; movieschocolatebooks: July 2013


Sunday, July 28

El Secreto de Sus Ojos/The Secret in Their Eyes

Beautiful usually applies to what inspires emotion rather than intellectual appreciation, but it simply needs to be said: El Secreto de Sus Ojos/The Secret in Their Eyes is a beautiful movie. It touches the imagination, it arouses strong emotion and it challenges your intelligence. It is the kind of movie that will meet various needs: detective story, thriller, romance, historical journey into the Argentine of the 1970s. And if this was not absorbing enough, there are some incredible performances by Ricardo Darín, Soledad Villamil or Guillermo Francella.

Benjamín Espósito is a retired investigator who has been haunted for twenty-five years by an unresolved rape and murder case, the death of his friend, Pablo Sandoval, and his hidden, unrequited feelings for his boss, Irene Menéndez-Hastings. With no family and a lot of time on his hands, he decides to write a personal account of the 1974 events that changed his life and the lives of those he loved. The action swifts from 1999 to 1974 when Benjamín Espósito is investigating the case of Liliana Colotto alongside his drunkard friend and colleague, Pablo. The young dead teacher and her husband, Ricardo Morales, share an incredible love story and his wife's loss becomes a lifetime obsession for the widower. Benjamin is touched by the intense love as he is himself besotted with Irene, his boss who is about to get married. Caught in a corrupt fight of judges and lawyers, personal vendetta and putrid justice system, the three of them managed to catch the killer, Isidoro Gómez, only to helplessly watch him escape punishment and join police forces. Twenty-fives years later, the case is finally solved and Benjamín Espósito makes peaces with his past, his grief, his life.

Winner of the 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and directed by Juan José Campanella, known for his TV work on the American Law and Order and House, El Secreto de Sus Ojos has everything you can hope for in a movie: a well-knit plot, a smooth swift between past and present, good actors, a vivid description of the manners of the Argentinian society and some exquisite scenes that remain imprinted on your memory. A man's passions can never be hidden as they define his being and forever betray his heart. Isidoro Gómez loves football as Pablo cunningly discovers in the letters sent to his mother and Benjamín and Pablo start going to football matches. In a view from the top, we descend from heaven into a huge stadium, swarming with football fans, following the game on the football pitch than mingling with the enthusiastic crowd only to discover the two friends. It is a five-minute scene that proves Juan José Campanella to be a great director.

Important moments are pointed out by little teasers such as the cleavage Irene touches in an attempt to button her shirt, with the camera quickly lingering on he shirt only to turn an accidentally torn blouse into the triggering moment Irene uses to provoke Gómez into a violent confession of the rape. Even the brief exposure of Gómez's sexual organs comes as a natural gesture in the dramatic scene. The directing is confident and self-assured, with excellent camera work and editing, yet not depriving the movie of emotion and surprise. Also, dramatic encounters usually happen in rail stations, on the platform, between trains, where choices mingle with endless faces and feelings get trapped between railways. However, their power is overrated and missed opportunities only grow into beautiful second chances after twenty-five years.

How do you live a life full of nothing? is the question that haunts Benjamín Espósito. You feel it by making peace with your past and your demons, by letting go of the bad blood and by holding tight to the woman you love.

A man without a country

I never knew Kurt Vonnegut could be funny as this was a sight of him I never felt while reading Breakfast of Champions or Slaughterhouse-Five. I mean ironically funny in the way he mocks all important and worthwhile aspects of our lives: men, women, politics, writing, humour, history. A man without a country is a collection of essays that is rather a kind of personal manifesto of a man who feels no sense of belonging to any nation, let alone America. Kurt Vonnegut is a self-declared humanist, a socialist and a Luddite who questions his nation's choices and expresses his doubts about its future.

Kurt Vonnegut takes a dim view at the way things are in America nowadays, yet chooses to be humorous about it all and even solemnly tries to let readers know when he is serious or just joking. The bleak future and the people's attitude towards our planet and their lack of awareness is another one of Kurt Vonnegut's concerns.
The biggest truth to face now—what is probably making me unfunny now for the remainder of my life—is that I don’t think people give a damn whether the planet goes on or not. It seems to me as if everyone is living as members of Alcoholics Anonymous do, day by day. And a few more days will be enough. I know of very few people who are dreaming of a world for their grandchildren.

Some things, like the future of our planet, no longer seem derisive to the author who feels it is his responsibility to make people appreciative of the beauty of our planet and the legacy we leave our grandchildren. It is not pathos or false patriotism, it is his humanity above all that feels engaging and catchy. A man without a country is a collection of non-fiction essays that is not dedicated to literature lovers, it is the witty expression of a writer's concern towards the American society and path of humanity as it is.

Kurt Vonnegut uses both his humour and his bitterness to talk about fossil fuels, art, mass media, public libraries, chain-smoking, reliance on technology, and the use of semicolons. The book also takes on a personal note as the writer shares his lifetime passions and interests: his love of music, and his respect for Eugene Debs, Mark Twain, and Ignaz Semmelweis (a Hungarian obstetrician who changed the way doctors viewed personal hygiene when delivering babies). He is fearless in his mockery of the former American president, George Bush and his administration, the manipulation of the American people as far as the Arab world is concerned, the justifications behind the Vietnam war and even includes pieces of people's letters to him, questioning politics and political decisions. He has a funny answer to them all and is not afraid of calling things by their name:

The highest treason in the USA is to say Americans are not loved, no matter where they are, no matter what they are doing there.

But his talent lies in the little details. It is his description of simple people and insignificant encounters that reveals his subtlety and mastery of the art of writing. For instance, he openly declares his affection for a post office clerk who apparently goes to all this trouble to keep her customers pleased: One day she was wearing black lipstick. This is all so exciting and generous of her, just to cheer us all up, people from all over the world. It is again our human ability to find comforting meaning in the apparently unimportant details that unfold the beauty of people and things.

Behind the cynicism, the criticism and the bitter irony, Kurt Vonnegut manages to keep the readers alert and in a good mood. Sharing his concerns with other humanist friends, family members, socialist representatives or medical dreamers, Vonnegut tries to show his readers how life should be made the best of by those of us likely to be living longer than him- he was in his early eighties when he wrote the book. His endeavour is similar to Ignaz Semmelweis's display of self-sacrifice in trying to change the face and practises of humanity. His message may not be deep but it is easy to grasp: we are above all human beings who should make use of their common sense in everything they accomplish.

Tuesday, July 23

Only God Forgives

After a bunch of tedious, unchallenging, predictable movies I did not even bother to review- Passion, The Details, Trouble with the Curve- Only God Forgives (2013) came as quite a change. It made me think that some movies have no purpose other than exorcising some guy's demons. They are not about anything in particular, just one huge opportunity for the director to face his own fears and obsessions. It turns out that we sometimes identify ourselves with his emotions and we tingle with fear, empathy or simply adoration, whereas, on other occasions, we simply fail to see the meaning. Writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn's film is, by no means, a cosy, relaxing, refreshing experience; it is pure violence, sheer hell, a bath of blood and no f*cking explanation. Suffice it to say that watching Only God Forgives was everything I was hoping to get after several bad movie days.

Julian (Ryan Gossling) is the silent brother who runs a boxing club along with his older, sadistic brother, Billy who rapes and kills a 13-year-old prostitute. The police arrives and Lieutenant Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm), known as the "Angel of Vengeance", uses the enraged father of the prostitute to beat Billy to death and afterwards, cuts off the father's arm to teach him not to use his daughters as whores. The boys' mother, Crystal, flies all the way from America to identify Billy's corpse and demand vengeance from the younger son. Julian initially refuses to make mommy happy but things are getting bloodier and bloodier and more twisted than ever. How can I deny you the pleasure of watching the rest of the movie yourselves? It is unexpected and won't leave any space for boredom. 

Only God Forgives is a strange combination of David Lynch's weird movies, The Shinning' s twisted surreal visions and Quentin Tarantino's bloody amputation scenes. The club behind the boxing club with its red and black wallpaper, hidden doors and slowly moving characters made me think of Twin Peaks and evil visions. Julian's infatuation with Mai, the entertainer, is eerie and unnatural; it lacks emotions or warmth and you almost feel his desire to get physical with her; yet Julian lacks drive.
I loved Cliff Martinez's slowly pulsating music that sometimes acted as a character itself, replacing unnecessary dialogues and allowing the camera to linger on the other characters' faces. I also appreciated the contrasting scenes where children's innocence was displayed in an attempt to counterbalance the adult craziness. Evil is not entirely wicked unless it has some touching, humane shades. Chang has a sensitive side- he sings for the other policemen and is a caring father to his daughter- but this does not make his actions justifiable, but rather emphasises his cruelty. Bangkok is a mixture of tacky interiors and poverty, of colourful faces and luxurious hotels.

However, my greatest surprise came from mommy dearest, Crystal (Kristen Scott Thomas)- awful, incestuous, vulgar, trashy, heartless, opportunistic, with long, blond, hair, tight dresses and lousy make-up. Abusive, demanding, she reduces Julian to silence, puts him down, yet manipulates him when needed- he doesn't have a huge cock as his late brother, but he killed his father for her sake and he will kill again to protect her. Julian half pleases his mommy and on the occasion of their last encounter, he sneaks his bare hand in her womb as if to make sure she was human after all. Another movie about broken, damaged creatures who are born into violence only to take it to the next level and make it fit like a second skin ! 

Saturday, July 20

Festen/The Celebration

One rainy afternoon, two friends met for a coffee and established a manifesto meant to govern the way their films were made and to protest against the decadent, artificial, costly, Hollywood cinema. It was 1995 and their Vow of Chastity resulted into two great movies- Lars von Trier's The Idiots and Thomas Vinterberg's Festen. The Dogme film No. 1 is Thomas Vinterberg's Festen/The Celebration, one of the most unexpected, interesting, incredible movies I have ever seen- I am only too sorry it took me so long to discover it.

Family and friends gather to a lovely Danish mansion to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Helge, the father of four children. The location is lovely, the people are smiling, the food is exquisite, the clothes are elegant. Everything is going with a swing when the eldest son, Christian, upon making a speech, reveals to the whole crowd that both he and his recently deceased sister, Linda, have been sexually abused by their father. From that moment on, the situation becomes confused, tense and hostile. The guests are left flabbergasted and swing between disbelief and repulsiveness. The atmosphere is genuine in its lack of artificial reactions and unfiltered emotions.

Christian's hesitancy and uncertainty is so natural that you can almost feel his turmoil. He has a naturalistic and unmissable performance that got Ulrich Thomsen, the actor playing him, several awards. He is best at dealing with unpleasant and uncomfortable situations and despite his temporary loss of courage, he braces himself to face the ugly truth and reveal the dark secret. His childhood friend, the chef and the chambermaids support him and hide the car keys of the guests to make sure Christian has his big moment. His sister discovers Linda's secret goodbye letter to the family and reads it in front of the guests only to uphold Christian's painful confession and throw eternal contempt upon their father. However, skeletons may be taken out of the closet but inner demons are left to haunt your soul forever; Linda commits suicide because her father continues to rape her in her dreams and chooses a better, brighter world. 

Racism, sexual abuse, hypocrisy and the behaviour of some members -the grandparents- of the family who deny everything without even knowing what happened are equally shocking. Behind the glittering, perfect image of a family celebration hides the rotten, dysfunctional, dark relationships of its members. It takes courage to confront delicate, hurtful truths and it takes strong characters to brave out their past and life itself. Thomas Vinterberg combines an excellent story and an incredible cast -Ulrich Thomsen (Christian), Thomas Bo Larsen (Michael), Henning Moritzen (Father); Paprika Steen (Helene), Birthe Neumann (Mother), Trine Dyrholm (Pia), Helle Dolleriis (Mette), Klaus Bondam (Toastmaster) into a great movie that uses hand-made shooting, a great sense of framing, real locations, no props and genuine emotions.

Villains and victims, parents and children, life and death, incest and family life, racism and tolerance build up in an ensemble creation that made Thomas Vinterberg, Dogme '95 and Denmark cinema celebrated and appreciated worldwide.

Wednesday, July 17

Le Gamin au vélo/The Kid with a bike

Children make excellent choices for movies as they are eye-catching and touching. Yet, the Belgian directors -Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne- portray the main character, the kid with a bike, in an unsentimental manner. And though the story is affecting and vividly depicted, it is not a tearjerker meant to break your heart. Le Gamin au vélo is about two people -a young woman and a boy- who play it simple and honest in their attempt to find friendship, trust and love.

Cyril (Thomas Doret) is desperately trying to escape the foster home where he lives to find his father and his bike. Running away to the block of apartments where they used to stay, he hopelessly clings to a young woman ( Cecile de France) in an attempt to prevent the school counsellors from taking him back. "You can hold me, but not so tight," the woman says unexpectedly and the boy's suffering makes her find the lost bike and return it to the owner. Taken aback by her gesture, yet strongly believing his bike had been stolen instead of having been sold by his own father, Cyril asks the woman to take him on weekends. Samantha is a local hairdresser who would rather have a troubled kid in her life than a narrow-minded man, so the painful choice is made and she is stuck with Cyril.

The movie is incredible in the way it renders the kid's perseverance in trying to ignore his father's rejection and serenely accept his explanations and lame excuses: “Seeing him stresses me out. I’m starting over”, says the cynical father. Cyril's need for affection is tremendous and so is his helplessness in the adult world. Rejection is unacceptable, love is strenuously denied, shattered dreams are all he is given. The boy is moving in the way he is damaged yet open; getting the bike is his desperate effort to restore the initial state of happiness, whereas his angry riding is his animal cry for help. As for Samantha, we are never revealed her true intentions as to her desire to take care of the wounded boy; her motivation is irrelevant, it is her determination to heal Cyril's soul that counts.

The naturalistic ending of the movie finds you holding your breath for Cyril's life and hoping that the world will only morally punish the boy for his trespasses. The two directors' talent is making the viewer care for their characters, really fall for the red-haired boy and his misfortunes; they do not twist your arm or make you sob your heart out, they just make the story so intense that it instantly gets your empathy. After being hit and passing out, Cyril gets up, wipes off his clothes and, refusing any help from the aggressor, gets back to his business- he is no longer the innocent, gullible boy from the beginning of the movie; he is a mature young man who has learnt about life the hard way. In their hectic pursuit for happiness, broken people have a way of seeking solace in other wounded arms. As it is in life, some movies just grab your heart and never let it go. 

Tuesday, July 16

Let the right one in

It came highly recommended, a movie that filled the first positions in some people's top tens. I had no idea what it was about and decided to read no reviews, so I watched it with an open mind. Though I am past the Twilight enthusiast age, Let the right one in took me by surprise with the natural, quiet approach to vampire teenage love. More surprisingly, I stayed glued to the TV screen for almost two hours because, in the words of Peter Bradshaw, "some movies, while never attaining masterpiece status, nonetheless have a monumental WTF-factor".

And now, what makes this movie a worth-watching one. First, the story is surprisingly set in a suburban, cold-freezing, all white Sweden and it revolves around a shy, 12-year old boy, Oskar and the way his life changes when he meets his neighbour, Eli. Oskar lives with his divorced mother and he is being constantly bullied in school by three classmates. He meets Eli on a cold night while stabbing a tree in response to his daily abuse; they connect and she surprises him with her talent for solving the Rubik cube, her strangeness and apparent frailty. Yet Eli is strong and experienced and when her partner, Hakan -the man who loves her enough to kill for the blood she needs to survive- proves to be a poor killer and a clumsy hunter, she takes the matter into her own hands. Oskar offers her the human closeness she yearns for and she gives him courage to fight his aggressors.  

I love movies that sneak up on me and challenge me with their wit and poignancy. Let the right one in is freaky, unexpected and bloody, yet fascinating. This is a horror movie about an innocent love story with fairy tale coming-of-age elements. Forget Stephenie Meyer, Anne Rice or Bram Stoker and their embellished, sexualized romances; this is not about the excitement of connecting with a vampire or the super-powers that come with the territory. Let the right one is rather about lack of communication, alienation, adaptability and interaction. It is a combination of occasional violence, innocence, routine, bonding, harsh survival, all blended in a touching movie. Regardless of their age, women enter men's lives as a sweet blessing and turn out to be a bleak curse forever; Eli is a cold-blooded, blood drinker eerie creature who answers Oskar's loneliness, fantasies, despair, darkness. If you try to see beyond the vampire routine, you'll get a closer look at lost souls that have been reunited in an imperfect, cruel way.  

The acting of the main characters is highly impressive; Kare Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli make an incredible pair, both physically and emotionally. They share the same outcast aura, the same emotions and both feel unfit in their universe. Their still features make the best match with the movie atmosphere and the frozen, white surroundings. John Ajvide Lindqvist, who adapted the screenplay from his horror novel, openly borrowed the title from Morrissey and Tomas Alfredson, the director, attached the slow pace and the stillness of his picture to the verses of song. Every scene is carefully arranged and every detail is explored; sparse dialogue and the way space is creatively exposed add up to the director's cut.

Vampires need to be invited in a house and this is no joke. Out of love and as a token of her trust, Eli enters Oskar's apartment without a verbal invitation and blood starts coming out of her pores, nose, eyes and ears. She is willing to die in the name of affection, denying her nature and forever winning Oskar's heart. The ending scene of the movie, on a train, with the two of them - him, absently gazing through the window, her, comfortably packed in a box- blowing kisses in Morse code, is unexpected and unbelievably poignant. Whether they come along as a blessing or as a curse you cannot lift, relationships are -to paraphrase Woody Allen- like a shark; they have to constantly move forward or they die.

Friday, July 12

After the Wedding by Susanne Bier

There is this natural tendency in us to repeat behaviours, situations or relationships that we enjoy. Sometimes, we like the feeling so much that we turn it into an obsession which does not necessarily have to be an unhealthy thing. What would I be without my daily fancies? A lot more boring, plain, sane, predictable and ordinary. Now, who would want such a being around them? This intro has a point in making it so very clear, if necessary, that I have grown to love Danish cinema and Susanne Bier, in particular. So for the time being, this is my healthy obsession.

After the Wedding (2006) is a well-acted and well-directed drama about a family torn apart by life's unexpectedness. In the movie, Jacob (the incredible Mads Mikkelsen, who made his name internationally as the bad guy in Casino Royale) is an unambitious idealist who helps running an orphanage in India. In an attempt to get funding for his project, Jacob is forced to fly to his native Denmark, after a twenty-year break, at the whim of the businessman Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard), who wishes to invest in the poor children's future. Jorgen asks for a little time to consider the situation and invites Jacob to his daughter Anna's wedding. Reluctantly, Jacob accepts the invitation only to discover that Jorgen's wife, Helene (Sidse Babett Knudsen), is his past love. Drama deepens when the big family gathering is disrupted by Jacob's discovery.
Revelations are always shattering and to continue the rest of the story would be a spoiler. It is an engaging film that will keep you emotionally connected and create a sense of intimacy between you and the characters. Mikkelsen, who played the lead in Open Hearts,  makes Jacob an earnest man who finds himself entrapped in his donor's schemes. His face speaks a million of words and his eyes mirror the wide range of emotions that fill his heart. He is a simple man in a shabby suit that faces the surprise of his life in such a natural way that instantly wins you over. Rolf Lassgard as Jorgen is a manipulative, yet tender husband and father, who wants to protect his family and his heavy figure makes a touching contrast with his sensitive outburst. Great performances add up to the movie's incredible directing, though.   

Susanne Bier is part of Lars von Trier's Dogme movement but has taken a more personal approach to her movies and her regular work with producer Sisse Graum Jorgensen and actor/writer Anders Thomas Jensen has positive effects. You can easily recognise the great family mansion as a trademark of Danish movies, the hand-shot use of the camera, the non-artificial locations or the Swedish composer Johan Soderqvist’s strange music. Danish cinema is becoming stronger and stronger and its great performers and directors are talented enough to take by storm the world cinematography.
Our obsessions should be embraced and turned into positive opportunities to grow. Whether they are about movies, book characters and simply chocolate, they make excellent pastimes and enriching experiences. If we are unable of doing great things, we can try to do little things in a great way, right?

Wednesday, July 10

The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud

Another pleasant journey into the world of short stories- this time, Bernard Malamud's little jewels that simply swept me off my feet. Books can do that, you know, make you fall for them and allow you to get trapped in their little universe. Bernard Malamud, described by his daughter as "My Father is a Book", was a Russian Jewish author of novels and novellas that wrote slowly and loved to burn manuscripts. He probably never took Mikhail Bulgakov's word for granted -"Manuscripts don't burn"- and tried to see for himself whether it felt more liberating to burn your creation rather than let the world burn with curiosity and excitement.

It is a funny thing that I have always felt for little people- people with unspectacular lives, who struggle with their own dull existences until, either something extraordinary happens to them or they get to be part of something great; it is these little epiphanies that bring the best in them or reveal to them odd truths. These are the characters of Bernard Malamud- shopkeepers, shoemakers, candle makers, matchmakers, or rabbis- immigrants striving to make both ends meet in New York or Europe. Bernard Malamud is not the first writer to describe the immigrant experience but there is such grace and profound meaning in the struggle and turmoil of the lives of these people.   

Some of the stories of Bernard Malamud contain magical realism traits a illustrated in his New York world that celebrates the mundane. Simple situations and people are endowed with a deeper meaning and are triggered by unexpected elements that reveal mysteries and magic. Thus, The Angel Levine is the story of tailor who is on the verge of losing his sick wife and fortune and prays to God for help. So Angel Levine appears but he is not what the poor man expects- he is black. The tailor feels he is being mocked at and refuses to put his trust into the angel's power. Until the tailor comes to accept the angel and that God works in mysterious ways, his life does not change for the better. How many people face the arrival of an angel with such easiness, only questioning the colour of the skin?

Humorous and ironic is also the story that gives the title of the short story collection- The Magic Barrel. Here a young Jewish rabbi uses the services of a matchmaker to find himself a proper wife. Leo Finkle is no exception to the practises of the Jewish community that believes marriage brokers are the best way of finding good wives. Mr. Salzman, skinny and smelling of fish, comes with a file containing pictures and detailed information on the potential brides and their family background, yet attempts to find Leo the ideal mate fail miserably. On a last ,desperate visit, Salzman leaves an envelope for the young man that lies unopened for days. Finally, when Leo looks over the pictures of women, his heart and mind wrap around the image of a young lady that runs out to be the counsellor's daughter, Sonia. Salzman refuses to arrange a meeting at first, stating that it was one of the photographs that should have been in the barrel- which makes Finkle think of the barrel as magic. It is the final scene of the short story that is magical: the two meet and Salzman remains hidden around the corner, chanting prayers for the dead.

Delightful and sensitive, Bernard Malamud's stories are remarkable for their subtlety and vividness. They silently pull the reader into the magical world of small New York immigrants, where frustration, regret, unhappiness and sorrow fail to sadden you, yet move you deeply.

Monday, July 8

Love is all you need by Susanne Bier

Women's cinema has always lacked the recognition or the opportunities to make it big in a male-dominated cinematography that praised only actresses and pushed other female initiatives to the side. Such a disparity will forever define the movie industry even if the achievements of women filmmakers - ranging from comedy and drama to animation or sport- are undisputed and truly remarkable. Susanne Bier is one of the most talented female directors, with a subtle eye for sensitive details and endearing nuances in her 2012 Love is all you need movie.

"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" or fall for a guy who shares your interest in lemons and has the best lemon orchard in Italy. Ida (Trine Dyrholm) is recovering from cancer and heading for her daughter's wedding in Italy; distraught by having caught her husband in bed with a twenty-year-old, she bumps into Philip (Pierce Brosnan)'s car and has a meltdown. As suspected, Philip and Ida are both flying to Sorrento, where his son Patrick (Sebastian Jessen) will marry his sweetheart of three months, Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind), Ida's daughter. A typical dysfunctional family gather up - the cheating husband, the accounts bimbo, Philip's mischievous sister-in-law, her bulimic daughter, Astrid's frustrated brother, an Italian bone of contention and tension begins to stammer. Meanwhile, Philip and Ida run into each other all the time and things start to look up for the two of them.

Lemons seem to be Ariadne's thread in Susanne Bier's movie, leading Ida, the hairdresser to Philip, the bitter businessman and giving them the chance to a new beginning. Lemons are witnesses to Ida's unhappy days and also guide her steps into the orchard of bliss; it is up to her to decide whether her tree of life will be a lemon or an orange tree. Predictable as the plot might be, it is Bier's talent that turns the story into a refreshing one. It is an honest movie about life as it is, with ups and downs, with unexpected surprises and hurtful truths, with second chances and strong, true confessions. The film is hand-shot, with breathtaking locations and vivid colours, spectacular spots and amazing scenery.  

As for the acting, one might think Pierce Brosnan is the cherry on the cake- and yes, he is really good-looking for a mature man, in his elegant blue shirts and with his dashing figure- but la piece de resistance of the movie is Trine Dyrholm, who is luminous and serene. It is almost shocking how she comes out of the water, bald, naked, with her visible mastectomy, yet with coy eyes and natural reactions; it is more surprising how convincing her charm is to the viewers and how appealing and beautiful she appears to be in Philip's eyes. Also, the film’s funniest and meanest character is Benedikte (Paprika Steen), Philip's sister-in-law, secretly coveting him and always gossipping.
Love is all you need is a feel-good movie that might not have the strength of the Oscar -winning In a Better World, or After the Wedding- Jensen and Bier's 2006 collaboration nominated for a foreign-language Oscar- yet it is romantic, refreshing, light-hearted. Susanne Bier took all the lovely lemons that life offered her and didn't make any lemonade, thus escaping the cliche, but made something even better: great movies. She is the Danish filmmaker that although emerged from Lars von Trier’s militantly minimalist Dogme school, made a reputation for herself as a confident female director.

Saturday, July 6


Innocence ends where awareness begins. There is a very thin line between sanity and lunacy and no point of return to conventional truths. Park Chan-wook takes a bold stand with his first English-language debut movie -Stoker- shaped as an audacious horror drama and takes you on a joy ride that will shake your wits.


India, played by Mia Wasikowska, is a lonely teenager, whose psychological state of minds sets the tone for the entire Stoker movie. This is a remarkable performance from Mia Wasikowska, whose still features -except for the game of the eyebrows- are an indicator of her inner emotional distress. Daddy's girl, India loses her beloved father on the day she turns 18 and faces the controversial arrival of her mysterious Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). The intriguing man moves with India and her mother (Nicole Kidman) right after the funeral and his presence is an illustration of the tensions between mother and daughter. One by one, people around the two women star to disappear and the lovely uncle- impeccably dressed, incredibly good-looking, elegant, cold and always on a diet- is the overprotective presence that shines over India's every step.

The director, Park Chan-wook, is famous for his violent, cruel movies, though the level of melodrama and brutality in this one is more tempered as compared to Oldboy or Lady Vengeance. The film is scarier than a thriller, preparing the viewer for the creepy blooming of India in an outburst of vengeance, betrayal and violence. Stoker might not be as bloody or violent as his previous pictures but there are recurring themes that haunt all Mr.Park Chan-wook's creations: incest, sexuality, frenzy, obsession. Everything is stylish and flowing, people acts properly, looks are flawless, food appears delicious, houses and gardens are neat- but appearances are always deceptive and evil lurks under every perfect gesture.

Great performances in the movie- Mathew Goode as good uncle Charlie has fascinating, yet insane eyes and moves likes a feline, falsely unaware of everything around him, yet on the prey at all times. Mia Wasikowska as India is a solitary young woman questioning the whispers around her and on the verge of bursting into bloom, with a hidden sexuality and a constant urge, whereas Nicole Kidman, caught in a stale marriage and eager to get to know better her brother-in-law, hasn't aged a bit and makes a lush, rich appearance; in time, some women gain in sexuality what they miss in freshness. It is a compelling movie that makes us wonder about the violence within ourselves and the strength/cowardliness it takes to voice it.

Wednesday, July 3

A Royal Affair (En Kongelig Affaere)

Mads Mikkelsen is this Danish actor that really moves me. I wish I could say he is the new kid on the block but he is neither getting any younger, nor is he any newcomer. It is only my excitement at discovering his performing skills and the movies he has made so far. This time, it is A Royal Affair, a 2012 Danish historical drama film directed by Nikolaj Arcel, which stars Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen. Johan Struensee, the German doctor of the royal family, is portrayed onscreen by actor Mads Mikkelsen, whose subtle performance is of the key points of the movie.

Johan Struensee, a freethinker and supporter of Enlightenment, arrives at the Danish court as King Christian VII's personal doctor, at the recommendation of two noblemen, Brandt and Rantzau. Johan and the king connect instantly and the doctor's influence over Christian grows to the point of bringing important social reforms to the Danish society. His reading preferences, his charisma and visionary ideas bring Struensee closer to the Queen's attention and, eventually, bed. Princess Caroline Mathilde, played nicely by Alicia Vikander, is a dreamy 15-year old girl who comes to Copenhagen hoping for a great marriage to her cousin, Denmark's King Christian VII. Her initial disappointment at the mentally ill, pitiful boy-man turns into a quiet acceptance of her buffoon of a husband. Her boring life changes when she meets her husband's personal doctor, an intellectual with a taste for social benevolent reforms who wins her heart and fathers her little girl. The illicit love story is exposed, Johan and Brandt are beheaded and the Queen is exiled.

The movie is not only a lovely Danish history lesson but also a forbidden love affair that got nominated for the best 2012 foreign film Oscar. Despite the conventional subject, the film is a bold and faithful illustration of one of the most famous royal affairs. I loved the cinematic rhythm and the colourful atmosphere that reminded me of Luchino Visconti's movies or of Amadeus itself. The performances of Mads Mikkelsen and Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, as the mad king, are exquisite and poignant, giving strength to the movie. The scenes are bright and full of light, the landscapes are breathtaking and the costumes invite comparison to other historical dramas such as Elizabeth, Anna Karenina or Marie Antoinette.

Social ideals, love for books and the desire to change do not go together with passion and as soon as you mix them, hell breaks loose: lovers are torn apart, families are broken and people die- in the name of love, of a better world and of political games. History has proven on countless occasions that affairs of the heart are not to be interwoven with those of the state. Nevertheless, A Royal Affair (En Kongelig Affaere) is the love affair that dragged Denmark out of the Dark Ages in the hope that love conquers and wins all.

P.S. Mads Mikkelsen's name is pronounced Mass Miggelsen.

Monday, July 1

Like Someone in Love

Ambiguity and multiple roles are the key, mutual elements that define director Abbas Kiarostami's movies Certified Copy and Like Someone in Love. But, whereas the previous picture was set in beautiful Tuscany, the latter is a modern Tokyo story of a young student, Akiko (Rin Takanashi) who is an escort sent to meet a former college professor,Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), on the very night her grandmother is visiting her. The relationship between the shy girl and the gentle, older man takes a sudden turn when Akiko's fiancee Noriaki (Ryo Kase) mistakes the elderly professor for his girl's grandfather.

Mistaken identity motif, role play and social norms are among Abbas Kiarostami's favourite, recurrent themes. In Certified Copy, Juliette Binoche and William Shimell played the roles of writer and fan, husband and wife, tourist and guide, whereas in his latest picture, shot in Japanese, with Japanese performers, the Iranian director builds an incredible story of visual beauty on the same dualism and switching roles. The old man is supposed to be a client in search for sexual favours, yet, upon making his acquaintance, he appears to be a gentle, elegant professor, very much involved in his academic life; the next day he turns into a helping grandfather-like figure who does his best to protect Akiko. Appearances are deceptive and the girl herself wears many hats: escort, student, fiance, niece in a game of truth and falsity. Again, where do we draw the line between the original and the copy?
Unlike the previous movie, where the ending could almost be felt, Like Someone in Love has an arbitrary, suspended, final scene, sweetened by the Billie Holiday song version that gives the title of the film. Another similarity between the two movies resides in the conversations characters have in moving cars, with slow dialogues, and oblique shots. Life as it is in Like Someone in Love is a succession of good or bad choices, of taking a participating approach or an observing gaze at things, of young people versus old people, of morality versus freedom. Abbas Kiarostami's cars are places of asking the right questions and revealing the painful truths and the viewer drives along the characters, in the back seat, in a make-believe state of mind.
This seems to be the director's view upon things: if something, either good or bad, is fated to happen, you cannot stop it from happening. Not even Mr Takashi, with his calm, elegant manner of behaving and looking at things, cannot predict the ways things will evolve or end up. People need to take every chance at creating meaningful connections, even for an instance, as no one can foretell the future. Noriaki's enraged, violent behaviour is like an authentic wake-up moment from the whole dream-like atmosphere of the movie. Insightful and soul-touching, this is a sensitive slice of Abbas Kiarostami's talent and creativity. One of the best movies of the year so far!