Proponents of above-average 1980s TV shows may recall a gruff and mysterious Edward Woodward in a stellar turn as shady agency-type Robert McCall meting out deserved vengeance on all manner of ne’er-do-wells. Its premise revolved around McCall — haunted by his past life — offering to put things right by helping those in need against forces of evil, in effect equalizing rights and wrongs. It was an interesting concept, legitimizing violent revenge by instilling its hero with a fierce moral compass. No wonder then that the show has been afforded a big screen adaptation, bought into the 21st century by “Training Day” tag team Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington.
The tragic true tale of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident gunned down by an overzealous cop on New Year’s Day 2009, forms the basis of Ryan Coogler’s hauntingly powerful feature debut, Fruitvale Station. Opening with shaky archival mobile phone footage of the incident that sparked outrage across the US, Coogler gives us a glimpse of Grant’s fate before unveiling the story of the man who ultimately lies behind the statistic. Continue reading
FIPRESCI award-winning director Javier Rebollo teams up with Spanish TV stalwart Carmen Machi for an atmospheric character study that touches on feelings of helplessness and discontent and the lengths some people will go to define their existence.
Machi is Rosa, a middle-aged Madrid housewife who wiles away her time watching daytime television and tending to trite chores; Rebollo neatly highlights the banality of her routine with shots of a made bed and a plate of food. She has long, tedious conversations with people she doesn’t want to speak to: a salesman on the phone, an unhelpful woman at the post office. It all makes for a fairly miserable and meandering existence, which Rebollo emphasises by filling the picture with shots of clocks highlighting the slow passage of time. Yet when night falls, Rosa appears to lead a secret life and donning a wig she disappears into the night.
Chris Atkins may be the most influential documentary maker currently working in Britain. His 2007 BAFTA-nominated film, “Taking Liberties,” examined the gradual erosion of civil liberties and the rise of a surveillance society under New Labour; it’s an informative and terrifying picture. His follow up, “Starsuckers,” is a damning indictment of the power of the media and the cult of celebrity; and it’s perhaps the most relevant and hard-hitting picture of the year.
The enigma that is 21st-century China and the effect that rapid modernization has had on its younger generation forms the crux of Xiaolu Guo’s latest film, “She, a Chinese.” Guo’s inherently sad tale follows the personal journey of Li Mei (an exceptional Huang Lu) from the Chinese countryside to the big city and eventually to London as she vainly searches for an identity and meaning.
Li Mei spends her time daydreaming about an escape from her village. She’s aloof and ponderous; and her entire persona is tinged with sadness. It’s obvious that she’s longing for something more. Brother Qiang (Wu Leiming), a DVD pirate who has made it in Shenzhen opens her eyes to possibility and opportunity; a controlling mother and a tragic encounter only hardening her desire to make her own way in the world. Essentially, Mei epitomizes the new Chinese generation, one that is exposed to globalization and modernization, albeit in a very controlled and traditional society. Guo highlights the duality of modern China by portraying grand vistas of the countryside alongside vast building developments. It’s an obvious but very pertinent statement about the conflicting state of contemporary China.
So Mei journeying to the nearest big city Chongqing, soon finds that the enticing bright city lights don’t always fulfill their promise of glamour and riches, especially when she doesn’t quite know what she’s looking for. Working for local mafia thug Spikey (Wei Yibo) at the Love Salon, Mei thinks she’s found love, but in reality she’s yearning for more. Enthralled by the draw of the West (represented by a Big Ben calendar), Mei’s journey eventually takes her to London, a move which (initially at least) promises to be as unfulfiling as everything that has gone before.
Guo’s chapter style direction is an effective device, driving the narrative and lending “She, a Chinese” a steady, progressive pace as Mei’s journey swiftly changes locations. In addition, Huang’s introspective depiction of Mei is utterly compelling; despite Mei’s many setbacks, Huang lends her a rock-hard exterior. She’s driven and determined; and while Mei sometimes comes across as unsympathetic, it’s hard not to wish some happiness upon her — in fact, tellingly Mei only smiles once in the entire duration of the film.
It’s a sombre tale, yet there is room for optimism given that Mei’s journey is open-ended. There’s an overriding feeling that despite her travails, Mei is growing and finding her own direction, which essentially is what she so desperately wanted in the first place. Zillah Bowes’ beautifully emotive cinematography perfectly reflects Mei’s physical and emotional journey while Guo’s screenplay ensures Mei’s saga is tinged with hope as well as pessimism. “She, a Chinese” is skillfully crafted, affecting and bold; but more importantly, it’s urgent and relevant filmmaking.