Archive for the ‘European Film Festival’ Category

Manipulated Intelligence

Official Secrets

Director: Gavin Hood

Cast: Keira Knighley, Matthew Goode, Matt Smith, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Fiennes, Jeremy Northam, Indira Varma, Tamsin Greig, Jack Farthing, Conleth Hill

Set in London in 2003, South African director Gavin Hood’s British political film Official Secrets revolves around the complex story of Katherine Gunn who broke the Official Secrets Act and leaked highly classified Government information on British and American efforts to sway the vote in the UN in favour of a resolution legitimizing the 2003 invasion of Iraq on the dubious premise that Saddam Hussein was harbouring chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction.

Oscar nominee Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game) stars as the morally conflicted Katherine Gunn who despite working for a highly classified division of the British Foreign Office and Mi6 deliberately leaked a politically sensitive memo to The Observer newspaper in London whereby political news reporter Martin Bright played by The Crown star Matt Smith.

Oscar nominee Ralph Fiennes (The English Patient, Schindler’s List) reunites with Keira Knightley onscreen after their starring roles in director Saul Dibb’s magnificent costume drama The Duchess as he stars as human rights lawyer Ben Emmerson who decides to take on Gunn’s case in which she could be charged by the Crown prosecution for treason and for being a spy.

Official Secrets was Britain’s entry into the recent European Film Festival https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/ which had recent screenings in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria in November before being released on the general circuit in December 2019.

Official Secrets is an engaging political thriller about manipulated intelligence and about the length powerful nations will go to, to legitimatize a foreign invasion even if the premise for such an invasion are both legally and morally flawed.

Featuring an array of British stars including Downton Abbey star Matthew Goode and Rhy Ifans along with Jeremy Northam and Poldark star Jack Farthing, Official Secrets is an engaging if slightly dark political thriller about recent events that led to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by American and British forces.

Recommended for those that enjoy murky political thrillers, Official Secrets gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is interesting but not nearly as brilliant as such films as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or The Constant Gardener.

Dancer Dysphoria

Girl

Director: Lukas Dhont

Cast: Victor Polster, Arieh Worthalter, Oliver Bodart, Katelijne Damen, Valentin Dhaenens

Flemish with English Subtitles

Warning this film is not for sensitive viewers and contains a strong adult theme.

Nominated for a 2019 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Belgian director’s Lukas Dhont’s intimate and controversial examination of gender dysphoria in Girl is a fascinating and touching film to watch.

Girl examines the fictionalized story of Lara a fifteen year old cisgender person who is in the transitional process of having gender reassignment surgery from being a boy to a girl, all while dealing with puberty and her desire to be a ballerina in Ghent. Girl is inspired by the true story of Nora Monsecour a professional dancer and transwoman in Belgium who experienced gender dysphoria.

Traditional definitions of binary gender roles are smashed in this explicit examination of what a trans-teenager has to deal with in a society which has preconceived stereotypical notions of what defines masculine and feminine and the roles associated with those binary definitions.

In society, there is still stigmatization of boys wanting to do ballet and director Lukas Dhont examines this intense stigma with a far more psychological twist as Lara has to not only deal with the rigours of training as a female ballerina but also the shame associated with having a penis. Lara even uses a separate change room from the other traditionally female ballerinas.

In a particularly poignant scene, Lara’s French father Matthias asks a group of young men to help carry heavy furniture upstairs as they move apartments, whilst Lara flits around uninterested in the heavy lifting.  Played by Arieh Worthaler, Matthias is supportive of his cisgender person’s decision to psychologically and physically transform from a boy to a girl with all the associated trauma involved.

While Girl fixates too much on the actual genital transformation highlighted by one particularly disturbing scene when Lara cuts off the penis with a pair of scissors in front of a mirror, Girl ultimately is a psychological film about transition, shame and stigmatization and has divided the transgender community in Europe and America and will continue to produce some fascinating post film conversations.

Director Lukas Dhont is young and brave enough to tackle such a controversial subject in his debut feature film Girl, helped enormously by the transformative acting of Belgian actor Victor Polster who is in virtually in every frame of the film. Girl gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is an incredibly brave cinematic debut from a first time director. Recommended viewing for those that savour discerning cinema.

Girl deservedly won the Queer Palm award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival is now going to be shown in South African cinemas at the European Film Festival – https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/. Be sure to catch this fascinating Belgian film at Cinema Nouveau in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria from Friday 29th November  to Sunday 8th December 2019.

Hopefully in 2020, Durban can once again be included on the itinerary for the European Film Festival and we can galvanize support for this important cinematic event.

Zeus of the Soccer Field

Diamantino

Director: Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt

Cast: Carloto Cotto, Cleo Tavares, Anabela Moreira, Carla Maciel, Margerida Moreira, Chico Chapas, Hugo Santas Silva

Portuguese with English Subtitles

Directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt utterly bizarre allegorical fantasy about celebrity, cloning and refugees is set in the world of Portuguese football and focuses on a gorgeous but vacuous young soccer player Diamantino played by Carloto Cotto who is unwittingly controlled first by his father and then his evil twin sisters played by Anabela and Margerida Moreira.

Diamantino is clearly a thinly veiled reference to the most famous Portuguese soccer star in the world Cristiano Ronaldo a professional Portuguese soccer player whose fame and good looks has immortalized him on and off the field. Ronaldo’s brand has been commodified and sold as one of Europe’s most successful and talented soccer players. Ronaldo even has his own underwear brand!

If viewers are expecting the Portuguese language film Diamantino to be an intelligent allegorical tale about Ronaldo then they will be completely surprised.

As the directors are clearly influenced but not enhanced by famed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, Abrantes and Schmidt turn the film Diamantino into an utterly bizarre tale of celebrity, cloning and the plight of refugees while also making comments about Portuguese nationalism.  

Besides the fluffy puppies that Diamantino’s imagines that he sees every time he scores a goal, this sports, espionage tale gets truly strange as Diamantino gets tricked by the Portuguese secret service in the form of two lesbians one of which is Rahim who pretends to be a refugee named Aisha from Cape Verde and gets inadvertently adopted by the clueless soccer player.

In the meantime, the evil twin sisters plot to have Diamantino’s gorgeous body and his football skills cloned by a bizarre geneticist named Dr Lamborghini which is in actual fact working for the Portuguese National Front that plan on using Diamantino’s star power in a propaganda media campaign to convince the citizens of Portugal to leave the European Union

Set mainly in Lisbon and the surrounding coastline, Diamantino is an utterly strange and bizarre film not even saved by the cardboard box acting of Carloto Cotto, who despite his beautiful looks does not convincingly portray Diamantino with an ounce of character dimensionality or willpower.

Diamantino might be the Zeus of the soccer field, but this film lacks any credibility as an original allegorical fantasy and turns out to be utterly weird in a terrible way.

Diamantino gets a film rating of 6 out of 10 and perhaps will find a unique audience in Portugal or Brazil but certainly not in mainstream international cinema.

Warsaw is the Paris of the East

Cold War

Director: Pawel Pawlikowski

Cast: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot, Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza, Cedric Kahn

Polish and French with English Subtitles

Polish British-based director Pawel Pawlikowski gives the cinematic world another beautiful masterpiece in all its stark complexity with the poignant film Cold War which was nominated for three Oscars at the 2019 Academy Awards including Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film.

As part of the 6th European Film Festival https://www.eurofilmfest.co.za/ which will have screenings at Cinema Nouveau in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Pretoria, South African audiences will get a chance to watch Cold War and admire filmmaking at its best.

Pawel Pawlikowski won the Best Director prize at the prestige 2019 Cannes International Film Festival and watching Cold War viewers can understand why. This film’s stark beauty is mesmerizing and seductive.

Pawlikowski’s masterful story centres on the epic romance of Zula beautifully played by Polish actress Joanne Kulig and Wiktor played by actor Tomasz Kot as they first encounter each other at the rudimentary auditions for a Polish folk song competition whereby Wiktor immediately spots the sultry Zula as a talent to behold. Cold War is set between the years 1949 and 1964 when Poland was under strict Soviet control and the harshness of this oppression is accentuated in the gorgeous black and white cinematography which heightens the plight between these two star crossed lovers.

Gradually as the action moves from rural Poland to East Berlin to Paris and then the former Yugoslavia and then back to Poland, Zula and Wiktor experience a tempestuous relationship laced with all the ironies of betrayal, fear and lust as the Soviet Party apparatus attempt to intervene in their lives and control the Polish folk singing group for propaganda purposes and to further push forward the agenda of Communism and Populism.

Joanna Kulig as Zula and in the background Tomasz Kot as Wiktor

Against this harsh setting, Cold War weaves a fascinating tale filled with brilliant music from traditional Polish folk music to Elvis Presley all gorgeously shot by two time Oscar nominated cinematographer Lukasz Zal (Ida, Cold War) as Zula and Wiktor‘s relationship is examined, dissected and reconfigured through the 1950’s when Wiktor decides to defect to Paris and work as a film musician.

Pawlikowski’s Cold War is a beautiful examination not just of a relationship between a man and woman through music and love, but also of the brittle and distrustful relationship between the Soviet Bloc of Countries and the West which defined the political stagnation which the film gains its distinctive title.

Cold War is a superb film and anyone interested in quality cinema should make an effort to see this flawless film, which gets a film rating of 8 out 10 and deserves all the international recognition heaped upon it. A cinematic gem.  

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