Cinema Review: The Monk

 

DIR: Dominik Moll • ED: Francois Gedigier, Sylvie Lager • DOP: Patrick Blossier • CAST: Vincent Cassel, Deborah Francois, Josephine Japy,  Sergi Lopez, Geraldine Chaplin

An adaptation of Matthew Lewis novel written in 1796, The Monk is a gothic drama with Shakespearean tragedy elements scattered all over it. The Monk looks at the life of Ambrosio (Vincent Cassel) who, after being left on the steps of a Capuchin monastery in Madrid as a baby, has grown up to be a monk, feared and revered for the intensity of his religious speeches and his morality. However, gradually Ambrosio starts to have troubling dreams about a woman in red, dreams that turn out to be prophetic. A masked young man, Valerio (Deborah Francois), whose face has apparently been destroyed by fire, is taken into the monastery, driven by a desire to be close to Ambrosio. On the night that Ambrosio discovers Valerio’s real identity as woman and before her imminent expulsion from the monastery, the monk is stung by a scorpion. His recovery from this injury is seen by the other monks as a miracle. From this point, Ambrosio’s habits turn distinctly into immoral and degenerating behaviours. Figuring into the story in entirely predictable ways is a subplot concerning the virginal young Antonia (Josephine Japy) and Lorenzo (Frederic Noaille), a nobleman who falls in love with her.

The Monk is about temptations, morality and Faustian symbolism; however the film lacks subtlety. Matthew Lewis’ novel must have appeared sulphurous on its publication in 1796 – apparently it was banned for several years – but for today’s audiences the association of religion, sex and satanism has acquired a dated quality. Moll runs dutifully through the catalogue of gothic symbolism (flames for sexual desire, gargoyles for grinning evil) but might have been better advised to get first a look at films that previously tackled the same issues as for the over-the-top baroque style favoured, for example, by  Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) or Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973).

Vincent Cassel is as usual brilliant and charismatic as monk Ambrosio, succumbing to his own ubris and weaknesses. It is quite interesting to see how brilliantly Cassel decided to undertake a role where for once his physical stage explosivity had to be restrained. Quite remarkable also is his co-star Deborah Francois as Valerio, who drags Ambrosio into the upsetting triangle of sex, Satan and religion.

Widescreen visuals are sumptous, the contrasts between the harsh light of the desert terrain and the darkness of the monastery reflects the moral extremes of Ambrosio, whose face is mostly seen half-shadowed.

A constant element of this film is also an over-use of dreamlike sequences: when for example it clearly borrows from the opening sequence of Blue Velvet (1986) with its use of the camera to burrow into the grass as if going down to uncover an evilish underworld.

Nicola Marzano

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Monk is released on 27th April 2012

The Monk – Official Website

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Cinema Review: The Island President

DIR: Jon Shenk • PRO: Richard Berge, Bonni Cohen  ED: Pedro Kos • DOP: Jon Shenk • CAST: Mohamed Nasheed

The political career of Mohamed ‘Anni’ Nasheed, 44, president of the Maldives and pro-democracy and environmental campaigner, has been beautifully wrapped up in a stunning documentary created and directed by Jon Shenk: The Island President.

The Island President starts off in 2008 when the former Amnesty activist was elected president – the first democratically elected president of the Maldives. In accurately balanced shots contrasting wonderful white beaches and moments of great tension, Shenk illustrates how, according to scientific estimates, if carbon emissions continue at the levels they are today, the Maldives will disappear within a decade. Moreover those levels aren’t steady: in fact they’re climbing each year, thanks to industrial nations like India and China that rely heavily on coal.

Mohamed Nasheed appears perfectly comfortable on screen. A camera crew follows him during his mandate as President; providing the viewer with a fine depiction of a fearless politician – but who at the same time can be a funny and sweet man.

The President is most famous for his efforts to combat climate change, winning several environmental awards over the past few years. ‘Asia’s Obama’, as the press often refer to him, has also been recognised for his human rights work. In 2009 he was awarded Sweden’s prestigious Anna Lindh prize for improving rights and freedom in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation.

The documentary gives a great description of Nasheed’s work before and during his mandate and also provides a full account of the happenings in Copenaghen in 2009 during the climate change summit where all the powerful political leaders on this planet tried to reach a deal to secure decent carbon emissions cuts. As we witness from this Shenk project, by the last day many of the conference goals had to be dropped due to a lack of agreement amongst the ‘big lads’. However, during those hectic Copenaghen days and nights, Nasheed’s force and courage to strenously lead towards a ‘green’ way are to be admired.

He nearly emerges as a new ‘Che’ for environmental issues, to the point that he was able to put collegues and other media represantatives in scuba gear for a first ever underwater cabinet. This demonstrates exactly the measure not only of the tenacity and strength of the man, but also his colourful approach to politics.

However, in February Nasheed was forced to resign from his role as Prime Minister. During his term, the president had run into trouble as he tried to stamp out corruption, cronyism and criminality. Powerful businessmen, which include members of Gayoom’s family (Gayoom was the dictator that ruled the country for over 30 years) and the former cabinet, had used their wealth and influence to win seats in parliament and fought hard to block Nasheed’s anti-corruption drive and his enviromental battles.

The international community has welcomed President Nasheed’s efforts to raise awareness over the dangers of climate change, which threaten to submerge his low-lying nation. That same international community must not sit back and watch as the remnants of dictatorship try and sink the Maldives’ fledgling democracy. Therefore all these latest events make this documentary even more important and decisive for the future of this endangered archipelago and in general of our planet.

Nicola Marzano

 The Island President is released on 30th March 2012

The Island President is exclusively screening in The Light House cinema  and  also available to watch on VOLTA.ie

Details on all Irish Screenings are here.

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Cinema Review: The Kid with a Bike

DIR: Jean Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne • PRO; Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Denis Freyd • ED: Marie-Helene Dozo • DOP: Alain Marcoen • CAST: Thomas Doret, Cecile De France, Jeremie Renier

Jean Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne are back on Irish screens with their new piece of observational human drama, The Kid with a Bike. The film’s title could hardly be any less direct in its unadorned simplicity. Last year, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne won the Gran Prize Jury award with this film at the Cannes film festival. The French Riviera annual festival represents a special place for the Belgian ‘Maestros’, having already been crowned with two Palme d’Ors (Rosetta in 1999 and The Child in 2005).

The Kid with a Bike is about the psychological, painful journey of a boy, Cyril,who has been rejected by his father. In care, Cyril can’t accept that he no longer has contact with his father, and so goes in search of him, riding his beloved bike that he got back with the help of a local hairdresser, Samantha. Samantha (played by a fascinating Cecile De France) agrees to take care of Cyril at the weekends and help him to somehow get back in touch with his father.

In his first screen role, the remarkable Thomas Doret (Cyril) bristles with anger and flailing determination; this fearless, ginger-haired child conveys the perfect mood of resiliance and desperation.

Marked by their neorealistic mise-en-scene, The Kid with a Bike is very recognisably a Dardennes’ film. They seem to always know where to put the camera to the service of the story, and never vice versa. However, alongside the customary Dardennes’ markers – non professional actors, documentary naturalism and small-town settings,  there are also new elements of bringing the drama on the screen. There is a major star, (Cecile de France); there is a consistent summer shooting that helps to alleviate the films grimmer moments; and also, The Kid with a Bike marks a rare use of music in a Dardennes’ film – where a handful of key moments are sparingly punctuated by Beethoven’s grace and elegance.

The film itself is distinctly built as a fairytale, keeping the promise that the Dardenne brothers made a couple of years ago when they announced their desire to produce a film with this partcular atmosphere. Nevertheless, this sort of fairytale imagination is enriched by many cultural references, expressions of everyday life in a suburban Belgian town, and a certain feminist tinge.

It’s worth  mentioning also that once again the Belgian directors have decided to set the whole story, as per their previous films, in the little industrial town of Seraing, which is both a real and an imaginary place. Unlike previous works though, this time the grey weather and anguishing locations give way to bright sunny days and uneasy riding ‘au velo’.

Nicola Marzano

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
The Kid with a Bike is released on 23rd March 2012
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DVD Review: The Frontline

The Frontline was one of Korea’s biggest blockbusters last year,  recording over two million admissions in just 10 days in South Korea and was the country’s official entry to this year’s Academy Awards® for Best Foreign Language Film. It is a visceral dramatisation of the Korean war in 1953 and the events leading to its ceasefire. Director Jang Hun is concerned with the victims and their aggressors rather than, or not only with, tactical war strategies. In January 1953, Kang Eun-pyo (Shin Ha-kyun), from the C.I.C., a South Korean army division specializing in detecting and expelling communists, is sent to join Alligator Company – a small troop of men assigned to occupy Aerok Hill, a strategic point on the Eastern Front. His covert mission is to investigate the mysterious death of their commander and to decipher how South Korean military is implicated in delivering letters from the North to their families in the South.

Arriving at the frontline, Kang finds the small troop depressed as the promises they were given about the imminent ending of the war have proven to be false. Kang also discovers that officers have been engaging in exchanges of an illicit nature with the enemy. This element of the film shows the whole scenario of the Korean war with a human and compassionate touch. In fact the ineffectiveness of sacrifice is often symbolized by the main hill where the main action took place, which changed hands around 30 times in 18 months. The tacit bond between the two sides is brilliantly juxtaposed with war scenes where merciless soldiers take action, even toward one’s own comrades.

Jang Hun’s direction and Park Sang-yeon’s conventional but fine screenplay achieves the right balance between humanist anti-war sentiment and personal heroism. Jang’s intention is clearly geared towards downplaying the visual fireworks of war in favour of expressing its messy, senseless pandemonium.

Ko Soo is fantastic as Kim the stubborn, rule-breaking rebel.  Also the other soldiers display great aptitude when they need to go through difficult state of minds to endure a war that seems endless and useless (as wars are…).

Nicola Marzano

Format: Anamorphic, Dolby, HiFi Sound, Widescreen
Region: Region 2
Number of discs: 1
Classification: 18
Studio: Cine-Asia
DVD Release Date: 27th February 2012
Run Time: 128 minutes
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anfA7h4umLY

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JDIFF 2012: Le Havre

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012

First Look:

Le Havre

Sunday, 19th February, 8.30pm, Light House

Aki Kaurismäki Le Havre is a pure gem; a fine tale of immigrants, love and simplicity. The Finnish director brings a mood of bone-dry humour to proceedings with jokes you’re not sure weather to laugh or cry at. Le Havre is set in the most popolous province in the Haute-Normandie region in the North of France and is the story of Marcel Marx (Andrè Wilms), once writer and bohémien, in his sixties, a refugee from Paris to Le Havre, where he leads a poor but happy life -divided between his work as a proud shoeshiner, drinks at the bar, and the love of his wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen). The existence of Marcel changes after two unexpected events: his wife’s illness illness and an encounter with a boy from Gabon, Idrissa (Miguel Blondin), who has just arrived at the port of Le Havre along with other illegal immigrants. Suddenly for Marcel it is time to grow up quickly, to start to polish his own shoes and to dress like an adult in order to embrace a ‘war’ against injustice. The injustice of the French police of taking Idrissa away from his dream to join his mother in London.

In addressing the issue of immigration, one of the most important issues in politics and also in cinema today, the Finnish director is not bothered even for a second with what might be seen as politically correct or incorrect in his film. In fact often politically incorrect, his film is a clear statement that whatever state, government, law or order that seeks to destroy the dream of a son to rejoin his mother, becomes a lawless and inhuman state.
Aside from the usual cast of actors usually involved in Kaurismäki’s films, the film marks the first time he has worked with the magnificent Jean-Pierre Daroussin, who plays the role of the detective Monet. Also outstanding is the appearance of Jean-Pierre Léaud as an unfriendly and vicious neighbour.

Nicola Marzano

Click here for Film Ireland‘s coverage of this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Click here for full details and to book tickets for this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

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Report: Giant Creative Launch

purple cat

Wood Quay Venue in the Dublin City Council Civic Offices played host to Giant Creative as it launched its new website and presented a showreel of their works. Giant Creative is a recently established animation studio dedicated to the design, direction and production of high-end animated content for advertising, T.V. shows and short films.

The company was founded by recent graduates from Ballyfermot College of Further Education’s Irish School of Animation.

Their recent collaboration The Last Train, an animated short made as part of the Animation Hub 2011, has been nominated for a prestigious IFTA award for animation.

The Irish Film and Television Awards ceremony is being held on Saturday, 11th of February 2012.

Best of luck guys!

www.giant.ie

Nicola Marzano

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Book Review: The Naked Brando: An Intimate Friendship

The Naked Brando: An Intimate Friendship

Title: The Naked Brando: An Intimate Friendship

Author: George Englund

There may have been tons of words, articles, books and blogs about Marlon Brando but the new book published by Gibson Square and penned by George Englund definately has a quality that cannot be underestimated. George Englund was one of Marlon Brando’s best friends from the mid 50s onwards and a long-time business partner. The Naked Brando: An Intimate Friendship – is a captivating, crafty and insightful account of the life of one of, or perhaps the most, talented and restless Hollywood actors of all time: Marlon Brando, or Mar, as he was affectionately called by his friend George Englund.

The memoir keeps track of how and why Brando had such a significant impact on film acting, and how he became the foremost example of the ‘method’ acting style. Nonetheless the account also helps to understand the reasons why he was also so resentful of the world, and so scornful of himself. Even so, he was the American actor of modern times, and of the second half of the 20th century; someone who was regularly placed in that small circle of the finest actors, the most potent and dangerous actors who could take a role and bring their audience into emotional territory that no one had anticipated.

Englund’s account reveals to the reader many interesting gems about Marlon Brando and his acting instinct. Amongst others, it emerges that while Brando became notorious for his ‘mumbling’, just a few knew that this was directly inherited from his father, with whom he notoriously had a troubled relationship, to put it lightly, all their lives. In fact at some stage during the late 50’s, George Englund met with Brando’s father to talk about the creation of a film production company. This encounter proved pivotal to Englund in revealing that so much of Brando’s raw animal magnetism and his mercurial performances were directly connected to and undoubtedly a legacy from his father.

Plenty of episodes showing the macho Brando and his love stories with his wives and occasional girlfriends are reported by Englund with juicy details on the side. Brando married three times – to Anna Kashfi (Anglo-Indian), Movita Castenada (Mexican) and Tarita (Tahitian). However, there were many more affairs, and he was the father of many children (rumours claim at least 11). On the one hand, he was particularly intrigued by seducing married women and then abandoning them; on the other hand, the book also talks about those women who said he was a magical lover and an enormous influence on their lives. Also, as accounted by Georgie ( how Brando used to call Englund), during his golden age, Brando was incredibly rebuffed by a fascinating female member of the UN.

Brando’s early career from unremarkable films to his masterpieces (to name just a few: On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire, Last Tango in Paris, Apocalypse Now) are followed exclusively through the trajectory of Englund and Brando’s friendship. This gives the memoir perhaps a confined space from which Brandos life is accounted but also undoubtedly it gives an unknown insight into Brando’s life and his way of living as an idol and hero for many generations of actors and fans.

The biography is also enriched by some revealing and never before published letters written by Brando and addressed to Englund during the years of their friendship (these letters were mainly composed towards the last years of Brando’s life). Englund’s work is a personal point of view on Brando’s life and career, during which their relationship was so intense that at one stage in his book, Englund borrows a famous line from the Greek philosopher Aristotle: ‘What is a friend? – A single soul dwelling in two bodies…’

Nicola Marzano

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Gibson Square Books Ltd; New ed edition (16 Mar 2011)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1903933757
  • ISBN-13: 978-1903933756
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 1.8 cm
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Book Review: Maurice Pialat (French Film Directors)

Pialat

Title: Maurice Pialat (French Film Directors)

Author: Marja Warehime

Marja Warehime amongst many other merits in writing this Maurice Pialat biography, has finally offered the English reader an account of French director Marcel Pialat’s life as until now most of the texts written about him have mainly been in French. As far as biographical information is concerned, Warehime’s book probably represents one of the more accomplished works about the life and the career of an anti conformist director. Warehime’s style of writing to describe Pialat’s career and approach to life is astonishingly warm and passionate. The biography chronologically portrays the entire career of the French director from his first short films to his last film feature Le Garcu.

Through Warehime’s account we discover that after training as a painter and making, during the ’60s, several short films, Maurice Pialat in 1968 wraps up his first feature film with the co-production of Francois Truffaut’s L’Enfance nue (Naked Childhood). Using non-professionals, this was a stark and moving portrait of a boy pushed into frenzied adolescence by his parents inability to cope with his difficult personality; it won critical acclaim and the Prix Jean Vigo. A second personal film was made in 1972, Nous Ne Vieillirons Pas Ensemble, a harrowingly accurate account of a love affair turned sour.

In 1974, Pialat directed his first masterpiece, La Gueule Ouverte, the story of a 50-year-old mother dying of cancer, told from the perspective of an impotent son and a promiscuous father, rather than the protagonist. Its long takes emphasise the claustrophobic intensity of the situation. It was released in English as The Mouth Agape. A Nos Amours’ in 1983 marked a turning point in his career, as his works were becoming more intense and demanding while adopting a tone close to the autobiography. A Nos Amours’ brought him the César for Best Film and at the same time it revealed the actress Sandrine Bonnaire to the public.

Pialat and his troublesome relationship with the ‘Nouvelle Vague’ is contained in the second chapter of this book but possibly represents the most relevant text as it allows the reader to get a great insight into the difficult relationship between Pialat and all the writers from the French film magazine, Cahiers du Cinema. In fact Pialat on some occasions expressed his resentment over the fact that the young directors of the ‘Nouvelle Vague’ had already begun to make names for themselves in the 1960s while he was still struggling to make films.

Through the pages of his work, Warehime draws the style of the French filmmaker as something very close to his character, expressed through his strength and his raw and uncompromising approach, becoming a form of cinema that might be well described with the term ‘naturalist’. After finishing Police, Maurice Pialat, in 1987, received the Palme d’Or in Cannes with Under the Sun of Satan, a film adapted from a novel by Georges Bernanos, causing scandal at the awards ceremony, he addressed the crowd with the famous line: ‘If you do not love me, I can tell you I don’t love you either.’

In 1991, Pialat finally decides to pay homage to his love of painting realizing a film on Vincent Van Gogh with Jacques Dutronc in the title role, for which he won the César for best actor in 1991. Four years later, the filmmaker completed his latest feature, Le garçu (The Boy), where he directs Gerard Depardieu, one of his most loyal actors.

Always against the role model, anti-conformist and pessimistic – such traits conveyed to his character a certain legend to the extent of being considered one of the greatest French directors, if not the greatest, by many of his peers.

This biography is a valuable account of the French directors work, with an impressive amount of well-researched material, logically arranged. The information about Pialat’s controversy with established French culture, which is given as much space here as his cinematic achievements, is particularly useful as it helps the reader to grasp the mood in which Pialat’s cinema was trying to express itself.

Marja Warehime offers a fascinating text combining an account of the filmmakers remarkable work through interesting photos from his films and locations, original transcripts of some of his most important public interviews (with English translations as footnotes) and sharp observations on the way he approached the creative process of filmmaking.

Nicola Marzano

Paperback: 182
Publisher: Manchester University Press
Language: English
ISBN: 978071906823.2
Product Dimensions: 20.7 x 13.5 x 1.7 cm

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