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From the Archives: She, A Chinese (2009)

12 Mar

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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.

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Grand Central (2013)

13 Feb

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Love is often portrayed as a dangerous game; and yet by setting “Grand Central” against the unconventional backdrop of a nuclear power plant, Rebecca Zlotowski veils her picture in a darker and infinitely more stifling fog of threat. The seeming sterility of the plant lies in stark contrast to the beauty of the burgeoning and forbidden relationship that develops between Gary (Tahar Rahim), a carefree plant rookie desperate to kick out on his own, and confident Karole (an alluring Lea Seydoux), erstwhile fiancée of Gary’s colleague Toni (Denis Menochet).

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From the Archives: Passenger Side (2009)

18 Jan

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With “Passenger Side,” writer-director Matt Bissonnette has managed to produce a picture that boasts not only a screenplay that is nowhere near as witty or sharp as he thinks it is, but also lacks a single discernible likable character. It’s a road movie of sorts, but it meanders rather than drives towards its (not overly surprising) conclusion utilizing a series of claustrophobic car rides as a metaphor for the protagonist’s emotional journeys. Continue reading

Like Father, Like Son (2013)

19 Oct

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Family lies at the centre of much of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s work. It’s at once the most personal and familiar subject matter, but is one that is riddled with nuance and unbounded complexity. Nature versus nurture is a story as old as the hills, but rarely has it been told with such heartfelt craft as in Kore-eda’s latest picture, “Like Father, Like Son.”

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From the Archives: Don’t Worry About Me (2009)

23 Sep

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David Morrissey makes his directorial debut with an adaptation of stage play “The Pool,” effectively a double-hander exploring a developing relationship between Londoner David (James Brough) and Liverpudlian lass Tina (Helen Elizabeth) over the course of a single day in the city.

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From the Archives: Adrift (2009)

21 Aug

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Vietnamese director Bui Thac Chuyên’s second feature “Adrift” is an introspective and thoughtful study of loneliness, sexual desire and experimentation. Mismatched relationships lie at the heart of the picture, which centres around newlywed Duyen (an understated Do Thi Hai Yen) and her dalliances with her young disinterested husband Hai (Nguyen Duy Khoa), solemn friend Cam (Pham Linh Dan) and mysterious alpha male Tho (a rugged Johnny Nguyen).

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A Field in England (2013)

5 Aug

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Ben Wheatley has steadily established himself as a director of considerable craft, boundless diversity and unabashed ambition; seemingly as comfortable helming an occultist horror thriller (“Kill List”) as he is a pitch-black comedy (“Sightseers”). For his fourth full feature, Wheatley turns his hand to 17th-century English Civil War psychedelia with “A Field in England,” a baffling but brave sojourn into the fantastical.

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The Act of Killing (2012)

16 Jul

In September 1965 an abortive coup d’etat in Indonesia resulted in bloody retribution and the deaths of approximately 1 million people, the majority of whom were assassinated for alleged links to Communism.  In charge of these killing squads were small time crooks of the likes of Anwar Congo, a happy go lucky gangster who remains proud of what he did and who enjoys minor celebrity status to this day.

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From the Archives: Balibo (2009)

23 Jun

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Inspired by journalist Jill Jolliffe’s book “Cover Up,” Robert Connolly’s controversial political thriller “Balibo” attempts to uncover the truth behind the brutal deaths of six journalists in East Timor in 1975. It’s highly charged, emotive and powerful, but it’s also exceptionally brave film-making because it dares to challenge the long-held official line of events of not one, but two governments (that of Indonesia and Australia).

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From the Archives: Shirley Adams (2009)

17 Jun

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First-time director and scribe Oliver Hermanus delivers an astounding and intimate portrait of a mother’s struggles to care for her quadriplegic son. In Cape Town slum Mitchell’s Plain, Shirley Adams (a remarkable Denise Newman) cares for her young son Donovan (Keenan Arrison), a tragic victim of a gangland shooting which has left him paralysed from the neck down. Shirley’s husband has abandoned the pair; and Shirley — forced to give up work to care for Donovan — lives in relative poverty, relying on the good nature of neighbour Kariema (Theresa Sedras) to get by.

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