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Features Live Action Movies

The Mauritanian

Director – Kevin Macdonald – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 129m

****

A pro bono lawyer defends a post-9/11 terrorist suspect in Guantánamo Bay against his US Army prosecutor – plays Curzon Home Cinema rental from Monday, October 4th

Based on a true story, this kicks off in Mauritania, North West Africa in November 2001 – as a title tells us, two months after 9/11. Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) walks on a beach then attends a Muslim wedding in Mauritania, to which he’s returned after living in abroad in Germany. During the celebrations, two local cops turn up and want him to come for questioning about his brother, whose current whereabouts he reminds them he doesn’t know. “The Americans are going crazy since the attacks two months ago,” they tell him. Momentarily alone, changing out of celebratory robes into something more casual, he erases his mobile phone contacts before agreeing to go with them.

Three years later, New Mexico law firm partner Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) learns of his disappearance and that the story has just broken in Der Spiegel that Slahi is currently allegedly being detained in Guantánamo Bay as “one of the organisers of 9/11”. The US government has recently stated that inmates have the right of ‘habeas corpus’ – if the evidence against them isn’t deemed sufficient to hold them in detention, they should be released.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

My Favorite War

Director – Ilze Burkovska Jacobsen – 2020 – Latvia, Norway – Cert. N/C 12+ – 77m

****

Autobiographical documentary employs cut-out animation to describe a childhood in Latvia when it was part of the Soviet UnionGlasgow Film Festival Thursday, February 25th to Sunday, February 28th

In World War Two. Latvia was caught between the Nazis and the Russians. After the Nazis capitulated, the country was absorbed into the Soviet Union. Ilze’s grandfather, a small farmer, was declared an Enemy of the State and sent to Siberia because he owned a small piece of land. Her Communist Party member father became a City Manager but he was killed in a car crash leaving her mother to bring up her and her brother alone.

At age three, Ilze’s parents risk everything by taking her to a forbidden beach a few miles from their home just so their young daughter can see the sea. This is the self-proclaimed “happiest country in the world” where party officials can queue jump and take the last pack of butter, where peace is paramount but shooting lessons are mandatory at school. As Ilze grows, she must keep quiet about all sorts of things or her mother will lose her job.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Papicha

Director – Mounia Meddour – 2019 – France, Algeria, Belgium, Qatar – Cert. 15 – 108m

****

In selected cinemas (Curzons Bloomsbury and Mayfair). Also on Barbican cinema on demand, BFI Player, Curzon Home Cinema and Peccadillo Pictures On Demand from Friday, August 7th.

Algerian university fashion student Nedjma (Lyna Khoudri) is often called ‘Papicha’, a typically Algerian word that refers to a funny, attractive, liberated young woman. Nedjma and her roommates love life and think nothing of going out to nightclubs to put on fashion parades.

However, this being the late 1990s an upsurge of Islamic conservatism manifests itself throughout the narrative. First, fly posters advocating the hijab for women appear on walls (Nedjma immediately tears down these posters on seeing them). Later, she confronts a young man putting these posters up, but after challenging him notices a handgun tucked in his waistband so quickly backs off.

Groups of hijab-clad women take the law into their own hands vigilante style. They surround and take away a lecturer addressing Nadjma’s class. They turn up in the middle of the night at her shared room and threaten the occupants. And worse is to come.

One of the difficulties about writing about this film is that some of its narrative incidents would be much more shocking if you don’t know exactly what’s coming.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Young Ahmed (Le Jeune Ahmed)

Directors – Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne – 2019 – Belgium, France – 85m

***1/2

Exclusively on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, August 7th

Belgian teenager Ahmed (Idir Ben Addi) is having problems with his teacher Miss Inès (Myriem Akheddiou). As he sees it, she disrespects his Muslim faith. His life timetable is governed by the time table of not, as you might expect, his school but his mosque. He must attend prayers at a specific time. Actually, his teacher and school are more than accommodating of these demands, but that’s not how Ahmed sees it.

He has long and deep discussions with his local Imam, Youssouf (Othmane Moumen), a radical jihadist and frankly a pretty creepy individual. Ahmed looks up to and trusts him. More than he does his teacher who he accuses on various occasions of betraying the faith, having a Jewish boyfriend and being an infidel. (Incidentally, this being a French language movie the word ‘infidel’ has a direct meaning of ‘unfaithful’ in that language, something I’ve never noticed before.) More than he does his mother (Claire Bodson) who he berates for having the occasional drink or two. It doesn’t help that he seems to regard women and girls as unclean and inferior.… Read the rest

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Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Giraffe

Director – Anna Sofie Hartmann – 2019 – Germany, Denmark – 82m

****

On MUBI from Thursday, August 6th. As part of a series of films from the 2019 Locarno Film Festival.

There is a beautiful, lengthy shot of a giraffe at the start. Beyond that, it’s hard to know why it’s called that. No doubt we’re meant to construct our own ideas as to why this might be so.

Leaving that aside, this is a curious film, part drama, part documentary. Some of the time, you’re not exactly sure which of the two you’re watching.

A link is being built between Denmark and Holland that will require the demolition of numerous 19th Century farmhouses in its path. It falls to ethnologist Dana, 38 (Lisa Loven Kongsli) to compile a record of these houses and the people who lived in them before they are gone forever. The premises vary from derelict to maintained with occupants about to move out.

Going through one of the derelict farmhouses, Dana discovers the diary of one if its occupants and starts reading. The woman lived alone but had occasional romantic visitors, a compelling tale – for Dana at least, since it seems uncannily to mirror her own existence.… Read the rest

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Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Zero Impunity

Directors – Nicolas Blies, Stéphane Hueber-Blies – 2019 – France, Luxembourg – 95m

*****

From the Annecy 2020 Online Animation Festival

Framed by live action sequences of serial expert, journalist and activist talking heads projected on the sides of urban buildings or rural landmarks, this skilfully uses minimal 2D animation to tell the stories of victims of sexual violence in contemporary war zones. It’s intended as part of a wider, ongoing media project designed to bring accountability to the perpetrators of such acts who at the present time face zero impunity.

Stories include, from Syria, the 11 year old daughter of an alleged terrorist who was imprisoned for 45 days towards the end of which she was unexpectedly injected with hormones before being raped by (at least) one man before passing out.

A Ukranian woman is held captive in a house and coerced into sleeping with her captor. In bed, she feels something cold and metal in her crotch. It’s a bullet. Much is made of her captor’s pistol. He puts it on a table in front of her, knowing she won’t take it because, if she were to shot him, where would she go?

The US doesn’t come off well. Dick Cheney and the Bush administration know the difference between right and wrong but facilitated sexual humiliation techniques on male prisoners held in prisons such as Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay at home.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

True North

Director – Eiji Han Shimizu – 2020 – Japan, Indonesia – 93m

****

From the Annecy 2020 Online Animation Festival

The life of an ordinary family living in Pyongyang is interrupted when their father disappears and their mother is unable to tell their infant son Yo-han and his younger sister Mi-hee exactly what has happened to him, although she reassures them that everything will be fine. A few days later, in the middle of the night, there’s a knock at the door of their apartment. Officials come in and search the place, make the family pack a few belongings then put them into a truck.

On the ensuing journey, there are no stops for the lavatory. The truck takes them to a political camp where they will be imprisoned although it’s never quite clear what offence they have committed. Father is apparently an enemy of the state, even though he appears to have an exemplary record. Despite promises that the family will see him soon, he’s not in the camp to which they’ve been taken. They are going to have to fend for themselves there.

Mother does her best to keep her kids’ spirits up – no mean task when you’re living on meagre rations and forced to do backbreaking work shifts harvesting crops in the fields (woman and girls) or working in the mines (men and boys).… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Kill It And Leave This Town

Director – Mariusz Wilczynski– 2020 – Poland – 88m

****1/2

From the Annecy 2020 Online Animation Festival

From its opening of a man smoking in the dark to its closing image of giants tied down on a beach like felled Gullivers in Lilliput, this is awash with the sort of gloomy imagery readily associated with East European art pictures. That’s not to say it isn’t highly effective though. Set partly in a grey, heavily industrialised town where chimneys constantly belch out smoke and partly in a seaside resort, it has a narrative through line but constantly weaves around that with a series of episodes, dreams and memories. Nevertheless it possesses its own, coherent inner logic.

An old woman (Krystyna Janda) wishes her husband (Andrzej Chyra) goodbye as he takes their son Janek (Maja Ostaszewska) out. Later she visits the shops where, although she makes a point of explaining that she has the correct change, no one seems to be interested in actually serving her. Indeed, these are strange shops. Sometimes the fishmonger’s assistant (Malgorzata Kozuchowska) guts fish and sometimes she guts little humans who are around the same size.

At one point a man (Daniel Olbrychski) whose hat conceals that he has the head of a cat delivers an unsettling line about his purposes in the world to do with power, evil and good.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Features Movies

The Shaman Sorceress

Director – Ahn Jae-huun – 2020 – South Korea – 85m

***1/2

From the Annecy 2020 Online Animation Festival

Rural woman Mohwa has had two children, first a boy Wook-yi then a girl Nang-yi, by two different fathers. She is a woman of contradictions: free spirited in love, more traditional in her everyday beliefs. She is revered locally as a healer, the person to whom people go when they have a sick relative. Mohwa is a shamaness who practises exorcisms on the sick to rid them of whatever evil spirits plague them. And she has an impressive track record. She’s also an alcoholic.

Since she is a long way down the economic food chain, she fears for Wook-yi’s future and packs him off to a Buddhist temple. His hitherto healthy younger sister falls ill and when she recovers three years later she has lost her hearing. Nang-yi also possesses considerable skill as a painter.

Wook-yi, meanwhile, hates the temple and leaves it to go to the more forward looking Seoul where he wanders into a Christian church and is converted. When he returns home, he talks to the largely silent Nang-yi about “who made human?” and “The One And Only God”, even getting her to say the words “One And Only God”.… Read the rest

Categories
Animation Documentary Features Live Action Movies

Camp 14: Total Control Zone

Director – Marc Weise – Cert. 12 – 2012 – Germany, South Korea – 106m

*****

Utterly devastating documentary built around interviews with (mainly) a man who was born into and as an adult escaped from a North Korean Death Camp and (with less material) a former guard at one such camp. It being impossible to film inside such camps, the film makers brilliantly deploy bleak, grey toned animation to put images of camp life (classrooms, public executions) on the screen. Be horrified as humans grow and develop in an environment devoid of moral goodness. One of the most unsettling films you’ll ever see.

Here’s the trailer:

This review originally appeared in Film Review Annual.