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The Mourning Forest (Mogari no mori)

Director – Naomi Kawase – 2017 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 97m

****

Out on Eureka! Video and from Monday, August 24th streaming on MUBI UK. Currently on BFI Player (extended free trial offer here) as part of 21st Century Japan. This review originally appeared in All The Anime.

Wind. Trees. Tall grass. A road barely discernible but for the occasional top of a hedge. A fluttering, white banner of a funeral procession moves imperceptibly across the landscape, a futile ritual for an unknown person.

A room’s corner between two windows. Beyond them: wind and trees. Against the corner leans the sleeping Mr Shigeki (Shigeki Uda). The boss of this old people’s home Wakako (Makiko Watanabe) is showing new care worker Machiko (Machiko Ono) the ropes. “There are no rules here”, she tells her. Machiko is in emotional free-fall. At home, a candle beside a photograph of a young boy. Berated by her husband for letting go of her child’s hand, Machiko has never got over the incident.

Kawase is a master of understatement… [Read the rest]

This review originally appeared in All The Anime when Eureka! Video released the film on BD/DVD.… Read the rest

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Sweet Bean (An)

Director – Naomi Kawase – 2015 – Japan – Cert. PG – 113m

****

Out on Eureka! Video. Also currently on BFI Player (extended free trial offer here) and from Monday, September 12th on MUBI UK. This review originally appeared in All The Anime.

A chef (Masatoshi Nagase) carefully pours just the right amounts of pancake mixture onto a hotplate to make dorayaki – two small, burger bun sized pancakes with a filling of sweet bean paste in the middle. An old lady (Kirin Kiki) asks if his part-time post is still vacant. To get rid of her he offers an outrageously low hourly rate. She proposes to work for half that. He makes excuses as to why it won’t work. “Thanks,” she says, “I’ll come again,” and disappears. Thus begins director Naomi Kawase’s Sweet Bean, a bittersweet tale of suburban life across the generations… [Read the rest]

This review originally appeared in All The Anime when Eureka! Video released the film on BD/DVD. Sweet Bean is also currently on BFI Player (extended free trial offer here) and from Monday, September 12th part of a Kawase triple bill on MUBI.

Trailer:

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The Chambermaid (La Camarista)

Director – Lila Avilés – 2018 – Mexico – Cert. 15 – 102m

****1/2

A woman works long hours within a vast Mexico City hotel complex and rarely sees the world outside – now on BFI Player (extended free trial offer here)

Set inside an unnamed Mexico City hotel (actually the real life Hotel Presidente). Scenes with views of the skyline from glass windows mostly on either the 21st or 42nd floors offer a running gag about lowering the blinds to shut out the amorous window cleaner on his platform outside, ultimately paid off when the title character leaves the blind up, sits on the bed and strips off down to her knickers.

This scene is uncharacteristic of the wider film. Chambermaid Eve (Gabriela Cartol) quietly and dutifully goes about her daily workload tidying, cleaning and replenishing items in guest rooms on the 21st floor for which she is fully responsible. To do this, she must leave her home at 4am to get to the hotel by 6am and take showers at work because her home doesn’t have one… [Read the rest]

Originally published in DMovies.org. Watch the film on BFI Player (extended free trial offer here).

Trailer:

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Undergods

Director – Chino Moya – 2020 – UK – 91m

**1/2

World premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival on Sunday, August 30th. Plays again Wednesday, September 2nd.

In a grey urban environment resembling an unspecified city somewhere in Eastern Europe or possibly Russia, two lorry drivers go about their daily routine of picking up corpses from the street. These two characters form the frame story of what is to follow, although exactly what that is isn’t clear from the narrative’s meandering nature. There are stories within stories wherein the character you think is the main character is suddenly usurped by a different character. Several times over.

That’s a pity because they are potentially very interesting stories, so it’s frustrating to see them consistently half-baked. The anthology film is, after all, a tried and tested format and this film attempts do something radical and new with it. The problem is though, to make that form work you really need to understand its rules before you play around with them, break them, or abandon them altogether. This film seemingly lacks that understanding, or thinks you can throw away the framework and everything will still somehow work. It won’t. Or, at least, it doesn’t work here.… Read the rest

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Yes, God, YES

A plea for honesty

Yes, God, YES
Directed by Karen Maine
Certificate 15, 77 minutes
Released digitally on 17 August

Despite its provocative title suggesting a racy sex comedy about religion, this is actually a gentle independent film exploring the everyday inadequacies of American teenagers growing up within a conservative Catholic tradition. Essential life issues, including sex, truth telling, lying and religion, come up.

There’s a rumour going round Alice’s Catholic high school that she (Natalie Dyer) has been “salad tossing”. Having no idea what this means, she spends much of the film trying to find out. Impressed that Nina (Alisha Boe) has been on a four-day camp and seems to have her life together, Alice signs up.

The camp takes place at a Catholic retreat centre staffed by a nun and Father Murphy (Timothy Simons). Alice is immediately attracted to Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz), the camp leader and school football team captain. When Nina asks Alice to surrender her watch and mobile phone “because you’re on Jesus’ time”, Alice keeps her phone hidden to play games on it… [Read the rest]

I review Yes, God, YES for Reform.

Available to view on Amazon Prime and iTunes.

Trailer:

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Animation Features Movies

Away

Director – Gints Zilbalodis – 2019 – Latvia – Cert. U – 75m
****1/2
Exclusively in these cinemas from Friday, August 28th

A boy hangs from a tree by a parachute in a wilderness. He wakes. A strange, towering black / grey figure approaches, shining as if metallic or viscous like a solidified, smooth, crude oil or tar. It picks him up. He is in a dark tunnel, light at one end. He goes the other way, is out of the giant’s clutches, runs. It slowly turns and lumbers after him. There are occasional, giant, semicircular hoops in his path. He goes through them, eventually entering a grotto which fully circular hoop the giant can’t follow. Welcome to the strange, dreamlike world of Away.

Beyond an abandoned motorbike, in the middle of the grotto, is a lake bordered with orange trees and the ocean. The boy feeds, bathes and makes the acquaintance of a shy, little yellow bird. Finding a key and a map in a rucksack, the boy learns that the semicircular hoops mark a route to a harbour. His bike will furnish him the means to get there. A flock of white birds is flying in the same direction, however the yellow bird can’t join them because it can’t fly.… Read the rest

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Sopyonje

Director – Im Kwon-Taek – 1993 – South Korea – 113m

****

Free to view in the Korean Film Archive as part of

Korean Film Nights Online: Trapped! The Cinema of Confinement

(Friday, July 17th – Thursday, August 27th)

Viewing links at bottom of review.

Itinerant pansori singer Yoobong (Kim Myung-gon) travels between small country towns to practice his trade, entertaining audiences on the streets and in their houses after meals. Travelling with him are his two small children, Songhwa and her little brother Dong-ho. In the town where first we meet him and his family, he’s involved in a passionate relationship with a woman.

However not long after we (and indeed little Dong-ho, who the couple assume to be asleep when he isn’t) watch the couple make love, she is seen in the equally ecstatic if clearly painful throes of a childbirth which kills her and from which no living child is born. Yoobong, arriving at the scene after her death, is stricken with grief and holds her body in his arms to weep over it.

What follows in basically a three-hander, with the father raising the two kids as practitioners of pansori, a traditional form of Korean folk music waning in popularity between the 1940s and 1970s when the film is set.… Read the rest

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The Brand New Testament (Le Tout Nouveau Testament)

Director – Jaco Van Dormael – 2015 – Belgium – Cert. 15 – 113m

*****

Review originally published in Reform, read the full review here.

Showing on MUBI UK from Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

At the end of Time Bandits (Terry Gilliam, 1981), the Supreme Being (Ralph Richardson) bumbles around in a lounge lizard suit mumbling, “I think it has to do with free will, or something.” A similar sense of whimsy pervades the latest film from Flemish director Jaco Van Dormael (Toto The Hero/1991, The Eighth Day/1996) who reworks God The Father as a slobbish despot. Many people in contemporary Western culture struggle with the idea of a loving, patriarchal God so if you’re going to have a crack at exploring Christian theology for the unchurched, this is not a bad place to start… [Read the rest]

Review originally published in Reform, September 2016, to coincide with the film’s UK DVD release.

See also alternative review originally published in (the final issue of) Third Way, May 2016, to coincide with the film’s UK theatrical release.

Showing on MUBI UK from Saturday, August 22nd, 2020.

Trailer:

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Love You Forever (Wo Zai Shijian Jintou Deng Ni)

Director – Yoyo Yao Tingting – 2019 – China – Cert. PG – 115m

***1/2

Exclusively in cinemas from Tuesday, August 25th (Chinese Valentine’s Day this year).

Hands write in a notebook. In a voice-over, Lin Ge (Lee Hongchi) describes himself as “a man who doesn’t exist… No memories of me in this world.” He will repeat these words later on. He talks of the past and we see the images of the day in 1991 when his mum died, he got beaten up by a bunch of other little boys and he was rescued by little girl Qiu Qian who became his playmate that summer.

Ge loses a marble in a pond and, looking for it, finds an old, stopped watch. He and Qian start playing the game of “Wolf, Wolf, what’s the time?” until one day her family moves and he runs after the departing car until his little legs will run no more.

As a teenager to the horror of both his teacher and his bereaved father he and two friends set up a business selling “magic bottles”, running breathlessly along multi-storey school walkways to avoid being caught until they / he chance(s) upon a group of boys blocking a gangway, looking at the beautiful new girl recently transferred to the school and doing ballet training.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Coup 53

Director – Taghi Amirani – 2019 – UK – Cert. 15 – 120m

*****

In cinemas from Friday, August 21st

Virtual premiere Wednesday August 19th, Q&A Thursday August 20th. See https://coup53.com/

A documentary begun in 2009 interviewing many people who died before the film’s completion some ten years later, this covers the 1953 coup in Iran backed by President Eisenhower in the US and Prime Minister Churchill in the UK which replaced Iran’s democratically elected, left-wing Prime Minister Mossadegh with the Shah. The UK has never officially acknowledged its role in this coup.

Amirani’s researches lead him to a basement of documents held by Mossadech’s grandson in Paris comprising archive material from the Granada TV 1985 End Of Empire documentary series, for which he is gets access to the rushes from the BFI. Iran was included because it had been controlled by British interests for so long (because of its oil reserves). Amirani’s editor, helping pull all this together, is the legendary Walter Murch (Gimme Shelter / 1970, The Conversation / 1974, Apocalypse Now / 1979, The English Patient / 1996).

The name which keeps coming up in Amirani’s research is that of Norman Darbyshire who reportedly asked for his interview footage to be removed from the film following a pre-transmission screening at the BBC.… Read the rest