“The heart-wrenching musical drama unfolds as (Costas) Ferris – a respected songwriter – uses the rembetiko as a source of pride amid the chaos. The music serves as a vessel for (Greek) cultural memory and political commentary.” – – – – – Christina Newland
Ifigeneia / Iphigenia
Michael Cacoyannis – Greece, 1977
On first seeing the 1977 Greek film Iphigenia, my heart was crushed. And this was not a quick, painless experience. It was one that has you yearning for mercy, a happy ending, a kind of cathartic experience. A thoroughly overwhelming experience, a masterpiece of cinema bringing the myth of Iphigenia to life. Adapting the third feature of his Greek tragedy trilogy (Electra, 1962, and The Trojan Women, 1971), Michael Cacoyannis directs the picture like a God himself, throttling us with the notions of classic tragedy and the laws of betrayal and sacrifice. If you don’t know about Artemis’ sacred deer, it is accidentally killed by Agamemnon during battle, and now he must face the unimaginable to atone for his mistake. As well as having to see the distraught, betrayed look in the eyes of his wife, Clytemnestra, and daughter, Iphigenia.
Legendary Greek actress Irene Papas gives every inch of her being to show Clytemnestra’s rage and devastation, a performance so full of joy and then pain, the transition of which is eye-watering to behold. As Agamemnon, Kostas Kazakos captures all the remorse of an error with such horrible repercussions that he can do little about. And then young Tatiana Papamoschou as Iphigenia, was once in rapture of her upcoming wedding, but now has no option but to accept the fate fallen upon her. A piercing, powerful performance on such young shoulders. The great Mikis Theodorakisis on hand, too, to provide yet another stirring score. It’s a heartrending motion picture from Cacoyannis, we’re cast among the chaos, and as the strong wind now blows, we have little choice ourselves but to be swept up by it. – – – – – Robin Write
Kaze Tachinu / The Wind Rises
Hayao Miyazaki – Japan, 2013
Saying that Hayao Miyazaki is one of the greats of world cinema is a gross understatement. His contributions to both the field of animation and visual storytelling almost need no lavish introduction. A career which spans over three decades, ranging from capturing childhood innocence, with elements of fantasy, complex and bold adventure dramas, have earned him and his work universal praise and admiration. In 2014, he made what many believed would be his last animated feature, though it was announced that Miyazaki has come out of retirement to write and direct a new feature under Studio Ghibli. And this time, it’s a fictionalized account of the life of one of Japan’s most influential aviators.
There are no spirits, or ghosts, or supernatural elements used in Miyazaki’s latest work, The Wind Rises, but there are flights of fantasy in the mind of one young dreamer. Jiro Horikoshi wants to fly and become a pilot, but due to having poor vision, he settles on making airplanes instead. He also has the unfortunate timing of being born into a time where Japan joins Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as the Axis powers in the Second World War. Miyazaki is making a bold and profound statement on the human condition: the things we create will, inevitably, be used as a tool of destruction, perverting the beauty and innocence it was originally intended to have. From showing his background as a young student, to a section where he shared a bittersweet romance with his wife, Naoko, The Wind Rises is a gorgeous, tragic and ultimately, rewarding caper from one of cinema’s beautiful and endearing storytellers. – – – – – Jonathan Holmes
La Vérité / The Truth
Henri-Georges Clouzot – France, 1960
A kind of forgotten, or perhaps under-appreciated, film from Henri-Georges Clouzot, The Truth deserves the kind of recognition to be clustered with his top tier work. A love story, courtroom drama hybrid, the scene is set for Dominique to be facing the trial for killing her lover. The fact she did it is hardly in question here, more so whether or not this was a crime of passion or a planned murder. In flashback we discover the start of the volatile relationship, where we learn late just how much Dominique loved him.
The film has some dark strands, especially through the troubled soul of Dominique, on more than one occasion facing suicide as a legitimate option. Even before the murder. For those who still see Brigitte Bardot as merely a starlet, you need to look here. Clouzot has obviously worked her hard, given what we know of his obsession temperament, but Bardot is so convincing, both fiery and vulnerable, this is probably her finest hour as an actress. The final moments with the broken mirror are unforgettable on many levels. – – – – – Robin Write
Cha no Aji / The Taste of Tea
Katsuhito Ishii – Japan, 2004
This 143 minute film is director Katsuhito Ishii’s third feature, and is perhaps his most enjoyable one. Don’t let the film’s runtime put you off, The Taste of Tea is truly beautiful, and is full of wonderful imagery and comic moments that will make the time fly by. Director Ishii manages to create a world so immersive and vivid that it pulls you in. The plot is not really about a straightforward narrative with plot points and actions, but rather experiencing time with an eccentric family, the Haruno’s. The character are just as likable as they are eccentric.
There is Hajime (Takahiro Sato), a shy teen with an unrequited love and a developing case of “female phobia.” Sachiko (Maya Banno), a little girl with a 40 foot imaginary twin. Ayano (Tadanobu Asano), an uncle with his share of interesting stories. Grandpa Akira (Tatsuya Gashuin), a Manga posing old man with a unique spin on hide and seek. The Taste of Tea features all these rich characters, as well as a psychiatrist father (Tomokazu Miura),an artistic mother (Satomi Tezuka). This a character-driven story without a whole lot of plot, this is not a film that people with a short attention span will enjoy, but if you like stories which reveal the inner life of a creative family, then this is the film for you. Moving, whimsical and rich with character and soul, it is hard not to enjoy this delightful film. – – – – Bianca Garner
Juste la fin du monde / It’s Only the End of the World
Xavier Dolan – Quebec / France, 2017
There are some who would argue with me, but Xavier Dolan is probably one of the most interesting young directors on the scene right now. His films divide audiences right down the middle, and this one drew boos and reviews covering every corner of the spectrum when it premiered at Cannes, then went on to win the Grande Prix and the Ecumenical Jury Prize. Loosely adapted from a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, the story concerns a terminally ill playwright who decides to bury the hatchet and make a last visit to his estranged family that he has not seen in over a decade. They have no idea what he’s facing health-wise, and he’s unsure how to tell them or what their reaction will be. It doesn’t take long for him to remember why he left in the first place as all the old tensions between the family members are ever-present and thriving.
What could have been a sappy Hallmark Card episode takes a sober and realistic route. There are top-drawer performances by Gaspard Ulliel as Louis, the protagonist, and superb supporting performances, in particular, by Marion Cotillard, Nathalie Baye and Vincent Cassel. We tend to prefer our dysfunctional family dramas ending with an upbeat – if artificial – conclusion, if only to make us feel better. Dolan does not allow us this dessert, giving us, instead, a more realistic and ultimately satisfying non-conclusion. And isn’t that the way it usually is in real life? – – – – – Steve Schweighofer
L’Enfant / The Child
Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne – Belgium, 2005
L’Enfant could easily be plucked from the consistently compelling filmography of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne in a genuine discussion about their greatest works. And by compelling, I mean that the social dramas they embark on, dark corners and light hearts, either leave a lasting impression or take something from you – or both. Emotive, raw, naturalistic, the 2005 Palme d’Or winner features two central performances by youngsters Jérémie Renier and Déborah François to be marveled at in all their despair.
The Child (English title) sees Bruno and Sonia, surviving on benefits, fall into greater hardship when they have a baby. On his own accord, Bruno sells the baby to make some money fast, to Sonia’s heartbroken dismay. Bruno tries to undo his mistake, but the Dardennes don’t let him off that easy. That said, the empathy and pain you feel as an audience member suggests you feel for him somewhere inside. Of course, your sympathy stays with Sonia throughout ,even with her lesser screen time. – – – – – Robin Write
Die Sehnsucht der Veronika Voss / Veronika Voss
Rainer Werner Fassbinder – West Germany, 1982
The unmatched legacy of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, yet another talent that left us far too early, was perhaps relayed in this black-and-white tragedy. The last of his films to be released while he was still alive, Veronika Voss shadows classic tales of forgotten movie stars. There maybe glamorous costumes and vivid cinematography, but the layers of desperation and faded fortunes weigh heavy. And Fassbinder was a master at the pollution of human behavior, here we have to watch Voss (a mesmerizing Rosel Zech) struggle to find herself, make erratic choices, all the while sliding deeper into a drug addiction. But the abuse largely comes from others too, as the power of corruption and deception take over. Veronika Voss was the third film in Fassbinder’s series, following The Marriage of Maria Braun and Lola. – – – – – Robin Write
Kimssi pyoryugi / Castaway on the Moon
Lee Hae-jun – South Korea, 2009
Love. Hope. Ramen. When I rated both Swiss Army Man and Your Name with 5 stars, a heart, and a glowing recommendation, I had no idea they shared a mutual ancestor – nor had I ever imagined they could. Much less one crafted with such imagination and heart that engages without effort, bidding appeal to the eyes, mind, and psyche without once foregoing its humorous core, even during the most emotionally demanding scenes. Needless to say, I absolutely gave myself to this tale. Whether you choose to see it as a parable, a metaphor, a warning, or simply an absurd, yet thanks to the amazing narrative, not once disputed story to be told, Castaway on the Moon has a very good chance of affecting you the same way it did me. By curling up to fill a tiny cavern in your soul’s pith, one you had no idea was empty to begin with. And making it its forever home. – – – – – The Greek
Turist/ Force Majeure
Ruben Östlund – Norway / Sweden / France, 2014
Ruben Ostlund’s sometimes frustrating but immersively brilliant Force Majeure, a film that would play tremendously well in a double bill with Gone Girl. Both films tackle a “modern-day marriage” in fresh and inventive ways. Where Fincher’s film is a sly, devilish portrait of the modern day “cool girl”, Ostlund’s film is about the male ego and manhood in general. A husband, his wife and their two kids vacation in the French Alps. The scenery is picturesque. Everything changes on the second day. A moment happens that triggers the family’s trust towards the patriarchal figure.
The husband is caught in a “fight or flight” moment and in a quick flash his role in the family is questioned. The questions Force Majeure ask are tough and not easy to answer. What exactly is “manhood”? Are we a society caught up in gender stereotypes? Are our illusions of security and responsibility skewed, flawed? It’s a movie that sparks conversation but also asks us to look in the mirror and question everything we thought we knew about ourselves. In a brilliant third act, Ostlund pulls the rug under us and shows us the hypocrisy and lunacy of it all. – – – – – Jordan Ruimy
Costas Ferris – Greece, 1983
The inviting opening of Rembetiko as we drift through a music and smoke filled bar, cuts between a woman giving birth and the musicians in all their glory. The group sing harmoniously with such pride and joy, the words of the song patriotic and ingrained in Greek history. A fascinating, often extraordinary telling of Greek culture, Costas Ferris’ film portrays the weight of the narrative through the music. Co-written by Ferris and lead actress Sotiria Leonardou, Rembetiko is hefty in passion, drama, and of course melodic brilliance. The wonderful cinematography from Takis Zervoulakos displays a canvas fit for a king, in all its color and motion. You can feel and smell the Greek village atmosphere as well as the crowded bars.
So much of the dramatic heat lies on the faces of the characters, the early moments with Marika’s parents (Themis Bazaka and Nikos Dimitratos, both leap out the screen), bonds crumble, exchanges are bitter. Marika as she grows up, takes the music to the forefront of her life, through not only her voice but the shifting misfortunes life throws at her. As Marika, based on the actual Greek singer, Sotiria Leonardou is remarkable, displaying a fresh faced anguish or worn-out distaste for the drab razzle-dazzle her surroundings inflict on her. The foot-tapping twangs of the Rembetiko music, the baglamas, the bouzouki, even without words, dispel the need for much dialogue – conjuring its own beat. Bravo to the original music from Stavros Xarchakos, that’s not leaving your head for some time. Rembetiko works because it never denies its own routes, transferring a chapter of a Greek era onto the screen, so richly, so immersively, you could have lived through it yourself. – – – – – Robin Write