Behave (Bra) (review)
Brazil's juvenile correction system is a well-oiled machine, and it has to be. If the constant and unending stream of teens shown in the film entering the correction system at one end fresh-faced and impudent, and exiting out the other end, bald, bitter and often hopeless, then a large proportion of the teens in Brazil, especially those from the poorer districts, have helped keep the gears turning at some point through their lives.
The unnamed female judge featured in this documentary is fierce, with a piercing stare and sharp tongue. Once put in front of her, each offender goes from hard-nosed street thug, thief, mugger or murderer into a doe-eyed puppy. It's fascinating viewing to see her uncompromising and occasionally benevolent assessment of the crime and its individual circumstances, and some of the verdicts she arrives at may raise a few eyebrows.
When not in front of the judge, the cameras follow a half dozen new inmates into the prison to see the less than sanitary conditions, the food, and the strict discipline placed upon them by the pushy guards. It's all a bit depressing, which is amplified by the staggered format of the film, so we see existing inmates going through a typical day in one scene, followed by new entrants being convicted in the next. This repetitiveness could have become annoying, but worked well here to symbolise the conveyor belt of juveniles passing through the system.
The film was fascinating, eye-opening, shocking, funny and even heartwarming in places, showing the humanism even in the lowest moments of these young peoples' lives. 7.5/10
57000km Between Us (Fra) (director interview)
Some of the messages in this film were not completely lost on me; a disjointed family is described in detail. A wife and her live-in lover use hand held digital cameras and webcams to capture every part of their lives, which get placed on their blogs for hundreds of people to watch, big brother style. The estranged husband is a post-op transsexual and lives with his boyfriend in a big round block of flats. Nat, the sullen 'early teens' daughter, to the unthinkable ambivalence of the parents, runs a website where she attracts male clients who can live out their desires to be her baby. She is also playing an online RPG, which is the only contact she has with her boyfriend, someone she hasn't seen and thus isn't aware that he is slowly dying in hospital. The mother of the boyfriend is also in contact via a computer, but her webcam is turned off because she cannot bear to look at him or visit him. The distance between Nat and her boyfriend is the source of the films' title.
So, plenty of one-dimensional alludes to the pervasive technology in all our lives, taken to a level of absurdity so that it can be considered a satire. The director, Delphine Kreuter uses handheld cameras throughout to give the audience a chance to invade the personal spaces of the actors by zooming in clumsily to their faces whenever one of them begins to speak, unfortunately the repeated whipping and zooming was a source of seasickness and became very annoying.
The film could have been so much more than it was; lots of amateur camerawork, deliberate or otherwise is always a problem for the eyes, and there was too many random moments where something completely disjoint happened, such as a cut to an unrelated scene, or a transsexual suddenly jumping in a pond, or something else equally bizarre to break your mind's tracking of any flow of the story. There was also a bit too much of the philosophising which if you were to believe with such films, the French do on a daily basis with even the most mundane topics of conversation.
There are very good French films out there; Jeunets' Amelie and Chomets' Triplettes de Belleville are prime examples of beautiful films dripping with 'French'-ness that are also joyous to watch. This is very much not one of them, it is the pretentious, meandering sort of French film that fuels the stereotypical view of French cinema as 'arty farty', 'experimental' and not worth bothering with. If the director is reading this, myself and Ms Plants would like our hour and a half back, please. 2/10
Versailles (Fra) (director interview)
Thankfully, Versailles showed that France is still coming up with watchable output. Nadine is a single mother out on the streets of France, arriving in Versailles to look for work. Upon seeing an advert in a discarded paper, she decides that it could be a new start for her, but she has the problem of no home, no money, and a four-year-old child named Enzo to take care of. They come across Damien, a fellow vagrant living in a forest by the Seine, played by the late Guillaume Depardieu (son of Gerard). After an impromptu night of passion in front of the campfire, Nadine leaves, but does not take Enzo, leaving Damien to pick up the pieces.
Rather than taking the expected route of having Damien and Enzo embark on an epic journey to find her, Damien takes over as a father figure and raises the child as his own, eventually returning to his fathers' home and getting a job to pay the rent, something he became a homeless bum to get away from. His assumption is that Nadine will eventually return.
Where Nadine is in all this is left as an unexplained hole which the viewer is free to fill in with their own explanations, and her eventual reuniting with her son forms the eventual conclusion of the film. The storyline jumps along quite energetically with both humourous, sad and empathetic scenes to play with your emotions. There will be those who find that, after the credits begin to roll there are a few too many unexplained and unprobed aspects to the story, but as a whole, tells it well and is recommended. Interestingly, the thing that caused the death of Guillaume (complications arising from pneumonia) are actually suffered at one point by the character as they struggle to survive through the cold of winter. 6.5/10
Tea Fight (Jpn/Taiwan) (site /review)
Lastly, a film with its tongue firmly in cheek. There are many things that divide the various countries in the far east, but one thing they all have in common is a great reverence for the production, preparation and eventual consumption of their teas. Tea ceremonies are a regular occurrence, where secret recipes passed through generations of families are prepared with grace and style - and often lots of time - so that the end result may be savoured in a fashion totally different from a typical English cuppa. This film plays on these themes, inventing a Golden Tea, supposedly the best tasting ever, that had male and female versions. In the animated segment at the beginning of the film, done by Studio 4C, they of The Animatrix and Tekkonkinkreet, we see that the male tea causes men to become violent, whereas the female tea causes them to become calm and relaxed. When a hot-headed proponent of the male brew lays down the smack on one of the female sellers, a 'tea fight' is started, where the two sides create the tea they think is best. When the judge finds both teas lacking a certain something, the male tea guy throws a wobbly and has every trace of the female tea destroyed, or so he thinks.
In the present day, the film works its wiles to re-stage the fight, hundreds of generations later, the catalyst being Mikiko's discovery of her female tea lineage and the innocent looking tea bush in the back garden holding more secrets than she could have imagined. If only she can knock her father out of his depression about his late wife, she might just get to the bottom of the problem.
Totally lacking in the pretentiousness highlighted in some of the films seen so far, this came as a bit of fresh air in comparison. Never taking itself too seriously (the notion of a tea fight was invented for the film), there are silly segments and pseudo-serious ones, with typical goofy-teens providing light humour in the ways you often see in Japanese films of this type.
I really enjoyed Tea Fight, it was refreshing like a cuppa should be, and only required a willingness to accept the ridiculous notions of the faux reverence put into the tea making process, and just go with the flow of things. At the end of the day, as the film itself reminds us; it's just tea. 6.5/10