This review/interview is by our guest writer, Redmond Bacon.
Leto (Summertime)is a combination of the traditional rock biopic and arthouse film; an auteuristic tale of love, optimism, melancholy, and loss told against the backdrop of a rapidly developing musical scene. It’s as if Almost Famous met Walking The Streets of Moscow. Set in the early ’80s, the star of the show is Viktor Tsoi (played by Teo Yoo), who would later become Russia’s most iconic rock star. Dying at the young age of 30 in a car crash in 1990, he carries in Russia the same kind of counter-cultural weight as Kurt Cobain does in America.
Roman Bilyk plays his mentor Mike Naumenko, the lead singer of the less famous Zoopark, while Irina Starshenbaum plays Mike’s wife Natasha. Based upon the memoirs of the real Natasha Naumenko, Leto is a story characterised by its naivety, optimism, and the very real belief that, for one brief moment, music could change the world. This message of rebellion comes at a time in Russia in which many artists feel their artistic freedoms imposed upon. This is especially true in the case of the director of Leto himself.
German film has been suffering from an utter lack of strong genre films during the past years. With the exception from a few, rare surprises like independent filmmaker AKIZ’s brilliant film Der Nachtmahr (which became a flop that ultimately left the director in debt), there is no real courage to delve back into certain narrative patterns, and when they do, they play it incredibly safe, which dampens the hope for possible investors of such films even more. It’s very strange, especially since turning back time reveals that the brightest lights were of German cinema, where genre films such as Metropolis, Vampyr, and M shaped their successors worldwide into what they are today.
While Ulrich Köhler’s In My Room, a film heavily influenced by the filmmaking style of the Berliner Schule–a german filmmaking movement that originated in the 90’s, whose representatives are often formed by a depressive, stakeless atmosphere mirroring both social and humanist grievances–is not a genre film per se, but it shows a surprising amount of flirtation with post-apocalyptic motifs and images. It’s a refreshing change of pace on a visual plane, not only for the Berliner Schule, but the entirety of contemporary german film.
One of the greatest joys of film festivals is discovering films that don’t make the advertising headlines, yet leave you with the knowledge that you have witnessed something brilliant. This can certainly be said for Meryem Benm’Barek-Aloïsi’s Sofia, in a truly remarkable debut that boldly explores themes often relegated to the title of “women’s cinema”: social status, family ties, and unwanted motherhood. Such themes may well be off-putting to viewers more interested in murdered sex workers and dismembered breasts, but there’s no accounting for taste.
Sofia, our eponymous protagonist, is a young Moroccan woman who lives with her parents in Casablanca. In the middle of dinner one evening, she suddenly begins experiencing pain in her lower body. Rushing to the kitchen, fluid breaks down her legs, commencing a barrage of problems as she must give birth to and parent a child whose existence she had been completely unaware of. Simultaneously, and perhaps most notably, Sofia must deal with the ramifications of single motherhood in a country where sex outside of marriage is illegal.
One would expect that a film should be critiqued on its own merits, but sometimes outward factors force the film to be observed in a new light. In the case of Solo: A Star Wars Story, its troubled production history is impossible to ignore. Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were reportedly fired by Kathleen Kennedy over their shooting style—their improv-heavy methodology not exactly sliding with the well-oiled machine of Lucasfilm. Rumours were also circulating that an acting coach was hired for Alden Ehrenreich—a painfully ironic mirror to the actor’s role in Hail, Caesar! as a young movie star struggling to give a good performance. Its reputation as an unrivaled disaster occluded the final product itself. Would that it were so simple.
Walking into the Grand Lumiere for a repeat gala screening—and feeling more glamorous than I ever will—what I was thinking (other than “DO NOT FALL OVER”) was: “Can they really salvage a good film out of this?” Replacing Lord and Miller with Ron Howard seemed like the safe option—and it really was. Ron Howard’s career as a director is dominated by films that are generally well-liked but are rather unremarkable. He’s prolific too, and so his films maintain a middling quality that means they leave the cultural conversation as quickly as they entered (does anyone actually remember In the Heart of the Sea?). My expectations with Ron Howard at the helm were met, but I was still disappointed. Star Wars films shouldn’t just be solid, they should be exhilarating, but emotionally resonant—and that is nowhere to be seen with Solo. What is revealed by this replacement is that the puppet masters over at Lucasfilm prefer a director who won’t step out of line over a director with a fresh, innovative perspective. Solo: A Star Wars Story is so concerned with playing it safe and appealing to the masses that the end result is wholly underwhelming. To put it bluntly, Solo is downright bland.
This is how Capharnaum begins its onslaught of bleakness, in a statement reflective of emotional exhaustion rather than genuine financial interest. The origin of these words is twelve-year old-Zain and his decision that comes after a lifetime of abuse, neglect, and poverty. The film’s narrative expands as the child explains what has led him to the courtroom in which he stands, through a series of flashbacks leading to his arrest for “stabbing a son of a bitch,” and his counter-accusation against his parents.
A standout scene from Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War involves a simple song and dance. No words are spoken, but nothing needs to be said—the actions speak volumes. Zula (Joanna Kulig) is looking defeated at the bar, embittered by her lover Wiktor (Tomsz Kot) ignoring her. The smooth baritone of Bill Haleysuddenly blares through the club’s speakers. Zula quickly gets up and drunkenly dances with feverish energy, moving from man to man, and then on top of the bar, much to the chagrin of Wiktor. Music becomes a source of liberation. If Zula is drifting from the jazz leanings of her lover, is she drifting from him as well? The scene unfolds in a transfixing single take—a fleeting moment of chaotic serenity.
After an eight-year hiatus from directing, Lee Chang-dong has returned with Burning, a simmering mystery and social commentary on the growing income inequality in South Korea—among other, bigger problems. The film loosely borrows from Haruki Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning,” but its richly literate script is like a book all its own, bouncing from soliloquies on mortality and dissatisfaction, to scenes of tribal dancing, emotional sex, intense violence and silent contemplation. While the film occasionally stretches to connect these disparate elements—and struggles to keep the characters’ dense musings from sounding like words on a page—Burning is ultimately much greater than the sum of its parts, and all tedium is forgotten by its haunting conclusion.