Format: Cinema

Date: 13 November 2009

Venues: ICA (London)

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Masayuki Miyano

Writer: Tetsuya Nakashima

Based on the novel by: Hideo Okuda

Cast: Tomoko Murakami, Hiroki Narimiya, Saori Hara

Japan 2008

93 mins

Sex comedies: usually neither, right? In theory. Masayuki Miyano’s Lalapipo, a series of interconnected stories following the sex lives of ‘a lot of people’ in Tokyo, adapted from a novel known for its sleazy grittiness, could be grim viewing. It could be too graphic, or disappear up its own over-earnest well-lubed backside (see Shortbus), but the script by Tetsuya Nakashima, the director of Kamikaze Girls (2004) and Memories of Matsuko (2006) saves it with a sheen of knowing, farcical silliness.

It takes a while to build. The film’s first story, centring on freelance writer Hiroshi Sugiyama, makes for uncomfortable viewing. He’s a podgy, sad-sack chronic masturbator in his early 30s, with a talking puppet for a penis. The puppet looks like it’s made of a mildewed towel. It’s mushroom green, looks like a cactus with mange. Besides the puppet, there’s a soundtrack of the kind of smooth disco/treacly r’n’b that’s been filtered through a few muzak factories and third-tier pop producers. They both appear when something horrible is about to happen: rape, manipulation, someone getting beaten up. It’s like a big sign: Hey, this is funny! No, really!

All of the stories are pretty sordid otherwise, so the silliness is necessary. Most of the sex is implied in cutaway shots, like punch lines to jokes, or in OTT fantasy sequences — one guy imagines himself as a robot superhero in a dream sequence drenched in a bright, sparkly, candy-coloured lip gloss overload of neon, daylight, showroom furniture and cute clothes. Even the most squalid porn-filled bedrooms of the film’s loneliest men are kind of cosy. Everyone has shiny hair except for an ageing female porn star, and when she is cast in a mother-daughter-themed lesbian film (with her own actual daughter as co-star — Lalapipo is full of such not-so-surprising surprises) her hair bounces away and she looks a decade younger — and she also gains the confidence to torch her rubbish-filled house. When her daughter is recruited into porn, she wears a sad little pair of scuffed shoes — later, she looks like a pop video babe. Porn saves!

Lalapipo‘s treatment of porn, not just as wacky fun, but as some kind of transformative thing to celebrate, even tongue in cheek, feels like some throwback to a decade ago — actually you could probably take a screengrab from each of the vignettes in this film, make up some internet quiz called ‘film still or late 90s editorial from The Face‘ and confuse just about everybody.

But beneath all this porny, garish in-your-faceness is something a bit more subtle - weird character cards that crop up at the beginning of each vignette subtly undercut whatever macho assumptions the first half of the film brings. All of the women, however mocked or degraded they may be, are making more money than the men who pimp them out or wank to their films. Everyone, male and female, comes off as a little sad, a little vulnerable, and ultimately a bit more humanised — except for the poor karaoke bar manager who sees gangs turn his bar into a brothel, where he ends up anally raped by an errant john. (It’s another 90s twist to see this as humour, recalling the ‘bring out the gimp’ scene in Pulp Fiction.)

There’s no need. And there’s no need for the scene where our freelance writer masturbator friend, early on, is trying to wank while listening through the wall to a neighbour who is about to be raped, or for the scene later on when, after he finally gets some action with Sayuri, a lovely fat girl in Lolita-dolly-style dress, he beats her up and almost leaves her for dead. Why? Because she’s unattractive and thinks she’s worthy of him? It’s pretty gross, and you don’t blame the penis puppet from wanting to escape this charmer. Sayuri’s story, later in the film, makes the first segment less shocking — turns out she’s making specialist porn herself and has seen it all before, and she comes off as wise and compassionate. Most of the time, the humour works, and Lalapipo is ridiculous, offensive, and compelling.

Emily Bick

Bunny and the Bull

Bunny and the Bull

Format: Cinema

Date: 27 November 2009

Venues: Chelsea Cinema, Curzon Soho (London) and nationwide

Distributor: Optimum Releasing

Director: Paul King

Writer: Paul King

Cast: Edward Hogg, Simon Farnaby, Verí³nica Echegui, Noel Fielding, Julian Barratt

UK 2008

101 mins

The Mighty Boosh has been perhaps the most innovative television show in recent years, and although much of the credit has rightly gone to its writers and stars Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt, director Paul King deserves much praise for the show’s unique look. After all, this is the man who helped make ‘stationary village’ and ‘the crack fox’ a reality. Bunny and the Bull is King’s debut feature and he certainly keeps up the visually inventive surreal stylings of his television work - in fact more time and a cinema budget seem to have allowed him to take this even further.

Bunny and the Bull stars Edward Hogg (White Lightnin’, 2009) as obsessive compulsive recluse Stephen Turnbull whose super-organised world includes a daily routine timed to the second and an all-inclusive filing system for ‘random old shit’ that is taking over his flat (one box is labelled ‘drinking straws 94-96’). However, one mouse-sized glitch sends his world falling apart and sets in motion the long flashback that tells us how he got himself into this state: the cause being a road trip with his gregarious friend Bunny (Simon Farnaby, Harold Boon from the Boosh‘s ‘The Power of the Crimp’ episode) that takes in Europe’s strangest and most idiosyncratic museums (all real-life institutions) and other even stranger adventures until they eventually end up in Spain where Bunny intends to fight a bull and learn the secrets of the matador.

The film centres on an ‘odd couple’ premise, with Stephen and Bunny as Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison taken to the extreme. This contrast is exemplified by their luggage - Stephen’s meticulous preparation for every imagined eventuality against Bunny’s carrier bag full of lager. Along the way they pick up foul-mouthed love interest Eloisa (Verí³nica Echegui). The plot is slight but it is played with a Bedknobs and Broomsticks mixture of live action and animation and with lively cameos from the Boosh‘s Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding and a great one from The IT Crowd‘s Richard Ayoade as tour guide at a German shoe museum - it is a film where the details overwhelm the main story.

Hogg and Farnaby’s deadpan underplaying stands in stark contrast to what amounts to a creative diarrhoea around them. The film is described as ‘a road movie set entirely in a flat’ as the European tour is recreated from Stephen’s various hoardings. We are treated to a variety of animation styles from claymation to Paddington Bear-type black and white paper cut-outs and a clockwork fairground in the style of Michel Gondry or Alexander Calder’s zoo. The surreal clash of the fantastic and the mundane is reminiscent of the great Czech animator Jan Å vankmajer without ever quite approaching his dark sense of humour. Instead, the whole film is coated with heavy doses of Amelie-style whimsy (which some stomachs might find a bit cloying), but the sheer inventiveness just about pulls it through. Best of all is the bull - when he finally makes his appearance he is a marvel of stop-motion animation and well worthy of his place in the title.

However, the film’s major flaw is perhaps King’s script, which is not up to the standard of the writing in The Mighty Boosh and certainly not as consistently funny. Many jokes seem too obvious while others just fall flat and the film is far more successful at being funny-peculiar than funny-ha-ha. But it is a visual delight and fascinating to watch, and is a strong debut for King, which augurs well for the Mighty Boosh movie that is rumoured to be in development.

Paul Huckerby

The Sorrow and the Pity

The Sorrow and the Pity

Format: DVD

Date: 24 August 2009

Distributor: Arrow Films

Director: Marcel Ophí¼ls

Original title: Le Chagrin et la pitié

Featuring: Marcel Ophí¼ls, Pierre Mendí¨s-France, Christian de la Mazií¨re, Helmuth Tausend, Georges Bidault, Emile Coulaudon

France 1969

249 mins

This famous French documentary, which looks at the town of Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne region during the German occupation in the Second World War, was made in 1969 but was withdrawn from distribution and not generally seen till 1981.

Why was the film so controversial in France? It has the reputation of having exposed the extent of wartime collaboration. But I don’t believe that it revealed much that wasn’t known already. A simple answer to the question is that it showed participants in the events of 1940 to 1944 discussing things that most of the people who had experienced them preferred not to discuss. And there was a new generation ready to hear what their parents might not have told them.

Particularly inflammatory, I would guess, were two allegations that the film makes impossible to ignore. The first of those, insinuated with bitter humour by ex-members of the Resistance, but made more mildly and explicitly by British agents, is that in France the workers were inclined to resist while the bourgeoisie preferred to keep out of trouble. As for the aristocracy, representatives are on hand to testify to their predilection for active participation in the fascist project, even to the extent of fighting in a German uniform on the Eastern front.

The other allegation that haunts this film is that there was a higher level of collaboration in France than in other conquered countries. This accusation is hard to substantiate, but it leaves a taint.

We should not be too quick to indulge in the satisfaction of sitting in judgement, particularly when it comes to sins of omission or accommodation in war. It is easier for many of us to sympathise with the Frenchwomen who consorted with Germans than with those who humiliated them afterwards. As this film makes clear, the urge to respond to some of the German occupiers as fellow human beings could be strong. Not the Gestapo: the interviewees consistently distinguish between them and the ordinary soldiers of the Wehrmacht. An old boy called up late on to fill the depleted ranks of the latter is remembered kindly by a Resistance member to whom he slipped an apple on a forced march.

For some private citizens there may be extenuation and condonement, but for the French establishment, the governing classes, there is no escaping condemnation. Pétain, the hero of Verdun, was still admired by many interviewed in the film; but he was justly convicted of treason in 1945. As head of state, he did an enormous service of legitimisation to Nazi Germany by urging French citizens to collaborate. For Hitler he was surely a useful idiot, to borrow Lenin’s cynical phrase. Laval, head of government from 1942 to 1944, fares worse: the interviewer breaks into the disingenuous protestations of Laval’s son-in-law to give the statistics that reveal the consequences of the deals struck by his father-in-law with the Germans. But this is a rare case where we are given the quantitative information necessary to make substantial historical judgement. For the most part, what the film offers instead is insight into diverse personal experiences of the Occupation.

The British participants provide many of the most illuminating moments. Anthony Eden recognises with some emotion the human cost of the destruction - essential to the Allied cause - of the French navy at Mers-el-Kébir. A pilot who crashed in the Auvergne recalls the perilous generosity of the farmer who took him in. A homosexual entertainer turned spy speaks tenderly of his German officer lover. The courage of this spy is praised by his bowler-hatted controller, striding through Westminster; but the spy himself merely notes that he was willing to take on this dangerous role because he had nothing to lose - and he suggests that this is the key to understanding the differing responses of the French social classes to occupation.

Aesthetically, the film has little merit. Perhaps that is a frivolous thought. But when we switch from the ill-framed headshots, loose structure, and explanatory gaps of the documentary to the confident images and vigorous conviction of the wartime propaganda films, we are reminded that aesthetics matters. The film does, however, exert a cumulative power, as apparently banal reminiscences gradually give place to admissions of shocking candour, and to denunciations whose rancour was still undimmed 25 years after the war.

Peter Momtchiloff



Format: DVD

Date: 12 October 2009

Distributor: Momentum Pictures

Directors: Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury

Writer: Alexandre Bustillo

Original title: A l’intérieur

Cast: Alysson Paradis, Béatrice Dalle

France 2007

79 mins

In January 2006, in the wake of the ‘Pyres of Autumn’ that lit up the Parisian suburbs, Jean Baudrillard spoke of ‘a kind of eternal flame, like that under the Arc de Triomphe, burning in honour of the Unknown Immigrant’. Baudrillard saw the dispossessed arsonists of les banlieues as ‘savage analysts’ of the disintegration of Western society. ‘Today it is precisely “the best” it has to offer - cars, schools, shopping centres - that are torched and ransacked. Even nursery schools: the very tools through which the car-burners were to be integrated and mothered. “Screw your mother” might be their organising slogan. And the more there are attempts to “mother” them, the more they will.’

The debut feature of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, Inside (2007), a story that involves a tremendous amount of apparently meaningless and at times extremely gruesome violence towards a heavily pregnant mother-to-be, might seem at first glance to be little more than another regrettable symptom of just that disintegration. All this mindless sadism, we might say to ourselves, shaking our heads ruefully, a sad indictment of the decline of traditional Western values. But what this initial conservative reading misses is the degree to which this film offers just such a savage analysis of the malaise of which it is a symptom, both exploiting and dissecting the bourgeois fear of a threat no longer external. ‘This year,’ the movie tagline goes, ‘the terror is Inside‘.

The film opens with an almost pathetically ridiculous CGI foetus, resembling somewhat those brief glimpses of humans in Pixar animations. A voice-over soothingly says, ‘My baby, finally inside me. No one will take him from me’ before a violent crash jolts us out into live action. A car accident filmed with such high gloss as to resemble a car advert, albeit a car advert imagined by Paul Virilio. Almost the very first ‘filmed’ (as opposed to animated) shot in the film then, is of a burning car. A title card then sends us ‘four months later’; Sarah (Alysson Paradis), still scarred from the accident that killed her husband, is due to give birth the following day. While spending her last childless night at home, she is harassed, at first by nightmares of a violent birth, and then by a mysterious, nameless Woman (Béatrice Dalle) intent on murdering her.

Inside was released a year after Baudrillard’s article, and the conflagrations of 2005 form the backdrop to the film’s slender narrative. Mentioned a number of times near the beginning of the film, they are dismissed by Sarah, who makes money as a photographer taking pictures of such events, as ‘just kids having a blast, ’cause they’re bored’. The figure of the immigrant, as it were, returns at the very end of the film, in the form of Abdel (Aymen Saí¯di), a prisoner held by the police who turn up in the film’s third act. The choice of Sarah’s profession questions the ethical position of the artist who profits from the appropriation and exploitation of the image of the other. The close proximity of photographer to filmmaker likewise suggests a certain auto-critique of the film as exploitation cinema. Though the suburban outsider is never presented directly as a threat in the film, it is as though he is repressed, and forced to reappear in another form both more violent and dehumanised.

The thread that joins the banlieue fires to the Woman is lack. What does the Woman say? ‘I want your baby.’ She wants Sarah’s baby, because she herself has none, because, as she sees it, Sarah ‘stole’ it from her, just as she also ‘stole’ the symbolic identity of the suburban immigrants in her photographs (in fact, the very first thing Sarah tries to do to the Woman is photograph her, only to find that she cannot - as though, like a vampire, the Woman lacked the solidity necessary for her image to materialise on film). It is as lack that the grievances of both the socially and politically excluded residents of the banlieues and the Woman are expressed - a lack that is represented not by less but rather more, marked by a terrifying excess, most frequently expressed in the film as an overload of gore í  la Herschell Gordon Lewis. In her impassive insistence, her nameless anonymity and her seemingly unstoppably destructive drive and apparent (near-)invincibility, the Woman resembles a god. She stands metaphorically for the divine violence of the people, the brutal return of the politically repressed like a swarm come from heaven.

The terrifying encounter with the suburban other lies behind the violent imagery of the film, and in that respect it is comparable to the French films of Michael Haneke, particularly Code Unknown (2000) and Hidden (2005). But where Haneke proposes an almost dry, patient cinematic analysis, Inside uses the generic codes of the horror genre, forgoing the analytic position to become both symptom and diagnosis. Body horror becomes the horror of the social body, spilling speechlessly over the boundaries of sense, like a scream without a tongue. When terror comes from inside, no fortification is possible. Such is the axiom of a cinematic mode that consists, as Baudrillard says of the Parisian arson attacks, in ‘successive phases of a revolt whose end is not in sight’.

Robert Barry

All Tomorrow’s Parties

Nick Cave by Shannon McClean

Pic credit: Nick Cave photographed by Shannon McClean

Format: DVD

Date: 9 November 2009

Distributor: Warp Films

Director: Jonathan Caouette and All Tomorrow’s People

Featuring: Belle and Sebastian, Sonic Youth, Grinderman, Animal Collective

UK 2009

82 mins

Close your eyes if you will and imagine the perfect music festival. There would be great bands of course, with the event curated by one of your favourite artists. There will be some bands you love, but have never had the chance to see, and some you’ve never heard of, but you just know are going to be amazing. There would be no camping or grappling with tents in the rain, you’d even get your own little flat with a bathroom. The gigs would be indoors with a decent sound system. There would be no elitist VIP section, bands and punters would intermix with no sense of us and them. There would be a beach when it’s sunny and shelter when it rains. And no portaloos!

Such a festival does exist and its name is All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP). It is the brainchild of Barry Hogan, who got the idea after he promoted Belle and Sebastian’s Bowlie Weekender in 1999. And now a film has been made about it. Brought together by Jonathan Caouette (Tarnation) and music video director Vincent Moon, it captures the essence of the UK ATPs, which are held several times a year at the quintessentially British institution of ‘the holiday camp’ by the seaside, made more ironic by the fact that most of the bands playing are from the States. They probably find the whole thing even more bizarre than the Brits whose only experience of a holiday camp is from watching Hi-de-Hi!

Comprised of footage from the festival contributed by filmmakers, fans and bands using Super8, camcorder, mobile phone and still imagery, the film is a mish-mash of live footage, interviews and people just enjoying the festival. It reflects ATP’s musical aesthetic; wild and edgy, obscure and funny, capturing the rawness and the post-punk attitude of the event. Having been to many of these events myself, I felt a gurgle of joy bubbling up inside me as each frame flashed a memory, an anecdote, good times and ‘I was bloody there!’ outbursts.

The film opens with fan footage of the check-in queues on the first day of the event, interspersed with 60s footage of traditional holiday camps. It is quite surreal to be watching old-fashioned Red Coats and knobbly knees contests backed with music from obtuse noisnicks Battles, who are the first band that we see.

For fans and previous attendees of ATP, there are several fun games you can play while watching the All Tomorrow’s Parties film. The first one is to ‘guess the band’: some of the live footage is accompanied by the band name and the year that they played, but more often than not the artists are unlabeled, so knowing which is which is a real nerd’s pleasure. There’s also the ‘spot the friend’ game. I think I counted at least 10 people I know who were either interviewed or appeared in some background scene.

Or how about the brilliant ‘remember when…’ game? Do you remember the crazy Chinese guy running around in the cape? Or when Lightning Bolt played outside their chalet and people from the neighbouring houses complained? Or when David Cross (pre-Arrested Development) went down like a lead balloon during his stand-up routine? Or when Stuart Murdoch from Belle and Sebastian played five-a-side football with the regular folk?

It’s also great seeing bands like The Gossip playing the small stage at Camber Sands before they burst into the mainstream and onto naked magazine covers. I remember bumping into Beth Ditto in the loos before she went on and she had a huge chunk of toilet paper stuck to her shoe. I gave her a sideways look in the mirror and said ‘you may want to sort that out before you go on stage!’ She laughed and thanked me for pointing it out. I felt like I really contributed to the success of that particular show!

There is also some enjoyable interview footage with some of the curators (Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth and Warren Ellis from The Dirty Three) as well as the organiser of the festival, Barry Hogan. There’s a great scene when he’s watching a news report about ATP on TV in his chalet and is cringing at his own interview.

This film probably won’t be of interest to those who aren’t into the bands or haven’t been to an All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival, but for those who have, it is a reminder of how utterly unique and special this event is.

Lucy Hurst

Film writing competition: Rollerball


Electric Sheep Film Club

Venue: Prince Charles Cinema, London

Every first Wednesday of the month

In connection with the Electric Sheep Film Club at the Prince Charles Cinema every first Wednesday of the month, we run a film writing competition: film students and aspiring film writers are invited to write a 200-word review of the film on show that month. The best review is picked by a film professional, and Louis Savy of Sci-Fi London was the judge of our October competition for Norman Jewison’s Rollerball (1975). The prize for the best review is publication on the Electric Sheep website. We are pleased to announce that the winner of the October competition is Sophie Brown. Louis Savy said: ‘It was a tough decision with so many varying approaches to the
review – but Sophie’s stood out. Well done.’ Here is her review:

‘Does he dream?’ enquires celebrated player of the Houston Rollerball team Jonathan E of his unconscious teammate, left brain-damaged from a game. Norman Jewison’s Rollerball imagines a numbed dystopia, where all decisions are made by higher authorities. The ferocity of Rollerball is cocooned in hypnotic reverie, in a future where this game has replaced wars and corporate aggression. The camera floats, a disembodied consciousness that at times anchors itself to Jonathan’s perception, cynically and resiliently played by James Caan. He faces The Corporation’s menacing scrutiny for undermining the message of rollerball – the futility of individual effort – but stoically refuses to surrender his identity to their faceless destructiveness. Obscure forces of control lurk behind the cool darkness of the corporate spectators. Purring with smooth reassurance and assertive calm is corporate head Mr Bartholomew, evoking the dubious forces of power in early 1970s America. The steel ball thunders around the edge of the arena like a game of roulette in Jewison’s powerful vision of expedient brutality; teams engage in cyclical combat, bloodied men drop, registered by a flickering red light on the scoreboard, while the foreboding imagery of skeletally looming, senselessly scorched trees echoes the bleak dangers of a passive existence.

Sophie Brown

Next screening: Repulsion, Wednesday 4 November. For details on how to enter the competition, visit our Film Club page.

Love Exposure

Love Exposure

Format: Cinema

Date: 30 October 2009

Venue: ICA Cinema, London

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono

Original title: Ai no mukidashi

Cast: Takahiro Nishijima, Hikari Mitsushima

Japan 2008

237 mins

‘Love, the greatest thing of them all. If I speak in the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal’. We’re three quarters of the way through Sion Sono’s Love Exposure, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is soaring and the beautiful Yoko is reciting Corinthians 13 to her star-crossed lover, tears rolling down her young cheeks. This beautiful moment of epiphany might not be what you’d expect from Sono - after all, his biggest commercial hit to date opened with the gory mass suicide of 54 teenage schoolgirls - but it is just one of many spiritual milestones in an incredible odyssey of self-realisations. Madcap scenes of sex and violence still drive the action but there is an underlying simplicity in the film’s message. For all its blood-spattered school uniforms and endless crotch shots, the film is, at heart, an elevating hymn to the redemptive power of love.

But as the old adage goes, the course of true love never did run smooth. Especially when you throw mistaken identities and a huge dose of religious guilt into the mix. In fact, this particular bumpy ride lasts a full four hours. Perfectly careering from cartoony farce to serious drama, Love Exposure traces the relationship between Yu, ‘a high school voyeuristic photo maniac’, and Yoko, a man-hating whirlwind of teenage angst. The couple first meet when Yu, a champion in the art of tosatsu (the pastime of surreptitiously photographing up girls’ skirts), is performing a forfeit by dressing up as a woman and Yoko is single-handedly beating up a pack of male thugs. This love story, tortuous enough from the outset, is further complicated by the forbidden romantic relationship between Yu’s father, a Roman Catholic priest, and Yoko’s stepmother, a hysterical mini-skirted banshee. An added spanner in the works comes in the form of Koike, a teenage recruiter for the sinister Christian cult, the Zero Church. Shots of crucifixes, erections and knife-toting school girls quickly ensue. When the opening credits tell us the film is ‘based on a true account’, we can only assume Sono is joking.

And yet, while Love Exposure creates a magnificently alien universe, there is a truth in the characters and their relationships that keeps us gripped despite the film’s marathon length. Yu’s story of self-discovery - from his childish desire to rebel against his father, his initially sexless curiosity about sin, his adolescent lust and his final mature understanding of love - has a universal quality to it. Indeed, as all the characters undergo their own personal transformations, the film takes on an epic, biblical quality. With both Catholicism and the Zero Church attempting to assert oppressive moral standards, the film raises interesting questions about faith, honesty and definitions of normality and perversity. A little like John Waters in his strange combination of grotesque obscenity and wholesome innocence, Sono creates an idealistic world where love sees past the superficial: perversions are accepted and celebrated. As Yu says to Yoko, ‘You’re definitely a misfit and I can live with that’. Given the shock factor of some of the images, it is to be hoped that audiences can too.

Eleanor McKeown

Love Exposure is availabe on DVD in the UK from Third Window from January 25.

Buy Love Exposure (2 discs) [DVD] [2007] from Amazon



Format: Cinema

Release date: 16 October 2009

Venues:Curzon Soho, Gate, Ritzy, Screen on the Green (London) and selected key cities

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Park Chan-wook

Writers: Chung Seo-kyung, Park Chan-wook

Original title: Bakjwi

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Kim Ok-vin, Shin Ha-kyun

South Korea 2009

133 mins

It may be unfair to continually expect Park Chan-wook to deliver a new movie as thrilling as his critically acclaimed 2004 film Oldboy. But although Thirst, joint winner of the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, lacks its predecessor’s shocking originality, Park’s formidable talents still result in a flawed but entertainingly perverse love story, one that’s also a thriller, a horror film and a black comedy.

Song Kang-ho, star of the hugely successful film The Host, plays Sang-hyun, a priest who is utterly devoted to his flock, so much so that he volunteers for a medical experiment to find a cure for a mysterious but lethal virus. When the trial fails, his life is saved by a blood transfusion that not only miraculously brings him back to life, but also turns him into a vampire - a discovery he makes only gradually, when his skin starts to sizzle in direct sunlight, and ugly, seething boils appear all over his body unless he slakes his thirst for blood. But still the compassionate priest, he is unwilling to let himself be consumed by this new bloodlust and has to find ways of satisfying his needs without harming people.

Things change when, in a plot twist inspired by Emile Zola’s Thérí¨se Raquin, he meets an old friend in hospital, who is now a pathetic, sniffling hypochondriac married to Tae-ju (played by the model-turned-actress Kim Ok-vin). She’s a young, beautiful woman who was taken in by his mother (an imposing, mah jong-playing matriarch) after the death of her parents, and later forced into the unhappy marriage. But Tae-ju’s air of vulnerability - she begs the priest for help in escaping her miserable life - masks a manipulative and strong-minded streak that’s only exposed after she and Sang-hyun become lovers.

The moral dilemmas involving carnal lust and chastity, religious guilt and Sang-hyun’s need for survival are undoubtedly intriguing (and are similar to the themes that course through much of Park’s work), and yet, the heady mix of blood and guts, sex, murder, the supernatural and the Catholic church never quite works as a coherent whole. The film undeniably has some brilliant, darkly comic moments, but it often feels like Park has tried to cram too much into Thirst, without ever really adding anything new to the vampire genre. His continuing collaboration with the cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon means that the film looks terrific, but elements of the plot are clumsily handled while the pacing is often erratic over the 133-minute running time (several scenes, including much of the opening, could have been left on the cutting room floor). In some ways, Park Chan-wook seems to have overindulged his fantastic imagination and creative ambition at the expense of tightness and cohesion. But if the result is slightly disappointing, it’s only because Park has already set the bar extraordinarily high.

Sarah Cronin


Le Donk

Format: Cinema

Release date: 9 October 2009

Venues: Curzon Soho, Gate, Ritzy, Screen Islington (London) and key cities

Distributor: Warp/Verve Pictures

Director: Shane Meadows

Cast: Paddy Considine, Dean Palinczuk, Shane Meadows, Olivia Colman

UK 2009

71 mins

As has been much publicised, Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee - the eighth film by Shane Meadows in 13 years - was made over five days (four consecutive days and one a few months later) and on a budget that seems preposterously low, even for a Meadows film. Shot on two DV cameras, behind one of which we frequently find Shane Meadows (playing himself), on real sets including a Travelodge hotel, backstage at an Arctic Monkeys show and what looks like the same row of Victorian terraced houses used in Meadows’s debut Smalltime (1996), the film makes no attempt to disguise its quickie-cheapness - in fact, it is almost worn as a badge of honour. The cast even wear the same clothes for the first three days - although this is perhaps to make continuity easier, or just to illustrate the poor personal hygiene of roadies.

The film has a simple premise: a Spinal Tap-like pseudo-documentary, it follows Le Donk, roadie to the stars (Paddy Considine), and his lodger-cum-protégé, rotund white Nottingham rapper Scor-Zay-Zee (Dean Palinczuk), as they blag their way onto an Arctic Monkeys bill at Manchester’s Old Trafford cricket ground. The dialogue is improvised around semi-scripted ideas as in HBO’s Curb your Enthusiasm and at times it’s almost as funny in that same cringing way.

Paddy Considine creates in Le Donk a character that is at times charming, cocky, confident and fun-loving, but often boorish, selfish or just plain ‘mardy’ - that particularly childish kind of sulkiness made famous (to certain parts of the country at least) by an Arctic Monkeys song. He moans, fumes and grumbles during an awkward drive from Nottingham to Manchester after being told the budget won’t cover three nights in the hotel. He is a Saxondale for the next generation (roadying for 90s indie-rockers Guided by Voices rather than Deep Purple) but equally out of time in 2009 (and out of place when not on the road). His old-fashioned idea of cool (fake American accent) seems at odds with Arctic Monkeys’ strong provincial identity (although they are starting to look and sound more like Led Zep as I write). But Considine somehow makes him a sympathetic character. Shane Meadows, as one of the two cameramen, can be seen and heard from behind the camera (failing to be a fly on the wall), offering much appreciated relationship advice when he isn’t laughing at or arguing with him.

Considine is of course a brilliant actor (he was easily the best thing about this year’s otherwise rather disappointing Red Riding Trilogy) and the film rises above the slightness of the plot thanks to the depth of his performance alone. But real-life rapper Scor-Zay-Zee proves himself worthy of his equal billing. Gormlessly wandering around, looking for somewhere to plug in his keyboard, or pulling ridiculous rapper poses for a photographer, he somehow pulls it off at the performance in front of the real (unknowing) Arctic Monkeys audience and shows himself to be a genuinely original and talented artist.

Le Donk & Scor-Zay-Zee was made as the first of a series of five-day features to be financed by Warp Films. Whatever the result of this initiative, Meadows’s film shows what is possible. Its simplicity, cheapness and speed of execution are its virtues, but it also succeeds as a touching portrait of ambitions and dreams and their relationship to reality.

Paul Huckerby


Katalin Varga

Format: Cinema

Release date: 9 October 2009

Venues: Barbican, Chelsea Cinema, Curzons Richmond and Soho (London) and key cities

Distributor: Artifical Eye

Director: Peter Strickland

Writer: Peter Strickland

Cast: Hilda Péter, Tibor Pí¡lffy, Norbert Tankí³, Fatma Mohamed

Romania/UK/Hungary 2009

82 mins

Just as the hype about the ‘New Wave’ in post-communist Romanian cinema seems to have settled down, October sees the theatrical release of two new films set in that country, although they have nothing else in common. Directed by a group of young Romanian directors and devised by Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), Tales from the Golden Age explores five urban legends from the nation’s troubled past. In contrast, Katalin Varga, directed by British writer-director Peter Strickland, offers a dark fable unfolding in the rural wilds of the Romanian hinterland with an unexcited, outdated look, and little interest in the cutting social criticism that has become the trademark of Eastern European filmmaking in the last few years. The film chronicles the journey of a young peasant’s wife who has to face her demons in the Transylvanian forest and is led to seek vengeance on the two men who violated her a decade earlier. Although the rape-revenge story may not sound original on paper, Katalin Varga is a daring, stylistically confident British feature debut that in its thirst for cinematic exploration and adventure recalls Asif Kapadia’s stunning The Warrior (2001), with which it also shares a spellbinding location and a bold belief in the compelling power of visual storytelling.

But why would a young filmmaker with no money and no knowledge of the foreign language want to make a film in Transylvania? ‘This was simply the place I chose to shoot in because it seemed to offer the right atmosphere for my story,’ says Strickland. ‘In a way, I thought I could be truer to myself with a film that is set in the mountains rather than in Reading, where I come from’. Yet, slim and elliptical as the narrative is, it feels at times as if the story is there to help explore the setting, rather than the other way round. This is especially true in the first part, when Katalin (impressively played by Hilda Péter), banished by her husband (and the entire village) after the discovery that he is not actually the father of their 11-year-old son Orbí¡n, sets out on a mission to hunt down her tormentors. Mother and son ride a horse-cart up into the Carpathians, sleeping in people’s barns, until they reach their destination. As Katalin finds and confronts Antal, the man who assaulted her, Strickland offers no simple tale of retribution, but explores a painfully complex emotional situation in a riveting manner.

Given the film’s precise aesthetic and increasingly chilling, expressionistic feel, it comes as little surprise to learn that Peter Strickland’s key points of reference for Katalin Varga were Werner Herzog and the great Russian film poets Tarkovsky and Paradjanov. A good part of the film alternates between sun-drenched expanses of the Carpathian fields and mountains, looming forests and murky nocturnal rural interiors. All are equally unsettling once Strickland abandons conventional art-house meandering camera pans and cryptic myth-making to opt instead for an increasingly rough photography with abrupt scene changes and searching close-ups. Infusing his elegantly wrought images with a throbbing, electronic-choral score that is very much at odds with the naturalistic setting, Strickland is clearly more concerned with the human dimension of the morally intricate scenario, revealing the astonishingly beautiful landscape as a place where a brutal sort of justice will eventually prevail.

Showing an obvious talent for creating a misty atmosphere of dread, Strickland keeps the time setting eerily vague. The horse-cart suggests a bygone era until Katalin picks up her mobile phone for the first time to talk to her husband, and it is to Strickland’s credit that he makes use of a number of different tactics to subvert our expectations. ‘It makes people angry when they see Antal,’ he says, ‘because they expect him to be this evil monster. And Katalin does too. But evil people are not evil every single working hour, and by not showing the crime he committed against her I’m furthering our confusion, so the audience is almost like a jury in this sense’.

Some may feel that Strickland veers a little too much into metaphysical territory at the expense of keeping the tension up. Others may dislike his partiality to painterly compositions and Tarkovskian cinematic poetry. Despite such arguable flaws, Katalin Varga often hits a note of genuine otherworldliness, and the power of this slow-burning, nightmarish tale is utterly compelling, contrasting with Strickland’s modest expectations when he was making the film: ‘I really thought we would fail,’ he admits. ‘But I also thought, if I screw up I might as well fail in style. On a very personal level, this film was an adventure, and we reconciled ourselves to the fact that we had the memories of making it - because filmmaking is so difficult when you are outside the system that you have to at least try to have a good time with it.’

Pamela Jahn