictable, yet the film takes a huge, unexpected leap late on as it suddenly moves into a completely different animation style.  While this is initially quite jarring, the coda plays out very nicely, and it's oddly satisfying to have your expectations turned upside down in this manner.  One way or another, wolves always seem to know how to surprise us.

Darren Arnold

Images: Studio Wasia

Trailer