Monday, February 19, 2007

Efter Brylluppet

"Efter Brylluppet" was a complete surprise to me as I watched the movie merely out of curosity to see what on earth is Mads Mikkelsen doing in an academy award nominated movie. I guess I had a very different opinion about this actor before "Efter.." when the only time I've seen him on screen is in Casino Royale. Yeah, the bad guy really pissed me off when he showed the audience that sweating, sniggering, poker and yes crying blood are the only things a typical movie baddie could do in front of a camera. Hmpf! And in "Efter..", you see a completely different Mads. One that could act, and how!


Jacob (Mads) is a dedicated social worker committed to the cause of helping the kids in the slums of India make something out of their lives. He loves what he's doing, calls India his "home" in fact, he even speaks hindi! His closest friend is little Pramod, who turns seven in two weeks time. Things are tough in these slums. Lack of proper funds, amenities and help make his work seem nowhere close to producttive.

At this point, Jacob recieves a call from denmark informing him that a billionaire businessman, Jorgen (Rolf Lassgård) in copenhagen is looking to set apart some money for social work, and has singled out Jacob's project for it. Jacob is hesitant at first to travel all the way to denmark just to shake hands with somebody. But the need of the hour forces him to leave, even with little Pramod's birthday some eight days away. He leaves, promising he'll be back in a week, in time for the birthday.

Once in Denmark, we immediately see the stark transformation in the visuals, from brown, dusty Mumbai to the prim, green, clean surroundings in denmark. Jacob is efficiently accomodated in an expensive hotel. Jorgen, it turns out has quite a number of projects for the sake of options. He only has to choose which one to put his money into. As a trivial matter, Jorgen also mentions to Jacob the wedding of his daughter the very next day and invites Jacob too.

Jacob then discovers mush to his surprise, his past wife Helene at the function. She is now the very lucky, respected wife of Jorgen. They share pleasantries and talk like old friends. But things now turn awry when he also discovers that the young bride is actually his biological daughter who he never knew existed at the time of his separation from pregnant Helene. Both of them now suspect Jorgen of "planning" everything. Jorgen himself is completely bewildered at the turn of events and the coincidence.

The drama then unfolds to reveal that Jorgen is actually suffering secretly from a cancerous health problem and is soon expected to die. He immediately sees Jacob as the archangel who has arived at this crucial point in his life, to "take over" the family and protect them. He even offers him a phenomenal amount of money for the social work, but begs him not to leave denmark. Jacob immediately gets suspicious of Helene's involvement in this matter. But its only later that he comes to know of Jorgen's condition. Later Jorgen's daughter's marriage ends up disastrously, and too soon.

Eventually, he ends up not going back to India. He had lost his family once. Fate has brought it back to him another time....

Every person in the cast seem to breathe their chosen characters within their emotions. And the constant attention paid to minor details is amazing. Eyes, being the major detail. Rolf Lassgård is amazing as the bombastic billionaire with money all over his self. Mads.. well he's simply unbelievable. Excellent and beautiful. A must see for every person seeing a danish movie for the first time.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


An intro to norwegian cinema lured me to this movie at the CIFF. 'Leef!" has won a bagfull of awards to its credit. Most of them are for the really cool script by Maria Goos.

'Live!' tells the story of Anna, a married woman, a midwife and a mother, who at this stage of her life decides to take up writing. She is married to Paul, an architect (who cheats on her regularly until a hilarious incident exposes him and gives him a jolt!) They have two grown-up daughters: Robin, 19, who is trying to find her way in life, rather immaturely in her parents’ opinion, and Isabelle, who is two years younger, and who receives a lot of attention (too much, in fact, for her liking) due to the heart condition from which she suffers. At her midwife practice Anna works with a male trainee/assistant, Gregor, a descendant of an Eastern European family of midwives. Around her busy life as a mother (in which Robin is a cause of great concern to her) and a midwife (a job that requires her to be constantly on call and always on the road), Anna tries to write the autobiographical story of the girl who accidentally kills the lover of her mother (the theatre diva Sybille) and of the woman who saves a boy from drowning. But when her home life descends into crisis again and husband Paul turns out to have a secret lover Jolande (his office secretary), Anna decides to put her ambitions of becoming a writer on hold for the time being, and puts down her pen.

The baseline of this amazing story tells you how important it is to live your life to the fullest extent, live your dreams, resist social pressures, stay true to yourself to become who you really are. Leef! is a fantastic movie that shows real problems and that is harrowing to see. Leef! is about people, it's a movie with a heart and it is really a must to see. Many different sub-plots in this story confluence in a very satisfying and breathtaking feel-good climax. Like for example the scene where Anna almost loses her daughter Isabelle when she was a baby in the process of rescuing a drowning boy; Isabelle goes ahead to develop a heart problem. The boy who was saved dies eventually in a car crash some years later. His heart is transplanted to Isabelle. Anna by saving the young boy, had actually saved her daughter!

It's really saddening that the director of such a wonderful film, Willem van de Sande Bakhuyzen died two days prior to its premiere.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Kim Novak Never Swam in Genesaret's Lake

Perhaps surprisingly, the engaging, handsomely-mounted Swedish coming-of-age tale Kim Novak Never Swam in Genesaret's Lake isn't the first fiction feature to include this particular actress's name in its (unwieldy) title – in fact, it isn't even the second. A quick IMDb search yields Italy's Kim Novak is on the Phone (1994) – starring the unlikely combination of Erland Josephson and Joanna Pacula – and Spain's The Semester We Loved Kim Novak which in 1980 provided Almodovar muse Cecilia Roth with some early exposure.
Based on their synopses and titles, the Spanish entry would seem rather closer in tone to this new Swedish arrival, a wistful affair mostly set in the early 1960s and based on a bestselling novel by Hakan Nesser (who co-wrote the screenplay with director Asphaug). There's little attempt to hide the literary origins of the story, narrated by the sixtyish Erik (Johan H:son [sic] Kjellgren) as he travels to the remote lakeside mansion known as 'Genesaret' where as a young teenager he spent a particularly memorable summer.
These modern-day scenes – in which Erik (the Swedish equivalent of a 'baby boomer') explores the house and its surroundings, stumbling across key 'props' triggering particular memories – are a little repetitive, too numerous, and get in the way of the engrossing meat of the movie, set in the same locations four decades earlier: there's a distinct Stephen King-ish vibe to the movie's structure, composed of lengthy flashbacks building up to what the adult Erik ominously calls "the terrible event"…
14-year-old Erik (Anton Lundqvist) – surname Wassman – and Edmund Wester (Jesper Adefelt) have quite a lot in common besides ages and initials: both attend the same school (in an unnamed Swedish town); their fathers are prison guards. And both are discovering the pains and joys of adolescence – their dawning sexuality finding an ideal focus in the shapely form of substitute teacher Ewa Kaludis (Helena af Sandeberg), known as 'Kim Novak' because of her striking Nordic beauty ("the room was heavy with her perfume, and suppressed lust.")
But Erik and Edmund barely know each other until the summer break, when their families send them both to stay at 'Genesaret' under the care of Erik's grown-up, beatnik-writer brother Henry (Jonas Karlsson, facially a cross between Edward Norton and Goran Visnjic). The location is idyllic, the mood laid-back ("carefree… like butterflies on a summer's day") until Ewa unexpectedly turns up in the area along with her macho boyfriend, handball champ Berra 'Cannonball' Albertsson (Anders Berg). The boys know that Berra has a vicious, violent temper – and fear the worst for Henry when he starts seeing Ewa behind Cannonball's back…
Kim Novak… hardly breaks much new ground in terms of plot or character: this kind of lost-innocence, summer-of-love-at-the-lake stuff, with pubescent lads hopelessly desiring an unattainable vision of loveliness ("it was painful to be 14 and know you had seen perfection") might perhaps have seemed somewhat old hat back during the days when Erik and Edmund were teenagers. And while Philip Ogaard's alluringly limpid widescreen cinematography is a pleasure to watch (the forested countryside and Ms Sandeberg alike are very easy on the eye), director Asphaug's conventional style – with every plot development signalled and underlined by Stefan Nilsson's piano-heavy score – is, despite the occasional flight of visual fancy, also somewhat old-fashioned: adding up to the kind of "socially irrelevant" thing that Bo Widerberg tried to shake up back in '63 with his bracingly iconoclastic, nouvelle vague-influenced The Pram.
Asphaug doesn't go for tumultuous "waves" – his Lake is a largely sedate affair, at least on the surface. But with the shadows of death (Erik's ailing mother) and sex seldom far away, there are darker currents lurking below, which occasionally erupt to jarring effect. At around the half-way mark Erik and Edmund see Berra dealing out a particularly unpleasant beating; soon after, they're witnesses to a very different, but equally instructive event: Ewa and Henry getting down to it in the front room at Genesaret. In such frank – if fleeting – sequences Kim Novak… is decidedly Scandinavian: take these two scenes out, and the film would be suitable for even the youngest teenagers.
Their presence is crucial, however, as they are important markers on Erik and Edmund's progress from innocence to experience: a journey completed during that much-foreshadowed "terrible event" which occurs entirely off-camera near the end of the film. Not that we're really in the dark as to what does take place – only the most inattentive viewer will fail to grasp who has done what to whom, and why.
Asphaug's most impressive achievement is the way it agreeable edges from sunny territory into the more ambiguous terrain of the thriller – the whodunnit element skilfully integrated within the broader narrative tracing Erik's transition from boy to man. In a delicate, nicely-handled coda, Erik meets up with Ewa some months after the "terrible event" which affected both their lives deeply – and we see that Erik realises that Ewa isn't really 'Kim Novak' or an 'angel': she's just extremely attractive young woman, a person flesh and blood who can actually be kissed without the heavens being rent asunder.

Chunking Express

Director Wong Kar-Wai quickly established himself among art house cinema circles worldwide as a new voice in Asian film with this unconventional set of tales about modern love in Hong Kong.

Before then, he and other Hong Kong directors had stuck mostly with 'kung fu' flicks, using the formulas popularized by Bruce Lee with young audiences worldwide. 'Chungking Express' took a new direction, sweeping the 1995 Hong Kong Film Academy awards and gaining attention at other festivals in Europe and the USA.

The first of the two tales portrays a policeman and his thwarted infatuation with a mysterious femme fatale. It mostly rambles inconclusively but introduces us to exuberant, flashing Hong Kong as the setting for the second and much more satisfying love story.

Another police officer orders the same meal every day in his lunch break at a little coffee shop, 'Chungking Express.' His quiet, somber manner attracts the attention of the pretty, energetic, but lonely waitress. Then an airline hostess comes to the café and gives her an envelope for him. She peeks inside to see a farewell note and returned keys to his apartment.

The waitress proceeds on an outrageously funny quest to become part of his life. She reseals the envelope and returns only the note to him. After learning his address, she goes to his apartment when she knows he's at work and proceeds to use the keys to come in and make herself at home….cleaning and re-arranging….when he's not around. He's so depressed from his breakup that he takes little notice of the changes in his place.

Then, one day, he unexpectedly comes back home and opens the door. They are equally startled to face each other.

'What are you doing here?', she demands.

'What do you mean……I live here!!'

'Now you shout and scare me so much I can't move my leg,' she complains. 'Help me to the couch….oh, oh, it hurts!!…….'

This zany exchange introduces us to a delightful love story. Faye Wong as the waitress ('Faye') has a special charm, bringing Audrey Hepburn to mind. Faye is feisty, mischievous, moody......and completely irresistible. The policeman ('Badge 223') is her perfect counterpart, steadfast and honorable but badly needing someone like her for energy and affection.

After many twists and some setbacks, they find each other. At the end, we have high hopes for their happiness, even in the crowded, lonely city of Hong Kong with all its insecurities and uncertainties.
cc: danstephan3000, thailand

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Twilight Samurai

Firstly before anyone gets this assumption about this film being based as a typical Japanese action flick with swords sparking and flashing around then please look elsewhere as this is more drama based.

Since watching The Last Samurai earlier this year it's been a none stop roller-coaster ride of Japanses flicks (i.e. Dark Water, Casshern, Zatoichi, Onibaba, Kwaiden), the list goes on.

I was keeping a close eye on Hiroyuki Sanada ever since his charismatic portrayal in Ringu and have since become a huge fan of this actor and glad to see his status has further improved with his recent appearance in The Last Samurai too.

This alone demonstrates how the East is winning over it's audiences more than Americans considering the level of spirituality invested in the many actors that are up and coming unlike the types who only seem bent on cashing in on fame and overrated acting.

Tasogare Seibei (Twilight Samurai) tells the story of Seibei Iguchi (played by the great Sanada) who has recently lost his wife due to consumption, thus takes it upon himself to become a Mr. Mum to his two young daughters and sick Mother. Gradually he begins to feel somewhat detached to his duties as a Samuarai as he feels the need to devote his time more to being full-time family man rather than being a noble Warrior, who only seems to front his sword unsheathed considering he sold it to support his family. It's not too long before happiness turns up in the form of pretty young girl (Rie Miyazawa) who rekindles his joy of long lost childhood friendship but also on the run from her drunk ex-husband who's only content is bullying and assaulting her.

All I can say is that Japanese film makers have greater integrity to pulling off better stories than what Hollywood seems to be coming out with these days. With production values being second to none it's pleasing to see how more time and effort has been spent towards character development. Sanada and Miyazawa display great conviction with there behaviours, not to mention the young adorable children.

Though this is based around the same time period as what The Last Samurai was based in, Twilight Samurai seems to take on more emotional approach towards Japan's time period conversion from Edo to Meiji restoration.

Trust me if only Shakespeare had been around to see great works of art like this he'd have dropped dead with great admiration. Hats of to Yoji Yamada, great to see many old school directors making solid films even today. I have to admit that the Japanese seem to have a fondness for making many of there audiences rather weepy as this most definitely touches the heart and soul in all the right places at once.

Children of Men

The apocalypse arrives on film once again in a plot so simple it's horrifyingly believable. It's 2027 and the world is close to annihilation because no child has been born in 18 years. London office worker Theo (Clive Owen) is offered cash by a radical ex-girlfriend to escort a refugee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) to safety. Their lives are soon at risk from both government and revolutionaries.

Although the camera work and cinematography is nothing short of stunning the focus always with our protagonist, ensuring we're kept in the middle of the action throughout. It is also undoubtedly one of Owen's finest performances to date. Theo is never far from danger yet he struggles on with convincing dignity. Occasionally baffled but far from stupid - Theo is essentially a reckless, underplayed action hero that doesn't jump at every opportunity to arm himself with a gun. This works well with the international ensemble of incredible talent: Michael Caine's charming pot dealing hippie, feisty Julianne Moore, key role Claire-Hope Ashitey, the wonderful Pam Ferris, the increasingly busy, excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Huston and writer/director/producer Peter Cullen (gloriously sadistic Syd) to name a few... This is surely a casting coup to be jealous of.

The episodic nature of the story makes Children of Men difficult to place into one genre alone. Briefly glimpsed futuristic sci-fi technology is grounded in reality and looks entirely achievable while grey, graffiti ridden concrete locations provide an excellent backdrop for the near satirical look of our current social and political climate. There's poignant drama interspersed amongst exhilarating action and yet enough twists to call it a thriller.

This is not to say it's flawless. Some exposition is handled better in places than others for instance. However Alfonso Cuarón has achieved a completely remarkable experience. Arguably the film could have been longer given how strong most of it is. The only really hard pill to swallow is the comedy juxtaposed with some stark imagery that looks all too familiar to anyone who has ever seen the News from the past few decades. Nice to see a Pink Floyd reference though (pigs might fly!), and someone finally found a use for Battersea Power Station.

Ideally an audience should see this film with no preconceptions and know as little about the plot as possible. This will be unlikely though due to a staggered box-office release schedule, word of mouth and a plethora of reviews and trailers that are eager to give much of the game away. Ironic then perhaps that it must be said - Children of Men is a cinematic milestone. Great special effects and an effective soundtrack accompany this heartfelt, moving and thought-provoking film. Easily one of the best films in recent memory.

By Matt Cub from the UK