Kornél Mundruczó’s “White God” is a curious creature. Ostensibly, this is the tale of the fierce bond that binds the teenage Lili (played with impressive maturity by the elfin Zsófia Psotta) and her mongrel mutt Hagen (Luke and Body) together. However, Mundruczó envelops this story in a somewhat suffocating layer of allegorical social commentary that belies a considered intelligence, but ultimately results in a tonally uneven picture. That said, “White God” picked up the prized Un Certain Regard award at Cannes, rightly rewarding Mundruczó for his innovative and ambitious vision, which — while flawed — is at least a fiercely original piece of work.
Erstwhile purveyor of inventive Japanese fare Sion Sono follows up his subversive 2013 picture “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” with yet another dollop of ludicrous cinema. “Tokyo Tribe” is a manga-inspired world of hip-hop gangsters and comic-book villains; grimy, corrupt and ffuelledby blood, money and women. Sono’s vision is singular; and his highly stylized tale plays out as a hip-hop musical number, a trope that is as deliriously mad as it sounds: think “The Warriors” meets “West Side Story” with a dash of “Sin City” thrown in for good measure.
The fascinating true story of Xavier Fortin — a father who took to the land with his two young sons for more than a decade — forms the basis of Cédric Kahn’s latest picture “Wild Life.” Fortin — here portrayed as Philippe “Paco” Fournier with great guile by Gallic stalwart Mathieu Kassovitz — is a desperate father to three sons, faced with the dismal prospect of a failing relationship and the death of his vision for an idealistic life living off the land. Kahn wisely steers clear of moralizing and judgement, instead choosing to focus on the nature and reality of Paco’s desire for a pure existence and upbringing for his boys and the circumstances that led to their flight to the hills.
There is something disconcertingly unsatisfying in the fact that the complex life of master mathematician, cryptanalyst and key figure in the outcome of World War II, Alan Turing (played by a magnificent Benedict Cumberbatch), is relayed here in such formulaic fashion. Turing was an enigmatic man: fiercely intelligent but emotionally distant, impersonal and difficult — yet his very genius relied on him being just so. While Morten Tyldum does attempt to unravel Turing’s tale and character by touching on his formative years at school and his ultimately tragic postwar fate, the focus here is on Turing’s work at Bletchley Park during World War II and his pioneering work on cracking the Enigma code.
Tyldum might have been best served sticking to that aspect of Turing’s story alone, as the sporadic flashbacks to his school days add little texture, while the postwar scenes are a diversion that only serves to highlight the eventual injustice afforded to a war hero on the basis of his homosexuality. Of course, Turing’s sexuality was a key aspect of his character, yet it is glossed over to such an extent that it sits rather uncomfortably.
The British miners’ strike of 1984 to ’85 was a wholly divisive and socially transformative industrial action that threatened to paralyse the country and bring down Margaret Thatcher’s government. It was the last great battle cry of the socialist unions, fed up with the Tory diktat of rampant privatization of British industry but ultimately one that served to signal the end of overt unionist power. The struggle was pitched as “Arthur’s army” (after influential National Union of Mineworkers’ leader Arthur Scargill) versus the enemy within, a vicious moniker coined by Thatcher to describe the striking miners. “Still the Enemy Within” is the unashamed and wholly single-minded story from the miners’ perspective of those dark days that came to define Thatcher’s decade-long reign and that changed a country forever.
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.