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Undergods

Director – Chino Moya – 2020 – UK – Cert. N/C 18+ – 91m

**1/2

Overlapping narratives unfold within a mysterious city which resembles something out of Eastern EuropeGlasgow Film Festival Friday, February 26th to Monday, March 1st

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.… Read the rest

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Sheep Without A Shepherd (Wu Sha)

Director – Sam Quah – 2019 – China – Cert. 15 – 112m

*****

A family stands together when their daughter kills the local police chief’s son who is both a rapist and blackmailer – available to rent online in the new Chinese Cinema Season 2021 in the UK & Ireland.

This opens with a prison break in which the escapee ends up interred in a coffin next to the corpse of the man who was trying to get him out. That turns out to be a story told by Li Wiejie or Jie for short (Xiao Yang), an insatiable watcher of detective and crime thrillers. The film lays its cinematic cards on the table almost immediately by referencing Hitchcock, montage, sound effects, excitement and The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994). Sheep Without A Shepherd is in thrall to the West’s suspense movies and plays out like one while at the same time retaining its distinctive Chinese character with its emphasis on the importance of family ties and loyalty.

Jie and his wife (Tan Zhuo) run a small store in Thailand. Their daughter Ping known in the family as PingPing (Audrey Hui) persuades dad to fund her to go to summer camp where she is drugged and videoed being gang-raped by privileged brat Su Cha (Beety) and his pals.… Read the rest

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Pinocchio

Director – Matteo Garrone – 2019 – Italy – Cert. PG – 125m

*****

In cinemas from Friday, August 14th, on BFI Player rental from Monday, December 14th

Impoverished woodcarver Geppetto (Roberto Benigni) decides to make the greatest puppet the world has ever seen, tour the world with it and make his fortune. A wood merchant lets him have a log because it seems to have a life of its own. Unaware of its animate properties, Geppetto begins carving his puppet, a life-sized representation of the son he’s never had.

After he starts talking to it as its “Babba”, he is surprised when the puppet (nine year old Frederico Ielapi) talks back. Geppetto names him Pinocchio. No sooner has he carved the feet than Pinocchio runs out of Geppetto’s workshop to discover the world. In many ways, that defines the character and the story to come. The innocent Pinocchio is forever in pursuit of his own gratification, prey to the perils of the world around him and initially devoid of any sense of morality, something he struggles to learn throughout the course of the story in his quest to become a real boy.

There have been numerous versions of Pinocchio in film, television and theatre since it first appeared as a written serial in an Italian newspaper in 1881.… Read the rest

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Babyteeth

Director – Shannon Murphy – 2019 – Australia – Cert. 15 – 118m

*****

In cinemas from Friday, August 14th and on BFI Player from Monday, December 7th

Uniformed schoolgirl Milla (Eliza Scanlen) stands on a platform ill at ease with her classmates. The train comes in. Before she can move to get on it, someone has knocked into her rushing past to stand close to the passing train. It’s Moses (Toby Wallace), unkempt in shorts and tee shirt. He asks her for money. He points out she has a nosebleed, cradles her on the ground, puts his tee over her mouth and jaw… to catch the blood.

Milla’s psychiatrist father Henry (Ben Mendelson) has a home session with a patient that turns into sex on a desk. This is his wife Anna (Essie Davis) who is on medication and has mental problems. They have another problem as a family: their daughter has cancer.

When Milla brings Moses into her parents’ comfortable suburban family home, they take an immediate dislike to him. This reaction is compounded by his habit of stealing medications from their home to sell later on the street. Nevertheless, he will be around the home more and more and by the end will be to all intents and purposes living there with Henry and Anna’s consent.… Read the rest

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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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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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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