Archive for the ‘DIFF’ Category

39th DIFF Winners

Winners of the 39th Durban International Film Festival #DIFF2018

announced at Suncoast Casino Supernova Cinema on Saturday 28th July 2018 –

https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/

Best Feature Film: The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

Best Director: Constantin Popescu – Pororoca

Best Actor: Bogdan Dumitrache – Pororoca

Best Actress: Maisa Abd Elhadi – The Reports on Sarah and Saleem

Best Screenplay – Jennifer Fox – The Tale

Best South African Feature Film – High Fantasy directed by Jenna Bass

 

Boxing and Drag Shows

Alaska is a Drag

No Film Poster available at time of publication

Director: Shaz Bennett

Cast: Martin L. Washington Jr, Maya Washington, Matt Dallas, Christopher O’Shea, Jason Scott Lee, Margaret Cho, Nia Peeples, John Fleck, Kevin Daniels

As seen at DIFF 2018 – https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/

Spoiler Alert Valid for Date of Commercial Release if applicable

Director Shaz Bennett takes cinematic Indie Hip to a new level in the cleverly poignant coming of age drama Alaska is a Drag featuring a standout performance by Martin L. Washington Jr as Leo an aspiring drag queen who has ambitions of leaving isolated Alaska where he is packing and gutting fish for a living and looking after his sister Tristen played by Maya Washington.

When the heavy drinking boxer Declan arrives in town and also starts working at the fish cannery, there is immediate attraction but as director Shaz Bennett explores so deftly that often affection between men can quickly evolve into violence.

Leo ditches his drag ambitions which are clearly influenced by such pop diva’s as Grace Jones and Eartha Kitt and takes up the extremely masculine sport of boxing where he also fights his repressive former friend Kyle played by Christopher O’Shea.

Heavily influenced by Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho, Alaska is a Drag was a treat to watch at the 39th Durban International Film Festival  https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/ and would surely be a hit at many Queer film festivals both in South Africa and abroad.

Audiences should watch out for Fashion Police’s Margaret Cho as the surly bar tender who decides to host a drag competition with hilarious results.

For all its quirky characters and a beautifully poignant ending, Alaska is a Drag is a complex yet amusing film about beautiful people with dazzling dreams stuck in a small town community. Highly recommended viewing.

Alaska is a Drag gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is original, hilarious and gorgeously shot. A cinematic treat.

 

Expropriating my Sawmill

The Forest

There is no film poster available at the time of publication

Director: Roman Zhigalov

Cast: Oleg Shibayev, Natalya Rychlova, Oleg Feoktistov, Maria Avramkova

As seen at DIFF 2018 https://durbanfilmfest.co.za/

Spoiler Alert Valid for Date of Commercial Release if applicable

As the 2018 Durban International Film Festival coincided with the BRICS Summit happening in Johannesburg and the BRICS Film Festival which ran concurrently with DIFF2018, there were many films from Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Whilst I am a fan of all films from these countries, I have also been particularly impressed with Russian cinema as its cinematic style is so refreshingly foreign and opposite to commercial American cinema. Director Nikita Mikhailkov’s brilliant and cutting political drama Burnt by the Sun (1994) comes to mind, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1995.

At DIFF 2018, I watched director Roman Zhigalov gut-wrenching family drama The Forest set in rural Russia.

The Forest is a depressing tale about the implosion of a nuclear family, whereby the father’s sawmill gets expropriated by the state (the government actually burns it down as the father is unwilling to hand it over to the state), which should be a lesson about the economic consequences should South Africa’s ruling party’s proceed incautiously with the ridiculous decision to expropriate land without compensation, a burning political issue ahead of the 2019 National Elections.

The ideology of expropriation is essentially communist and director Roman Zhigalov makes this statement very clear in The Forest as well as highlighting many of the social ills currently plaguing Russia including rampant alcoholism, rape, teen pregnancy and a clearly disillusioned working class, who are constantly bullied by state officials.

The Forest tells the story of sixteen year old boy Danila who has an illicit affair with Katya a woman twice his age which leads to devastating and violent consequences both in their community and beyond.

Beautifully shot and well edited, The Forest is a stark reminder that poverty stricken rural Russia is a far cry from the tourist friendly images of Moscow and St Petersburg which frequently flashed across the international media during the recent 2018 FIFA World Cup held across Russia.

Stylistically brutal and uncompromising, The Forest is for serious viewers of Russian cinema and those that are not easily offended by rape scenes, drunken violence and nuclear families being torn apart by sexual repression and betrayal. Not for sensitive viewers.

The Forest gets a film rating of 7 out of 10 and is possibly one of the most depressing films I have seen all year. Clearly it was director Roman Zhigalov intention to show cinematic realism in all its horrifying detail.

 

On The Border

The Recce

Director: Johannes Ferdinand van Zyl

Cast: Greg Kriek, Christia Visser, Marius Weyers, Grant Swanby, Albert Maritz, Elsabe Daneel, Maurice Carpede

Spoiler Alert Valid for Date of Commercial Release – 28th September 2018

Set in 1981 in Angola and Apartheid South Africa, The Recce seen at the film’s premiere at the Durban International Film Festival (insert website) DIFF 2018, director Johannes Ferdinand van Zyl combines some stylistic flourishes to create a vivid and tense depiction of the experiences of the films main hero Henk Viljoen a Recce who is caught behind enemy lines and presumed Killed In Action.

South African star Greg Kriek brilliantly plays Henk who leaves his pregnant wife Nicola played by Christia Visser behind as he ventures forth deep within enemy territory, behind the Angolan border in a treacherous guerrilla war which claimed many lives and was a clandestine Southern African war of attrition fought by the Apartheid South African government far north in the then Soviet infiltrated Angola, just above Namibia which was then known as South West Africa.

With the dialogue mainly in Afrikaans, The Recce is a brave portrayal of a soldier’s desire to survive in an increasingly cruel and hostile landscape where no one can be trusted.

Grant Swanby (Beyond the River) plays Henk’s English speaking corporal Corporal Le Roux, who realizes that they are all fighting a pointless war in brutal terrain. Also featured in the cast are well known South African stage and screen actor Marius Weyers (Blood Diamond, Gandhi) as the hard-drinking General Piet Visagie and Maurice Carpede as Impi Buthelezi.

Watching The Recce is like watching the Afrikaans version of Peter Berg’s nail biting military drama Lone Survivor and those that enjoy a well-orchestrated war film should see this South African film depicting a distinct period in this country’s history which left an indelible mark on the South African older white male psyche particularly those that were military active in the early 1980’s prior to the transition to democracy in 1994.

Despite some tangential scenes in the film’s first half, director Johannes Ferdinand van Zyl’s The Recce is as engrossing as it is terrifying and has a particularly brilliant ending, one which will shock audiences and leave them questioning the futility of warfare.

Due to its very specific subject matter, The Recce will obviously have more resonance in South Africa than internationally as the film refers to the 1980’s, a turbulent decade in this country’s fascinating and multi-dimensional history.

Strictly for fans of decent war films, The Recce gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10.

Damaging Boundaries

The Tale

Director: Jennifer Fox

Cast: Laura Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Common, Jason Ritter, Elizabeth Debicki, Frances Conroy, Isabelle Nelisse, John Heard

Spoiler Alert Valid until airing on M-Net on Monday 6th August 2018

Please note that this is a Made for TV film and will not be released in commercial cinemas.

Documentary filmmaker Jennifer Fox creates a searing autobiographical film called The Tale which had its South African premiere at the Durban International Film Festival DIFF 2018 https://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za/.

The Tale features a superb performance by Emmy and Golden Globe winner Laura Dern (Big Little Lies) who plays a fictionalized version of director Jennifer Fox who has to confront strange and uncomfortable memories of her past as a young girl, when her mother played by Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) discovers a story she wrote when she was thirteen about an illicit affair that she had with a creepy gym coach, 40 year old divorcee Bill played with suitably skin-crawling detail by Jason Ritter.

As the narrative of The Tale unwinds through a series of carefully constructed flashbacks, Jennifer is forced to confront the fact that while she was doing horse riding on a farm in the Carolina’s with the strict Mrs G, crisply played by The Night Manager star Elizabeth Debicki (The Great Gatsby) she was not only groomed for child abuse but becoming the victim.

The Tale confronts in horrific detail the strange and bizarre almost Lolita like affair that Bill initiates  with the young Jennifer expertly played by Isabelle Nelisse in many scenes that would be deeply disturbing to sensitive viewers.

Released by HBO films, The Tale is a made for Television film. Director Jennifer Fox beautifully reveals to audiences the nature of memory and the action taken by the grown-up Jennifer to confront her abuser. This significant film is a harrowing and brave account of child abuse which is especially pertinent in the era of the #MeToo Campaign.

Anchored by nuanced performances by both Dern who is nominated again at the 2018 Emmy Awards and Ellen Burstyn, The Tale is highly recommended viewing and intelligently explores the elusive nature of forgotten childhood memories which frequently blur the lines of morality and shows that any form of abuse damages boundaries both psychologically and sexually.

The Tale won Best Screenplay at DIFF 2018 and is also nominated for Best Limited Series or TV Movie at the Primetime Emmy Awards which is taking place in September 2018. The Tale will be aired on the South African subscription channel M-Net on Monday 6th August 2018.

The Tale gets a film rating of 8 out of 10.

 

 

 

Initiates and Caregivers

The Wound

(INXEBA)

Director: John Trengrove

Cast: Nakhane Toure, Bongile Mantsai, Niza Jay, Thobani Mseleni

Director John Trengrove’s film The Wound about ritual circumcision practices in the rural Xhosa community is sure to generate discussions around patriarchy, cultural taboos and more controversially homosexuality.

The Wound premiered internationally at the Sundance Film Festival http://www.sundance.org/festivals/sundance-film-festival/ held in Park City, Utah in January 2017 and later opened the Berlinale Panorama at the Berlin International Film Festival in the same month.

The Wound had its South African premiere at the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) in July 2017 http://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za/ At the 38th Durban International Film Festival, John Trengrove won Best Director for The Wound and Nakhane Toure  who plays the main character Xolani deservedly won Best Actor.

The Wound also had its premiered at the 7th Annual Durban Gay and Lesbian Film Festival http://www.dglff.org.za/

Scheduled for commercial release in South Africa in early 2018, The Wound is already generating controversy and passionate discussion on social media and given the amount of publicity around the film it is sure to inject life into contemporary 21st century South African film analysis.

The story focuses on a lonely factory worker Xolani who works in Johannesburg but travels back to the mountains of the Eastern Cape to initiate a group of teenage boys into manhood through the Xhosa cultural practice of ritual circumcision under the supervision of his male tribal elders.

The Wound is about a sexually charged love triangle between Xolani played by Nakhane Toure, Vija played by Bongile Mantsai and the young Kwanda played with a precocious abandonment by Niza Jay framed within an almost secretive cultural practice of the Xhosa ritual circumcision ceremonies which takes place in the mountainous Eastern Cape province of South Africa.

As a piece of cinema, The Wound is riveting entertainment and certainly an eye opener in many respects beautifully directed by John Trengrove who in keeping with the desire to make an authentic ethnographic film smartly has all the dialogue in Xhosa and has no female characters since the narrative focuses on the complex relationships between initiates and caregivers which dominates many patriarchal societies especially where rights of manhood are concerned.

Comparisons are there for many viewers in similar societies internationally, but what is more perplexing about The Wound is Xolani’s ultimate choice to free himself of his hidden sexual identity. A choice which appears to be devoid of moral consequence.

The Wound is a fascinating portrayal of masculinity, hidden love and how society shapes rituals to transform teenage boys into brave and tough men. Which is also not specific to the Xhosa tribe, but to many other cultures and nationalities worldwide where it is imperative to prepare the men for a prescribed role of familial provider, defender and protector.

Provocatively, The Wound will certainly generate significant discussion around visual interpretations of patriarchy and sexuality which makes the film all the more relevant, relentless and resonant.

Highly recommended viewing, The Wound is film making at its best and should fare brilliantly as South Africa’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2018 Academy Awards aka the Oscars. If it does get nominated, then The Wound will join a canon of international world cinema which delves intimately into subjects which are essentially taboo in their home countries.

The Wound gets a Film Rating of 8.5 out 10. Ultimately, the wider audience needs to see this film and challenge their own preconceptions.

 

The Exiled King

The Exception

Director: David Leveaux

Cast: Jai Courtney, Lily James, Christopher Plummer, Janet McTeer, Eddie Marsan, Ben Daniels, Anton Lesser, Mark Dexter

After its packed South African premiere at the 38th Durban International Film Festival, http://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za/ The Exception is a riveting World War II drama told from the German perspective.

Set in Holland in 1940, German soldier Stefan Brandt played with bravado by Jai Courtney (Suicide Squad, A Good Day to Die Hard) is sent to guard the exiled king Wilhelm II wonderfully played by Oscar winner Christopher Plummer (Beginners).

At the end of World War One when the allies defeated Germany, besides the harsh reparations placed on the defeated nation, one of the conditions of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles was that the reigning German monarch Kaiser Wilhelm II be stripped of his royal title and sent to live in exile in Utrecht, Holland.

British director David Leveaux assembles a fantastic cast in this interesting film also starring Lily James (Baby Driver, Cinderella) as a sexually provocative Dutch maid Mieke de Jong who quickly falls in love with the handsome and tough Brandt and Oscar nominee Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs) as Kaiser Wilhelm’s wife, Princess Hermine who is desperately hoping that her exiled husband will have his monarchy restored even though Germany has entered the Third Reich under the ruthless Nazi’s who have started World War II.

Eddie Marsan (Their Finest, Happy Go Lucky, Concussion) appears as the creepy Head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, in a brief yet comical scene stealer.

As a historical film, The Exception is a watchable tale, filled with intrigue, sexual conquest and lost dreams although its relevance will be lost on a mostly English speaking audience and also because most of the cast are British, Canadian or Australian actors playing German characters. If audiences want authenticity they should watch the excellent 2015 German film, The People vs. Fritz Bauer, which also premiered at #DIFF2017 http://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za/ as part of the German Film Focus.

Nevertheless, as a World War II thriller which deviates from the usual Allied scenario, The Exception is enjoyable in the same vein as director Mark Herman’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

What does stand out in The Exception, are the fine performances of Christopher Plummer and Janet McTeer but sadly their acting will probably be overlooked in the 2018 Oscar race.

Concisely written with an engaging plot, The Exception gets a film rating of 7.5 out 10 and was an impressive film to be screened at the Durban International Film Festival, attracting a full cinema house.

Recommended viewing for audiences that prefer a provocative World War Two thriller from the perspective of the so-called enemy.

 

Savage Nobles

The Lost City of Z

Director: James Gray

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Sienna Miller, Franco Nero, Angus McFadyen, Edward Ashley

The Immigrant director James Gray’s handsome exploratory film The Lost City of Z had its South African premiere at the 38th Durban International Film Festival http://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za/. Starring Charlie Hunnam in the role of British explorer Percy Fawcett who establishes his inherent masculinity in the opening shot of the film as Fawcett hunts deer on an estate in Ireland during the Edwardian era.

Hunnam embodies the role of the hunky and courageous explorer Percy Fawcett who according to legend was the inspiration behind Indiana Jones and also whose life was briefly drawn upon in the Charles Sturridge film A Handful of Dust starring James Wilby and Kristin Scott Thomas.

Although The Lost City of Z is set during an earlier period pre World War 1 and in the early 1920’s it documents the extraordinarily bizarre story of Fawcett who with the backing of the Royal Geographic Society travels to the unexplored border of Bolivia and Brazil deep in the Amazon jungle and becomes convinced that there is indeed evidence of a much earlier advanced population that lived there in a illusive city of Z, an exotic place hidden in the jungle filled with gold far removed from the civilized establishment of Europe.

After several tormented expeditions to the heart of the Amazon with his aide-de-camp Henry Costin played by Robert Pattinson, his geographical explorations are halted when world war one breaks out and Percy is forced to fight, leaving his frustrated wife Nina played by Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher, American Sniper) to look after his three children.

Nina sees the value of her husband’s expeditions but wishes that as a woman she has more influence to assist him, such as accompanying him to the tropics, a desire which Sienna Miller conveys beautifully in her screen portrayal.

Angus Macfayden (We Bought a Zoo,) plays the disruptive financier and explorer James Murray who Fawcett and Costin abandon on a second expedition to the Amazon just before WW1 breaks out. Murray attempts to discredit’s Fawcett’s reputation as an explorer.

Despite internal society politics and world war, The Lost City of Z is a fascinating portrayal of one man’s quest to discover The Other, the truly exotic even if it means possibly endangering his own life and that of his son Jack played by Tom Holland (Spiderman Homecoming). Fawcett in his quest for discovery pays the ultimate price of a nobleman obsessed with a savage jungle.

Audiences should watch out for a cameo by veteran Italian actor Franco Nero (Django, Django Unchained) as the decadent Baron De Gondoriz who has established a debauched Portuguese outpost deep in the Amazon complete with naked tribes and operatic performances.

With a screenplay by James Gray and David Grann based upon the book The Lost City of Z, the film version is fascinating if slightly long in the middle, yet definitely worth watching if audiences enjoyed such ethnographic films as At Play in the Fields of the Lord and of course A Handful of Dust.

The Lost City of Z gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10.

Source: Percy Fawcett – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Fawcett

 

Look Homeward, Angel

Genius

genius

Director: Michael Grandage

Cast: Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Laura Linney, Guy Pierce, Dominic West, Vanessa Kirby

Jude Law reunites with his Cold Mountain co-star Nicole Kidman and shares the screen with Oscar winner Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) in actor turned director Michael Grandage’s handsome literary film, Genius which premiered at the 37th Durban International Film Festival – http://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za/

Genius is based upon the biography of Max Perkins written by A. Scott Berg and transformed into an enlightening screenplay by John Logan.

Set in New York in the late 1920’s and on the brink of the Great Depression, Colin Firth gives a measured and subtle performance as the literary editor Max Perkins who has to contend with the overzealous and brilliant Carolingian writer Thomas Wolfe wonderfully played by Jude Law (The Talented Mr Ripley) who has written a masterpiece, Look Homeward, Angel but needs the editing skills of the diligent Max Perkins to edit the text into a readable novel.

Perkins was responsible for editing the literary works of Ernest Hemingway played in this film by Dominic West (Testament of Youth) and F. Scott Fitzgerald post his Parisian phase, played by Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential). Genius is the examination of a male bond and friendship which strikes up between the reserved and slightly conservative Perkins and the wild and exuberant Thomas Wolfe, whose patronage is supported by the jealous and possessive Aline Bernstein superbly played by Nicole Kidman (The Hours).

Genius is about the evolution of a literary text, from creation through editing to publication, and how that process can be fraught with distraction, despair and most importantly passion.

Perkins neglects his long suffering wife Louise played by Oscar nominee Laura Linney (Kinsey, Mr Holmes) and his family of daughters. Perkins unwittingly and perhaps subconsciously finds solace in the male friendship of the erratic and gifted Thomas Wolfe, although their affection for each other borders upon the homo-erotic, which both Aline and Louise can perceive and are certainly threatened by.

Firth wears a hat for the majority of the film and only at the end of Genius after he admits his true feelings for the incorrigible Wolfe, does he take it off. Perkin’s hat serves as a signifier of conformity in the film, despite the raging modernist and Bloomsbury movement which was engulfing Paris and London at the times. New York was still fairly conservative by European standards especially as the full effects of the Great Depression are realized by American society.

Despite an Oscar worthy cast and ambitious literary intentions, Genius is not a superb film in the same vein that The Hours was or Christopher Hampton’s Carrington, yet it is worth watching and would appeal to audiences who possess sophisticated literary tastes.

Nevertheless with polished production values, and brilliant performances by Jude Law and Nicole Kidman, Genius is an informative portrayal of a hugely talented writer Thomas Wolfe who never quite achieved the same international posthumous recognition as F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway.

Genius is recommended viewing and certainly a reason to rediscover the literary works of Wolfe who wrote Look Homeward, Angel  and Of Time and The River.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Wolfe

A Jazzy Jive

Miles Ahead

miles_ahead

Director: Don Cheadle

Cast: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Michael Stulbarg, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Austin Lyon, Keith Stanfield

Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) makes his directorial debut in the superb, frenetic portrait of legendary jazz musician Miles Davis and starring in the main role in the brilliant film Miles Ahead which premiered at the 37th Durban International Film Festival http://www.durbanfilmfest.co.za/ . If the 2017 Oscars are looking for more diversity they should look no further than Don Cheadle’s wonderful performance, so captivating, energetic and entrancing. Cheadle should definitely earn an Oscar nomination for this studied and embracing performance of a jazz icon, that he holds in high esteem.

miles_ahead_ver3

Set in New York at the end of the 1970’s Cheadle plays a reclusive Miles Davis who along with struggling a multitude of additions has not release a new album in years. In steps Ewan McGregor as the brash Rolling Stones journalist Dave Brill who coaxes Davis out of his liar to confront his own demons and a music business which is cut throat dangerous and down right greedy.

miles_ahead_ver2

Through a series of perfectly placed flashbacks audiences get a glimpse of an earlier version of Miles Davis as he begins courting the gorgeous dancer Frances Taylor wonderfully played by the beautiful Emayatzy Corinealdi who was last seen in the stunningly brutal mini-series Roots.

miles_ahead_ver4

As Miles and Dave embark on a frantic search for a recording of some his new music which was unfortunately stolen at a wild party at Davis’s New York apartment, they come across the shady and almost unrecognizable Michael Stulbarg last seen in Trumbo as  gangster Harper Hamilton who has vested interests in the music business. Watch the brilliant 1970’s series Vinyl for more substance on this topic.

At the heart of Miles Ahead, is Miles Davis’s passion for brilliant music and his understanding of how classical music informed the evolution of the jazz movement which many in the establishment regarded as risque.

Interestingly, Miles Ahead, also makes a strong point about racial integration as Davis was definitely a man who had been prejudiced against and he desperately wanted to smash any racial stereotypes. In one scene in the film, Miles Davis is even arrested by a bigoted cop outside the venue  where he is performing for loitering.

The dynamic scenes between Cheadle and McGregor make Miles Ahead so fascinating as they race around New York fuelled by drugs and alcohol to find the missing jazz score. More importantly, fans of Miles Davis will love the soundtrack as a jazzy jive which keeps the film fresh, funky and absolutely engaging.

Miles Ahead is highly recommended viewing, an entertaining portrait of the legendary Miles Davis who by his attitude and music was definitely way ahead of his time.

 

 

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