Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What Maisie Knew

They say you can't choose your relatives, and if you were Maisie, the charming six-year-old at the centre of this movie, you wouldn't have chosen the parents she had. A possible alternative title for the film could have been How Not To Be a Parent. At the beginning of the film, Maisie's parents  (Suzanna the rock singer and Beale the art dealer) separate. They each fight for sole custody, but the judge comes down in favour of a shared solution. It's not clear whether each parent fought for custody to get one over on their ex or because that's what they thought a parent should do, but one suspects it was more the former than the latter. While they each appear to have affection for their child they have no desire to let looking after her interfere with their respective careers or lifestyle.

Beale solves the problem of child minding by promptly marrying Margo, the family's Scottish au pair who Maisie is already fond of. Suzanna follows suit by marrying Lincoln, an easy-going bartender. I'm sure she chose him for his good looks and temperament but it turns out he's great with kids. So then we see these train-wrecks of parents stuffing up their new relationships and completely failing to ensure Maisie's well-being. One of the most heart-wrenching scenes is Maisie being put out of a taxi by her Mother outside the bar where Lincoln works and when she gets inside we discover Lincoln isn't working that night.

So I'm sure you're wondering why you'd put yourself through watching something quite so traumatic and it's hard to encapsulate why it's such a rewarding watch. It's partly because its very much from Maisie's perspective and  very non-judgemental - we see the characters' behaviour and can form our own conclusions. It's also because the young actor who plays Maisie does such a good job. Iit's because even though she has such useless parents there are still people who care for her and look after her well and with whom she forms relationships - and it's a refreshing change for the step-parents to come out looking like the good guys.

Alexander Skarsgard (who plays Lincoln) is a ravishing as ever, and a totally appealing character to boot. You can't blame Margo for finding him more rewarding to spend time with than her monumentally selfish husband  (Steve Coogan, who's very practiced at playing bastards). As the film draws to a close, there's hope for a happier future for Maisie and the good guys.

Anne's rating 4/5.

Watch Trailer

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt is named for its subject, a German-Jewish philosopher, lecturer and author who lived in New York from 1941 until she died in 1971. The film covers her being sent to Jerusalem to cover the trial of Adolf Eichmann  (the SS officer who was in charge of the logistics of the deportation of  Jews in Eastern Europe to concentration camps) by the New Yorker magazine in 1961 and it covers the personal fallout caused by what she wrote.

There's no shortage of this kind of biographical drama on film. Erin Brockovich springs to mind. So does The Queen. To work well, the life portrayed should be remarkable in some way. It's helpful but not essential if the life portrayed is inspirational or uplifting. Giving an insight into a particular place and time is also helpful.

Hannah Arendt meets these criteria. This particular incident in her life was remarkable because she looked at someone involved in mass murder and didn't see a monster but an ordinary man who did a job. She coined the phrase the banality of evil to describe him doing that job. She wrote about what she saw and thought and was unrepentant when an avalanche of criticism came her way. Her personal resolve and unwavering conviction is inspirational to an extent  - though it's always hard to know if this shows strength of character or pigheadedness. We do get insights - into her marriage (which seemed particularly caring) , her apartment (huge with a view of the river),  her social circle (who seemed communicative, thoughtful and considerate) and into the reaction of the Jewish community at large to her views on Eichmann and the role of Jewish leaders in the efficient deportation of Jews The fact that she herself was Jewish added an extra level of interest.

I felt that the subject of the nature of evil only got as much coverage as was necessary to move the narrative along which was a pity.  I guess if a biographical drama inspires you to read more about the person it portrays or to read their works (listen to their music, or look at their art) then it has done its job, as long as you weren't bored while it was doing it. I wasn't bored but feel I could have been more stimulated.

Anne's rating 2.5/5

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Gilded Cage

It's hard to write a review of The Gilded Cage without damning it with faint praise. While it was a perfectly satisfactory entertainment experience I can't help comparing it unfavourably with other more compelling French comedies.
Maria and Jose are well-assimilated Portuguese immigrants who have lived in Paris for the last thirty years. and their children were born in France.They're the caretakers of an apartment building and they live on site. Caretaking is Maria's full-time job whereas Jose is the foreman for a construction firm. Jose's estranged brother dies and leaves them the family home and business in Portugal on the proviso that they reside there. The dilemma they face is that having spent the last thirty years working hard and looking after other people they're not sure they'll be comfortable just looking after themselves. And having grown up in France, their children are not that keen to come.

Initially, Jose and Maria keep the news of their inheritance to themselves but Maria's sister reads the solicitor's letter when she's visiting and tells everyone she can think of  - in strict confidence, of course. So the residents of the apartment building and Jose's boss exert themselves to try and make Jose and Maria stay in Paris, which is all very self-centred of them. The other major plot strand is that Jose and Maria's daughter is dating/bonking  Jose's bosses son. In seems that the daughter of a Portuguese immigrant should not be consorting with a businessman's son ( read have a relationship outside their own social class and possibly also ethnic group) and they've gone to great lengths to keep the relationship secret.

The plot is really the downfall of the movie. To a New Zealand audience at least, the class difference aspect seems desperately old-fashioned and Jose and Maria's dilemma seems a bit of a no-brainer, so the drama is not that gripping. On the other hand, the plot isn't silly enough and the conspiracy of the friends and residents not funny enough for it to be one of the splendid farces that the French are so good at. That said the main characters are quite likeable, the film is amusing and there's a most satisfactory happy ending. It's a kind of celebration of the people in everyday life - family, friends, neighbours and co-workers and how they contribute to quality of your existence.

Anne's rating 2.5/5, Ian's rating 3/5.


Having meant to go and see the New Zealand Ballet perform Giselle when it was staged last year and somehow missing it, an opportunity to see the performance on screen instead seemed worth seizing. And the screen being the big one at the Embassy theatre made it even better. There was definitely a sense of occasion - the opening music gave me goosebumps.

The ballet has a somewhat bizarre plot which you can read about here. Suffice to say it's a rather tragic love story with the second act taking place at night which makes it very atmospheric.  Giselle is played by Gillian Murphy (a principal with American Ballet) and Qi Huan, a Chinese-born member of the New Zealand ballet, plays Albrecht. The performance is a  particularly good one and the chemistry between the two leads is  palpable.

While this is a film of a performance with a better view than you'd get if you were in the theatre, you also get some "special features" - like watching the DVD rather than going to cinema. We see Gillian and Qi rehearsing the second act pas-de-deux in the studio in plain clothes which allows you  to see that the chemistry isn't restricted to stage performances and that the dancing is just as awesome without the costumes, the scenery and the rest of the cast. We also see them separately in New York and Shanghai, and then together in the Catskill Mountains near in New York. If you thought redheads shouldn't wear red, you should see this film! Unlike many of the special features on a DVD,  the ones in this film really add to the experience of watching the film, and make you conscious of how good a job principals do of portraying a love story.

The costumes and scenery are both beautiful and atmospheric. The dancing is astounding at times- and not just by the two principals. As an experience it's thoroughly rewarding and if you don't feel like the whole film, do watch the trailer which gives you a bit of everything, including the red dress.

Anne's rating 4/5.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Like Father Like Son

Like Father like Son has the same premise as The Other Son . Two babies get swapped in the maternity hospital and brought up by people who are not their parents. The mistake gets discovered at some point and the families have to deal with the fallout. In The Other Son we're in Israel, the babies are now eighteen, one is about to join the army and has a blood test which shows that his blood type is incompatible with that of his "parents". In Like Father Like Son, we're in Japan, the babies (also boys) are just turning six and the process of enrolling to go to primary school involves blood tests and the same scenario plays out - two sets of parents are summonsed to the hospital for an interview to get the shocking news.While the basic plot seemed very similar I thought it would be interesting to see how the subject was treated in a different country by a different director.

 Keita, a sensitive and eager-to-please only child, has been raised by Ryota, (a business man who is very focused on work)  and Midori, who does most of the hands-on parenting. They live in an apartment in a multi-story building in the city.
 Ryusei has been raised by Yudai and Yukari. Yudai is an appliance repairman  an and his family live over the shop in the suburbs. Ryusei is the oldest of three children, who worship their Dad because he is so much fun.

The Hospital's  lawyer says that in 100% of such cases the children are eventually swapped and brought up by their biological  parents. The parents seem to find this fact particularly compelling and start a programme of weekend child swapping, moving on to a complete swap fairly promptly - with the idea that it's good to make a complete break. Of course this is a recipe for everyone being miserable and missing their parents/home/child a lot so the end of the film sees an impromptu visit and the promise of a "best of both worlds approach.

Whereas the Other Son's particular focus was genetic identity and ethnicity, Like Father like Son is more an examination of relationships - fatherhood in particular. What if your son prefers the other father because he's more fun? Is your son better off with the other parents because they're wealthier? Should you deprive your son of his brothers and sisters? Should Mothers have an instinct for recognising their own baby? Should you try and emulate your own father's parenting style.

Like Father like Son is a gentle, absorbing film. Ryota's journey of self-discovery as a father is very moving and the child actors provoke a great deal of empathy.

Anne's rating 3.5/5

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

You're Next

A slasher fest is where a group of people go to an isolated, creepy location and get killed one by one in a variety of gory ways. The audience gets to be shocked by the sudden appearances of the killer (out of the dark, through the window, from behind the victim, when the victim goes through a door, when the victim is sans clothes, etc.) They get to enjoy the gore, and to speculate on who will be the next victim and which characters will survive to the final credits.

When I get the New Zealand International Film Festival program one of the first things I do is flip to the back to checkout Ant Timpson's Incredibly Strange section. This is a mix of horror films and other odd ball films that don't fit in other sections. This year the Incredibly Strange section included Blue Ruin which is a perfectly respectable small thriller that feels like it was miss filed and should have been in the same section as The East. You're Next on the other hand is typical Ant Timpson material.

You're Next is a slasher fest which starts with the first two victims being killed during the opening credits and before the main group begins to arrive for a family re-union at the big old house down the road.

The general air of doom seems misplaced as the family get down to sniping and bitching. But we know the calm won't last, and the next death is a relief from unpleasantness of the passive-aggressive brotherly feuding. At 10 people the group is unusually large for a slasher film, and you wonder if they will run out of imaginative ways to kill them off. But we are in safe hands and the typical suicidal strategies take over.

There are plenty of shocks both sudden and bloody, interspersed with plenty of laughs and at least four good plot twists. Be warned that there is no shortage of gore as a wide variety of household objects are put to use beyond their manufacturer's specifications.

Ian's rating 4/5

Much Ado About Nothing

Last year I complained that Joss Whedon had short changed Amy Acker in The Cabin in the Woods. This year he has made it up to her by giving her the role of Beatrice in his Much Ado About Nothing. She is more convincing with her jibes about love and about Benedick than he is in return. But Alexis Denisof (Wesley Wyndam-Pryce from Buffy and Angel) has the edge over her when it comes to being silly, especially the physically comedy in the hiding scene.

Shakespeare often puts in pantomime comedy scenes with buffoon characters. Chief buffoon in Much Ado About Nothing is Nathan Fillion as Dogberry (head of the night watch) who steals all the scenes he's in. It is a pity Shakespeare made the part of Don John (the Bastard Prince) is so small because cupcake thieving Sean Maher looks perfect as the evil schemer with Riki Lindhome, showing plenty of leg, as Conrade his sulky girlfriend.

The story goes that Joss Whedon likes to host play reading evenings for his actor friends. So as a wedding anniversary gift to himself he decided to one step further and film Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing in his house, using his actor friends on the cheap. While the script is straight up Shakespeare, the setting is a Californian house party with the men in suits and the music provided by Ipods.

Initially the modern setting makes Shakespeare's language sound alien, but you quickly get used to it and find the familiar setting make it easier to understand what he was trying to say. I can see this film being used to make Much Ado About Nothing more understandable to today's school kids. Though Dogberry and his fellow watchmen seem over the top in a modern setting. There are minor changes to Shakespeare's original script, Antonio has been dropped and Conrad is now a woman.

On the other hand I don't understand the reasons for filming in black and white.

Ian's rating 3.5/5

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Tania is a Maori, a blue eyed blonde Maori. She works the night shift at a South Auckland petrol station run by Rog and looks after her sick mother during the day. She and her younger brother Pi are saving money for a trip to Surfers to visit their dad and the fun parks there. While Tania has the "work ethic" Pi goes to pick kiwifruit in Te Puke but finds work too boring. Back in South Auckland a new regional manager, Dean, has shown up, and keeps showing up. Dean is a little too full of himself and provides most of the comedy moments in the film. For instance: trying to teach Tania how to smile at customers and the V drinking dare.

Fantail is a New Zealand film, so it is not all laughs on the night shift. There has to be a dark side. Even though it was well signalled in retrospect, judging from the comments during the Q & A afterwards, most of us were taken by surprise. Hats off to writer / actor Sophie Henderson and first time film director Curtis Vowell for a well executed twist.

Fantail was funded by the New Zealand Film Commission's Escalator scheme for feature films with a budget of up to $250,000. This isn't a big, flashy film, nor is it a high-brow art house film, but it makes you laugh and think and deserves to be seen by a wider audience than a single showing in each main centre.

Ian's rating 3.5/5 Anne's rating 4.5/5

The Selfish Giant

I read the film festival programme, I rate things Id like to see, I see whether you I can timetable them, I buy some tickets and generally I have an entertaining and stimulating time going to watch films. Sometimes, however, I get it horribly wrong. Going to The Selfish Giant was one of those times.

I arrived at the Paramount to find I was in row M, which as Ian has already said is "unsuitable for people with legs" and this didn't bode well. The film turned out to be a much bigger problem than the seat. Five minutes in, I considered whether to go home but some masochistic or thrifty impulses prevented me.

So what was so terrible? The Selfish Giant is 93 minutes of all the characters being almost unrelentingly unpleasant to each other for no good reason. The main characters are two teenage boys, Arbor and Swifty and they are both unappealing. Arbor has ADHD and is as foul-mouthed as his parents and the only time I warmed to him was when he hugged his mother to comfort her. Swifty is slightly less obnoxious ( he's kind to horses)  but he gets killed off. The setting is industrial and grim and poor in a way the British can do so well.

I can hear you say "lots of films are about characters being unpleasant to each other" and that's true. Usually there's some point to it, or something uplifting comes from it and with this film this just not the case. The film festival programme says "exciting, tough and superbly acted" but I say "stay away". This is my first zero-rated film on this blog because cleaning the oven would really have been more fun than watching this. And cleaning the oven usually provides a sense of satisfaction.

Anne's rating 0/5

The Village at the End of the World

This film festival has been excellent for seeing exotic places - Saudi Arabia, The West Bank, Antarctica, Kurdistan, Japan - and The Village at the End of the World took me to Greenland. Like Antarctica: A year on Ice, this documentary also spanned a year. - in this case of the lives of the residents of Niaqornat, a  tiny village on the western coast of Greenland.

We gets to grips with living in an isolated community - the only way in or out for most people is by helicopter and goods come by boat , but only from May to December. Towards the end of winter, hunting is a viable way of feeding the village. There aren't many jobs - since the Royal Greenland Company closed the fish factory  in 2008 people fish or hunt, there's one school teacher, one village administrator, one person runs the shop (the only teenager helps out) and one excrement collector - you could call him a nightsoil collector, except that he works during the daytime. The economics of the community and their quest to resurrect the fish factory is a big part of the film.

The landscape and the scenery are another big part. In the winter, the sea freezes but even in the summer there are icebergs floating in the bay - so the view is always changing. The lack of things growing really struck me - there are no trees and no-one in Niaqornat has a garden. We see a bit of moss and grass on the hills. Vegetables are things that are brought in by boat, and one of the older residents said he didn't really like them since they weren't a part of the traditional Greenlandic diet!
 I'm sure there's many plenty of fodder there for more documentaries - one on sewage and waste disposal in Arctic environments, for example. And whether the many dogs were using for sledding or as pets.However, you can start with the one on offer, Getting to know Niaqornat and its people makes for a very pleasant eighty minutes and expands your world view.

Anne's rating 3/5.

It Boy

Alice, the workaholic, perfectionist editor for trendy Rebelle magazine is anxious that her job is under threat from a younger, more outrageous Lise who has Alice's boss twisted around her little finger. Office gossip over a tweeted cellphone photo adds to her woes, until a friend points out how to spin the situation to change her no-fun image. What starts as office one-upwomanship morphs into a typical romantic comedy of boy meets woman, boy loses woman, woman finds boy, woman screws things up, boy sulks, woman finds boy again.

Alice is twice Balthazar's age and used to being hit on and swatting away men on a daily basis. Balthazar is gawky, well meaning and photogenic (Anne says cute), but without the X-factor implied by the English title - It Boy. Alice starts cool and sophisticated to match her perfectionist corporate image, but lets her hair down (literally) and turns into a man boy eating sex kitten.

The English title is odd, I overheard the film being called IT Boy (as in Information Technology) in the foyer of the Penthouse. Rachel put me on the right track, it is a play on It Girl. A surprisingly old concept (popularised by the 1927 film It). The French title 20 ans d’écart, which translates as "20 years apart", is more obvious.

Despite the centrality of the age difference the film doesn't explore it too much. Even Alice's daughter is down played. In fact the real age difference between leads is only 12 years and looks less. It doesn't pay to think too much about the plot and luckily the pacing doesn't give you much time to think. Just enjoy the comedy, especially the sex scene involving Angela Merkal and François Hollande. There are some good supporting characters, in particular Alice's matchmaking sister and Balthazar's motor racing father (who is dating one of Balthazar's class mates - making Alice and Balthazar look like a well matched couple).

I wonder if the message for women is -- try a boy, you might like it.

Ian's rating 4/5 Anne's rating 3.5/5

The Gatekeepers

Last year there was Ra'anan Alexandrowicz's The Law In These Parts, interviews with Israeli military judges and prosecutors. Much of the evidence against the Palestinians prosecuted and tried by them came from Shin Bet (aka Shabak or GSS). This year Dror Moreh interviews six retired heads of Shin Bet in The Gatekeepers. While the earlier documentary gave us information on how that part of the machinery of the military occupation works, this one gives us a glimpse into another component of that machinery. Dror Moreh says he was inspired by The Fog of War, hence he is less interested in the detail of how Shin Bet works than in the opinions of 6 men who know more about Palestinians than other Israelis and also know more about Israeli actions and decision making from Israeli prime ministers, the IDF, Jewish settlers and terrorists to their own Shin Bet operations.

The six are:
1980-1986 Avraham Shalom
1988-1994 Yaakov Peri
1994-1996 Carmi Gillon
1996-2000 Ami Ayalon
2000-2005 Avi Dichter
2005-2011 Yuval Diskin
Don't expect any major mea culpas. Their job was to prevent Palestinian terrorism against Israel, more accurately frustrate or deter it where possible and to take revenge when desired. Shin Bet's role does not extend to resolving Palestinian issues with Israel. They see their role as preventing Israeli deaths while the politicians solve the political problems. They see any Israeli death as a failure, by that measure they know they did their job well but not perfectly. Avraham Shalom was the most reluctant, but they admitted that Shin Bet was not perfect in a legal or moral sense either. What really annoyed these guys was the failure of Israeli Prime Ministers to solve issues between Israel and Palestinians. In their view from David Ben-Gurion to Yitzhak Shamir, Israeli Prime Ministers did not acknowledge there was an issue to solve and, with the exception of Yitzhak Rabin who made an effort, none since have tried hard enough to resolve the conflict. Since 1967 they see their role as providing safety to Israeli civilians until the politicians came up with a solution. What they didn't see (or perhaps saw but didn't acknowledge) was that Shin Bet's success in keeping a lid on Palestinian frustration allowed successive Israeli governments to do nothing, or worse.

If there is one group of Israelis these guys detested more than their Prime Ministers it is rabbis who incite their congregations. Carmi Gillon in particular, who dealt with the rise of Jewish terrorism and the assassination of Rabin, was particularly bitter over the very early release from prison of most of the Jewish terrorists Shin Bet had uncovered and brought to trial, due to their political and religious connections.

While Ami Ayalon admitted that from a Palestinian point of view he was a terrorist, and while there was an admission that many of the missions were revenge rather than prevention all six were reluctant to admit that there was a circle of revenge Jew against Palestinian against Jew against Palestinian and so on. I presume they didn't want to see themselves as a factor in fuelling the terrorism they were charged with preventing.

At one point there was a brief discussion on the philosophy of terrorism prevention. If you kill or lock up enough terrorists or prospective terrorists then you will eventually reach the bottom of the barrel. You won't get the last few terrorists but they will either be deterred or too few to cause much trouble. This seems to be the Bush-Obama strategy too. Between Jews and Palestinians we've had 130 odd  years and no sign of the bottom of the barrel. Perhaps solving the political issues may be a better approach.

There is some detail on how Shin Bet operates and how that has changed as technology has improved (in particular the use of drones). At the base is detailed background information on an area: maps, building plans, who lives where and who knows who, how society is structured (families, clans, organisations etc). Ongoing information on people's movements, phone tapping and internet monitoring are hinted at but not discussed. More intrusively there are searches, interrogation, and "getting people to tell you what they don't want to tell you" (blackmail, intimidation, torture etc). To find out what a person of interest is up to look at their associates and pick one that is susceptible to being "turned" -- even if you have done nothing wrong you still have plenty to fear from Shin Bet. On top of that there are arrests, imprisonment, torture and assassinations. It is no surprise Palestinians hate Shin Bet more than they hate the IDF. During the occupation of Lebanon, Shin Bet applied the same techniques there and the film boasts that they quickly controlled "everything that went on in Lebanon".

Ian's rating 5/5

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Wolverine

Why, you ask, does the Wolverine get a review in the middle of the film festival? The answer is that the draw of a free ticket is quite strong. Coopervision, who make contact lenses, shouted a bunch of optometrists and their staff/hangers-on a private showing of Wolverine. There was food and drink. And as it happened we didn't have any other movies booked that night.

Wolverine is a Marvel comic book superhero. His special power seems to be that he sprouts long metal spikes from one hand and short curved metal claws from the other when he's enraged. He's immortal, which as watchers of vampire movies will know tends to have a bad effect on the personality. Wolverine's personality has been further marred by the fact that once upon a time he had to kill his wife.

The Wolverine  opens in Nagasaki in 1945. Wolverine (aka Logan)  has been  imprisoned in a well shaft  in a POW camp. Along with one of the Japanese Officers, he shelters in the well shaft  when the atomic bomb  is dropped and escapes the worst of the fallout. The Japanese officer is grateful that Wolverine saved his life by persuading him in there.

Fast forward to 2012 (or thereabouts). The Japanese officer (Yashida) is now the head of a big corporation and wishes to express his gratitude and say goodbye to Logan before he dies. He sends Yukio to the Yukon to fetch Logan and they head off to Japan in a private jet.  Yashida dies quite soon and leaves his corporation to his granddaughter Mariko which annoys her father Shingen. Shingen has buddies in the Yashida (Japanese Mafia) and their violent campaign to bump off Mariko starts at the funeral. Superheroes can't stand idly by while women are in danger, so Logan comes to Mariko's rescue - more than once- and of course she falls for him. There's some added tension because for some of the movie Logan loses his self-healing powers. And a very nasty female baddie ( the Viper) seems to have it in for him.

And there you have the rest of the movie. Lots of fight scenes and a little bit of Logan and Mariko being intimate. There's fight on top of a bullet train which is inventive, thrilling and extremely well-choreographed - this was the highlight of the movie for me. Logan and Mariko being intimate might be a highlight for some - Hugh Jackman's naked torso being quite worthwhile viewing - but the fact that he frowns for 99.5% of the movie is a turnoff. I know he's had a tortured past, but being curmudgeonly all the time isn't endearing.

If you're a comic book aficionado there's probably lots of detail to enjoy that I am ignorant of. If you just like a good action movie with some love interest thrown in perhaps a  James Bond or Transporter film would be a better bet. On the plus side it's fast paced and being filmed in Japan gave it scenic interest.

Anne's rating 2.5/5 Ian's rating 3/5

The Past

Choosing to watch relationship dramas is always tricky unless you're a masochist or schadenfreude is one of your characteristics. Sometimes watching one can make you feel positively well-adjusted but this isn't to be taken for granted. So if I'm going to go to one there has to be a drawcard or a recommendation, and an expectation of  a new insight or viewpoint into the things that make people tick. The Past was recommended by a friend who is involved with the the Film Festival , Having watched 50 of the films in advance, she said The Past was the standout. And the programme quoted  a reviewer who said "The past is just about as good as a relationship drama is ever going to get". While I'm happy to have watched it, I am not as enthusiastic as either of those two.

The Past looks at a couple who are about get divorced. Ahmad is Marie's second husband, and she had two daughters by her first. Ahmad now lives in his native Iran but has flown back to Paris to get divorced in person and to tie up some loose ends. Marie is in a new relationship with Samir whose wife has been in a coma for some months , having tried and failed to commit suicide. Marie is pregnant. Samir has a son who is the same age as Marie's younger daughter. Marie's older daughter thinks her mother is the reason Samir's wife tried to kill herself. As you can tell, there is plenty of fodder for angst here

The various characters were treated fairly sympathetically, particularly Ahmad. Stepfathers have a bad reputation so that treatment was quite refreshing and the relationship with his about-to-be-ex stepdaughters was very positive. Ahmad's presence means Marie' new relationship is explored from a variety of viewpoints - his, hers and the children's The children aren't portrayed a blameless victims. It all adds up to an absorbing whole but I was left wondering what makes Marie tick.

Anne's rating 2.5/5.

Friday, August 09, 2013

A Hijacking

We mostly hear about Somali pirates on the news. Because the ships are kept anchored off the coast they are beyond the gaze of media, we get very little detail on what goes on. This Danish film demystifies the reality of piracy - at least from the point of view of the crew and shipping company. The emphasis is on the confusion, misery, fear, claustrophobia and power struggles. There isn't a hint of Hollywood in this low key movie. Yet our emotions are being played on as we adjust our views of the three main characters: Mikkel the cook, Peter the CEO and Omar. Omar the pirate's translator / negotiator in particular is a superbly ambiguous character. Is he really employed by the pirates or is he their leader?

This is one of those films that only when the credits roll do you realise how tense you have been. Also compare with the documentary The Captain and His Pirate.

Ian's rating 4/5


Madhabi Mukherjee has a beautiful face and Satyajit Ray makes the most of it in his 1964 film, Charulata (or the Lonely Wife). Close ups of her generally passive face make up a significant portion of the two hour running time.

Bhupati, a busy owner/editor of his newly started newspaper in 1870s Calcutta, is aware that his wife is bored. When he hears that his younger cousin Amal has just finished university and is at a loose end, Bhupati invites Amal to come and stay. Bhupati suggests that Amal subtly encourage Charulata to resume writing. There is a funny scene where Bhupati's friends celebrate Charulata's success (in her absence) and to Bhupati's embarrassment.

There are no prizes for guessing where this plot is going. It is all very chaste. This is a film about high brow literature and drawing room politics. Everyone is very polite and restrained, don't expect sex, violence or even a raised voice. Much of what is going on in Charulata's head is portrayed visually through her acting, the camera work and by synchronizing changes in the weather with changes in her mood.

This film is beautiful but far too slow and long for my tastes.

Ian's rating 2.5/5

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song

Like the time we went to the Wellington Premiere of How to Meet Girls from a Distance, last Friday  I felt like I was one of the few people in the cinema who had actually paid for their ticket. How to Meet Girls was at a packed out Paramount Theatre, whereas Romeo and Juliet was playing to a very empty Embassy. It seems very sad that in a city that prides itself on being a cultural capital hardly anyone turned out to watch a (local) new take on a Shakespeare play. Especially when Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing this coming Friday night is already sold out. I am worried that Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song may sink without trace, which would be a pity.

This film is a musical (Rock Opera) version  of Romeo and Juliet, set in the Waipu Cove camping ground  and immediate environs. The flavour is bogan/downmarket Outrageous Fortune - Juliet's Mother makes Cheryl West look positively classy. There are caravans, V8s, racing along the beach and lots of drinking.
The two leads are beautiful teenagers, as they should be. There are 2 separate casts - the people you see in the film are not the ones whose voices you hear in the soundtrack. I thought, listening to it, that there were only a very few singers - Lord Montague and Lord Capulet sounded like they were being sung by the same person - but I see from the credits that this was not the case. It's a pity that the voices didn't sound as unique as the actors looked.

This film was beautiful to look at and enjoyable to listen to. There's effort involved , of course - making sure you've heard what's being sung, processing Shakespeare's language, appreciating the rhymes, and the tune and having some attention left to look at the picture. And then there's maintaining the detachment to appreciate the humour - this is a comic take on the tragic love story.

I'd like to watch the movie again, but before I did that I'd like to listen to the soundtrack a couple of times I believe the soundtrack was where it all started - this musical version of one of the world's most famous plays was written well before the composers thought of getting a film made. From listening to the Q & A with the director after the film it seems that the composers have big dreams, and that the film is just the first step in their musical taking the world by storm.  And that's where I start to get worried. Who are the people who are going to be flocking to this movie? Is it too much like hard work to watch it? Can the world relate to a kiwi camping ground? Perhaps I'm over-thinking it - after all Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a hugely successful musical based on TS Eliot poems about cats. Romeo and Juliet: a love story is way cooler.

Anne's rating 3/5

Lines of Wellington

I was drawn to Lines of Wellington as a consequence of reading Bernard Cornwell's novel "Sharpe's Escape" over the summer. Both the film and the book follow the same period of time in 1810, the Anglo-Portuguese two week retreat after the Battle of Bussaco to the Lines of Torres Vedras north of Lisbon. This is a small episode during the third French invasion of Portugal, itself a small part of the 1807–1814 Peninsular War, which was one of the overlapping Napoleonic Wars between 1803 and 1815. While Cornwell has written a number of novels about the Peninsular War, it is not so clear why director Valeria Sarmiento (or her late husband Raúl Ruiz) would be interested in this little bit of history.

Unusually Lines of Wellington has many intersecting and interlacing story lines, characters from one story appear in the background of others (which for some of the stories is a significant factor). It is hard to see any story or character as being more important than any other. Wellington tried to implement a scorched earth policy during the retreat, taking as much of the civilian population with him, including the population of Coimbra. All characters and their stories all seem small compared to larger event of the armies and the mass of civilians on the move. By concentrating on lots of little things the director gives us an impression of the scale of the event.

Some characters are over taken by events and others try to take advantage of them. One man hunts for his wife, another loots the dead and sells what he finds, the first man's wife has taken advantage of the chaos to find another man. Wellington (John Malkovich at his arrogant best) appears completely detached from the events around him and more worried about commissioning a painting than fighting. A Swiss merchant tries to ingratiate himself to Marshall Masséna while his wife and her sister (Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert) undercut his brown nosing. A recurring theme in the film is of women taking advantage of the situation.

If any character holds the film together it is Sargento Francisco Xavier, a Portuguese rifeman who interacts with many of the other characters during the retreat and looks after and later woos the pretty widow of an Irish soldier from his regiment. The overall sentiment of the film is one of tragedy tinged with hope. The final victorious scene is almost an anticlimax. While the idea of having no story line more important than any other is an interesting idea, it does make it difficult to engage with the story. I was left with the impression of watching some well acted fragments with high production values, signifying not very much.

The title refers to the defences north of Lisbon that Wellington had ordered the year before in anticipation of the French invasion along with devastation of much of the countryside north of Lisbon. These defences took the French by surprise. A consequence of the the scorched earth policy was that up to 2% of the Portuguese population died in the winter of 1811-2. Note that Arthur Wellesley didn't become Duke of Wellington until 1814, though he had been created Viscount Wellington in 1809.

Ian's rating 2.5/5

The Captain and His Pirate

In 2009 a German container ship was attacked by Somali pirates. The pirates held the ship for 4 months, while the company tried to wait them out. Once the ship was released the captain, Krzysztof Kotluk, was criticized and lost his job. Andy Wolff interviewed the bitter captain in Germany and travelled to Somalia to find Ahado, the leader of the pirate and hear his side of the story. Wolff interlaces the two strands of interviewing to tell the story of those 4 months concentrating on the relationship between the captain and the leading pirate.

As Ahado explains it is a standard pirate strategy to turn the crew members against each other. In this case the pirates befriended the Tuvaluan crew and they partied and broke into containers together. The relationship also broke down between Captain Kotluk and the other German officers, leaving Krzysztof isolated and lonely. It turns out that the pirate is a better judge (and manipulator) of human relationships that the captain or crew. Ahado recognised what had happened and took pity on Krzysztof and developed a friendship with him.

This film doesn't explore why Somalia is the centre of world piracy. Nor does it explore why convoys with naval protection are not used to counter piracy (last used in a major way in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war). It is a more personal story of two men and how their worlds collided in 2009, and how they learned to respect each other. It raises, but doesn't answer the questions of why one leader failed to maintain leadership while under pressure while the other succeeded (the pressures they were under were obviously not the same). Is leadership a personal skill or a cultural construct (that will fail when the structures of that culture are weakened or removed) or is it a two way relationship between the leader and those being led (where blame for failure is shared)?

Visually The Captain and His Pirate is not a documentary that needs to be seen on the big screen but I suspect your best chance of seeing it, is at a film festival.

Ian's rating 2.5/5

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


Day two of the festival took me from Saudi Arabia to the West Bank.

Omar, Tarek and Amjad live in the West Bank. Omar is a baker, and he's in love with Tarek's sister Nadja. So far, so ordinary - apart from the feats of athleticism that Omar indulges in to get over the Israeli's security wall to visit his friends. The three men organise the night time shooting of an Israeli soldier -Tarek masterminds,  Omar drives and Amjad shoots. This is where things get less ordinary -when undercover agents come after them, it's Omar that gets caught, tortured and imprisoned. To get out of prison, he undertakes to act as an informant but manages to avoid revealing that Amjad was the assassin. An incredible series of double crosses follows and when the credits roll, the jaws of entire audience were on the floor - not unlike the director's previous film Paradise Now which also takes place in the West Bank. The motivation of the main characters in Paradise Now was religious which contrasts with Omar's more political theme.

Omar and Nadja are beautiful to look at and their habit of writing each other love letters to read when they're apart is completely endearing. In an environment that seems crowded and under constant  surveillance this form of communication seems intensely private.We can't help but be deeply affected by their story

Talking about his film, director Hani Abu-Assad says "At the time I was interested in love stories, particularly tragic love stories, and political thrillers, and I wanted to see if these two genres could merge ". This film is evidence that  they can, and that the merger is totally successful. . The love story is more tragic than Romeo and Juliet's, and the chase scenes would do the Bourne Conspiracy credit. As the characters hurtle through narrow alleys and vault walls, the claustrophobic nature of the West Bank is emphasized. Underlying the whole film is Israel's iron grip on the Palestinian people - it's easy to see which side has the upper hand.

The director says "my job is to let the audience in an entertaining way live in a very difficult situation" . He did his job and you will be more than entertained. Don't miss this one.

Anne's rating 5/5 Ian's rating 5/5

Monday, August 05, 2013

The Deadly Ponies Gang

Zoe McIntosh does not want you to mistake The Deadly Ponies Gang for a mockumentary. I guess she'll like you to believe that parts of it are true, but you can take you pick about which parts, she isn't telling.

Clint and Dwayne on ponies
The Deadly Ponies Gang is an ultra low budget film about best mates Clint and Dwayne who ride ponies and try to pick up chicks. While Clint realises his own luck in this endeavour is low, he knows Dwayne is in an even worse position, due to his lack of teeth. The film follows Clint's quest to raise the funds to get Dwayne some false teeth, culminating in a gig staring the Rhymestone Cowboy. Along the way they give out Christmas presents to kids in the park, go to the beach, do some baking and go to the pony club to watch the girls riding their horses. There is also a cute break-dancing kid who apparently wants to join the gang.

Clint is one of the best exponents of inarticulate vernacular Noozild to grace the big screen. He makes Billy T. James look like he spent far too much time at toastmasters. Dwayne is the more bashful part of this duo. This pair are a reminder of what is lurking out there in provincial New Zealand if you can drag yourself away from your McCafe latte long enough to leave the safety of the CBD and inner suburbs. Look for the "Pony Poo $2" signs on the side of the road.

But you are better off waiting for Zoe (and Clint) to bring you this cultural gem to a film festival near you.

No animals were hurt in the making of this film but some ponies were made to look foolish.

Ian's rating 3.5/5

North by Northwest

Over the years I have read about, seen stills from and possibly film clips of Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest and so I wasn't sure going into the Embassy whether I had seen it before or not. If you think about the plot, not much of it makes sense. Luckily Hitchcock doesn't give you much time to make sense of it, throwing Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) from one outrageous encounter to another. Starting with a simple case of mistaken identity, Thornhill doesn't have time to change his yellow boxers from when his ordinary day at the office goes haywire until he is sliding down the monument at Mt Rushmore in the penultimate scene. In 1959 Cary Grant was the equivalent of George Clooney today.
Now you listen to me, I'm an advertising man, not a red herring. I've got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don't intend to disappoint them all by getting myself "slightly" killed.
From a film makers point of view North by Northwest is a series of thriller set pieces joined together by an espionage plot. There is an escalation of danger and violence about each set piece, starting with a simple abduction, followed by an elaborate con job, the potentially fatal but ultimately comic drunk driving scene and so on, including the famous crop-duster chase. Phillip Vandamm (James Mason at his cool, condescending best) like the later Bond villains comes up with various elaborate schemes to deal with George Kaplan / Roger Thornhill, which the equally cool Cary Grant naively survives. Eva Marie Saint (as Eve Kendall) possibly has the most demanding role. Part girl-next-door, part femme fatale, with ambiguous loyalties she dominates Cary Grant more effectively than James Mason.
When I was a little boy, I wouldn't even let my mother undress me.

Well, you're a big boy now.
The three lead characters would not be half so cool if it wasn't for Ernest Lehman's script that keeps the audience interested and off the more absurd bits, even during the throw away lines.
I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.
It turns out that I hadn't seen the film before. But even 54 years later it has the same theme of betrayal and explores how intelligence agencies exploit the people that come within their grasp as this year's Omar.
You're police, aren't you? Or is it FBI?

FBI, CIA, ONI... we're all in the same alphabet soup.
Ian's rating 4/5 Anne's rating 4/5

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Antarctica: A Year on Ice

Getting to Antarctica is tricky and expensive and probably most of us won't manage it. All is not lost, however,  because Anthony Powell, a New Zealander who has spent a long time working there, has become fantastically good at time-lapse photography and has kindly made a film so we can  all share in the experience. If you're thinking a documentary about Antarctica sounds worthy and dull, and that you've seen plenty of footage of this kind of thing already, you are just plain wrong. One of the best things about this film is that you get new perspectives on the icy continent.

The film features stunning  time-lapse sequences of weather, ice, sky, the passage of the sun around the sky, the stars and  the Aurora Australis. One of the new perspectives is how much more interesting the winter is than you expect. Although the sun doesn't shine for four months or so, that doesn't mean it's completely dark. There's the moon, the most stunning stars you've ever seen (light pollution being nil) and the amazing auroras.

A Year on Ice's other main facet is  life-in-Antarctica footage and quite a lot of talking heads. It's a  very personal story- Anthony and his wife reveal a lot about themselves and their lives and so do the other workers from McMurdo Base who feature. They are all personable and engaging and their enthusiasm for their location is palpable. They are the source of the new perspectives I gained which include how windy it is, how stinky a penguin colony is and how if you're going to work in the Antarctic and you're hoping to make the most of the scenery you should choose your job carefully.

If you're a fan of nature docos which are mostly just beautiful to look at there's plenty to satisfy you here - and you should be interested to know that Anthony contributed to the Frozen Planet series but saved his best footage for his own film! If you're more into human interest you'll be equally satisfied. If you'd just categorize yourself as a film enthusiast you should come and see what might be one of the few New Zealand documentaries that has wide public appeal and will do well on general release.

Anne's rating 4.5/5

Friday, August 02, 2013

Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin centres around Dwight, who lives rough in a seaside town, but gets some news that suddenly triggers a sense of purpose and he sets off on a mission to rural Virginia which stirs up a hornets nest of trouble. While Dwight turns out to be resourceful under pressure, he is not as gun happy as his enemies and he can't always think his way out of danger.

There is a sense of mystery in Blue Ruin because all the character know the back story so there is no reason for them to explain anything to each other, leaving the audience eager to interpret any scraps of information about the past to make sense of what they are watching. This is a refreshing change from most films where plots tend to be over explained or signalled.

This is very much a solo piece. Dwight is effectively in every scene with other characters arriving to help or hurt him. As a homeless man Dwight is an unusual choice for an everyman hero, but as we see him struggling against the odds and with various moral dilemmas that are usually glossed over in thrillers he becomes someone we can identify with. All the loose ends are very neatly tied up in the final scene as if to say to the audience - keep your soft city ways this is how we do things in Virginia.

It looks like Blue Ruin was partially crowd funded.

Ian's rating 3/5

The East

The East stars Brit Marling as Sarah, an ex-FBI agent, now working for upmarket security company Hiller Brood when her boss (Patricia Clarkson - looking suitably evil) sends her undercover to infiltrate an eco-terrorist group that have been attacking Hiller Brood clients. Displaying admirable field craft she tracks down the group and convinces them to accept her, though only the alpha female (Ellen Page) is suspicious of the wounded blonde new comer. The small bunch of 20 somethings live a somewhat idyllic life in an abandoned house in the woods. Between bonding experiences drawn from college life and new age cults the group plans jams (flamboyant eco-terrorist attacks) for which they are never short of resources.

The surprises and plot twists are effective, though the potential triangle between Sarah, Izzy and eco hunk, Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), is not fully explored. As an intelligent thriller this is in the same company as Edge of Darkness, though it suffers from being too black and white, it could have been improved with some more moral ambiguity. For some reason Brit Marling starts the film looking far too young (say 19) for someone on their second career but ends the film a few weeks later looking like she has aged 10-15 years. Despite this long list of failings the pacing of the film is good and most of these faults are only noticeable retrospectively. The main fault with The East is the wimp-out ending as the credits roll.

Ian's rating 3/5

The Best Offer

Perfect clothes, perfect furnishings, perfect make-up, perfect looking extras, in other words perfect mise-en-scène. Populated by bunch of off-beat to downright weird characters. Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush) is Italy's premier art auctioneer, always dines at the same restaurant, sitting alone facing the wall while wearing gloves. He is completely confident of his superior knowledge of art, and is not above exploiting that fact to his financial advantage from time to time. One of his two friends is an electro-mechanical genius who can repair or rebuild anything and is a babe magnet. The woman at the centre of the film, Claire Ibbetson, is an agoraphobic who no-one has seen for 10 years. She draws Oldman out of his routine with a bizarre series of phone calls and outrageous requests that no-one else would tolerate. Even some of the minor characters are outlandish.

Actually none of these characters or their situation would be possible in real world and that should cause the penny to start dropping. If they were more realistic I would class The Best Offer as a rom-com, mystery thriller. But given the combination of a magically perfect setting with larger-than-life characters I'm going out on a limb and classifying this as a modern fairytale. It is pity that there isn't a bit more humour.

Even though the film is set in Italy the cast is all English speaking. It is as if the population of Italy has been replaced by British people, though with Italian tastes and Italian clothes! Like art itself there is more style than substance here.

Ian's rating 3/5

Thursday, August 01, 2013

In The House

Even if you were a discontented middle age school teacher saddled with the worst class you have had the misfortune to timetabled for, being married to Kristin Scott Thomas should cheer you up n'est-ce pas?

Apparently not if you are the perpetually dour Germain, whose already low opinion of French teenagers is lowered further by marking essays on the topic of "what I did this weekend". Except an intriguing effort by Claude Garcia, where he describes visiting his new friend Rapha with particular attention to Rapha's mother and finishing with "to be continued". Claude is as good as his word and further episodes are forth coming and Germain starts giving extra tuition and ambiguous messages which Claude rightly interprets as encouragement to continue his voyeuristic invasion of Rapha's home and his infatuation with "the most bored woman in France". This is not going to end well as Claude takes advantage of Germain's eagerness for more episodes and with the amoral Claude in charge Germain's job and life are in jeopardy.

I'm sure school teachers will identify with the detail of school life from a teacher's point of view in the first half of In the House. The second half with conflict between pupil and teacher and between Claude and Rapha's family is part comedy and part psychological mystery. The ending is the weakest part where after the dust has settled Claude and Germain meet up again.

Ian's rating 4/5  Anne's rating 2.5/5

The Act of Killing

A more efficient way to kill Communists
It is ambitious to try to get unconvicted mass murderers to talk on camera about killing people. Who would incriminate themselves like that?

Actually it seems that in Indonesia it is not too difficult. Early on in the documentary The Act of Killing, Anwar Congo admits that he killed lots of "communists" in 1965/6, other people interviewed either admit to their part in the massacre, or if younger they openly admire the killers.

The killings of 1965/6 were carried out on the initiative of the Indonesian Army and General Suharto who would then run the country until 1998. In their narrative the killings were necessary to 'save' Indonesia and hence the killers are heroes rather than criminals. Since 1998, the army, paramilitaries and many of the leaders from the Suharto period survive, along with that narrative. No-one has been put on trial.

Outside Indonesia the killings were initially seen as a 'good thing' by Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt in 1966 when he told The New York Times "With 500,000 to a million communist sympathisers knocked off...I think it's safe to assume a reorientation has taken place". But the West changed, it was no longer popular to view mass killing of people for their political views as a 'good thing' and the killings became lost in a guilt driven collective amnesia (a similar collective amnesia existed for decades about the 1918/9 Influenza Epidemic that killed far more people in one year than died in World War I).

In this environment Joshua Oppenheimer was faced with an unusual problem for a documentary film maker. It was easy to get his subjects to admit to the killings, in fact they almost gloated about it and certainly gloated about the power it brought them. The tricky bit was to get them to understand that what they did was wrong. While there are occasional attempts at self censorship, these usually occur after an enthusiastic outburst.

The Act of Killing is also a film about making a film. Before the killings Anwar and his pals in Medan were very minor gangsters scalping movie tickets because they were obsessed with American films. Joshua Oppenheimer encourages his subjects to re-enact their killings, in fact to help him make a film about themselves. Anwar Congo, his younger friend Herman Koto and members of the Pemuda Pancasila paramilitary group led by a cabinet minister enthusiastically join the project. Some of the scenes are dream sequences (both nightmares and happy musical / dance scenes) where Anwar and Herman play out the emotional consequences from their point of view (and we can see influences from film genres they've enjoyed). For reasons that are not explained Herman plays many of these scenes in drag.

A commonly repeated mantra in the Pemuda Pancasila is that the word "gangster" means "free man" in English. Where "free" implies free from the restraints of the law. And that Indonesia needs such "free men" to "get things done". It certainly seems that the culture of intimidation and corruption that came to power in 1965 is alive and well in modern Indonesia. It also means that Anwar et al are surrounded by people who steeped in knowledge that the killers of 1965 are heroes, a ready made support network.

The Act of Killing is a Jacksonishly long (159 minutes), somewhat repetitive and jumps back and forth (possibly over several years of filming). But eventually we reach the point moment that Oppenheimer was waiting for.

In my view The Act of Killing reinforces the ideas that a) normal (or close to normal) people are completely capable of evil and b) if you have a support network telling you what you did was justified then you probably will not recognise what you did was wrong.

Ian's rating 4/5

My Sweet Pepper Land

An independent Kurdistan is one of the more intriguing possibilities that arose out of 20 years of conflict between Iraq and the USA. While that possibility is looking less likely than it did in say 2006, it has produced an autonomous region which in turn has led to Kurds doing things that they wouldn't otherwise be allowed to do. Such as producing feature films.

My Sweet Pepper Land follows our two protagonists as they each run away from family pressure to meet at the end of the earth, namely tiny an Iraqi Kurdish village near the borders with Iran and Turkey. The village has been cut off from the rest of Iraq since Turkish war-planes bombed a bridge 2 hours walk away. The main industries are smuggling alcohol into Iran, guns into Turkey and expired medicines back again all on horse back.

Baran was a hero in the peshmerga during the war and has since found it difficult to adjust to peace. Neither a job as a city police officer nor living with his mother appeal, so he requests a transfer. Meanwhile Govend's horde of brothers want to her to get married, but she wants to return to her teaching job at the remote village school. Both soon clash with the local chieftain Aziz Aga. Aziz Aga doesn't want an independent single woman in the village and neither does he want anyone interfering with his self appointed position as local enforcer and chief smuggler. Baran announces his intention to enforce the law impartially rather than just collect his pay cheque but rethinks this ideal once he meets the women's branch of the PKK.

My Sweet Pepper Land could all too easily be a political film, but the status of women is the only political issue addressed. With a local tough man and his henchmen, a straight-up new-in-town sheriff and a plucky independent woman; with guns, horses and wild countryside; with everyone's honour at stake and a sound track that in places is suspiciously close to Ennio Morricone's in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly we are in no doubt as to the genre. The western is dead in America but it still works in this corner of the world where the rule of law hasn't quite arrived.

Everyone knows what to expect from a western, so we get taken by surprise when My Sweet Pepper Land deviates from our preconceptions of the genre. The seriousness of the subject matter is liberally punctuated by deadpan humour which contrasts with the serious personalities of the protagonists.

Govend's prize possession is her Hang, a modern Swiss musical instrument that features liberally in the soundtrack.

Ian's rating 5/5 Anne's rating 5/5