“Abdellatif Kechiche is one of the greatest, most famous directors in France, and I love the trance-like feeling that you get with his cinema. I love how he starts from a simple story and builds something powerful, and I love the way he does justice to women in his movies.‘It’s always intimidating meeting someone when you like their movies.” – – – – – Adèle Exarchopoulos
La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2 / Blue Is the Warmest Color
Abdellatif Kechiche – France / Belgium / Spain, 2013
Everyone was talking about Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux for their realistic sexual moments on screen. But both actress warrant a high amount of praise for their enduring, heart-felt performances in Blue is the Warmest Color. There is so much truth and emotion poured out of every ounce of both actresses on the affects and tribulations of love, it is often hard to imagine you are not watching something real. Seydoux is ferocious and relentless, an object of desire, a role model, who has the capacity to feel the harshest of emotions. Exarchopoulos is coming-of-age as both an actress and a character, her namesake on film grows in front of us, her epic screen time never becomes tedious, it is always refreshingly captivating. She makes us watch and makes us care as the love-struck girl experiences all manner of flourishes and wounds you just about feel yourself.
I won’t say I am not interested in the apparent tough times that occurred during the shooting of the Palme d’Or winner. Or more precisely the alleged line-crossing that might have resulted from director Abdellatif Kechiche’s pressure put on his leading ladies. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux survived the so-called ordeal and have publicly declared no hard feelings toward Kechiche, even praised him. That aside, the film is like nothing else in it’s story-telling and vastness of emotion before your eyes. The clearly hard-working direction is rewarded in an immaculately constructed love-story, warts and all, so much so it makes you feel the kinds of inner rumblings and experience life’s little moments we hardly ever talk about let alone see so well executed on film. – – – – – Robin Write
Eau argentée, Syrie autoportrait / Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait
Ossama Mohammed, Wiam Simav Bedirxan – Syria, 2014
Searching the images they’ve been bestowed by citizens of war-torn Syria, Wiam Bedirxan and Ossama Mohammed find truth, but no clarity. Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait is its own response to the Syrian conflict but also to cinema as a whole. Is there so worthy a discussion as that which Bedirxan and Mohammed spark herein? Above and beyond the poetry with which it has been created, this must be its primary purpose, and there’s none more appropriate for a document of such unimaginable horror. And it is truly unimaginable, non-sensationalized yet as graphic in its content and as immediate in its effect as the most gratuitous movie violence; thus, it acts as a condemnation of violence as a concept, be it the mere threat or simulated representation of it.
There’s nothing as real as the real thing. Bedirxan and Mohammed communicate such a wealth of material in even the most ostensibly basic of devices, directly questioning the concept of change: from where have we come to arrive here, and where will we end up? The film provides only more questions in response, the only discernible clarity in Bedirxan and Mohammed’s conclusion: we live only to die, thus ‘survival is the strongest of choices’. As relevant today as upon release two years ago, and ever more harrowing. – – – – – Paddy Mulholland
Una mujer fantástica / A Fantastic Woman
Sebastián Lelio – Chile / Germany / Spain / USA, 2017
Orlando Reyes (Francisco) and Marina (Daniela Vegaare) are a couple that live together in Orlando’s nicely furnished apartment. Although not yet married, there comes a sense in watching them that a next step is soon to come. However, what might be backtracking them from these plans are Orlando’s ex-wife and children. Their main concerns are the age difference, Orlando looks to be in his late 50s whereas Marina cannot be more than in her mid thirties, and, more importantly, the fact that Marina underwent a sex change operation recently and was once a man doesn’t help.
It’s a conventional story of an unconventional woman. Of course, because Marina is transgender it brings about a whole slew of additional social and political undertones to the film. The film is put together with enough passion and verve that, at times, one might be reminded of Pedro Almodovar’s noir melodramas. The film’s tensions, humor, moments filled with sheer transcendence, occur in the first half where we are left to discover the characters, the motives, with Lelio seemingly a step ahead of us. – – – – – Jordan Ruimy
Paweł Pawlikowski – Poland / Denmark / France / UK, 2013
There is no doubt, for those that have seen enough of them, that Pawel Pawikowski’s Ida is such an accurate homage to the uprising of European cinema of the 1960s, you’d be forgiven at first for not believing it was not from that era. With it’s black and white, small aspect ratio, the framing is largely off-center, but truly effective as Pawikowski fills the screen with spaces and silences. The camerawork by Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski in Ida is extraordinarily apparent, but never distracting.
Framing figures in corners, giving life to space and background, while the colorless photography is given a brand new palate of blacks, whites, and grays. The movie also demonstrates excellent lighting from all angles, for multiple story-telling methods. It’s a remarkably simple, but powerful film for those reasons, as we follow the titular Ida, a nun who must now rediscover her identity. Even surrounded by big, bold, brash movies of that year, this small picture still shines brighter than them all. – – – – – Robin Write
Fu cheng mi shi / Mystery
Lou Ye – China, 2012
We open with a couple of cars street racing one and other, the rain is pouring down and the drivers are distracted. Then out of nowhere a woman appears in the middle of the road. The woman is killed and we’re left wondering, who was she and how did she end up in the highway. This is the mystery which sets up Lou Ye’s film and is a shocking, attention grabbing start to the film. We then meet Lu Jie (Hao Lei) a young mother who seems content with her life, living in a nice apartment with her businessman husband, Qiao Yongzhao (Qin Hao). But all is not what it seems. Her husband is distracted and distant. And during a coffee date with her friend, Lue Jie confesses that she believes her husband is cheating on her. At the same time at a hotel across the road from the coffee shop, Lu Jie sees her husband entering the hotel with a young girl called Sun.
We discover that the young woman seen entering the hotel with Lu Jie’s husband is he same woman from the opening, and when the police arrive they notice that Sun had been attacked before she was run over. Could Lu Jie been the one who attacked Sun? With an unreliable narrator, the audience must connect the dots, and try to unpick the truth of what has actually occurred. Shot in a documentary style with hand-held, shaky camera treatment, it feels almost realistic, as if a true crime has taken place, although this may be off putting to some. Director Lou Ye is very effective in making the viewer feel the same discomfort as the characters, where no one can be trusted and where everyone has a secret they’re hiding. – – – – – Bianca Garner
Šar’ayet / Circumstance
Maryam Keshavarz – Iran / Francce / USA, 2011
It truly is compelling to discover what a film can do for under a million dollars – emotionally, politically, cinematically. There is more to Circumstance than a tale of same sex attraction or sibling frailties, or indeed family dysfunction. Those subjects, and a few others, are handled with passionate, authentic care by writer-director Maryam Keshavarz – an enticing, open portrayal of young love and the culture of modern Iran. Themes of sex, drinking, drugs, religion, meant the film was tough to make in Iran, a bold move for Keshavarz to make the picture under her own artistic freedom.
Focusing on a prosperous Iranian family in Tehran, Keshavarz tells the story from the point of view of the teenagers. The daughter Atafeh (Nikohl Boosheri), and her best friend Shireen (Sarah Kazemy), who has pretty much been taken under the family’s wing. As Atafeh’s drug-riddled, recovering, brother Mehran (Reza Sixo Safai) fixates on Shireen, and the parents reminisce of their own golden years, the girls let their hair down, partying, and act on their own impulsive feelings for each other. Neither explicit nor exploitative, the mutual intimacy is so pure and strong in its depiction there’s little choice but to be seduced by it. – – – – – Robin Write
Can que / Crippled Avengers
Cheh Chang – Hong Kong, 1978
One of many Hong Kong kung fu movies of the 1970s, Crippled Avengers (perhaps not the most sensitive title nowadays) is a kung fu ho-down–in a sense that the choreography, complex and feverish, is astoundingly frequent with many moving parts. It’s a dance that, framed in such wide shots and long takes, is rarely seen in the movies of today. With each avenger’s strength stemming from overcoming his disability, it seems that this film and its narrative presages the endless spring of superhero movies from which we guzzle presently. With a healthy dose of camp and some vibrant colors, to boot, Crippled Avengers is a little-known peak of the kung fu genre. – – – – – Ian Nichols
Incendies / Fires
Denis Villeneuve – Canada, 2010
Given how Denis Villeneuve’s career has grown in the last few years, it’s not at all difficult to embrace his talent for cinematic flair. Those recent English-language efforts offered far more emotional punch than the genre of science fiction or crime may assume. It still remains a monumental entry in Villeneuve’s filmography, what he managed to pull off with Incendies back in 2010.
A captivating, truly remarkable experience, Villeneuve captures moments that shock, of tension and revelations, a penetrating family tale that moves you long after you see it. And he does this without glorifying the high drama and all its power, neither do these moments distract his audience. A scene-for-scene brilliant directorial achievement. – – – – – Robin Write
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Ana Lily Amirpour – Iran / USA, 2014
As if the vampire genre hasn’t exhausted the cinema, the self-described “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western” A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a fright flick worth experiencing. Ana Lily Amirpour is an Iranian-American film director, screenwriter, producer and actor known for her first feature film “the first Iranian vampire western.” The film follows the lonesome footsteps of a vampire known as “the girl” who sleeks through the night in the Iranian ghost town known as “Bad City” looking to quench her thirst.
Shot near Bakersfield, Calif., but with dialogue entirely in Farsi, the film takes place in a fictional Iranian setting, identified in subtitles as Bad City, a desolate wasteland with a body count. The black-robed heroine is an avenger of the night who doesn’t take kindly to bad guys; she is first introduced by feeding upon an abusive pimp who has thrown his prostitute out of his vehicle. The film presents an aesthetic reminiscent of so many styles and genres yet manages to feel completely fresh. Fascinating in style and chilling in content. – – – – – Courtney Young
Sans toit ni loi / Vagabond
Agnès Varda – France, 1985
There’s a lingering opening to Agnès Varda’s Vagabond, the somber violin music, the body of a vagrant found in the ditch of a field in rural France. Already a classic, modern day tragedy, the film carries a powerful narrative from start to finish. A kind of road movie on foot, the journey of our dear protagonist is a poignant, fascinating one (camping on a graveyard, unbeknownst to her at the time because of the dark). The film’s editing deserves recognition, too, giving the enduring inevitability a smooth and swift progression. Varda respects Mona, not just given her fate, but also to allow her the time to be expressive and, well, human, in her ambles.
In such a state from the start, you can practically see the smell on her. Mona seems to have a bit of an attitude problem, true, but it rings critical over grateful, as if life has worn her down so much to be so entitled. She’s free, she goes where she likes. Young Sandrine Bonnaire encapsulates every ounce of such a limited lifestyle, a performance of natural poise, vigor, and heart. One character practically talks to the audience at one point, a moment of longing and dreams. Of people who don’t intend on staying in the same place for long, and Varda’s interpretation is a true treasure. – – – – – Robin Write