Format: Cinema Director: Ryan Prows Writers: Ryan Prows, Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Shaye Ogbonna, Maxwell Michael Towson Cast: Nicki Micheaux, Ricardo Adam Zarate, Jon Oswald, Mark Burnham, Santana Dempsey
A highlight at this year’s Fantasia Festival, this fun, warm and brutal chronicle of LA’s underbelly comes to Horror Channel FrightFest on 28 August 2017.
The 2017 edition of the Fantasia Festival was rich in beautifully crafted, unusual gems, and Lowlife ranked high among them, deservedly drawing a warmly enthusiastic response from the Montreal crowd. Category-defying, genre-mixing and cliché-blasting, its intricate narrative follows the interconnected stories of a luchador, a pregnant drug addict, a motel owner with a past, an ex-con with an unfortunate facial tattoo, and a chicken shack organ-trafficker in the midst of LA. Fresh, funny, violent, sordid, unsentimental and heart-breaking, it tells about the brutality of life on the margins and redefines heroism with a light touch and a lot of soul.
Writers: Sebastian Schipper, Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Eike Frederik Schulz
Cast: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski, Burak Yigit, Max Mauff, André Hennicke
German director Sebastian Schipper reveals the secrets behind his one-take tour de force, from his football coach approach to directing to his fascination with bank robberies.
Only ever so often comes a film that gets under your skin, not only because of the story, the brilliant performances or pumping soundtrack, but because it is fresh, radical, vigorous and raw and, most importantly, highly entertaining. Victoria is all of that and more, as the film follows its eponymous heroine (played by newcomer actress Laia Costa) in one continuous 140-minute shot from her first encounter with a gang of four persuasive thugs led by the charming Sonne (Frederick Lau) on a mild summer night in Berlin to an ill-fated bank robbery and the nerve-racking police hunt that follows it – all in all zipping through 20 odd locations in the early hours before the city awakens. No doubt that a venture like this required not only months of meticulous planning and an excellent crew, but also one big leap of faith. After two disastrous attempts Schipper managed to pull it off, making Victoria not only the runaway favourite at last year’s Berlinale but the most exciting film to come out of Germany in a very long time.
Pamela Jahn talked to the actor-turned-director about his football coach approach to directing and his fascination with bank robberies to get behind the secret of his one-take tour de force.
Pamela Jahn: What came first, the concept of shooting the film in one take or the story that you wanted to tell?
Sebastian Schipper: To be honest with you, I cannot separate them. What I actually had in mind was to make a film about a bank robbery that grabs you like one. It was, first of all, an emotional concept in terms of how to make it feel real, how to share the experience. And why is it, that if you make a film about a bank robbery, it always has to be the biggest bank robbery in the world? Presumably, that’s because it means you create the greatest possible experience for the audience, but I think that sort of approach sometimes kills the opportunity to really get into the moment, to feel what is actually going on. That’s how the concept to do the film in one shot evolved. The more we worked on it, the more I realised that this is not necessarily a film that tackles the brain or the mind, maybe it doesn’t even affect the heart, but it feels as if it has a direct impact on your nervous system. And I really like that. Of course, there are many mistakes in it, which, ultimately, I would have liked to cut or correct in the editing process. But at the same time I feel that because it’s all in there, because time flows and you can’t really escape the high points and the low points, it is almost like you’ve been conditioned by the way you watch the film.
You both write and direct. Does that make it easier when you’re shooting, especially with a project like this?
I wish I could say it’s easier but I find writing a script really painful. It takes an awful long time, sometimes years. Even if you write fast, it still takes at least two years, and that’s only the basic amount of time you are investing. But for some reason I feel I have to do it myself. Having said that, for this project I wrote only 12 pages and we didn’t edit anything in the end. When I think about it, the one big idea I had was that I wanted everything to happen in a team. Of course, with that kind of approach you lose a lot of power as a director in the overall hierarchy on set, but everybody else gains more. At the same time, the pressure is on everyone who is part of that crew. Like the smallest runner, everybody knew, ‘I can’t fuck it up! If the elevator is not downstairs when they come, I am the one who’s made that mistake.’ So everybody involved has a lot more responsibility, and I like that. I also wanted to bring the creation of the characters, of the story and the rhythm – which is normally part of the scriptwriting – into the entire process. To some extent that was a crazy thing to do, but it was also really beautiful.
Apart from the responsibility you also give your actors an incredible freedom to improvise.
It’s funny that you’re saying that because when I did my first film Absolute Giganten, people would ask me, ‘So, did you improvise a lot?’ Back then, I felt almost offended and said, ‘I didn’t, I wrote it all myself.’ And now it’s the complete opposite. That’s something that is very important to me, to have a sense of how people speak, for example, or how it really feels to talk to a friend, a soul mate or whoever. I am very interested in that. And I love actors. But again, this was different to when you direct actors in a more conventional way where you give them instructions about how you want them to say this line or that line. This time I really talked to them about their deepest feelings about the characters, not about the scene, not about the moment, not about the line. I felt almost like a football coach telling them their position on the field, and then they had to play football and follow the match and know what was going on all the time. They all had to take care of themselves.
Did you rehearse at all?
Yes, we had some rehearsals. But I don’t really want to go too much into detail about the way we made the film, because it takes away the magic. All I can say is that we did have rehearsals and then we had three days where we shot the whole film three times. So theoretically, there are now three films, but honestly, only the last one is actually a film. The other two are works in progress.
Did shooting become more difficult after the first run-through, because you then had a version of the film, an idea of the dialogue, the action and so on?
No, thank God. It was an improvisation, but there was still a very strict structure we had to follow from the outset every time we did it. It’s like a band who is playing an improvised piece. You’ve still got to know when it’s your solo, or that this is the rhythm, this is the tune and so on. But most importantly, you have to really know your instrument if you want to improvise. So we were very focused in that way.
How much do the three versions differ from each other?
A lot, mainly in quality. In the first one, nobody wanted to fuck it up, so everyone was very concentrated and technical, but there was no sparkle, no chemistry. So afterwards I said to them, ‘OK, guys, you’ve got to be alive. Make mistakes! Be chaotic, just go with it’. But then they tried that too hard and were all over the place. Those three days were horrible, because I was very nervous and tense – again, like a coach at half time. It was all very heartfelt and so I said to them, ‘You know what, we don’t have to win this game, but we have to start playing football. We have to show them that we are a good team. So don’t be afraid of making mistakes, but please, please concentrate’. And after that they really put it all together.
You talked about the rhythm of the film earlier. How did you manage the energy between your main cast?
They very much managed it themselves. I just had to organise it slightly. For me, it was all down to the casting, especially if you have them improvise so much as in this film. It’s very important that it feels organic, that it flows. And Burak and Freddy are friends in real life as well. First I was sceptical about that because Freddy showed me a picture and I thought Burak might be too much of a macho type and I didn’t want that. But when I met him in person I realised that he is actually very charming in his own way and that he has the biggest heart of all. And then it made sense to me, because he is like the heart of this group, Boxer is the leader while Sonne is good in talking to people, and Fuss is the little sidekick who always comes up with a crazy idea. I think if you structure a group like that then they become a team. It’s a natural process so they don’t all fight for the same spot. In a way it’s like an X-Men group, they all have their little super powers and that’s what I think is really important here too.
Where does your obsession with bank robberies come from?
I think it’s because I have that feeling that we sometimes get trapped in thinking that life is just one consecutive stage after another. You did this, now you are allowed to do that. Then you go a bit further, you move up into a better position, you get a little more money, a little more respect, and this is your life. And I guess the thing with bank robberies is that you walk in and pull your gun and you say, ‘I want everything, motherfucker! Give me my life, right now! I don’t want to be good anymore, I don’t want to wait’. And that’s why Victoria is the piano player in the film. She tried so hard and she’s always been the good girl, but I think we live in a world where things are getting more and more absurd, where you don’t have to be good anymore. On the contrary, it seems like you have to be sneaky and you have to betray people to get further in life. And that’s also what I see in this bank philosophy, it’s all about the money and no one cares about anybody else anymore. It’s like Brecht used to say, ‘Bank robbery is the business of amateurs. True professionals found a bank’.
Cast: Fabio Testi, Cristina Galbó, Karin Baal, Joachim Fuchsberger
Italy, Germany 1972
Massimo Dallamano’s Catholic girls’ school psycho-sexual thriller combines elements of German and Italian genre cinemas.
A German-Italian co-production, Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? is one of several films intended to bridge the gap between the West German Edgar Wallace krimi and the Italian gialli. The relationship between the two subgenres dates back to the late 1960s, when gialli like Antonio Margheriti’s Naked You Die! (1968) were released in Germany in black and white (despite being shot in colour) to resemble the classic Wallace krimi in appearance. At the same time Rialto Film, the primary producer of the Wallace films, were trying to find ways of revitalizing their formula, in response to declining popularity. Their first attempt, Double Face (1968), was certainly equipped for lasting cult appeal, being directed by Italian horror legend Riccardo Freda and co-written by the future ‘godfather of gore’ Lucio Fulci. It also starred Klaus Kinski in a rare leading role, as well as a number of Euro-horror veterans, including Gunther Stoll, Margaret Lee and Annabella Incontrera. Unfortunately, Freda’s star had waned by that point, and despite the efforts of the cast, Double Face is bland and uninvolving.
The film’s commercial failure doused Rialto’s interest in further ventures, and the matter might have rested there, were it not for Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. One of the big European box office hits of 1970, Argento’s debut feature sparked off a wave of similar thrillers, bringing the giallo firmly into the mainstream. In Germany The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was distributed by Artur Brauner’s Central Cinema Company (a.k.a. CCC Films), Rialto’s main competitor in the field of the Wallace krimi. Brauner added a spurious credit to German prints of the film, claiming it was based upon a story by Bryan Edgar Wallace, the son of the famous author whose own works had been adapted by CCC Films. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was then marketed to German audiences as an authentic krimi.
Having noticed the film’s impressive box office takings, Rialto decided to attempt another krimi-giallo crossover. Although most of the technical aspects of What Have You Done to Solange? were left to the discretion of the Italian crew, Rialto made a number of changes to bring the film closer to their previous Wallace krimi, including setting the film in London. The main detective would be played by Joachim Fuchsberger, Rialto’s most popular leading man, while the German wife would be played by Karin Baal, the star of two earlier Wallace films, including The Dead Eyes of London (1961), arguably the finest example of the form. A single line of dialogue was added to justify the appropriation of the title of a genuine Edgar Wallace story for the film’s German title (The Clue of the Green Pin), despite the two stories having absolutely nothing in common.
Enrico Rosseni (played by Fabio Testi, best known for his role in The Garden of the Finzi-Continis) teaches Italian and gymnastics at a prestigious Catholic school in London. Even though his severe German wife Herta (Karin Baal) teaches at the school as well, Enrico is having an affair with one of his students, Elizabeth Seccles (Christina Galbó, The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue). During one of their meetings, Elizabeth sees a young girl and the flash of a knife, but Enrico angrily dismisses her claim. The following day a girl’s body is discovered in the same location, with the victim another student of the school. Even though Elizabeth is a key witness, Enrico discourages her from contacting the police because of his marriage. When another student is murdered, Enrico realizes that Elizabeth is not just a witness, but a key figure in the events unfolding and a potential victim too.
Despite its hybrid origins, What Have You Done to Solange? is very much a classic example of the 1970s giallo. As usual, the police are present but take a backseat role to the hero’s amateur investigations. Although Enrico himself is not a witness to the crimes like his counterpart in Dario Argento’s thrillers, his girlfriend Elizabeth is, and she experiences the same confusion and progressive revelations as the heroes of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Deep Red (1976). The killer is visible only as a pair of black-gloved hands, although we hear his voice. His motivations are a little more complex. Instead of being a witness to, or a victim of, a traumatic event, he’s taking revenge on behalf of that victim. The incident itself is one of the most unpleasant of its kind and certainly effective, but would perhaps be more appropriate for a Roman Catholic country; the United Kingdom’s laws on the subject make such events largely unnecessary (a similar point applies to Elizabeth’s age; in Italy she would have been over the age of consent). The brutal and sexualised nature of the killings (and their motivation) is sharply at odds with the standards of the Wallace krimi, which rarely featured graphic violence and generally couched any sexual content in a light-hearted tone.
By technical standards, What Have You Done to Solange? is exceptional, especially the cinematography. Although best known as a producer of notorious splatter movies (including the excellent Beyond the Darkness) and hardcore pornography, Aristide Massacessi (a.k.a. Joe D’Amato) is a skilled cinematographer whose framing and shot composition are consistently solid. Director Dallamano is a capable cinematographer himself, having worked on A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For A Few Dollars More (1965) before moving into direction. Together Dallamano and Massacessi create a stylish, visually interesting film, with a number of memorable and eye-catching moments. Legendary composer Ennio Morricone provided the scores to more than a dozen gialli in the early 1970s, including Argento’s early thrillers. His work on What Have You Done to Solange? relies on many of the same motifs and themes that characterise his other giallo scores: angular, discordant bass figures; wordless child-like singing; high-pitched, screeching strings. Despite this, it’s a strong enough score, and certain passages correspond well to the images they accompany.
Although Dallamano is happy to kill off the girls in a brutal fashion and use them to provide the film’s plentiful nudity, there is something sad about his portrayal of these young women. They are essentially adrift in the world. Their parents are generally absent from the film and when they do appear, they present a rose-tinted, idealised view of their children that shows no awareness of their growing physical and mental maturity. Their Catholic upbringing provides them with plenty of rules and admonitions against sin but offers them no help with their predicament whatsoever. The other adults in their lives are equally hopeless. Their teachers (aside from the priests) include a lecherous hypocrite who ascribes to them every kind of sexual vice but spies on them in the showers. Even Enrico, the one teacher who takes their side in disputes with the school, is having an affair with a girl not yet halfway through her teenage years, and is not above pressurizing his lover to give in to his sexual demands. With no guidance except their own instincts, the girls drift into the clutches of perverts, sleazy photographers and backstreet abortionists.
The execution and genre mechanics make What Have You Done to Solange? an excellent example of its kind, but it possesses an emotional resonance that lifts it above the majority of its contemporaries. It is not a flawless film; Inspector Barth’s assertion that showing the teachers graphic crime scene photos is a ‘necessary formality’ is ridiculous and grotesque, while Enrico’s sudden change of heart is poorly handled and does the character no favours (indeed, none of the film’s characters are anything other than one-dimensional). Despite its shortcomings, What Have You Done to Solange? is a first-rate giallo that deserves this new restoration.
An intelligent, thoughtful film that lingers long in the mind, Big Bad Wolves is writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s follow-up to the excellent Rabies, which had the distinction of being the very first Israeli horror film. With their second feature, Keshales and Papushado continue their subtle exploration of their country’s mood through the story of a suspected paedophile and murderer, and the men who hunt him. Avoiding any heavy-handed allegories, the film examines a macho culture in which men think they can solve everything through violence; the complex intricacies of guilt and responsibility; and the troublingly easy role reversals between victim and persecutor. Opening with a beautiful, haunting credit sequence set to a gorgeous score, the film mixes fairy tale and political subtext, black humour and disturbing subject matter with skill and assurance.
Virginie Sélavy talked to Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado at Film4 FrightFest in August 2013, and discussed victims and victimisers, corrupt politicians, and taking revenge on your parents.
Virginie Sélavy: Big Bad Wolves seems much more ambitious than Rabies. Is it because you developed your filmmaking skills, or had more money or better production?
Navot Papushado: All of the above! Rabies was a shoe-string-budget, guerrilla kind of film. It was shot over 17 days using only available light in a forest, in one location, and a bunch of the crew were Aharon’s students. Aharon was a film a critic and a university lecturer. Still, we are very pleased with the result. For Big Bad Wolves we worked with the top people in the industry – we got the best cinematographer and the best production designer. We were much more prepared, and we had more shooting days. The budget was bigger, although still not big in terms of Israeli film. Rabies was in the middle of what we could achieve and what we wanted to achieve. Big Bad Wolves is the kind of film that we are aiming to do.
Rabies was described everywhere as the first Israeli horror film. Did that feel exciting or was it a lot of pressure?
Aharon Keshales: Both! The good thing is that you have the opportunity to become a pioneer, you’re building the path for future generations. The bad thing is that if you do a crappy job that’s the end for you and for the entire genre. If you don’t collect prizes and you don’t do well at the box office, that’s it, because Israel is a small industry and it doesn’t like to take big chances on new stuff. So it was a lot of pressure. But when we did Rabies we were these young people who didn’t think about this kind of stuff. We just wanted to make the first Israeli horror film and to have fun. When you ask us now, we’re a bit older so we know what that meant.
Horror films have always worked very well as allegories for social or political issues, which potentially makes it a rich genre for Israeli films. This is something you do in Big Bad Wolves, but very lightly and suggestively. It feels more like you tried to evoke the mindset and atmosphere of the country, rather than specific issues. Is that fair to say?
NP: Yes. We both feel that most Israeli cinema is very heavy-handed and deals with political subject matter in a way that feels like they’re trying to educate you about the wars of Israel, the conflict with the Palestinians, or the memory of the Holocaust, and it’s always so serious. And sometimes you think, I didn’t come here to be educated. We have no fun at the movies, we cry all the time – and we cry in reality too. And we thought, wouldn’t it be nice to give Israel the gift of entertaining cinema? So people would go to the cinema and forget real life and tragedy, even though we are talking about it. We tried to do this a little with Rabies because it’s a movie where Israelis kill other Israelis and the real killer goes to sleep, so you see the allegory in that film. But with Big Bad Wolves, we tried to look at the macho, male-dominated Israeli society, but not upfront. First of all, it’s a revenge comedy thriller, and once the tone of the movie has been set, you start to think about what you’re seeing. What you’re seeing is three guys who were in the army and all their instincts from that time just come to life when the girl’s life is in peril. So it’s not in your face, but it’s there. And I think you’re willing to get this kind of subtext more easily because it’s not in your face.
Watch the trailer for Rabies:
There is also the idea that despite their violence and belligerence those men are unable to protect their loved ones.
NP: I think that growing up as Jews in Israel we carry this weight, first of all for being Jewish – and we don’t need to go back far into the past, we can just go back to the Second World War and the Holocaust. The instinct for survival is very strong in our people and we brought this with us to Israel. We are a small country surrounded by Arab countries, some of which we were at war with, some of which we’re at peace with, and we have the Palestinians within us. So you grow up in an environment where there is war in the air, you absorb it, you develop this survival instinct which is so strong, and sometimes can lead you to do horrific stuff in the name of survival, in the name of our children. Sometimes these moral questions need to be raised. In the name of our kids, in the name of surviving, are we allowed to do certain things? We’ve never been in a war or a combat situation, but as teenagers in the 80s-90s we were walking the streets of Tel Aviv and buses were exploding. It’s a very strange environment to live in – life goes on, it’s a very complex situation. And a lot of the film is about us growing up in Israel, but it’s filtered through an entertaining film.
AK: There’s a strong debate about torture these days, and the film by Kathryn Bigelow put it out there. I think that when you’re talking about torture you have to ask yourself, is this violence justified? Even if it’s justified by the fact that they will tell you where Bin Laden is, did you just create another enemy inside the guy that you’ve just tortured, maybe for his entire life and that of his family? It’s like a big circle of blood. That’s how we see things. It started with Rabies and it’s evolved to be this idea of a circle of death, a big dance that you can never stop.
You also seem to lay some of the responsibility for what happens to the girl at her father’s feet – and he’s not the only character in that position. Do you think that ideas of guilt and responsibility are more complicated than just pointing the finger at one man?
NP: When we wrote the script the idea was that we were writing a revenge thriller that was upside down. You have the avengers and the suspected victimiser, but the suspected victimiser is also a victim, and we wanted to have that kind of flip in the film. You see a lot of revenge films that end with the triumph of the vindictive hero. But those films support this kind of behaviour – people who take the law into their own hands, who do horrific stuff. We didn’t want to make that kind of nihilistic movie. We wanted to do a Dirty Harry movie where Dirty Harry gets punished for his deeds – personally, not because someone he knows dies. Stick it to him. That’s what we tried to do with Big Bad Wolves.
AK: We had a few arguments with our producers about the moral questions we tried to raise at the end. They wanted a lighter ending, a slightly funny, uplifting final scene, even though everything that happens is terribly wrong. But we wanted to have a heavy, serious ending, because you can never foresee the consequences of violence, you never know when or why it ends. That was very important to us. With this subject matter it was important for us to infuse some more moral layers into the film.
Watch the trailer for Big Bad Wolves:
Both Big Bad Wolves and Rabies show the Israeli police in a very negative light, they are consistently brutal and abusive of their power. Are they really that bad?
AK: I think it has to do with authority, because when you want to do a movie that questions the patriarchal society – and Israel is still patriarchal – you have to deal with authority figures, so the best thing to do is to make fun of the military or the police. We decided to do this one with the police, but that doesn’t mean that in the next film we won’t make jokes about the army.
NP: There have been a few rumbles with the police in Israel lately. The police have not had a very good reputation in the last two years. At the time when Rabies came out there were huge protests on the streets of Israel, and the police reacted very violently.
AK: And it was a very peaceful protest, they were students, they weren’t doing anything, but the police turned violent in order to smash their spirits. But I don’t think it has to do directly with the police, I think the authorities in Israel are corrupt these days. You have prime ministers under suspicion, a president who is a rapist and is doing time in jail now. So when we wrote the script for Rabies we had this scene with the cop who’s molesting the girl, and the producer came over and said, ‘This kind of thing doesn’t happen in Israel,’ and I said, ‘What are you talking about? We have a president who’s just been tried for molesting women inside his chambers’. So I think we have a problem with authority figures, a lot of people are under investigation in the government.
NK: I think we can call ourselves a bit patriotic because we love Israel, but we don’t love the way that things are run over there. It’s a complex thing to say, because a lot of movies that come out of Israel only criticise the country in the way they treat Palestinians, and we’re saying that first of all we have to question ourselves. And the movie is also about that, because you have a corrupt policeman, a man who is a politician or a lawyer, very high up, and a teacher who is suspected of being a paedophile. So they’re all the authorities that we grow up with in life, and something really needs to change. But they should do more popcorn films in Israel, that’s the first thing we’d like to change.
There is also a strong fairy tale element in the story. Do you see the film as a dark fairy tale?
AK: Yes. We decided to take revenge on our parents, because they told us horrific stories before we went to sleep, and they were all about wolves, which are really paedophiles. That’s what we were told as children – stay away from the wolf, they will lure you in with candy. And we wanted to take revenge on our parents with a nice story before they go to sleep, and now my mother can’t sleep. That was the idea, to make a grown-up fairy tale, and that’s what’s happened, because every spectator who’s a father or a mother takes it much harder than young kids, who just like it because they see it as a violent genre movie.
Now in its 5th year, the Terracotta Far East Film Festival once again offered an exciting celebration of Asian cinema. Virginie Sélavy and Robert Makin report on their festival highlights.
Rouge (Stanley Kwan, 1988)
This year’s Terracotta Festival opened with a very special treat, Stanley Kwan’s 1988 sumptuous, melancholy ghost story Rouge, in homage to its two late great leads, Anita Mui and Leslie Cheung. Mui plays Fleur, a beguilingly beautiful hostess in a Hong Kong ‘flower house’ (brothel). When one night, dressed as a man and brilliantly sassy and insolent, Fleur performs a song for young heir Chan (Cheung) and his companions, it is love at first sight. But when his family objects to their union, they decide to commit suicide. Fifty years later, Fleur reappears in modern Hong Kong and tries to place a missing person ad in a paper to find Chan, who never showed up in the netherworld. Helped by the newspaper’s owner and his girlfriend, she forlornly wanders around a soulless Hong Kong, where the gorgeous theatres of the past have been replaced by ugly underpasses, trying to discover what happened to Chan. Visually exquisite, the film contrasts the splendour, elegant rituals and repressive social conventions of the past with the harsh, sordid reality of a mediocre, but less confining present, through the depiction of both the city and the characters’ lives. A superb and poignant film, it truly deserved to be seen on the big screen. VS
The Land of Hope (Sion Sono, 2012)
Within the fictional Japanese prefecture of Nagashima, an earthquake causes a nuclear meltdown at a local power plant. As a consequence the population of this small provincial district are forced to uproot. Local farmer Yusuhiko and his wife Chieko refuse to leave the contaminated area, while their son and his pregnant wife struggle to start a new life in a neighbouring town, having to face ineffectual authorities and an uncertain future. Meanwhile, a young couple, Mitsuri and Yoko, wander the devastated wasteland that was once Yoko’s hometown, desperately in search of her parents.
The Land of Hope will be released on Blu-ray + DVD in the UK on 26 August 2013 by Third Window Films.
From horror oddities such as Exte: Hair Extension(2007), where various victims are attacked by their hairstyles, and the epic story of love, religion and panty-shot photography that is Love Exposure (2009), to the brutal dystopia of Himizu (2011), Japanese director Sion Sono has gained a formidable reputation for having an exceptionally unique approach to filmmaking. The Land of Hope is a slight departure from his usual extremes, without being completely bereft of his surreal sense of humour and the occasional excursion into overtly symbolic imagery. Throughout this poignant domestic drama, Sono succeeds in achieving a restrained and proficient balance between naturalism and the visually poetic as he tackles head on a monumental disaster and its tragic repercussions. The only problem with the film is his overbearing use of classical music, which often feels cheap and unnecessary. But skillfully avoiding spectacle, the director’s heartfelt authenticity is unquestionable, making this his most accessible and personal film to date. RM
Watch the trailer for The Land of Hope:
Cold War (Lok Man Leung and Kim-ching Luk, 2012)
Hong Kong prides itself on being one of the safest cities in Asia, but over the course of one night, it’s about to become one of the deadliest. When a planted bomb tears the centre of the city apart, it’s initially assumed to be a terrorist attack – that is until an Emergency Unit vehicle carrying five police officers mysteriously disappears without a trace. A merciless gang of hijackers are claiming to be the culprits and demanding a hefty ransom. The race is on to hunt down the suspects and save the hostages. But it’s a perilous mission that not only poses a threat to the citizens of Hong Kong, but also begins to tear away at the hierarchical fabric of the police department.
First-time directors Lok Man Leung and Kim-ching Luk give it everything they’ve got with Cold War, determined to prove themselves as main contenders in the Asian cinema stakes, from the majestically cinematic aerial shots of the opening scenes to the gracefully composed but nerve-shredding action sequences. Their tactics have certainly paid off, with Cold War receiving nine Hong Kong Film Awards, including best film, director, screenplay, cinematography and editing. But, unfortunately, an otherwise lucid plot loses momentum during the last half-an-hour as the film tries to establish itself as a franchise. Nevertheless, this is Hong Kong action cinema at its most slick and visceral, re-establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with. RM
The Berlin File (Ryoo Seung-wan, 2013)
When an illegal arms deal in a Berlin hotel escalates into violent chaos, a surveillance team expose one of the escaped survivors as a North Korean ‘ghost agent’ (Ha Jung-woo), whose involvement remains unclear. Following on his trail, South Korean intelligence operative Jung Jin-soo (Han Suk-kyu) is determined to discover the agent’s true identity and prerogative. An intense investigation gradually unveils an international conspiracy involving Middle Eastern terrorists, the CIA, the Israeli Mossad, a deadly assassin, a shady ambassador and a female translator.
Although Ryoo Seung-wan’s espionage thriller lacks the dark menace of the Len Deighton, John Le Carré and Robert Ludlum adaptations that it’s unashamedly attempting to emulate, the film has enough of its own inventive energy and stylistic verve to stand its ground. The plot is ridiculously convoluted with an abundance of clichés involving poisoned ballpoint pens, murders on speeding trains, men in trench coats meeting in parks, self-destructing messages and blatantly obvious passwords.
But among its themes of loyalty and betrayal, the film’s greatest strength is Seung-wan’s complete respect and dutiful devotion to the spy genre and action cinema. Despite its flaws, The Berlin File races along at a relentless pace, with some truly astounding and dynamic action sequences meticulously choreographed by Jung Doo-hong. There’s also an eerie sense of melancholy generated from some very believable human relationships, in between the explosions and car chases. The Berlin File is an uneven but extremely thrilling and entertaining experience. RM
Festival report by Virginie Sélavy and Robert Makin
A Deviant View of Cinema – Features, Essays & Interviews