Monday, June 30, 2014

The Sorrows of Young Werther on his bike

Cycling Chronicles: Landscapes the Boy Saw (2004) - Wakamatsu
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Since it is by late Koji Wakamatsu, romanticism of a road movie is absent in Cycling Chronicles (but beautiful scenery and poeticism still remain). Instead, the national guilt weighs heavily on him and his protagonist, a reserved 17 year-old kid (Tasuku Emoto) on his bike, running away from an unspeakable crime.

In an effort to bridge the generation gap, Wakamatsu places a couple of old characters on the road to talk about Japanese war crimes and how imperialism, helped by the US policy, created hollow culture and selfish post-war generation. Even though based on a real life crime story where a teenager killed his mother, Wakamatsu shows great sympathy for the younger generation. He understands the burden of living a pre-destined life and the pressure of conforming to the rigid society. Early in the film there is a scene where teenagers talk about headlines after headlines of teens going berserk and how understandable it is to be ticked off and going over the edge.

The silent kid's internal monologue is kept at minimum, only occasionally surfacing in the forms of written letters on screen and voice overs. Fresh faced young Emoto does an amazing job conveying frustration, loneliness but surprising amount of compassion and understanding too. Cycling Chronicles is a heartbreaking rendition of a lost soul in a country riddled with guilt and despair that is rarely seen in contemporary Japanese cinema. You will be missed Wakamatsu-san.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Subterranean Homesick Alien

Under the Skin (2013) - Glazer
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When David Lynch stopped making films, it was a big blow for me. Thank god there is Jonathan Glazer. Even though it's been 9 years since Birth, Under the Skin restored my faith in art films. There is not really an adequate comparison one can give for this film. Stripped down(!) to something more primal, devoid of any symbolism or allusions to anything, Under the Skin is a unique, standalone experience to be had. Yes that it features Scarlett Johansson who possesses, according to Woody Allen, 'overwhelming sexuality', as an alien, and that it beckons to be seen as an allegory of Hollywood stardom. But Under the Skin feels like something more. With arresting images and hypnotic soundtrack, the film is one of the most singularly mesmerizing movie watching experience I've had in a long time.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mind Control

Kafka (1991) - Soderbergh
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It's a pleasure revisiting Kafka, Steven Soderbergh's sophomore effort, after so many years. It tells a conspiratorial plot involving nebbish insurance clerk, Kafka (Jeremy Irons), discovering more than crippling bureaucracy behind the walls of 'the castle'. It involves mind control and a mad scientist.

Soderbergh gets the look and feel right, shooting it contrasty/grainy B&W then adds some color to accentuate the surreal nature of it all. Jeremy Irons is too proper and too erect to come across as a sickly eccentric. But if you could get fucking JEREMY IRONS on your second movie to play KAFKA, who could say no?
Teressa Russell is unbelievably hot as a sultry eyed revolutionary and always dependable Ian Holm pigeonholes himself again as the mad doctor/tool of a bureaucrat who finds kinship in Kafka's writing, regarding it as the future he envisions.

Opening sequence:


The Prisoners (2013) - Villenvenue
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I give Villenvenue is a very capable filmmaker - he is very good at creating moody, high tension atmosphere with some help from Roger Deakins. As I expected, The Prisoners is an overwrought, heavy handed thriller where coincidences and little clues all neatly line up at the end after series of red herring. Where Zodiac- another calculated, clinical exercise from David Fincher succeeds in understatement while maintaining incredible tension, The Prisoners collapses in its own weight. Paul Dano (playing dimwit again)'s unjust imprisonment makes you feeling disgusted, but what's the endgame here, since it becomes less of a focal point? Comeuppances, moral judgment and punishment are easily predictable. All it needs is a Wagnerian score to top it off. Too bad really, because Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman are superb in this.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


So Nicole and I did a Tour of Europe this Summer. It's been a long time coming and we really wanted to get the hell outta dodge for a while. This twelve-day trip encompassed three countries (Italy, Austria and Czech Republic) and seven cities. We started our journey in Rome then moved on to Pisa, Cinque Terre, Florence, then a night train to Vienna and ended up in Prague. It was a short, exhausting trip but totally worth it. We took more than a thousand pictures but here are the gist of what we saw:

Friday, June 20, 2014

Outside Looking In: Joanna Hogg Interview

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With her new film Exhibition beginning a two-week exclusive engagement at the Film Society of Lincoln Center today, along with her two previous films Unrelated and Archipelago getting theatrical runs concurrently, British filmmaker Joanna Hogg is in town and I was lucky enough to catch up with her for a chat.

I saw Exhibition at last year's New York Film Festival and was blown away by it, so I was eager to pick her brains about her Antonioni-esque use of the environment in her family/relationship dramas. Unguarded and sincere, she opened up to all the questions and explained away lengthily much more so than many other directors I've talked with over the years. For this, I thank you Ms. Hogg.

An exclusive theatrical run of Exhibition starts 6/20 and continues through 7/3. Unrelated and Archipelago have a one-week engagement 6/27 - 7/3 at FSLC. Please visit their website for more info.

All throughout your films, the settings, the places play important roles. Do you have certain places in mind when you start writing a script?
With all three of my feature films, they all started with a specific place in mind. It's very important for me to have an idea about the place. I don't see the settings for my films as 'locations'. It's fundamental for me that it's about a place that I know very well, that I have a lot of connection with. That was with all three films, a place being a springboard for the story.

Compared to your previous films, EXHIBITION is even more place specific. This modern architecture house the couple calls home: Can you tell me a little about this house and how you decided to shoot there?

Yes. Would you want me to go through all three films with that? Because each one was all very different.

Of course, by all means!

With Unrelated, which was my first feature film after many years of working in television, and toward the end of my television career -- had worked about 12 years there -- I started renting a small apartment in Italy on a farm in the south of Sienna. And I found this place which became very inspiring to me. Whenever I stayed there, I started to write ideas. I was painting when I was there. I felt very creative when I was there in this apartment. And it was a lot to do with the land around it. It was very close to a motorway. It sort of cut through the idea of sort of 'Tuscan village life'. The motorway was only a mile long and didn't go anywhere. 

But the whole landscape was kind of exciting to me and I was trying to think of stories and ideas for a film because being in television for so long I very much wanted to do cinema. So I started to come up with the idea but all set within this place where I had the apartment. And that eventually turned into Unrelated. So it came from living in this place myself. The place became a creative space for me.


As a child, my family used to go on Easter holidays to an island off of Cornwall, the Scilly Isles. We went to the same island for many years and stayed in the same place. This was in the 70s through early 80s. There was only one place to stay, this little hotel. And I revisited after a long time. I had a very powerful feeling being in this place reminding me of my childhood holidays and of love of the landscape. 

I think the love of a place also often to do with familiarity. Childhood memories and connections can be very intense and that place took me back to those feelings. So I decided to set the film on that island. But again, I didn't have a complete story in mind. I had to construct it. But I constructed it from getting to know this place again.

But I must say that it sounds so far that both Unrelated and Archipelago are autobiographical and I would say they are not. With Archipelago...

[We are interrupted by loud police sirens outside whizzing by.]

Sirens here are so crazy! It has a very different sound in London... it really intrudes here, doesn't it? Sorry I am losing my train of thought here.

So with Archipelago, yes I completely constructed the story. Of course there are ideas in there that are very personal but it's...yeah, my family wasn't like that. There are things I have experienced that are in there but it's sort of a big cauldron you throw different things into and it becomes its own animal.

Yes, I was gonna ask you about that aspect of your films but I'll save it for later. So we move on to EXHIBITION.

Exhibition. That was different because I knew the house and I knew the architect who built the house in 1969. I met him in the early 90s when he was still living in the house he built for himself and his wife. I became friends with them and the house made a big impression on me. So it was somewhere I thought about when I started thinking about making a film about a couple who are artists. It seem to be a perfect container for that sort of story in a way.

Who was the architect?

James Melvin.

It was built in 1969?

'69, yes.

It looks very modern.

Yes. It had a redesign in the mid 90s by an architectural practice called Saurbruch Hutton, based in Berlin. They are colorist in a way. They work with color. They can possibly be credited to introducing color into modern architecture. A lot of the color elements in the house were added by them. The original 60s design was very monochromatic and didn't have many color at all. When they redesigned it in the 90s, they added colors. 

For instance, the pink sliding doors you see in the film which became a practical effect in his study. And there are other parts of the house that had a color added to them. The fundamental details of the house -- the large glass windows, the spiral stair case, the lift in the middle, the structure of the house is exactly how it was. That's all James Melvin. Some people think that there was this big disruption in the late 60s but it's not. It's not pure in a sense but that's why it's more interesting. It's not a museum piece. It's had people lived in.

I am assuming everything was shot on location.


Were there any challenges shooting on location?

It's interesting you ask that because I have a friend who is a photographer/cinematographer who's been to the house himself, said to me that he didn't think it was possible to shoot there. It's a cube. It's almost square with the lift block in the middle of it. So when you are in the living room, you got this interruption of the lift block. So he thought it would be very difficult to shoot in. And also he thought the amount of glass, in terms of reflection, it would be impossible to deal with.

Of course! Those things he said would be difficult became the gift for the film. Because I was interested in the reflections. You see a lot of the architecture through the reflection because when you are looking outside you are looking back at the house with yourself in the way. So that inside out aspect was very interesting to me. And even the lift block, I mean, was a kind of nice interruption. So the you don't see the space completely. It's always broken up by something. In fact, with Ed Rutherford, my cinematographer, we avoided shooting too wide. Whenever we set up a shot and we go wide, the panoramic view looked like a real estate agent catalog. Sort of a property photograph. (laughs) So we shot a lot with 50mm lens. So we kept things more contained. You never see the house in its entirety from inside or outside. The only time we see the entire house from the outside is when they have the cake (molded in the shape of the house).

So all the limits worked in your advantage.

It did. But from a practical point of view, it was sort of cruel for the crew. Because the only way to get up the different floors in the house was on the spiral staircase.

I thought it was pretty remarkable how you use sound and space to create the couple's connection/disconnection, as you might say. How much of a sound design went into the film?

Well, a lot of sound was created afterward, based on the recordings that were made after the shoot. I recorded sound myself and also the sound designer. We also used the location sound recordist had recorded during the shoot directly from the scene. I made sure that the sound recordist would capture everything around us that was going on. 

For example, the road works outside the house, which we didn't organize - it just happened on the second day of the shoot and for almost entire shoot. We made sure to record those sound, lots of drilling. For me it was important that there is a real authenticity about the sound that it's not coming from a (sound) library that it's new recordings specific to that locations we were shooting in. 

And that house has a particular way of soaking in sounds from the outside. I was really interested in this and I don't think I exaggerated really in the film. When you are standing in the house, there is a corner you can here a sound, like someone talking, closing a door from outside. It travels back in and you feel like those sound is coming from within the house. As I described the visual structure, being inside out, it was the same with the sound.

EXHIBITION is much more of a visual/aural experience than your previous films. Do you feel that it's a big departure for you artistically as a filmmaker?

It seems like a departure but I feel the other films were just building to that. Each one I become a little braver. I am always interested in pushing myself as a filmmaker and not staying with what I'm comfortable with. One of the main differences that I was really challenging myself with was the idea of a narrative that was less linear. The other two have relatively linear storylines. Whereas Exhibition, I wanted something more fragmented to represent different levels of reality and unreality, dream and memory. Again, increasing interest in sound design. I wanted to push that much further. And the reduction of characters, concentrating on one married couple without an extended family, contained in this...cube.

You've used non actors in your films. Especially artists. Christopher Baker, Viv Albertine, Liam Gillick. Do you know them personally? And how do you approach them being in your films?

I don't always know them personally. In the case of Christopher Baker, he has been my painting teacher for many years. I met him in 2002 and have been painting with him on and off since then. So I knew him even before I started making Unrelated. He can possibly be credited for helping get my creativity back on track. So I know him quite well. I'd watch him during painting lessons and I remember thinking at a certain point, 'I'd like to find a part for him in my film one day'. And Archipelago was obviously the right one.

There is this zen-like quality about him that is infinitely patient and wise.

He is like that in real life. But at the same time he was playing the part of the story. I think it's because I had a privilege of observing him for many years, I was able to fit him in the story. I like sometimes having that 'real-life filtering in to fiction'.

And Liam and Vive. Vive has been a friend of mine for many years. But I neve thought of casting her before. I haven't looked at her before thinking, 'I'd put her in a film' until less than a couple of weeks before shooting. I've been looking at many people. Casting had taken a long time because I wanted to find my couple early on. Because I needed to find them early on to fit into the story and have them get to know each other and get to know the house. But it all happened last minute.

Oh wow.

Possibly that ended up being good. But it was certainly a bit chaotic two weeks before filming and I was getting a little nervous. Liam I didn't know at all. I knew his work as an artist but I didn't know him personally until just before the shoot. So I was very happy to find him.

They both are great and have a great chemistry together. Were there any improvisation involved?

Yes. I mean, it's...I always hesitate to call it improvisation because I always feel that gives a feeling that it has no plan or design or precision at all. How I work is very precise. But as I described working with Christopher, I like the approach of bringing something from real life in to fiction with my actors and non-actors. With Vive and Liam, I sort of sometimes feed them lines and other times they would put things in their own words.

I had a precise plan on paper but I didn't show it to them because I didn't want them to worry about what was going to happen next. Then there was certain point in the shoot where I'd write a scene the night before and then show it to them about half an hour before shooting, just enough of time for them to see the map of what I'm trying to do.

I'm pretty sure you get to be asked a lot about Tom Hiddleston, who is in all of your films and now a big star. How did your working relationship begin?

Well, I met him for Unrelated. The casting director was helping me with that film. I'd seen him in a play at his drama school and was very impressed by him. And when I was looking for an actor to play Oakley, she introduced me to Tom and he was really wonderful in Unrelated obviously. He was much younger then. But we had a great working relationship and I thought of him straight away when I was preparing for Archipelago. He is so good at transforming himself into different characters. It's always irresistible to find him new characters to play. Although I like to work with actors and non-actors alike, Tom is different. He can totally become that character in a way that feels very real.

I mean he is completely different in UNRELATED and ARCHIPELAGO.

Yes. He is channeling something different for each one. And with each one, also in Exhibition, even though it's a much smaller role, he is taking it just as seriously.

Would you work with him again, even though he is a big movie star now doing all these blockbusters?

Yeah, I would. If there is time. (laughs) He is always busy with other films but I have plans for something else I want to do with him.

I'd very much looking forward to that.

The scene where Viv's character fakes fainting during dinner where her friends are talking incessantly about their children made me and my wife laughing out loud in the theater. (we both laugh) We don't have children and my wife really wants to try the fake fainting spell at a boring dinner like that.

Yeah she should do that because I ruined it for myself. Since I put it in the film, I don't think I can get away with that. (Laughs)

Is that from a real life experience?

It's a fantasy. (Laughs)

Childlessness and I wouldn't say the absence of good parenting, maybe a disconnection between different generations are always present in your films. Are they based on your real life concerns or are they external themes you want to explore?

Childlessness is from my own experience. I don't have children and I've grappled with the idea of wanting to have children then trying to come to terms know, been though different processes. So that was something I wanted to express. So when I made Unrelated, it was very much something I was going through at that time. With Archipelago I don't deal with that. I deal with the family in a different way. 

Then I wanted to come back to that theme again with Exhibition but with a different stage in life. The stage where they come to terms with it, possibly. Although as we see, it's something that comes and goes. I think there is still a sadness there. It's something that never goes away. I still feel ambivalent about it. But if I had children, I wouldn't be making films, so I value filmmaking. They are my children in a way.

Excellent. So what's next for you? What are you planning?

It's always difficult to talk about the next film... because I am still constructing it. But I'm gonna go back in time.

Oooh, a period piece?

Well, not too far. To the 80s. And it's also going to be set part in London again. I'm in the period of making city films.

I can't wait.

Read my review of Exhibition here
Read my review of Archipelago here

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Violette Leduc Bio

Violette (2014) - Provost
Ever since her breakout role as a deaf office worker, Carla, in Jacques Audiard's audacious caper flick Read My Lips, Emmanuelle Devos has risen as one of the top French actresses of our time, working with auteur filmmakers such as Arnaud Desplechin and Alain Resnais and rubbing shoulders with Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardeu. The thing is, I can't think of another actress who made a career out of her frumpiness more successfully than Devos. And she happens to be a favorite of mine.

In Martin Provost's biopic of a post-war French writer Violette Leduc, Devos delivers another gold, again using her arguably unremarkable physical attributes as a weapon.

The film starts with Violette (Devos)'s black market smuggler days during WWII and helplessly in love with a writer/fellow boarder, Maurice Sachs in rural France. Even though Sachs is closet homosexual, lonely Violette doesn't let up throwing herself onto him. As a way of fight off her advances, he suggests her to write.

After getting back to Paris and reading the controversial feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain)'s writings, Violette, forever lonely and emotionally needy, soon gets enamored with the famous writer. de Beauvoir in turn, recognizes Violette's talent and encourages her to write on. With this, their lifelong friendship starts. Violette finds herself in de Beauvoir's circle of famous literary friends (Jean Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus among them). She even finds an admirer of her work and benevolent patron in a sensitive perfume mogul, Jacques Guérin (Olivier Gourmet).

Her first novel, In the Prison of Her Skin, based on her life in an all-girl boarding school, frankly describing her lesbian affair with another student (certain part of the book would later be adapted by a sexploitation maestro Radley Metzger as Therese and Isabelle). Her books, all based on her life stories, salacious and scandalous at the time of the release, gets recognitions later on as a trailblazer in feminist writing. She unlike many other writers, at least gets to taste her success in her lifetime. However alone in her private life, she gets to attain some inner peace that she very much deserves.

Provost (Seraphine), once again demonstrates his penchant for portraying well-rounded woman characters in his films: Violette doesn't come across as just a hysterical, extremely self-conscious woman and de Beauvoir, not as just a cold fish feminist icon. With the help of strong, down to earth performances by Kiberlain and Devos, Violette features great, undeniably human characters. Stately photographed by Yves Cape (Holy Motors, White Material, Humanité), the look of the film, spanning many seasons, is that of subtle elegance and accentuates the superb acting.

Devos is as usual, wonderful. Using her unconventional beauty and charm, she portrays a lonely woman who gets to express her insecurities and desires truthfully in writing, regardless of its consequences. Beautifully acted and executed, Violette is a great biopic that has a real heart.
VIOLETTE is Scheduled to open in NY on Friday, June 13 at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Angelika Film Center, followed by a national release.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mature Romance

Mademoiselle Chambon (2009) - Brizé
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A subtle melodrama beautifully acted by two leads, Sandrine Kiberlain and Vincent Lindon. Kiberlain plays a new teacher in a small town and Lindon plays a father of one of her pupils and local contractor. The story doesn't really make a conventional case for the attraction between the two. It's not their class differences, however slight, that attract. Lindon's Jean is not unhappily married and his wife is expecting another baby. Is it his dissatisfaction of everyday life or Mlle Chambon's loneliness? Are they willing to give up whatever they have for a fuck? Fortunately, Mlle Chambon stays classy and discrete and thankfully, mature. Kiberlain's characterization of a wandering teacher is very slight but just enough to make her all too human. It gets me to see in a drama where a grown man and woman cry silently in each other's presence. Brief Encounter in a smaller scale, Chambon is a great mature romance.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Time Standing Still

Jardin des deux rives/Garden on both Riverbanks (2013) - El Kamel
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"Here is present without time...", starts the poem by Mahmoud Darwich, first read softly in Arabic, then in French over the images of shuttered doors and bricked up windows of row houses. It is the industrial wasteland known as Le quartier de l'Union in northern France. Once the capital of textile industry, now a ghost town, all the former glory faded and forgotten, surviving only by few old residents who lament about the days in voice overs.

Amel El Kamel, a filmmaker with animation background, uses high resolution, short interval looped images to tell the story of town where time stands still, where life is stagnant as if stuck in limbo: a twilight zone town where things are not quite still but looped in purgatory. As the camera slowly zooms out and pans, scanning over water and artful graffiti, her contemplation of time and decay of human existence, with the help of Darwich's poetry, is elegant in both content and form. The film filled my morning with peace and tranquility.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A delicate Investigation of Life's Mysteries

Recuerdos de una manãna (2011) - Guerín
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Guerín observes his neighborhood from his Barcelona apartment window. It seems there are a lot of musicians living in the neighborhood, you can see them and hear them practicing through open windows. One of these musicians, Manel, a violinist, jumped from his balcony to end his life. He is captured in Guerín's camera many times, practicing shirtless most of the time. Guerín interviews his neighbors about the suicide, how they knew him, how they found him and how the death affected them. Manel had been depressed. His relationship with the woman who worked at the radio industry was over. Others concedes that he wasn't a very good musician. The world goes on, the seasons change, people go on about their business.

Just like his other films, Guerín conducts his little investigation in the mystery that is life and it's beautiful. Also he can't help inserting a beautiful woman violinist as she dances to music in her apartment and plays with her infant daughter and practices her music. Not sentimental but infinitely warm and inviting, it's Recuerdos de una manãna's lyrical imagery that does all the lamenting about fleeting life. Barcelona never looked more beautiful in the rain than here.

Open Roads: New Italian Cinema at FSLC

When we think of Italian cinema, we think of undisputed old masters - Fellini, Visconti, Rossellini, Antonioni, De Sica, Bertolucci and so on. But for the longest time, Italian cinema had fallen out of favor. Sure, there have been flourish of genre films in the 60s - 80s. But the Italian public's national pride and interests in their film industry subsided. Even the locals pffffttted away my inquiries about current Italian cinema when I was attending an art festival in Ravenna, in 2005. Back then, they were all about Kim Ki-Duk and Asian cinema.

But after the rampant political corruption and infamous "boom boom" era of Berlusconi came to a close, and regional support for the arts growing, it seems Italian cinema is finally finding its footing again. And with the international success of Mateo Garrone's Gomorrah and Reality and Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty winning the Best Foreign Language Oscar last year, we are indeed witnessing the resurgence of Italian cinema.

For this year's New Italian Cinema series, Film Society of Lincoln Center presents exceptionally strong and diverse edition which includes the latest work from established veterans (Gianni Amelio, Roberto Andò, Daniele Luchetti) and top award winners, alongside promising new talents from both the commercial and independent spheres, with in-person appearances at many screenings. The series runs June 5 - 12. For more tickets and more info, please visit FSLC website.

I am very happy to get the first dibs on these five diverse films for the festival:
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Those Happy Years (dir. Daniele Luchetti) *Opening Night Film

Daniele Luchetti (My Brother is an Only Child, La Nostra Vita), one of the staple names in current Italian cinema, presents a deeply affecting family drama based on his childhood- growing up in socially tumultuous 70's Italy.

Told in grown up Dario (Samuel Garofalo)'s voice, the film chronicles ups and downs of a couple- Guido (Kim Rossi Stuart), a conceptual artist and his slowly blossoming wife Serena (Micaela Ramazzoti) and their two young sons. A son of an artist and an overly critical mother, Guido is swept up in 'being an artist', surrounded by naked models and dreaming of that big break. He and jealous Serena always fight about his infidelity in front of kids. She doesn't understand why she and kids can't visit him at the studio and he protests that as an artist he needs space.

The big break comes along and Guido has a naked body painting performance in Milan. Serena shows up with kids and Guido barks at her. She then takes off with her friend Helke (Martina Gedeck) to France in a feminist retreat with kids in tow. For many Italian women, it's the time of self-realization and free love. She hooks up with Helke and everything is being documented by Dario, the budding filmmaker with his super-8 camera. In the meantime, Guido's Milan show flops.

Those Happy Years is a delicate, detailed period piece that's intimate and inviting with affecting performances by everyone involved. It might be reflecting specific time and place, but also shows struggles of being an artist and the process of creating something worthwhile which often is linked to life experiences.

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I Can Quit Whenever I Want (dir. Sydney Sibilia)

Pietro (Edoardo Leo), a 30 something, financially struggling biochemistry professor, loses his contract with the school. There is no funding for his algorithm research. Even with his tutoring jobs, he and his social worker girlfriend are not making ends meet. Then after tracking one of his student who owes him tutoring money into a night club and unintentionally taking drugs, Pietro realizes that he can make quality grade 'smart drugs' - made from yet to be illegal substances in Italy and sell them. All he needs is assembling a willing and able crew from his down and out middle-aged academic friends doing menial jobs to survive - a fellow biologist working as a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant, microeconomist as a carny, archeologist as a construction worker, anthropologist as a junkyard worker and a couple of Latin scholars as night gas station attendents. Hilarity ensues.

This satiric take on Italy's economical downturn and joblessness among the over-educated, under-employed generation is a slick, funny entertainment and destined for a Hollywood remake. I can totally see the remake starring Paul Rudd, Adam Scott and Zach Galifianakis.

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Sacro GRA (dir. Gianfranco Rossi)

I love this region specific observational documentary. The film depicts the lives of those who live around the Sacro GRA (Grande Raccordo Anulare), the ring highway system that surrounds Rome. It has no narration or a specific destination. We move from person to person as they go on their lives. We observe them in their most natural states in their homes and jobs- an EMT worker, as he drives along the highway saving lives, a beetle expert listening to the inside of palm trees with a stick-in microphone, an old fisherman who catches eels in the river Tiber with his stoic Lithuanian wife, an aging actor who stars in 'still photo novelas', people who live in their cars, bar floozies, prostitutes.... Then we get to observe people living in a ultra modern, highrise apartment, conversing with each other about life's incongruities and sweet nothings through the lens of the camera rigged just outside the window, looking in.

The whole film feels like the real life 'Wings of Desire' where the audience take on the roles of the heavenly creatures listening in. Shot in two year span in different seasons, Sacro GRA is a beautiful observation of human life that is gentle and thoroughly engaging. *Winner of the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival (the first documentary to win the top prize in the fest history).

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South is Nothing (dir. Fabio Mollo)

Organized crime still has a tight grip on many communities in southern Italy. South is Nothing, a brooding drama reflects the dark shadow it casts in the lives of people who live there. Grazia (Miriam Karlvist) is a highschool tomboy living in a such southern Italian port town. She helps out her tight lipped father at his fish store. Her family is broken after the disappearance of her older brother. Her father doesn't answer any of Grazia's inquiries about her brother. What is not spoken can't hurt you, so the saying goes.

Meanwhile, Grazia sees her brother's ghost when she swims in the ocean, as if in a dream, trying to tell her something. Convinced that her brother's alive, she looks for him with the help of a transient fellow student who takes an interest in her.

Mollo gracefully makes a point of the pressure these people live under without overstating any real physical presence. It's the crushing silences and whispers among the inhabitants that speaks volumes. The fear and frustration is ingrained in their faces. You either give in to the mafia and move up north, or you perish.

Karlvist is remarkable here as short haired, flat-chested Grazia, grappling with an unimaginable loss. Was she always a tomboy? Or is it her over protective brother's absence made her that way? South is Nothing also works as a great character study and cinematically exemplary film in current crop of Italian cinema.

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Small Homeland (dir. Alessandro Rossetto)

Documentary filmmaker Alessandro Rossetto's narrative debut, Small Homeland is a sprawling observation of rural Italy's working class town with the regionalist/nationalist movement simmering in the background. It starts out with a sweeping aerial shot of rural landscape that ends on a black monolith which is a chintzy hotel. The film takes some time to introduce all the characters and settle on the meat of the narrative, concerning two young rebelious women, Luisa (Anna Carnielo) and Renata (Roberta Da Soller) doing menial jobs as maids at the hotel surrounded by cow heaps and horse stables. Luisa and Renata dream of getting the hell outta town. For money and subsequent blackmailing, the duo and Luisa's good natured Albanian lover Bilal (Vladimir Doda) also perform private sex shows for a local sleazeball Rino (Diego Ribon), who happens to be a friend of Luisa's gun totting, xenophobic father, Franco (Mirko Artuso).

Under Rino's leadership, the local hicks are riled up over swelling numbers of immigrants in Veneto region, scarcity of jobs, violent crimes and constant fear mongering media featuring picture of Osama Bin Laden.

With three people credited as writers, Small Homeland loses focus a bit. The slow build up of simmering tension leads to inevitable melodrama at the end. Still, the film is an absorbing reflection of current Italian society going through sociopolitical turmoil.