The Tree (Slo) (review)
Slowly, the desperate situation of a mother and her two sons becomes increasingly clear as their mysteriously isolated existence inside a dusty house and even dustier courtyard darkens. Younger sibling Veli has no idea of the situation around him and tries his best to pass the time to his ninth birthday, unaware of what the actual date is, it's so long since he's been outside. A creaking, imposing blue door and an 8-foot wall separates him from the world and he can't understand why.
Though a little too slow for some, the film does spark and then maintain a steady glow of unseen menace, where everything is suggested and the tiniest studies of movement are used to hint and suggest at the situation before we get the full picture. This might translate as a slow, dull film for those used to having everything explained and exploded at them but if you want an unsettling mystery unfolding in a lower gear (which for my money made things all the more tense) this is pretty good. 7/10
Original Copy (Ger/Ind) (site)
Many of India's ramshackle colonial-era cinemas are still functional, but few of them stick to the traditional painted film poster. Look at any old-fashioned Bollywood promotional and it will invariably be hand drawn and painted rather than photographed. This process has been mostly replaced with lenses and zeroes and ones, but a few places still do things the old way, hanging on by their bare hands as fewer bums fill seats, and prices rise.
One of the few remaining in the heart of Mumbai sources old film reels of Bollywood classics. Their variety is conservative as their clientele know what they want. Plenty of action, a bit of schmoozing and a hero with a gun and some wise cracks. The film of the week has it's own poster painted from scratch on a huge mural. Aging artist Sheikh Rehman, ably assisted by a handful of talented and patient colleagues repeat this task over and over, creating impressive murals using magazine cut outs and tatty papers from their back catalogue of the actors as a starting point.
If you have ever seen a film poster after a film and thought, 'that poster mis-sells the film just a bit', well Mr. Rahman's use of artistic license may have been to blame. If they don't have a pic of the actor, someone who looks a bit like them will do. A bit of a blank patch in the mural? Stick a helicopter and some charging horses in there, they were probably in the background of one scene. The film happily chronicles Rehmans' relaxed approach to movie canon, and mixes it nicely with his own personal stories about inheriting the profession from his father (despite his pleading not to) and his own children rejecting his profession and rubbishing his work, an emotional hole somewhat filled by a young apprentice and surrogate son of sorts. Parallel to the goings-on in the basement, we also get to go upstairs to the cinema owners, and their own stories of inheritance. It all hangs together rather nicely, and comes right back to the beginning in a bittersweet sort of way. 8/10
Couple in a Hole (UK/Fra) (facebook)
In a similar flavour to The Tree, Couple in a Hole presents us with a family in an unusual situation and slowly leaks clues to the tragedy that got them there. John and Karen live hand to mouth in the French mountains in a hovel constructed beneath a fallen tree. Karen is mysteriously agoraphobic, and it's up to John to head out each day and find what he can to eat, staying well out of the way of any humanity in the village below. Quite why they are there is not immediately apparent.
A spider bite on Karens' arm during a rare outside jaunt forces their hand, and on a hurried trip to the chemists he meets a farmer only too happy to help, putting into action a number of disruptions that will lead to their existence in the hills becoming ever more difficult.
Unfolding a little faster than The Tree, and with a last third that was far less predictable (I defy anyone to predict the last minute or so), Couple in a Hole felt a little more enjoyable, although both contained gritty performances and compelling characters. 7.5/10
Another Country (Australia) ()
If you thought that the problems with indigenous aboriginals and the white population of Australia had already been pretty much sorted out, then you should watch this film. David Gulpilil is not a famous name but if you've seen a film with aboriginals in it, you've probably seen him. Yes, that was him in Crocodile Dundee.
Gulpilil narrates a film about his home town, Ramingining; a place created in the middle of nowhere by the Australian government to house some of the aboriginal population. It has basic amenities, a general store, petrol station and even a church, so a cursory glance by an outsider would consider it fit for purpose. But as Gulpilil provides his own inside perspective on successive governmental schemes that miss the most glaring aspect of their failure - that they never consider the culture they are imposing their rules upon - it becomes clear just how messed up everything is in this one sham town of perhaps many in the country.
It isn't a film that devotes equal time to problem and solution, perhaps because everything is so far wrong now and little has been done to undo any of the problems, but this does make for a thorough deconstruction of how one cultures' values sometimes cannot translate to anothers, and in trying to force the subject, destroys lives and communities. 8/10
Lovemilla (Fin) (wiki)
And finally, Finland's attempt to out-Japan Japan. Attention, Finland: it can't be done but points for trying. It remains to be seen whether I can make the twin crazy Japanese entries of Love & Peace and Assassination Classroom next weekend, so I hedged my bets and went for this.
Lovemilla is a Finnish TV show and here it gets the big-screen treatment with several of the series cast reappearing in a made for film variant of themselves. Young lovers Milla and Aimo work together in the local cafe and live together in their parent's house. They have a vampire cat-thing for a pet and her parents turn into zombies when they drink, which is most of the time. Aimo is a lovable but insecure idiot, and Milla is the films' anchor to sanity in a world that gets increasingly strange as their relationship is tested with a new flat, a romantic rival and a shady dealer in bionic limbs.
Milla and Aimo inhabit a world like ours but where a load of crazy things just happen and it's normal there, so go with it. Mostly, it works because the film doesn't give them particular attention, they just happen. This leaves you to enjoy the youthful exuberance given to putting the script and world together; its clear that the producer had the output from the far east as a muse but they give their own, slightly toned down and more sedate pace to it, the often breathless tempo of DMC is not present here, giving the characters more chance to build their relationships with each other. It's not a particular criticism of Japanese films of this type, it's just a nice change. 7.5/10