Tag Archives: road movie

No Man’s Land

No Mans Land
No Man’s Land

Director: Ning Hao

Writers: Ning Hao, Shu Ping, Xing Aina

Cast: Xu Zheng, Yu Nan, Huang Bo, Duo Bujie

Original title: Wu ren qu

China 2013

117 mins

One of the most thoroughly enjoyable films in the Berlinale 2014 Competition line-up, No Man’s Land was originally shot in 2009, but then held by censorship authorities and rescheduled several times over the past few years because of its allegedly negative portrayal of the police. After at least three official resubmissions and endless editing and re-cutting, the currently circulating version of the film finally got a general release in China in 2013. Except for its newly attached, and effectively arbitrary ending, it comes as a welcome surprise that Ning Hao’s wildly cynical (and frequently bonkers) fable remains tightly paced and eminently fun to watch.

A nihilistic neo-Western road movie comedy thriller, No Man’s Land concerns the relationship between man’s animal instincts and social responsibility, with greed being the driving force in a spectacular cat and mouse game set on a lonely stretch of the Gobi Desert highway. The action-packed, if inherently simplistic, plot spins around attorney Pan Xiao, a swanky city slicker who drives to the remote desert region of Xinjiang to defend Lao Da, a falcon poacher accused (and, in fact, guilty) of murder. An expert in his profession, Pan manages to get him off the hook, but when the two men sit down to settle business, disagreements about Pan’s fees lead the greedy lawyer to take over the reins and drive off in his client’s brand new red mustang. And while things may have been slightly ‘off’ from the outset, they inevitably turn sour from here.

As he rushes back to town for his very own book launch party, Pan gets caught in an escalating cycle of ugly misunderstandings that, eventually, prevent him from meeting his self-aggrandising commitments. And it’s not to say he isn’t trying. It’s just that every one of his more or less ingenious attempts to save his skin is answered with more car crashes, gunfire, high kicks and heavy punches.

With its engine deliberately set to run idle, the film adopts a blatant gonzo style and mocking tone that aptly serve its underlying philosophical parable about a society which has gone completely off the rails, while pitch-black wit and occasional daredevil stunts ensure that one does not lose interest for too long. Visually compelling and suitably fitted with a boisterous Morricone-inspired score, No Man’s Land is, quite literally, a blast.

Pamela Jahn

This review is part of our LFF 2014 coverage.

The Rover

The Rover
The Rover

Format: Cinema

Release date: 15 August 2014

Distributor: Entertainment One

Director: David Michôd

Writers: David Michôd, Joel Edgerton

Cast: Guy Pearce, Robert Pattinson

Australia 2014

102 mins

In 2010, when David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom hit big screens around the world to overwhelming critical acclaim, it almost felt like a revelation for contemporary Australian cinema. Smart, gritty, intensely unsettling and radiating a seething energy derived from an excellent ensemble of low-key performances, Animal Kingdom proved once more that with a fresh, imaginative approach there is no need for a spectacular budget.

The Rover is available in the UK on VOD from 15 December 2014 and on DVD/Blu-ray from 5 January 2015.

Michôd’s eagerly awaited follow-up The Rover might lack some of the density and acuity of his coolly detached debut, but the film still manages to maintain a fierce tension despite the flaws in its fractured plot and characterisation. Starring a cold-eyed Guy Pearce and a deeply committed Robert Pattinson (trying hard but unavailingly to shake off his fetching Twilight persona) The Rover is a post-apocalyptic tale set amid the raw violence of a society in decline where the demise of all codes of honour is wryly acknowledged.

Ten years after an unspecified ‘collapse’, the blasted world in which angry loner Eric (Pearce) survives is one where greed reigns supreme, bullets are cheap and life is cheaper. Somewhere in that God-forsaken outback Eric has his car stolen by three passing outlaws. As he goes after them to reclaim his very last possession, he bumps into simple-minded desperado Rey (Pattinson), the wounded little brother of one of the carjackers, who has been left behind after an unexplained shootout, but still has enough life in him to help Eric.

It may have been better to not explain the reason why Eric stops at nothing to get his car back, rather than revealing it abruptly at the end, but more disappointing is the gradually fading force of Michôd’s storytelling after a gripping first half. While he succeeds in echoing the spirit of some of the darker, dustier takes on the genre by making excellent use of the harsh landscape, he fails to craft a seamless narrative of similar verve and refinement as Animal Kingdom. But still, what ultimately drives The Rover is a combination of danger and uncertainty, and Pearce’s captivating performance as he is perpetually faced with the realisation that things can always get worse.

Pamela Jahn

This review is part of our Cannes 2014 coverage.

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Format: Cinema

Release date: 26 April 2013

Distributor: Park Circus

Director: Jerry Schatzberg

Writer: Garry Michael White

Cast: Al Pacino, Gene Hackman

USA 1973

112 mins

The road movie genre and the vast geographical and often turbulent social landscape of the United States of America have, over the years, proved endlessly fertile territory for filmmakers, writers and actors alike. Counter-culture dropouts, anti-heroes (and heroines), warring families, dispossessed loners and happy-go-lucky friends have travelled the length and breadth of the US on journeys always as emotionally affecting as they are literal, whatever the destinations or eventual narrative resolutions. The late 1960s and early 1970s in particular saw a spate of such movies, an entirely understandable outcome given the radical social upheavals of the era, with the likes of Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969), Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) and Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson,1970) rubbing contemporaneous shoulders with Steven Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express (1974), Vanishing Point (Richard Sarafian, 1971) and Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (1973).

Amid these releases, Jerry Schatzberg, fresh from directing a young Al Pacino as Bobby in The Panic in Needle Park (1971), gave audiences his own take on the genre in the shape of the Palme d’Or winning Scarecrow. Again featuring Pacino, this time as Francis Lionel ‘Lion’ Delbuchi, a good natured but emotionally immature ex-sailor, alongside Gene Hackman as volatile ex-convict Max Millan, Scarecrow ‘s narrative journey follows the path of those on the margins of society. Working-class drifters rather than counter-culture rebels, Lion and Max, one a bundle of naïvety, energy and humour, the other ill-tempered, uptight and world weary, are both searching for something, anything, to give their lives direction. Hoboing their way from California to Pittsburgh, where Max dreams of opening a car wash, the apposite personalities (exemplified by Pacino and Hackman’s contrasting acting styles) come to have a profound effect on each other during their sometimes comedic, other times brutal, experiences. Lion and Max’s adult coming-of-age journeys become inextricably linked as their buddy-movie partnership is tested both by outside forces and their own, very recognizable, human foibles.

Dust bowl landscapes, railroad sidings, flea-pit bars, roadside diners, correctional facilities and industrial wastelands on the outskirts of cities are the environments inhabited by Lion and Max, aptly mirroring their outsider status. The spaces and places traversed and visited are peopled by non-professional extras and stunningly captured in widescreen by Vilmos Zsigmond, who would later shoot Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977), The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978) and Blow Out (Brian De Palma, 1981) among many others. Issues surrounding the American Dream, adult responsibilities, social status and masculinity are filtered through Lion and Max’s changing relationship, with Garry Michael White’s impressive debut screenplay giving Pacino and Hackman plenty of scope for impassioned monologues and quick-fire, semi-improvised dialogue interplay. Schatzberg directs in a loose-limbed fashion that fits the unsettled, scatter-shot lifestyles of his central protagonists. Short snappy vignettes flow into longer, sprawling sequences with overt comedy interrupted by outbursts of violence, reflective melancholy, casual cruelty and genuine tenderness.

Now forty years after its original release, Schatzberg’s sprawling drama has been fully digitally restored and plays for two weeks at the BFI during April and May. With its two peerless leads delivering riveting performances, this snapshot of the landscape of early 1970s America – external and internal – is a fine entry into the road movie canon.

Neil Mitchell

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Thursday till Sunday

Thursday till Sunday
Thursday till Sunday

Format: Cinema

Release date: 5 April 2013

Distributor: day for night

Director: Dominga Sotomayer

Writer: Dominga Sotomayer

Cast: Santi Ahumada, Francisco Pérez-Bannen, Emiliano Freifeld, Paola Giannini

Original title: De jueves a domingo

Chile 2012

96 mins

Two children are woken in the middle of the night by their parents, who carry them, still half-asleep, to their family’s battered station wagon. They have been promised a trip to the beach; their young, charismatic father (Francisco Pérez-Bannen) is looking for a piece of land in northern Chile that he has inherited. But the father’s quest is perhaps more child-like than that of his children, confused as it seems with a naive hope for a fresh start. Their mother’s motives and expectations for going on the trip are less easy to decipher. Unfolding through the time that they spend together in the car and on the road, the Chilean director Dominga Sotomayor’s debut film, Thursday till Sunday, becomes a portrait of a marriage and family falling apart, seen through the eyes of ten-year-old Lucía (beautifully played by Santi Ahumada). Lucia captures that transition from childhood to adolescence, and the loss of innocence, as she gradually becomes aware that something is terribly wrong between her parents.

On the road, claustrophobic camerawork from inside the car is contrasted with the wide-open, arid and alien landscapes outside, emphasised by the luminescent, almost washed-out quality of Bárbara &#193lvarez’s cinematography. The vast distances the family travels are echoed in the gulf between the married couple, and it’s only as the film unravels that we slowly begin to pierce through the underlying tension. Like Lucía, we’re only offered glimpses of her parents, and hints and clues in the grown-up conversations that she struggles to understand. When the mother, Ana (Paola Giannini), encounters an old friend, a single father, at a camp site, it’s unclear if the meeting is spontaneous or contrived. The night-time scenes take place in virtual darkness, plunging the viewer straight into Lucía’s uncertainty and unease. When she hears voices in the shadows, the audience is as in the dark as she is. It’s sometimes maddening, but always effective. Finally, Sunday arrives, and with it, the disappointing realities of adulthood.

With Thursday till Sunday Sotomayor has crafted a compelling mix of road movie and coming-of-age story, using subtle tricks to involve the audience in the complexities and ambiguities of both marriage and childhood. Helped by some excellent performances, it is another striking film to emerge from South America.

Sarah Cronin