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