Friday, November 28, 2014

VIRADOS DO AVESSO

The concept of "stunt casting" can appear in some cases to be entirely inspired. On paper, Virados do Avesso seems to be one of them: asking experimental-minded Portuguese auteur Edgar Pêra, last seen playfully exploring digital 3D (first next to Jean-Luc Godard and Peter Greenaway in the omnibus film 3x3D, then on his own with the psychedelic travelogue Lisbon Revisited), to direct an all-out mainstream sex farce top-lined by current Portuguese "it" boy Diogo Morgado, aka "Hot Jesus" from the Bible TV series.

     The end result, sadly, is a misfire, though a rather peculiar one: there's really precious little Mr. Pêra (happily assuming the mantle of a "hack for hire" for one of the co-producers of his best film, O Barão) could do to enliven the bargain-basement sitcom script by TV writers Frederico Pombares and Roberto Pereira, about a gay novelist (Mr. Morgado) in a happy committed relationship who wakes up one day with a bizarre amnesia that has him forget his homosexuality and act as the proverbial man's man. The director deploys his usual bag of visual tricks (fisheye lenses, handheld extreme close-ups, angular, off-key setups) to push a square peg in a round hole and speeds everything up to a frenzy, emphasizing the nonsense aspects of the script to turn it into a psychedelic low-budget screwball comedy.

     For that to work as a fine madness, though, everyone should be on the same wavelength, but in fact Virados do Avesso suggests all involved were aiming at different films: the script is an often tasteless clothesline of laboured punchlines and tired clichés about sexuality; the music score seems to be the non-stop equivalent of an overegged laugh track; the cast (a rag bag mix of character actors, TV stars and pointless celebrity cameos) seems to be all over the place, with only Rui Melo, as the novelist's shifty agent, and Pêra regular Nuno Melo, as his weird brother-in-law, escaping the exaggerated TV histrionics everybody else seems to espouse.

     In fact, that seems to be the issue at the heart of Virados do Avesso: a film that takes all of its clues from TV comedy, and not even good one at that. If even with a talented filmmaker at its helm this is a poor show of a comedy, I shudder to think what a bad one would have done with it.

VIRADOS DO AVESSO
Portugal 2014
96 minutes
Cast Diogo Morgado, Jorge Corrula, Diana Monteiro, Marina Albuquerque, Nuno Melo, Rui Melo, Philippe Leroux, Miguel Borges, Marco Paiva, Melânia Gomes, Miguel Partidário, Álvaro Faria, Rui Unads, Isabel Medina, Nicolau Breyner, José Wallenstein, Anselmo Ralph, Bárbara Guimarães
Director and editor Edgar Pêra; screenwriters Frederico Pombares and Roberto Pereira; based on a story by Mr. Pombares, Henrique Dias and Mr. Pereira; cinematographer Miguel Sales Lopes (colour); composer José de Castro; designer Joana Gaspar; costumes Sílvia Grabowsky; producer Ana Costa; production companies Cinecool and Cinemate
Screened November 11th 2014, NOS Alvaláxia 3, Lisbon (distributor advance press screening)


Thursday, November 27, 2014

SAINT LAURENT

You may remember that, in Bertrand Bonello's ravishing House of Tolerance, a gaggle of early 1900s prostitutes slow-danced to the anachronistic sounds of the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin". For his unauthorised yet equally exquisite biopic of fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent, the French director follows the same narcoleptic, seductive path of jumbling past tenses together, in a chronology that is neither linear nor exact but, rather, thematic and sensorial.

     While Jalil Lespert's earlier fashion plate of an authorized biography, Yves Saint-Laurent, lost itself in the illusions of appearance without ever explaining its subject beyond his commitment to fashion, Mr. Bonello uses that commitment and his exacting perfectionism as the keys that unlock his personality: an insecure, overworked, lustful artist, whose passion to make everything look perfect masked an emptiness at his heart and a desire to find the truth behind the image.

     Lost in a constant maze of mirrors, walls, doorways, bedrooms, the many interiors where Mr. Bonello places his Saint Laurent, played by Gaspard Ulliel, are as claustrophobic and as sickly as the Apollonide, the Parisian brothel at the heart of House of Tolerance. The gravitational pull of Saint Laurent's obsessions is almost unbearably entropic, underlined by the flashbacks and flash-forwards that take the film from the 1970s, where most of it takes place, to the final days of his life.

     The aged designer is portrayed in these later scenes by the legendary Helmut Berger, suggesting Mr. Bonello is tracing a decadent lineage to 1970s transgressive cinema, espousing both its sense of freedom and of style. The director's approach has always been one of Baudelairian luxe and voluptuousness, and he is not in the market for a traditional narrative biopic. Unlike Mr. Lespert, Mr. Bonello is an aesthete and one that is aiming for a series of impressionistic snapshots of a creative mind at work, reflected in his central conceit: a man whose truth is hidden just below a surface he has made so irresistible that no one will want to look further in, lost in a hall of mirrors of his own creation.

     All of it is perfectly encapsulated in the amazing one-take scene where Saint Laurent, seen only in reflection on the dressing room's mirror, coaches one of his clients (a superb cameo from Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) on how to make his design work for her specific body. Maybe Bertrand Bonello is a kind of magician of the screen like Saint Laurent was a magician of the fabric: even at a somewhat sprawling two-and-a-half-hours running time, Saint Laurent is enveloping, seductive, narcotic.

SAINT LAURENT
France, Belgium 2014
150 minutes
Cast Gaspard Ulliel, Jérémie Renier, Louis Garrel, Léa Seydoux, Aymeline Valade, Amira Casar, Micha Lescot, Helmut Berger, Valeria Bruna Tedeschi, Jasmine Trinca, Valérie Donzelli, Dominique Sanda
Director Bertrand Bonello; screenwriters Mr. Bonello and Thomas Bidegain; cinematographer Josée Deshaies (colour); composer Mr. Bonello; designer Katia Wyszkop; costumes Anaïs Romand; editor Fabrice Rouaud; producers Éric Altmayer and Nicolas Altmayer; production companies Mandarin Cinéma and Europacorp in co-production with Orange Studio, ARTE France Cinéma, Scope Pictures and Belgacom
Screened November 6th 2014, Medeia Monumental 4, Lisbon (distributor advance press screening)


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

BOYHOOD

Richard Linklater's unhurried, uncannily simple tale of an American teenager growing up has touched a chord with audiences and critics since it was unveiled at Sundance last January. In large part, this has been helped by its unwitting counter-programming: in an age where major studios seem interested in peddling big visual effects fantasies and are reluctant to engage in smaller-scale (and often more lucrative) dramas, a three-hour film where nothing much happens except people going about their lives seems a much more radical proposition than it actually is.

     But that sense of looking at normal lives has always been at the heart of Mr. Linklater's work, making him one of the truest heirs of the possibility-rich "new Hollywood" of the 1970s, as well as a director very much of his time in the way that his most formally inventive works have meshed documentary and fiction (Bernie comes to mind). And that is where the "gimmick" that underlies Boyhood kicks in. To be fair, it's not a gimmick (hence the quote marks), but a device woven into the project's own fabric: the film was shot in real time over 12 years, with a set cast and crew reconvening for a few days every year to enact the "growing pains" of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), the youngest son of divorced parents (Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke).

     Michael Apted's Ups series of television documentaries, dropping in every seven years on a cross-section of British kids to see what has become of them and how life has changed them, may be a reference point thematically. Another is Mr. Linklater's own trilogy of Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and Before Midnight, which followed the development of the romance between Julie Delpy and Mr. Hawke at regular intervals.

     But, here, the passage of time has a whole other effect, as there is no "interval". Whereas the Before films were all about taking stock of people at different steps in their lives, Boyhood compresses those steps into a single dramatic, narrative structure that follows Mason from first through to 12th grade. It becomes a time capsule of the period during which it was shot, but its fleeting references to the Iraq war, Barack Obama's election and the economic recession never overpower the essence of the film: the sense of a life being lived in real time, its poignancy and emotion born from the progressive accumulation of episodes and vignettes that might have seemed trite or banal on their own

     That sense of passing time is usually something Hollywood is pretty good at recreating within the confined strictures of a family saga shot on studio sets in a compressed time frame, but Mr. Linklater's protracted shoot gives it a whole other edge. There's no prosthetic make-up or substituted actors, and nobody has any qualms about showing their age on screen, making Boyhood as much a fictional construct as it can be a documentary on the passage of time; that surfeit of "reality", combined with the film's loose scripting, gives it a charming, casual modesty that is utterly refreshing in these days of bombast. It's a whole other meaning - and a much better one - for the word "accumulation".

     For all that, there can be a sense that Boyhood is a "film about nothing", just as Seinfeld was a "sitcom about nothing". Mr. Linklater is not above asking that same question himself; Mr. Coltrane, just six years old when the shoot began and 19 by its end, can often seem a purely reactive, passive presence in the film (though it very much reflects Mason's own process growing up), and Ms. Arquette, towards the end of the film, articulates that same question when Mason is about to head for college and she says "I just thought there would be more". But that assumes, in a way, that raising a child wasn't enough per se, and Boyhood has by then disproved her disappointment by showing just how every small action, for better or for worse, has an impact as time goes by.

     Admittedly, the impact of the film itself may be blunted if you see it without knowing it was shot over 12 years (to his credit, Mr. Linklater does not call attention to it at all in the film, as there are no on-screen captions, letting the physical changes explain what needs to be explained). But that does not underline or nullify its concept or its approach, and you can still enjoy the simple story at the heart of Boyhood: that of a young boy growing up in public. As we all do.

BOYHOOD
USA 2014
165 minutes
Cast Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater, Ethan Hawke
Director and screenwriter Richard Linklater; cinematographers Lee Daniel and Shane Kelly (colour); designer Rodney Becker; costumes Kari Perkins; editor Sandra Adair; producers Mr. Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland, Jonathan Sehring e John Sloss; production companies IFC Productions and Detour Filmproduction
Screened February 13th 2014, Berlinale Palast, Berlin (Berlinale 2014 official competition press screening), and November 19th 2014, NOS Alvaláxia 1, Lisbon (distributor advance press screening)


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

20,000 DAYS ON EARTH

It's not necessary to be a fan of Nick Cave to enjoy the compelling, alluring circumnavigation of his universe that is 20,000 Days on Earth. It may help, granted. But British multimedia artists Jane Pollard and Iain Forsyth, long-time collaborators of the singer, songwriter and writer making here their feature film debut, are not doing a film for devotees; rather, a treatise on the creative impulse and process as seen through the eyes someone who once gave a lecture on "the secret life of the love song".

     This isn't a documentary portrait of the Australian-born singer and songwriter, one of the most literate and accomplished to have come out of the alternative post-punk scene of the late 1970s/1980s, though it does feature a great deal of documentary footage (of rehearsals, studio recordings or live performances). Instead, Ms. Pollard and Mr. Forsyth use his work as an entry way into his world, following what would be a "typical day" in Mr. Cave's life, only one being lived by a composite image of his, assembled for the benefit of the cameras.

     Guided by Mr. Cave's impressively self-analytical voiceover, punctuated by conversations with friends or creative foils behind the wheel of his car, 20,000 Days on Earth unfolds as an attempt to explain the creative process that can only be seen and understood sensorially, not explained away in words or sentences. It reveals the extent to which specific creativity is tied up to each artist's personal history and references, and in Mr. Cave's case it is at the same time refuge and prison, escape and harness, even though recognizing that there is a common centre to an artistic career - the desire to become someone else, bigger and larger than life.

     And, despite the myriad possible reasons that make anyone choose art, there is always an unlikely pairing of inspiration and technique required by creativity, a need to keep hammering away at it, that justifies Mr. Cave's definition, at one point, of artists and songwriters as "technicians of the sacred". That turn of phrase turns out to be the key to this portrait of the artist as a man and of the man as a performer, slyly set up by Ms. Pollard and Mr. Forsyth in the glossy widescreen visuals of a music video, rapturously soundtracked by Mr. Cave and his regular accomplice Warren Ellis, but consistently gnawing at the truth, occasionally painful, always hard-working, underneath the facade.

     It's a performance, they seem to be saying, but there's truth underneath it; you just have to dig quietly and that's what this haunting, utterly spellbinding voyage into the heart of creation is. You don't have to be a Nick Cave fan going in to enjoy it, but you might just as well become one coming out.

20,000 DAYS ON EARTH
United Kingdom, USA 2014
97 minutes
Directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard; screenwriters Mr. Forsyth, Ms. Pollard and Nick Cave; cinematographer Erik Wilson (colour, widescreen); composers Mr. Cave and Warren Ellis; designer Simon Rogers; editor Jonathan Amos; producers James Wilson and Dan Bowen; production companies Filmfour, Corniche Pictures, Pulse Films, The British Film Institute, and JW Films in association with PHI Films and Goldin Films
Screened November 17th 2014, Lisbon (DVD)


Friday, November 21, 2014

THE TRIP TO ITALY

Here's the question: why would you want to spend two hours following two grouchy middle-aged comedians traveling around Italy, ostensibly to assess top-shelf Italian restaurants for a newspaper article, but in fact taking stock of where their lives are at the moment and wondering where did things stop going the way they'd wanted them to?

     Of course, it depends on who the grouchy comedians are and on who is tagging along with them. In this case, the comedians are Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, starring in a sequel to a previous collaboration in the same vein, the very successful The Trip, a hybrid of film and TV series, documentary and fiction that followed them around a gastronomical trip to the Lake District. It's fair to say that there will be a lot of people interested in taking another trip with the pair.

     But, while there's certainly more than just a demand for a sequel as a motivation for The Trip to Italy, its non-descript, uninspired handling and general desultory laziness suggests that nobody really thought much about it. Director Michael Winterbottom has always enjoyed blurring the borders between documentary and fiction, nowhere more than in his previous collaborations with Mr. Coogan (not only in The Trip, but also in the Factory/Tony Wilson biopic 24 Hour Party People or his riff on Tristram Shandy, A Cock and Bull Story).

     Again, the difference between Messrs. Coogan and Brydon as actors and Coogan and Brydon as characters is blurred here, with the actors playing not themselves but alternate-universe versions within a fictional storyline (the purported "real people" that show up during their travels, from Mr. Brydon's wife on the phone to Mr. Coogan's son who joins them at the end, are actually actors playing characters).

     But, by condensing in under two hours material shot for a six-episode TV series, The Trip to Italy doesn't seem so much to move from one tourist stop to the next, as it lurches in a stop-start fashion. No context or location is ever given out to the viewer, the meals are shown but never explained, signalling that the aim is not to make an actual travelogue but to use its structure to journey within its characters' bitter-sweet relationship as they travel through Italy following the footsteps of 19th century poets Byron and Shelley.

     The obvious reference point here is Roberto Rossellini's 1954 Journey to Italy, with British expats Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders sharing an existential road trip, but it quickly becomes clear Mr. Winterbottom is punching in way above his head in openly referencing that classic. Messrs. Coogan and Brydon's rapport makes their push-and-pull, back-and-forth relationship conveniently awkward and brings out the tensions that success and questioning raise, but that uneasy dynamic sits oddly with the extended improvisational riffs on the state of art and acting these days (even if, say, their takes on Michael Caine or Marlon Brando are actually very funny). Almost as if they wanted to have their cake and eat it, too.

     Above all, The Trip to Italy is yet another puzzling reminder of how a director as intriguing as Mr. Winterbottom, and responsible for interesting work such as A Mighty Heart or 24 Hour Party People, keeps churning out films as underwhelming as this. Shot in an utterly indifferent, anonymous way, cutting back and forth between Mr. Coogan and Mr. Brydon in a way that seems to try to create rhythm or action where there is none, not above resorting to picture postcard shots or long lenses to show "yes, they're really there!", it's a "damp squib" of a sequel that will probably appeal only to completists of its stars and director.

THE TRIP TO ITALY
United Kingdom 2014
104 minutes
Cast Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon, Rosie Fellner, Claire Keelan, Marta Barrio, Timothy Leach, Ronni Ancona, Rebecca Johnson
Director Michael Winterbottom; cinematographer James Clarke (colour); costumes Lisa Shanley; editors Mags Arnold, Paul Monaghan and Marc Richardson; producer Melissa Parmenter; production companies Revolution Films, Baby Cow Films and Small Man Films for BBC Films
Screened November 15th 2014, Lisbon (distributor DVD screener)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

GET ON UP

"There are no second acts in American lives," said once F. Scott Fitzgerald. In keeping with that motto, the late soul singer James Brown's life story suggests you simply have to make sure the first act keeps going at full speed. The question comes up because director Tate Taylor treats his intriguing (if underachieving) biopic of "the hardest working man in show business" as the tale of an American destiny: the son of poor black Southerners who, basically left to fend for himself, pulled himself up by the bootstraps into a consummate performer and outspoken defender of the black identity. "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud".

     Get On Up, whose narrative ends a few years before the singer's death, paints Brown as a man for whom "all the world was a stage", a minutiae-obsessed control freak who strove at all times to be in command of the message but found himself wielding a lot more power than even he would have ever thought. The key line of Mr. Taylor's film, scripted by playwright Jez Butterworth and his brother John-Henry (a regular collaborator), comes at the end: "I paid the cost to be the boss". It's lonely at the top, and in that assumption of both unavoidable loneliness and steely ambition, of "having what it takes", mirrored by its rags-to-riches story arc, Brown is presented as a true American original.

     That is only underlined by the fact that the music is not so much the heart of the film as a means to an end: Brown could have been an actor, an athlete, an engineer, an executive, it just happens music was his line of work. Mr. Taylor and the Butterworth brothers prefer to focus on the push-and-pull of success and integrity, friendship and business, placed against a context where Brown was starting from a losing position - a black artist from poor beginnings, starting his career in the still segregated America of the 1950s. The period context is always present but never pushed forward, working in the background to make understandable what's going on, much helped by master DP Stephen Goldblatt's honeyed images and Mark Ricker's production design.

     Out of this comes the true centre of the film, the lifelong friendship between Brown and Bobby Byrd. Nelsan Ellis is excellent as the gospel singer from a middle-class black family that offers him a shot at making music and ends up both a witness and a victim of the singer's talent and ruthlessness.

     Even though the music isn't necessarily the key to the story, it's still shot with much more care and sensibility than you would expect, with Mr. Taylor's clean, spare handling and Chadwick Boseman's earnest, committed performance as Brown being on the whole extremely well judged. But Get On Up is much more interesting than just that: the Butterworths' script eschews a chronological narrative in favour of a free-flowing back-and-forth between eras in the singer's life, juxtaposed in a sort of "stream-of-consciousness" sequence that sees Mr. Boseman often address the audience directly.

     To everyone's credit, this doesn't come off as either artificial or pretentious, but actually works within the context of an aged star remembering what made his life so special. And that's also the reason why it's a shame that Get On Up seems, at times, too in awe of James Brown's achievements to actually point out the depths he could sink to. In fairness, the film does present him as a cold-hearted, abusive bastard, but it does so mostly within the professional realm and, at almost two and a half hours of screen time, it still treads lightly on his family life and on the multiple accusations of spousal abuse.

     But this is a celebration of a singular talent, rather than a full-on, no-holds-barred biopic, backed by a major Hollywood studio, so there's clearly a strong need for Get On Up to somehow fit the great tradition of musical biopics. Seen in that light, it's really quite impressive that Tate Taylor made something that doesn't merely parrot the "official line" but actually tries to engage the circumstances and the events that surrounded a life in music. Even if it doesn't go all the way, it's a better attempt than most.

GET ON UP
USA, Japan 2014
139 minutes
Cast Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Fred Melamed, Craig Robinson, Jill Scott, Octavia Spencer
Director Tate Taylor; screenwriters Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth; based on a story by Steven Baigelman, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth; cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt (colour); composer Thomas Newman; designer Mark Ricker; costumes Sharen Davis; editor Michael McCusker; producers Brian Grazer, Mick Jagger, Victoria Pearman, Erica Huggins and Mr. Taylor; production companies Universal Pictures, Imagine Entertainment and Jagged Films in association with Wyolah Films and Dentsu/Fuji Television Network
Screened November 10th 2014, @Cinema, Lisbon (distributor advance press screening)


Thursday, November 13, 2014

PONTS DE SARAJEVO (The Bridges of Sarajevo)

There are very few concepts in modern filmmaking as difficult to pull off and as ungrateful in their results as the contemporary omnibus film - a genre that had its peaks in the fifties and sixties but that has since been usually resurrected for institutional or worthy projects, ending up as mere curios designed by committee.

     On paper, The Bridges of Sarajevo is such a pudding, with a series of producers from all over Europe commissioning a baker's dozen of directors to create shorts inspired by the centenary of the assassination of archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo that plunged Europe into World War I, with the Bosnian city as a recurring thematic or formal element. The main difference is that The Bridges of Sarajevo has been "curated" by an outside artistic director, French critic and journalist Jean-Michel Frodon, who assembled a rather impressive roster of contemporary European directors, from the well-established to the up-and-coming.

     The first episode, Bulgarian Kamen Kalev's oneiric recreation of the last hours of Franz Ferdinand, sets the ball rolling on a freeform series of meditations on Sarajevo's tortured, pivotal role in European history. But only Mr. Kalev's My Dear Night and Italian director Leonardo di Costanzo's The Outpost, inspired by a short story by Federico de Roberto, are out and out period pieces, with Vladimir Perišić's Our Shadows' Will and German Angela Schanelec's desultory Princip, Text (a disappointing outing by a usually fascinating director) blending the events of 1914 into after-the-fact, contemporary-set essays. After that, The Bridges of Sarajevo pretty much becomes a litany of stories inspired by or derived from the bloody Balkan war that disintegrated the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.

     As the focus closes in on the painful recent history of Sarajevo, which has by now been the subject of many European films, the project becomes less and less interesting, more hackneyed; the finest skits reference in oblique but interesting ways the inexorable pull of history, like Romanian Cristi Puiu's Das Spektrum Europas, a slow-burn satire that ingeniously devastates European prejudice in a single one-take bedroom shot, or Mr. Perišić's dissociated phantasmagoria of images and soundtrack around the statements made by the 1914 conspirators.

      Others work within a format more close to documentary. Belorussian  Sergei Loznitsa's Reflections is an austere sequence of portraits of fighters in the Balkan wars superimposed on contemporary Sarajevo landscapes; Bosnian Aida Begić's Album is a heartfelt assemblage of flashes of memory and thoughts from folk who survived the conflicts; French actress Isild le Besco's Little Boy is a fly-on-the-wall portrait, neither documentary nor fiction, of a young boy whose daily struggles can be an immense adventure. And then there's the eternal weave of veteran Jean-Luc Godard, whose video-essay The Bridge of Sighs is a mere playful footnote to his many works on the subject of the Bosnian war, Sarajevo and the intersection of modern History with art.

     Generally, the more openly narrative the episode, the least interesting; the absolute nadir is Spaniard Marc Recha's litany of pseudo-poetic clichés about a family relocated to Catalonia, Zan's Journey, whereas Switzerland's Ursula Meier and Portugal's Teresa Villaverde create slender, charming stories that reflect their usual thematic preoccupations but truly bring nothing new to the table.

     The end result of The Bridges of Sarajevo is certainly more cohesive and coherent than most omnibuses tend to be, and there is indeed a stronger throughline, both artistic and thematic, connecting the episodes (beyond François Schuiten's and Luís da Matta Almeida's elegant but overly symbolic animated interludes). But that doesn't make the project any more enticing or exciting; just another institutional omnibus whose inherent worthiness and niceness fails to result in a film artistically or thematically strong or enticing enough for people to get up and see it.

PONTS DE SARAJEVO
France, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Germany 2014
114 minutes

MA CHÈRE NUIT (My Dear Night)
Cast Samuel Finzi, Gilles Tschudi; director and screenwriter Kamen Kalev; cinematographer Julian Atanassov (colour, widescreen); composer Kaloyan Dimitrov; designer Svilen Nokolov and Marin Panovski; costumes Krasimira Vringova; editor Xavier Sirven; producer Filip Todorov

AU GRÉ DE NOS OMBRES (Our Shadows Will)
Director and screenwriter Vladimir Perišić; cinematographer Simon Beaufils (colour); editor Jelena Maksimović; producers Mirsad Purivatra, Izeta Gradević and Jovan Marjanović

L'AVANT-POSTE (The Outpost)
Cast Gaetano Bruno, Emanuel Caserio, Fortunato Leccese, Emiliano Masala; director Leonardo di Costanzo; screenwriters Maurizio Braucci and Mr. di Costanzo; based on the short story La Paura by Federico de Roberto; cinematographer Luca Bigazzi (colour); designer Giliano Carli; costumes Andrea Taddia; editor Carlotta Cristiani; producer Francesco Virga

PRINCIP, TEXTE (Princip, Text)
Cast Vedad Kovačević, Melisa Kadrović; director and screenwriter Angela Schanelec; cinematographer Reinhold Vorschneider (colour); editor Helle le Fevre

RÉVEILLON (Das Spektrum Europas)
Cast Marian Rălea, Valeria Seciu; director and screenwriter Cristi Puiu; cinematographer Luchian Ciobanu (colour); designer Cristina Barbu; costumes Maria Pitea; editor Ion Ioachim Stroe; producers Mr. Purivatra, Ms. Gradević and Mr. Marjanović

LE PONT DES SOUPIRS (The Bridge of Sighs)
Made by Jean-Luc Godard, Fabrice Aragno, Jean-Paul Battaggia and Paul Grivas

RÉFLEXIONS (Reflections)
Director Sergei Loznitsa; portraits by Milomir Kovačević Strašni; cinematographer Oleg Mutu (B&W); editors Danielius Kokanauskis and Mr. Loznitsa; producer Maria Choustova-Baker

LE VOYAGE DE ZAN (Zan's Journey)
Cast Mak Dzinovic, Zlatko Dzinovic, Muammer Dzinovic, Zenana Brcic; director and screenwriter Marc Recha; cinematographer Diego Dussuel (colour); composer Pau Recha; editor Belén López

ALBUM (Album)
Director and screenwriter Aida Begić; cinematographer Erol Zubčević (B&W and colour); editor Redžinald Šimek; producers Mr. Purivatra, Ms. Gradević and Mr. Marjanović

SARA ET SA MÈRE (Sara and Her Mother)
Cast Sabina Šabiđ Zlatan, Sara Šabić Zlatan, Senaida K.; director and screenwriter Teresa Villaverde; cinematographer Rui Poças (colour); editor Andrée Davanture; producers Pandora da Cunha Telles and Pablo Iraola

LE PONT (The Bridge)
Cast Fatima Nejmarlika, Majo Ivkovic; director and screenwriter Vincenzo Marra; cinematographer Duccio Cimatti (colour); designer Alessandra Mura; editor Massimiliano Pacifico; producer Francesco Virga

LITTLE BOY (Little Boy)
Cast Ulysse, Amina Husic; director and screenwriter Isild le Besco; cinematographer Jowan le Besco (colour); editor Nihad Usanovic; producer Nicolas Hidiroglou

SILENCE MUJO (Silence Mujo)
Cast Vladan Kovačević, Alma Prica, Sead Jesenković; director Ursula Meier; screenwriters Antoine Jaccoud and Ms. Meier; cinematographer Agnès Godard (colour); designer Jasmin Šahinpašić; costumes Emina Kujundžić; editor Nelly Quettier

ANIMATED INTERLUDES
Concept and direction, François Schuiten and Luís da Matta Almeida; animation directors, Sara Naves and Mr. Matta Almeida

General editor Susana Kounjian; producers Fabienne Servan Schreiber, Laurence Miller, Mr. Purivatra, Mr. Marjanović, Lionel Baier, Jean-Stéphane Bron, Ms. Meier, Frédéric Mermoud, Mr. Virga, Gianfilippo Pedote, Ms. Cunha Telles, Mr. Iraola and Titus Kreyenberg; production companies Cinétévé, Obala Art Centar, Bande à Part Films, Mir Cinematografica, Ukbar Filmes and Unafilm in co-production with the Mission for the Centenary of World War I, France 2 Cinéma, Orange Studio, Rai Cinema, Radio Télévision Suisse and Orange Studio
Screened November 9th 2014, Lisbon (distributor screener DVD)


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

ALOFT

Claudia Llosa won the Berlin Golden Bear with her small-scale, smartly judged sophomore feature The Milk of Sorrow. For her follow-up, the Peruvian director moves confidently into the treacherous territory of an international co-production with a cast of stars toplined by Jennifer Connelly. Aloft's disastrous reception in the Berlinale suggested a case of a director over-reaching, drowning a fragile, under-developed story in self-important bombast; but, though Aloft is not so much a step forward as a step sideways, that is not really the case.

     Prolonging the director's recurring theme of the combat between tradition and progress, faith and pragmatism, Aloft also returns to the concept of belief as a way to make the world right again. Everything in the film's Northern snow setting suggests a muted post-apocalypse, a world getting by as best it can away from civilization, where hope seems in short supply - the fact that Ms. Llosa never really explains the geographic circumstances of her tale is to her credit, heightening the project's "magical realism" credentials in a way that is simultaneously alluring and somewhat hackneyed.

     Mesmerisingly photographed by Nicolas Bolduc in the vast expanses of Northern Canada, Aloft tells two parallel stories. In one, outpost farmer/veterinarian Nana (Ms. Connelly), technically a woman of science, seeks out a local faith healer (William Shimell) in hope he can help the youngest of her two boys, who is terminally ill, realising in the process she too has "the healing touch". In the other, moody falconer Ivan (Cillian Murphy) is convinced by enterprising reporter Jania (Mélanie Laurent) to set out in search of his mother, a faith healer with whom he has broken all contact.

     No prizes for guessing both plots are set in different time frames and will eventually converge, though Ms. Llosa makes them do so in rather tantalizing ways, in a film whose scaffold is entirely built of dichotomies and oppositions: darkness/light, tradition/progress, faith/resignation, certainty/doubt, individual/collective, family/nature, etc. Those oppositions are what has torn the Kunnings apart over time, for no apparent gain, but have also launched their characters in life-defining paths.

     In that sense, Aloft merely extends the questioning of traditional folk superstitions felt in The Milk of Sorrow into a greater, more expansive canvas. Always enveloping and enticing even when not entirely convincing dramatically or narratively, propelled by an ambition that would be praised in other cases, it's the work of a filmmaker growing in formal talent and confidence, even if having bitten more than she could chew.

ALOFT
Spain, Canada, France 2013
112 minutes
Cast Jennifer Connelly, Cillian Murphy, Mélanie Laurent, William Shimell, Peter McRobbie, Andy Murray, Ian Tracey, Oona Chaplin
Director and screenwriter Claudia Llosa; cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc (colour, widescreen); composer Michael Brook; designer Eugenio Caballero; costumes Heather Neale; editor Guillermo de la Cal; producers José María Morales, Ibon Cormenzana and Phyllis Laing; production companies Wanda Visión, Arcadia Motion Pictures and Buffalo Gal Pictures in co-production with Manitoba Films and Noodles Production
Screened February 12th 2014, Berlinale Palast, Berlin (Berlinale 2014 official competition press screening)



ALOFT (Trailer). Directed by Claudia Llosa from MONCHO - COLOURIST on Vimeo.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

LA TERCERA ORILLA (The Third Side of the River)

Celina Murga has found herself quite the godfather in Martin Scorsese, who has been mentoring her over the past few years - but don't expect the Argentine director to follow closely in the footsteps of her mentor. Her taste runs more to oblique, tense moodpieces about teenagers at a crossroads, as shown again in The Third Side of the River, her third feature, a diffuse tale of a young man and his uneasy relationship with his family.

     Instead of being attentive to his teenage son Nicolás (Alián Devetac) really is, father Jorge (Daniel Veronese) seems more interested in trying to shape him in his own image - making this really a coming-of-age story about a boy rebelling against his elders and the path that has been planned out for him. The signals of a dysfunctional family are all dutifully lined up throughout, though their explanation is slightly different than expected: the initial suggestion is Nicolás is the eldest child in a divorced family, but in fact Jorge is still living with his legal wife and son, and Nicolás and his two younger siblings are the recognised offspring of a parallel relationship.

     Even so, Ms. Murga's quietly observational camera and the dutiful, distanced feel we feel in her movies suggest the exact nature of the issues why her work can neither be dismissed nor passionately defended. Though The Third Side of the River is a sensitive and smart film about the confusion and the passion that rages inside a young man ill at ease with his life who resents his father for thinking money solves everything, it never matches that passion in its engagement with the subject. The result is that, halfway through, The Third Side of the River begins to feel schematic, predictable, unable to free itself from a series of auteurist clichés generally connected to coming-of-age tales and to modern Latin American cinema.

     It's a shame, really, because the director's attention both to characters and environment, and her way with mood and disquiet, deserves more than to be reduced to a series of neatly defined formulas. But The Third Side of the River remains simmering for most of its length, not even breaking into a boil when Nicolás' displeasure with his life runs over the brim.

LA TERCERA ORILLA
Argentina, Germany, Netherlands 2013
92 minutes
Cast Alián Davatac, Daniel Veronese
Director Celina Murga; screenwriters Gabriel Medina and Ms. Murga; cinematographer Diego Poleri (colour, widescreen); art director Sebastián Roser; costumes Paola Delgado; editor Eliane M. Katz; producers Juan Villegas and Ms. Murga; production company Tresmilmundos Cine in co-production with Rommel Film, Waterland Film and ZDF/ARTE
Screened February 12th 2014, Berlinale Palast, Berlin (Berlinale 2014 official competition press screening)


Monday, November 10, 2014

PRAIA DO FUTURO
Futuro Beach

"Everything will be better once the future arrives". The irony of this sentence is not lost on expatriate Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz, as he creates a somewhat Apichatpong-ese "game of two halves" split between his native Brazil and his adoptive Germany, in the highly uneven but strangely bewildering Praia do Futuro.

      The irony is, of course, that the future has arrived for its characters but it's debatable whether it's the promised better future; and that the film itself, taking its name from the actual beach in Mr. Aïnouz's native city of Fortaleza, mirrors so precisely the fragile and yearning nature of that desire of a better future. It is, after all, a tale of duplicates and mirrors, halves, parts and counterparts, about men straining to live up to their (self) images; its stylized fetishization of masculinity at once its saving grace and its doom.

     Praia do Futuro develops from the tragic death of a German tourist in the titular beach, a man lifeguard Donato (Wagner Moura) fails to save from drowning. Konrad (Clemens Schick), the deceased's traveling companion, a biking adventurer and Afghanistan vet, survives; and Donato and Konrad strike a lustful relationship out of shared grief and desire. But that affair begins to jab at the lifeguard's own idea of himself, and with the admiration of his younger brother Ayrton, as his very own role model of what a man should be.

     In Donato's self-awareness and self-discovery, given a nuanced, brave performance by Mr. Moura, Mr. Aïnouz creates a tale of recognising one's humanity and frailty: the lifeguard has to decide the future he wants to pursue: stay and fulfill a role that dazzles his younger brother but to which, after letting one man drown, he now feels unsuited for; or leave and rebuild himself elsewhere as someone else.

      What unbalances Praia do Futuro is its striving to go beyond the "queer film" its same-sex relationship seems to want to box it as. Mr Aïnouz wants to speak of a universal experience of taking your life in your hands, of being faced with an epochal moment in your life; but the way he shoots the male body and chooses to set the film in a codified world of stock masculinity (lifeguards, soldiers, bikers) almost forces the film to stay within a "queer cinema" trap.

     More to the point, just like its lead character, so is Praia do Futuro divided between being a coming-of-age story and a coming-out story - coming of age as coming out (not necessarily in the sense of one's sexuality but more of one's identity), and coming out as coming of age (becoming the man you really want, or need, to become). All the three leads have to deal with what they want to be and what they are and, in the process, find their place in the world.

     At heart a simple tale of men looking for themselves in a complicated world, Praia do Futuro doesn't really choose what it wants to be, and that indecision costs it somewhat. It wants to reach for the stars while keeping its feet on the ground. But it transcends its shortcomings through the confident, stylish handling and the irrepressible sense of optimism that it projects, the idea that there's something more, something better around the next bend, even if you can't quite see it at first.

PRAIA DO FUTURO
Brazil, Germany 2014
107 minutes
Cast Wagner Moura, Clemens Schick, Jesuíta Barbosa
Director Karim Aïnouz; screenwriters Felipe Bragança and Mr. Aïnouz; cinematographer Ali Olcay Gözcaya (colour, widescreen); composer Volker Bertelmann "Hauschka"; art director Marcos Pedroso; costumes Camila Graça; editor Isabela Monteiro de Castro; producers Geórgia Costa Araújo and Hank Levine; production companies Coração da Selva in co-production with Detail Film, Hank Levine Film and Watchmen Productions
Screened February 11th 2014, Berlinale Palast, Berlin (Berlinale 2014 official screening)

Friday, November 07, 2014

TO MIKRO PSARI (Stratos)

With very few exceptions, the viewer's patience has not been much rewarded in most of the challenging work of the "New Greek Cinema" that has invaded film festivals in the past few years. There is, certainly, a family resemblance between these films - an absurdist, exaggeratedly theatrical sensibility, an oblique, metaphorical way of passing mystery or whimsy off as portent. But, for all the inventiveness and risk manifested by filmmakers such as Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth), Athina Rachel Tsangari (Attenberg) or Babis Makridis (L), there hasn't always been a chance at maintaining an emotional connection with these perversely baffling exercises.

     Yannis Economides' fourth feature, Stratos, is a clear exception - though one that, simultaneously and infuriatingly, works within and without the "New Greek Cinema"'s confines. It picks up on his contemporaries' abstract, over-determined symbolism, inspired by the frustration and rage Greece feels since its economy collapsed. But it marries it to a classic, recognisable thriller plot about an ex-con whose attempts at going straight land him in impossible situations.

     This hero is Stratos Karamanis (the impressive Vangelis Mourikis, also a co-writer on the project), a stoic man bound by codes of honour in a society where that virtue has been entirely forgotten. Working night shifts as a baker while running contract killing jobs in the daytime, Stratos finds himself slowly pushed into a corner he can't get out of as his only friends, the neighbouring couple of Vicky (Vicky Papadopoulou) and Makis (Petros Zarvos), find themselves in debt to a sinister gangster who also wants to take him on and pull him off the orbit of the mob boss he took a fall for.

     Stratos embodies the disaffection from the modern world surrounding him that Jean-Pierre Melville made his own in his classic existentialist noirs, the sense of clinging on to old-fashioned virtues that seem utterly pointless and superfluous elsewhere. In Mr. Economides's film, he is also turned into a heavy-handed metaphor for modern Greece, bankrupted and unable to escape its fate.

     But all of it takes place at a glacial pace that is in equal parts portentous and boring, pedantic and inexorable, annoying and riveting. Nothing much happens in Stratos that justifies its sprawling running time in purely narrative terms; but it's precisely in the director's formalist deceleration of the plot, in the deliberate symbolism of the precisely framed shots and the ever-present silence, that the film differentiates itself from the median.

     Both deadpan satirical and predictably ponderous, tightly coiled and sprawling out of focus, this "Mediterranean noir" as its own directors describes it becomes a disturbing, maddening proposition that seems to find its redemption in its own self-defeating ways. A singular object that requires the viewer to arm herself with a huge dollop of patience, but that may reward it if you keep faith - the very same faith that Stratos' very Greek fatalism seems to deny its characters.

TO MIKRO PSARI
Greece, Cyprus, Germany 2014
138 minutes
Cast Vangelis Mourikis, Vicky Papadopoulou, Petros Zarvos, Yannis Tsortekis, Yorgos Giannopoulos, Yannis Anastasakis, Polina Dellatola
Director Yannis Economides; screenwriters Mr. Economides, Thanos Xiros, Vangelis Mourikis, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos and Haris Lagoussis; cinematographer Dimitris Katsaitis (colour, widescreen); composer Babis Papadopoulos; costumes Youlia Stavridou; editor Yannis Chalkiadakis; producers Mr. Konstantakopoulos, Panis Paphadzis and Michael Weber; production companies Faliro House Productions, Argonauts Pictures, Match Factory Productions and YE Films in co-production with Feelgood Entertainment, PT-NERIT and the Cypriot Ministry of Culture
Screened February 10th 2014, Cinemaxx at Potsdamer Platz 9, Berlin (Berlinale 2014 official competition press screening)


Thursday, November 06, 2014

INTERSTELLAR

If you don't like Christopher Nolan, odds are you won't find anything in Interstellar to help you change your mind. If you do, there's nothing in this new film that will make you give up on him. And yet, few recent films have stumped me for words at the end of the screening like Interstellar did. It transcends the simple love-him-or-hate-him lightning-rod that the British filmmaker has become ever since he took on the Batman franchise and made it suddenly relevant to our times with The Dark Knight - still a master work in adapting comic-book material into resonant, adult filmmaking.

     In its wake, Mr. Nolan has become one of the few studio-approved directors - along, for instance, the equally meticulous David Fincher - who consistently try to break free of the simplistic, teenage-oriented visual-effects actioners that have become the studios' daily bread. In working to engage a mainstream audience beyond mere passive viewing, he has alienated both the auteurist critics and the more mainstream observers. Both find him over-ambitious, over-pompous, over-bloated, though for obviously different reasons that, either way, involve the worthy "eat-your-greens" attitude underlying his blockbuster reflections on society.

     But, in fact, what Mr. Nolan is doing is attempting to bring back an idea of adult, intelligent entertainment that was the bread and butter of American cinema up until the 1950s and that the transition of the studios from "dream factories" into financial-driven conglomerates has thrown to the back benches. Hence Interstellar's sweeping melding of space epic, domestic drama and metaphysical quandary, an avowedly far-reaching trip into the rabbit hole that reminds of equally over-reaching (and even ill-received) attempts by left-of-centre directors working within the confines of the studio reality.

     Both James Cameron's The Abyss and Robert Zemeckis' adaptation of Carl Sagan's novel Contact attempted to bridge the uneasy paths between heart and mind, science and emotion, with differing results. Interstellar harnesses that ambition to an ersatz-slash-update of Stanley Kubrick's mesmerising 2001: A Space Odyssey, though in a much more relatable and less abstract manner.

     Starting out in a future dying Earth where subsistence farming is all that remains and technology has been found superfluous, Interstellar tells of a "hail Mary pass", a last-chance expedition into the stars to reconnoitre habitable planets found outside our solar system - on the other side of a wormhole. It also tells of how that expedition rents asunder the connection between Cooper (Matthew McConaughey channeling the pioneer spirit of Sam Shepard in The Right Stuff), a former NASA pilot turned farmer after the agency was shuttered, and his daughter Murphy, a bright, smart girl who shares her dad's curiosity and spirit of adventure.

     Recruited to pilot the ship in what may well be a journey with no return and where time passes differently for those traveling to the stars and those left behind in Earth, Cooper and the now grown-up Murphy (Jessica Chastain) somehow have to atone for the absence of the other while dealing, literally, with the fate of the world crashing down around them. In the initial Earthbound stretch, Interstellar lays out expertly criss-crossing plots and leaves MacGuffins that won't make sense until much later in the film (as the old adage goes, if you introduce a gun in the first act you better use it in the third).

     Once it takes flight into space and "into the wormhole" into a whole other universe where mankind may be reborn, Interstellar turns into something else before doubling back onto itself and changing shapes regularly. It expands the eye-popping trip of 2001's "Stargate" sequence into a transcendent, quasi-mystical meditation on humanity that shares more with Terrence Malick's lyrical pantheism in The Tree of Life than you'd ever expect from a "hard sci-fi" film. But it does so in disguise, as an episodic series of adventures that seem to keep postponing its endpoint in search of that elusive, maybe non-existent, "last chance".

     Neither does it shy away from exploring the social commentary that has always bubbled up under the surface of Mr. Nolan's films. In a moment where climate change and financing for science and culture seem to be beholden to partisan polarization and misleading representations, Interstellar drops into the mix a sense of urgency and a need for accountability and clear-eyed responsibility that underlines all that is wrong with the current politics - either in the US or elsewhere.

     In many ways, what Interstellar is asking is very simple: how can we recapture the time that has been lost? How do we make up for it, and try to put straight what has been broken? It's a question worth asking; whether you will accept the answers Christopher Nolan suggests is entirely up to your degree of tolerance for his filmmaking. (Personally, I find it his finest work since his revelatory Memento, and many cuts above both Inception and the disappointing The Dark Knight Rises.)

     But that he tries to ask the question within the framework of a three-hour mainstream blockbuster with an all-star cast and a massive marketing budget is challenging enough in itself to merit more than just a cursory, "will-this-do?" glance. Not many talented film directors are trying to communicate lofty ideas to mass-market audiences. And if Interstellar leaves viewers stumped as they leave the screening, then mission accomplished.

INTERSTELLAR
USA 2014
170 minutes
Cast Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, Michael Caine
Director Christopher Nolan; screenwriters Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan; cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (colour, widescreen); composer Hans Zimmer; designer Nathan Crowley; costumes Mary Zophres; editor Lee Smith; visual effects Paul Franklin; producers Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan and Lynda Obst; production companies Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Syncopy and Lynda Obst Productions in association with Legendary Pictures
Screened November 29th 2014, NOS Colombo IMAX, Lisbon (distributor press screening)


Tuesday, November 04, 2014

TUI NA (Blind Massage)

Modern, smart, nervous, Lou Ye's Blind Massage confirms the Chinese director's unusual place in the current Asian cinema scene: neither a full-fledged auteur feted by festivals (like Jia Zhang-ke or Tsai Ming-liang) nor a prestige filmmaker (think Wong Kar-wai or Hou Hsiao-hsien), yet a sort of "bridge" between both worlds. 

     Though its background and setting is as Chinese as they come - a clinic in Nanjing specialised in massages and Chinese medicine entirely staffed by blind doctors and personnel - Blind Massage is in fact a pretty sophisticated "mosaic" picture that appropriates a more cosmopolitan narrative language to approach its subject. 

     In the process, Mr. Lou makes a point of avoiding the most obvious, tearjerking aspects of what could very easily be General Hospital soap opera territory. His tale of love, obsession and desire among men and women who love, live and suffer just the same as everyone else focuses happily on the emotional undercurrents percolating in the clinic; the equilibrium of personalities and commitments that makes it work and the way their interactions shape the flow of things. ("The blind understand fate better than the sighted", as it is said at one point, in a matter-of-fact but ominous statement that does encapsulate much of what goes on here.) 

     Blending actual blind masseurs without acting experience and professional sighted actors, Mr. Lou takes blindness in his stride as just another dramatic element in a film that aims to translate into images the intangible emotions that underlie everybody's lives. (As somebody says at some point, "for blind people, it's what you can't see that exists" - another of the keys to understand the film.) Hence the tactile, physical quality of DP Zeng Jian's stunning, volatile camera work, in close contact with bodies and faces, perfectly complemented by contemporary composer Jóhann Jóhannsson's subtle, lyrical score and the director's attention to his actors as an ensemble. 

     It's that physical energy that raises the director's game and Blind Massage above either exotic curio or prestige soap opera; a sense that these characters are being taken seriously and that their disability doesn't make them any less functional, or human, than "normal" people. 

TUI NA
China, France 2014
114 minutes
Cast Guo Xiaodong, Qin Hao, Zhang Lei, Mei Ting, Huang Xuan, Huang Lu
Director Lou Ye; screenwriter Ma Yingli; based on the novel Tui Na by Bi Feiyu; cinematographer Zeng Jian (colour); composer Jóhann Jóhannsson; designer Du Ailin; costumes Zhang Dingmu; editors Kong Jinlei and Zhu Lin; producers Wong Yong, Nai An, Li Ling and Kristina Larsen; production companies Shaanxi Culture Industry, Inhai, Dream Factory and Les Films du Lendemain
Screened February 10th 2014, Berlinale Palast, Berlin (Berlinale 2014 official competition press screening)


Monday, November 03, 2014

MAIDAN

In his two fiction features, My Joy and In the Fog, Belarusian director Sergei Loznitsa has explored issues of morality and fatalism within the large context of Russian society, both contemporary and past, framed as an inexorable struggle for survival in a lawless place seemingly bereft of any proper moral compass. Maidan is a return to the documentary form he cut his teeth in, following a moment in time where "the people" rose against that absence of morality and attempted to chart a new course into quieter waters: the Kiev protests of November 2013 to February 2014 that led to the fall of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich and plunged the country into a tense stand-off with neighbour Russia.

     The film unfolds chronologically as the events take place, from the initial celebratory gatherings to the silent, heavy memorials for the protesters killed during the later stages in conflicts with the police. However, this being Mr. Loznitsa with his wayward, askew way of looking at things from unexpected angles, Maidan (the popular name of the Independence Square at the heart of the city and at the heart of the protests against Mr. Yanukovich's corrupt government) seems to be a free-form piece with little to no narrative throughline.

     It's a deceptive appearance, suggested by the fact that Maidan sees everything as if through the eyes of a passing onlooker with little to no understanding of what's happening.  Mr. Loznitsa and his cameraman Serhiy Stetsenko (who shot most of the footage after the director's affairs called him away from Kiev) set their static, long takes either in the middle of the crowds that visit the square everyday or from the top of nearby buildings or streets that give out on the square for context or geography.

     What they seem to be mostly interested in is in placing the viewer in a "you-are-there" situation, showing that the Maidan events had as much of a county fair, an open-air carnival or an amateur talents show as of an entire people rising up to defend the soul of their country and demonstrate how fed up they were with the state of things. As such, Maidan is - as usually for Mr. Loznitsa's documentary work - mostly created in the editing, in the patient juxtaposition in the cutting room of footage that has been filmed equally patiently.

     The effect thus created is that of an almost imperceptible slide into an explosion of displeasure and violence, as the heavy-handedness of the government's armed response to a protest begun peacefully accelerated the events. In its urgent, deliberate recording for posterity of the Maidan daily events, Maidan has something of Sylvain George's constantly metamorphosing, activist works in progress, only filtered through Mr. Loznitsa's formalist sensibility and an approach that is less openly activist but assumes that everything is and can be political.

     Therefore, this is really not a traditional narrative documentary as much as it is a document made in real time and finished "in the spur of the moment". The relevance of its subject and the form make up for excessive, sprawling length and an occasional sense of redundancy and repetition; they don't excuse it, but absorb it into the very fabric of the piece. And while Maidan is nobody's idea of a masterpiece, it is a vital document to see into, and better understand, the world we live in, showing cinema has not yet lost its power to record history as it is made.

MAIDAN
Netherlands 2014
Director Sergei Loznitsa; camera Mr. Loznitsa, Serhiy Stefan Stetsenko and Mykhailo Yelchev; editors Danielius Kokanauskis and Mr. Loznitsa; producers Mr. Loznitsa and Maria Choustova-Baker; production company Atoms & Void
Screened October 28th 2014, Ideal, Lisbon (distributor press screening)