Sunday, August 14, 2005

My Summer of Love

It bugs me that I can’t remember where I first met the plot of "My Summer of Love". It is the standard romantic plot about love between two people from different "worlds", where one character’s "world" is more powerful than the other. This time the setting is modern rural UK and the characters are two teenage girls, say fifteen or sixteen. Both girls come from unusual backgrounds and are alone for the summer. Mona’s parents are dead and she is living in a non-functional pub with her big brother. Tasmin’s parents are effectively absent and her house is miles (literally and figuratively) from its neighbours.

Tasmin is bored and Mona is frustrated. Starting with an accidental meeting, both see each other as a way out, a release. Curiosity leads to play leads to love. As is traditional with passionate infatuation stories the pace is languid, as is darkhaired Tasmin. On the other hand the freckled, red-head Mona (and her brother) are restless, tortured characters repressing a tendency to flash into violence.

Tasmin shows Mona how to see adults as toys to be played with, or at least teased and tormented. Mona’s born again Christian, ex-criminal brother and his Pentecostal congregation, looking and sounding like escapees from "Last of the Summer Wine" but carrying on like a caricature of American TV evangelists with Yorkshire accents seem like an absurdist joke, and provide an unusual backdrop for the action.

The film interplays the power of imagination and irresponsibility of childhood and the possibilities of almost adulthood with the powerlessness of being a child. The passions of first love and the usual clash of "cultures". The story moves into its last act predictably enough, but then throws in a couple of final twists of the knife.

The plot may not be original, but it is well acted by two girls who are more than just eye-candy and beautifully shot in an sunny British countryside that surely only exists in films, novels and tourist brochures. This is a good date movie or possibly girl’s night out movie, though it is not high brow enough to be a "chick-lit" film.

Ian’s rating 4/5
Anne’s rating 3/5

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The 10th District Court: Moments of Trial

"10e Chambre: instants d’audiences" is a French fly-on-the-wall documentary of parts of the proceedings of the 10th District Court in Paris. The quick verdict is that things will go worse for you if you insult parking wardens than if you drink and drive!
What you get to see is excerpts from a stream of trials for 105 minutes and then they roll the credits and you think "but… but… why did they stop there?" It didn’t really seem like an hour and three quarters. Because you don’t get to see the whole of any one trial I can’t say for certain how French District Court trials are held. But the trials seemed to follow this format: There is usually one judge and no jury (but some trials merited three people sitting up front). First the judge sums up the case and then questions the defendant, starting with name and address, but quickly moving to asking about what happened and asking the accused to give their side of the story, which the judge usually questions. Sometimes there is a civil plaintiff (in one case it was the insulted parking warden in another a policeman who had been injured arresting a pickpocket -- but not the tourist who had been pickpocketed!) who gets to say what happened to them and the judge asks them how much damages they want. Then the prosecutor makes a brief statement saying how bad the accused is and how terrible the crime was and finish by asking for a particular punishment. The defence lawyer (or the defendant) gets a turn to give excuses and suggest a lighter sentence (or ask for acquittal). Then the defendant gets sent to wait outside until sentencing at the end of the session.
The crimes are mundane: two drink driving charges, a pick pocket, calling two traffic wardens "bitches", pestering phone calls to an ex-girlfriend, carrying a shotgun in a public place, a silly case of a guy who gets into an argument the day he gets out of jail, a dodgy case of carrying an illegal weapon. The defendants are varied from the inarticulate and incoherent to one that shouts despirately and others that won't shut up, even when it is in their interest. The two middle class defendants seem to get up the judge’s nose much more than the others. The lawyers are for the most part odd, postering creatures, that play a minor part in the proceedings.
At the end of the session the defendants are brought back in and the sentences are read out. Each scene is preceded by a date and time, given that one judge heard all the trials and she was still hearing cases at 3am (and having trouble finding her way through her papers) I wouldn't care to be at the end of her case list!
On the whole this is an unusual view into side of French of life that we are highly unlikely to see otherwise and a glimpse at a justice system that is different to our own and to the fictional anglo-american justice system as we see on film and TV.
Ian’s rating 4/5

Up and Down

Prague may be the trendiest city in eastern Europe, but after seeing "Up and Down" you might want to go to Belgrade or Warsaw instead. The Prague of "Up and Down" is a much nastier place than the nostalgic Prague of director, Jan Hrebejk’s previous films "Cosy Dens" and "Divided We Fall". The main theme this time is racial prejudice. The Czech’s fear the gipsies and both groups are fearful of the new immigrants from further east in Europe and from Asia. Tourists are there to be stolen from and Prague is divided into unofficial racial zones of control.
There is no plot or story in the traditional sense, rather a series of episodes featuring three sets of characters. A football hooligan and his infertile child-mad wife, a sick professor and his broken and far flung family and a gang of criminals. Each set has its own episodes and acts as bystanders in the other episodes.
Ironically Franta, the man who names his cat after his favourite soccer player and cannot adopt a child because of a conviction for hooliganism, is the most sympathetic character, mostly because of his intense loyalty (to his baby stealing wife, his football club, his mates and his job as a security guard). The professor is a more fickle character with a son in Australia, a bitter estranged wife and a younger lover and daughter at home. This leads to host of family secrets and conflicts, that drive most of their episodes. On the other hand we don’t really get to know the criminals as individuals, they just play their part.
Despite the nastiness, the confusing plot lines and host of characters this is a funny film, with lots of set pieces exploring immigration from the point of view of the "natives", the recent immigrants, the not so recent immigrants, those who have left and come back and those passing through.
Ian’s rating 4/5
Anne’s rating 3.5/5

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Hari Om

Hari Om, the second film we saw on Sunday is splendid light entertainment which you could categorize as a road movie or a romantic comedy. It is filmed in Rajastan, which is just beautiful. Camels, monkeys, elephants, the pink is all good-looking and exotic. It's the tale of a frenchwoman on holiday in India with her boyfriend who is there on business. The day they are in Jaipur she gets bored with business and goes sightseeing by motorised rickshaw. She has such a good time she arrives late at the station and misses the sleeper train - the "palace on wheels". So she catches the bus, the bus breaks down and who should come along but the rickshaw driver, fleeing town to escape his gambling debts. So she and the rickshaw driver have some adventures before meeting up with the eventually penitent boyfriend.

The rickshaw driver is the actor who played the wedding planner in Monsoon Wedding. He vies with Gerard Depardieu for the title of biggest nose in show business, which is a bit distracting to begin with, but he does a great job in this film.

Anne's rating 4/5: Ian's rating 4/5

The Queen of Sheba's Pearls

The Queen of Sheba's Pearls was one of three films we saw on Sunday July 31st.I was a bit worried about seeing three films in a row but found it very easy, despite the fact that we had to slum it in row S for all three. Row S has traditional tip-up cinema seats and isn't at all what we've become used to but never mind.

TQOSP is set in England in 1952 and centres around a boy whose mother was killed in 1944 on his eighth birthday. He lives in a huge country vicarage with the vicar (apparently no relation), his great uncle (a funeral director), his maternal grandmother, his father (works in the funeral business), a swedish chap (also works in the funeral business), and his two maiden maternal aunts who appear to be unemployed but who are bonking the vicar and the swedish chap respectively. Anyhow, into this unlikely household arrives a swedish woman who looks exactly like Jack's dead mother. This causes great consternation and rattles a skeleton or two out of some closets but gradually everyone sorts themselves out and lives happily ever after.

It was a moderately absorbing film but I'm not sure what the maker was trying to say or why it took 132 minutes to try and say it. Perhaps he was just trying to capture English people being terribly English and thought this sufficient entertainment in its own right.

Anne's rating 3/5: Ians rating 2.5/5

Friday, August 05, 2005

Life is a miracle

Back in our rightful home in row L, we had a good time watching this movie. It was described by one reviewer as a rom-com but romantic comedy doesn't really capture how mad this off-beat little number is. Once you've watched it you can only conclude that the residents of Bosnia are completely mad. And not just any old mad - heavy-drinking, short-tempered, lets-smash-things-for-fun mad.However, this is a charming film. The Bosnian scenery is just great and is filmed in all seasons. There are fabulous autumn colours, and beautiful snow-clad winter landscapes pink in the setting sun so it is beautiful to look at. There are cute animals - the sandwich-guzzling cat, the lovesick donkey who likes to stand on the railway tracks, the indoor bear, and the bed-loving dog. The humans around whom the story revolves are mad, as I've already mentioned,but quite engaging.

The Hero is Luka who is a Serbian railway engineer. He looks after a little branch railway line and drives a converted car along the tracks. When war breaks out in 1992 his son is called up for military service and becomes a prisoner of war soon afterwards.Luka's wife leaves him for another man, and then Luka falls in love with a Muslim nurse who he is supposed to be keeping as a hostage...........

This film is good-looking escapist entertainment with serious undertones and considers what happens when you fall in love with someone that politics say you shouldn't.

Anne's rating 4/5. Ian's rating 3/5

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


We went to see Birth on the night of Thursday 28th of July, which was the only night we got seriously rained on going to or from the movies in the 2 weeks of the festival. Due to the popularity of this film we were no longer in our home-away-from-home, row L, and were relegated to row P, which has armchair-style seats which aren't leather.However, we didn't suffer too much.

Birth is the story of a woman who is about to marry for the second time when she meets a ten-year-old boy claiming to be the re-incarnation of her first (deceased) husband, and of the impact this has on her, her current relationship, and her family and friends. It is quite well done and fairly absorbing but it lacks the kind of punch that I was hoping for, and that Sixth Sense has. There are a few holes in the plot, and the little boy was particularly uncharismatic, which made the whole scenario a little less convincing than it could have been.I found the soundtrack (dramatic, ballet-score type music) very irritating and I don't usually notice soundtracks. On the plus side, Nicole Kidman's acting was awesome,and the film is probably worth seeing for that alone.

Anne's rating 3.5/5, Ian's rating 3/5

The Ax

Every film festival must have its French farce. This year the slot is filled by the "The Ax", a black comedy about middle age unemployment and the personal and social cost of downsizing. Bruno, tired of the odds against him in each job he applies for, analyses the problem and sets out to improve his chances. Identifying, locating and eliminating his competitors and then similarly creating a vacancy at the company he wants to work for.
José Garcia is the perfect, depressed, unemployed middle manager, father and husband who keeps his unorthodox strategy a secret from his wife and kids. His wife drags him off for counselling but its the son going off the rails that pulls the family back together.
This film is below standard for French comedies at Film Festivals but that still puts it above average compared to comedies on general release. I would rate "The Ax" as on a par with "The Closet".
After seeing this film you may think twice about attaching your photo to your C.V.
Ian’s rating 3.5/5
Anne’s rating 3.5/5
By the way, if you "get" the running gag about lingerie adverts, please explain it to me.