The Duckling & The Lizard


Director: Lukas Dhont

Cast: Eden Dambrine, Gustav De Waele, Emilie Dequenne, Lea Drucker, Igor van Dressel, Kevin Janssens

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Language: Flemish with English Subtitles

Festival: European Film Festival 2023

Belgian director Lukas Dhont follows up his 2018 film Girl, with an emotionally complex film Close starring an excellent Eden Dambrine as a teenage schoolboy Leo whose childhood friendship with Remi played by Gustav de Waele goes from being extremely close to being exceptionally difficult as both boys enter high school in contemporary Belgium and experience different feelings.

Dhont whose film Close was nominated for the Best International Film at the 2023 Oscars representing Belgium packs his skilful and emotionally taut storyline into an uncomfortable gaze. Most of the film is shot in extreme close up particularly the opening scenes featuring Remi and Leo as they are childhood friends who spend all their waking hours’ together, playing imaginary games against the so-called enemies and spending all their time at Remi’s house with his mother Sophie, a nurse watching on happily.

In a radical shift in circumstances and as Leo and Remi start navigating the treacherous teenage years of high school, Leo yearns to fit into a bigger crowd at school and as a result of bullying knowingly distances himself from Remi, who doesn’t have the emotional capacity to understand why his best friend has started ghosting him.

Close is expertly shot with that casual European nonchalance which gradually draws the viewer into an absolutely poignant and gut-wrenching film. This top class drama, a razor sharp analysis of young human beings in transition in that tricky stage of puberty when they are attempting to deal with complex relationships and ever shifting feelings.

Leo is suddenly thrust into a morally uncomfortable situation one in which he questions his own version of who he wants to be while trying to make amends.

Co-written by Lukas Dhont, Close not only refers to close friendships or bullying but the rather messy dynamic of family relationships and how children are socialized differently, particularly boys who are brought up to be tough, competitive and resilient. Any sign of weakness is seen to be an opportunity for exploitation.

Close is an absolutely heart wrenching and thoroughly human story about the consequences of treating someone cruelly and the social effects of bullying. Eden Dambrine dominates the story in this riveting and psychologically scarring film about cruelty, unarticulated feelings and redemption.

Close gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is highly recommended viewing about complex issues that need to be discussed intelligently. A superb film.

Don’t Miss the Boat

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3

Director: Nia Vardalos

Cast: Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Louis Mandylor, Elena Kampouris, Andrea Martin, Joey Fatone, Alexis Georgoulis, Elias Kacavas, Laine Kazan, Gia Carides

Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes

Film Rating: 6 out of 10

Canadian actress and screenwriter Nia Vardalos returns to the Portokalos family from the original 2002 hit film, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, with the third instalment of the comedy franchise, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 written, directed by Vardalos and also starring as the main character Toula Portokalos who this time takes her entire Greek family to Greece to fulfil her late father’s wishes.

From the Greek immigrant community in Chicago to the Greek islands, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is a family romp about a rambunctious extended family who return to their homeland and discover some new family members, several goats and a grumpy Greek old lady who keeps everyone in line.

Whilst the storyline for this third instalment is very thin on the ground, Nia Vardalos unfortunately misses some great comedic moments throughout the film, which is a pity as this could have been exceptionally funny like the Oscar nominated original film back in 2002.

Instead, Nia Vardalos directs a slightly disjointed and incoherent film about a huge Greek family discovering their roots while making some casual references to the immigrant crisis that has besieged Greece in the last 20 years and the generational difference which always comes to light while on holiday as well as some skits on male grooming and Greek cuisine.

Toula’s daughter Paris played by Elena Kampouris is flirting with Aunt Voula’s dashing travel assistant, the young and buff Aristotle played by Elias Kacavas last scene in the TV series Euphoria. Paris and Aristotle meet another young and fun couple, Qamar and Christos while Toula and her gay brother Nick played hysterically by Louis Mandylor discover that they have some new Greek relatives to contend with specifically the gorgeous Peter played by Alexis Georgoulis (My Life in Ruins).

The scenery in this film is gorgeous as is the food. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is relaxing viewing consisting of a carefully selected set of scenes about a chaotic Greek family on holiday in the motherland without a hint of menace. This film isn’t The White Lotus.

Unfortunately, the characters of the Portokalos family have reached their expiry date after nearly 20 years and secondly Nia Vardalos should have left the direction of this film to someone more capable.

With idyllic scenery, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is as about as light as a pita bread with cucumber dip. Judging by how full the cinema was, when I saw this, this film will have mass appeal: it’s about young love, family relationships, death and new beginnings, cross cultural themes that everyone can relate to.

Despite not being brilliant, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 is a lovely family comedy and gets a film rating of 6 out of 10. If you are depressed go and watch this film, it will make you want to fly to Greece!

The Blame Frame

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed

Director: Laura Poitras

Running Time: 2 hours and 2 minutes

Festival: Durban International Film Festival (DIFF2023)


Even before viewers watch film maker Laura Poitras Oscar nominated documentary All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, they should read the New Yorker journalist’s superbly researched book Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe who gives a detailed account of the complex issues surrounding the extensive opioid crisis that gripped America for the first 20 years of the 21st century.

Poitras chooses to follow the bohemian life of photographer and activist Nan Goldin who herself got addicted to OxyContin and then once recovered launched a successful smear campaign again the Sackler Family who owned the Pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma who made and distributed the highly addictive strong pain killer OxyContin, which is a derivative of heroin.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed focuses on Goldin’s smear campaign, who as an artist who had her work hung in some of the world’s most prestigious galleries from The Met to the Guggenheim and the Louvre, attacked the immensely wealthy Sackler’s families philanthropic efforts of donating huge amounts of money to galleries in New York, London and Paris with the proviso that the cultural institution name a wing of the gallery after the Sackler’s.

With a brilliant title, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed, documentarian Laura Poitras makes her position clear that she is on the side of Nan Goldin and does not maintain an objective gaze but instead scandalizes the actual smear campaign which was both riveting and explosive as Nan Goldin and her gang of activists stages protests in the Guggenheim throwing thousands of prescription OxyContin bottles down the spiral ramp of the Guggenheim, the most glamourous art gallery in New York. Goldin does a similar protest at the Louvre where the European wing of the Sackler’s who were based in London had donated large amounts of money.

Laura Poitras does do a full comprehensive historical biography of Nan Goldin from her counterculture days as an emerging photographer in New York surrounded by fringe film makers and queer artists to her own addiction struggles and to the scourge of the AIDS crisis in the late 1980’s which nearly wiped out that entire counter-culture community.

Ultimately what Poitras does do is paint the immensely clever and secretive Sackler clan as aloof billionaires who had invented a drug which was abused by millions of Americans and many died, while not accepting any responsibility for how they had contributed to the Opioid epidemic from 2000 to 2020, while vastly benefiting from the immense profits made by their Pharmaceutical company.

The faces of Kathe and Richard Sackler, some of the heirs of the vast wealth of the Sackler clan, as appearing cold and unsympathetic at the end of the documentary when the family is deposed virtually in 2020 to appear before the families of the victims who died during this crisis, paints the family that privately owned Purdue Pharma as completely unsympathetic, which they were.  The Sackler’s did not acknowledge guilt or accountability but through the efforts of Nan Goldin and her gang of protesters, years of philanthropy have been stripped at some of the finest cultural institutions in the world as the Sackler name was erased from the esteemed Art World.

As a documentary film maker, Laura Poitras does a superb job of bringing the opioid crisis to light and how the once influential Sackler family lost their reputation but not their wealth. All The Beauty and the Bloodshed is a fascinating if slightly one sided documentary which is tangential in parts but illuminating in other.

While the complex ethics of pharmaceutical distribution is largely untouched in this documentary, the focus squarely remains on the Sackler’s enormous contribution to the World of Art and their untimely undoing by a spiralling opioid crisis and Federal litigation. See this documentary in conjunction with reading Patrick Radden Keefe’s brilliant non-fiction book, to gain the full complex history of the Sackler family and the opioid crisis in America. 

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and is a fascinating tale of counterculture flamboyance and protest versus corporate greed and murky philanthropy to some of the most influential art galleries in the World: The Louvre, the Guggenheim, The Tate and the Met. Highly recommended viewing.

Psycho on a Phone


Director: Nimrod Antal

Cast: Liam Neeson, Embeth Davidtz, Jack Champion, Lilly Aspell, Noma Dumezweni, Matthew Modine

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

Film Rating: 5 out of 10

Machete director Nimrod Antal who is of Hungarian descent returns to the big screen with another Liam Neeson action thriller Retribution but unfortunately this 90 minute action film does not make the standard in terms of entertainment, pacing or a decent storyline. In fact director Nimrod Antal needs to go back to Film School and learn about pacing a cinematic narrative so that a story is in fact gripping and exciting and not one-dimensional.

Oscar nominee Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List) stars as shady corporate hedge fund dealer Matt Turner who is self-obsessed and arrogant until he regrettably decides to drop his two children off at school in Berlin. The kids, Emily and Zach are well played by rising stars Lily Aspell (Wonder Woman) and Jack Champion (Avatar: The Way of Water) and are naturally unhappy about being driven to school by an emotionally unavailable father.

Things go considerably pear-shaped when Matt receives a call from a Psycho on a Phone who tells him that unless he wires 208 Million Euros from a Dubai bank account he is going to blow up the Mercedes SUV that they are all travelling in.

Retribution takes place entirely in a Mercedes, but naturally the claustrophobic setting of a film, which fails to use the location of Germany’s capital city Berlin effectively becomes a monotonous film about a father dealing with a crazy person who feels nothing at killing innocent people including his two children.

Even Swaziland born star Noma Dumezweni (Mary Poppins Returns, Little Mermaid) who plays Europol chief Angela Brickmann fails to alleviate the monotony of this film with her bland confrontation with Matt Turner and his family.

Where the Taken franchise was so brilliant, with non-stop action and fighting, Retribution plods along with little diversion and Liam Neeson has one expression on his face: why did I do this movie?

Retribution is by far the worst film I have seen this year, with an impractical storyline with little background on each characters and a narrative which is implausible. Some of the actions scenes are good, but being released just after the incredible summer blockbuster season headlined by such fantastic films as Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning and Oppenheimer, Retribution comes across as dull, with an even worse ending slightly alleviated by a shocking twist which the screenwriter fails to capitalize on. Unfortunately the talents of Embeth Davidtz and Matthew Modine are equally wasted in this atrocious thriller.

This film is more bad than good, so the film rating is 5 out of 10, saved only by Zach Turner’s famous line: There is a Psycho on the Phone.

Escaping the Community

Banel & Adama

Director: Ramata-Toulaye Sy

Cast: Khady Mane, Mamadou Diallo, Binta Racine, Moussa Sow

Running time: 87 minutes

Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Festival: Durban International Film Festival (DIFF)

Language: Sengalese with English Subtitles

After having its world premiere at the 76th Festival de Cannes, Sengalese director Ramata-Toulaye Sy ‘s thought provoking film Banel and Adama was chosen as the closing film of the 44th Durban International Film Festival in July 2023.

Banel and Adama won the Bright Horizon award at the Melbourne International Film Festival and is an incisive look at woman Adama who is supposedly trapped in a patriarchal and remote village in Northern Senegal.

Adama’s future is mapped out for her by the village elders as she is to wed the younger brother of her late husband as per tradition.  However, Banel played by Mamadou Diallo is not happy with her projected future and struggles to adapt to an already mapped out life. As a young woman she struggles to take heed of advice by the village elders even when the village itself is ravaged by drought and lack of rain.

Banel is to inherit the title as village elder and along with all the men, he has to tend to the dwindling livestock in ever worsening conditions with inadequate agricultural means and a meagre population which is teetering on the edge of hunger.

Unlike Western cinema which always focuses on the interplay between hero and villain, director Rama-Toulaye Sy paints a vivid cinematic portrait of a community struggling to survive against nature and of a woman fighting to establish her own self-identity in an environment which is prescribed by traditional Muslim values and a superstition of all things individual.

Banel and Adama is a fascinatingly authentic African film, a lens which is rare for cinema going audiences from a country which has virtually no visibility on the world stage.

Interwoven with some beautifully stark images, Banel and Adama is a symbolic tale of how an individual woman fights against the expectations of her community and a man who has to bow down to local pressure to take up the position of village leader as inherited according to dictated custom.

Debut director Rama-Toulaye Sy imbues her first film with all the traits of traditional African cinema, minimal sets and a stark production design, while skilfully keeping her narrative community driven as her two main characters battle to accept the fates that have been chosen for them by the village elders.

Gamers and Racers

Gran Turismo

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Cast: David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Archie Madekwe, Thomas Kretchmann, Geri Horner, Oscar Nominee Djimon Hounsou, Joshua Stradowski, Darren Barnet, Pepe Barroso, Takehiro Hira, Daniel Puig

Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes

Film Rating: 7 out of 10

South African director Neill Blomkamp who scored a hit with the Oscar nominated sci-fi film District 9 in 2009 returns to the big screen with Gran Turismo his new film about a gamer Jann based in Cardiff, Wales who gets selected by Nissan marketing man Danny Moore to be trained as a Formula 1 driver with the encouragement and expertise of his manager Jack Salter wonderfully played by David Harbour (Revolutionary Road, Black Widow, Quantum of Solace).

Gran Turismo features rising British star Archie Madekwe as the young and talented PlayStation gamer Jann Mardenborough who is an expert on the game Gran Turismo. Desperate to escape his Cardiff background and breakaway from his strict footballer father Steve superbly played by Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou (In America, Blood Diamond), Jann is soon caught up in the fast paced world of international motor racing as he unknowingly becomes a pawn between Danny Moore who is desperate to please his Tokyo based bosses at Nissan and washed up American racing car driver Jack Salter.

Between Salter and Moore, they nurtured Jann to become not just a formula one driver but a winning one despite the steep and dangerous learning curve that the young man has to go through.

Not as elegant or flashy as director Ron Howard’s excellent film Rush or with as captivating performances as director James Mangold’s Oscar nominated Ford v Ferrari, Gran Turismo stumbles in the beginning as the story battles to finds its feet but once Blomkamp is in the international F1 circuit section of the storyline then the film’s action moves swiftly from Dubai to the racetracks of Europe, then this racing film relinquishes the training wheels.

Unfortunately despite the presence of Orlando Bloom (Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings) as the sharp talking PR man Danny Moore, the male lead of the film lacks the screen power to sustain a two hour feature and at times Archie Madekwe looks lost in such a big film, although his performance is not perfect he battles with a below average script as does his more experienced co-stars.

Fortunately all the incredible racing scenes in Gran Turismo is where this film’s true strength lies and like all films made about motor racing they are primarily aimed at an audience that loves fast cars and cutting edge driving. The talented Blomkamp also has an uncanny ability to incorporate live action sequences with brilliant visual effects and Gran Turismo is no exception. The best part about this film is the razor sharp editing by Austyn Daines and Colby Parker Jr.

If you love motor racing and the PlayStation game Gran Turismo, then catch this film version in cinemas now.

Set in Cardiff, Tokyo, and Dubai and across Europe, Gran Turismo gets a film rating of 7 out of 10. Worth seeing.

Gravity Swallows Light


Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr, Josh Hartnett, Matt Damon, Tom Conti, Dane DeHaan, Casey Affleck, Kenneth Branagh, Gary Oldman, Florence Pugh, Alden Ehrenriech, Scott Grimes, Jason Clarke, Tony Goldwyn, James D’Arcy, Gregory Jbara, David Krumholtz, Matthias Schweighofer, Alex Wolff, Jack Quaid, Michael Angarano, Matthew Modine, David Dastmalchian, Josh Peck, Rami Malek, Christopher Denham, James Remar, Olivia Thirlby, Gustaf Skarsgard, Jefferson Hall, Louise Lombard

Running time: 180 minutes

Film Rating: 9.5 out of 10

The sheer magnitude of director Christopher Nolan’s biographical historical drama Oppenheimer is hugely impressive. In fact it is the director’s Magnum Opus – his historical masterpiece. Nolan’s idea of making a film about the Manhattan Project was hinted at in the Mumbai scene in his 2020 time bending espionage film Tenet.

Unlike most historical biographies which follows a chronological narrative structure of displaying dates and locations, Nolan throws out the rule book and instead dazzles the viewer, challenging them in every frame with a multitude of different scenes occurring concurrently, skilfully playing with time frames but ultimately building up a character of a very intelligent but complex man, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the Atomic Bomb, the Sphinx Guru of Atoms as one of his colleagues call him just after the succesfull Trinity Test in Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1945 as part of the ultra-covert Manhattan Project.

For what Oppenheimer discovers, the harnessing of atomic energy, its military significance will ultimately overshadow its scientific genius much like gravity swallowing light.

At the centre of Oppenheimer, are three great performances. Cillian Murphy is captivating as J. Robert Oppenheimer, a gifted but conflicted scientist who even consults with Albert Einstein, a scene stealing moment featuring British character actor Oscar nominee Tom Conti (Shirley Valentine; Rueben, Rueben). Then Oscar nominee Robert Downey Jr (Chaplin) shows off his skilful acting abilities as the devious and vindictive Lewis Strauss, the head of the Atomic energy Commission who is out to get Oppenheimer, a sort of Cassius figure that seeks the downfall of an influential leader.  

Oscar nominee Florence Pugh (Little Women) as the seductive communist Jean Tatlock, Oppenheimer’s former girlfriend and part time sex siren is tantalizing as a defiant yet traumatised woman caught up with a complicated man on the brink of changing the world forever, just as geopolitics in the World War II era was shifting beyond recognition, from the age of mortal combat to nuclear annihilation. Tatlock’s character resembles the allure of communism in the late 1920’s when it was fashionable amongst the intelligentsia in bohemian circles, before the political system’s failures were tested and exposed.

Christopher Nolan expects his viewers to be historically literate, because as a history buff with an Imax camera, he is out to impress you, dazzle you with a superb epic, flipping between decades complete with oblique historical reference points from the Spanish Civil War to Hitler’s invasion of Poland in 1939 to the trials of communists during the witch hunts of McCarthyism in 1950’s America. You have to be up to date with this knowledge because as an auteur director Nolan demands a sophisticated audience.

With crisp cinematography by Oscar nominee Hoyte Van Hoytema (Dunkirk) and a jarring musical score by Oscar winner Ludwig Goransson (Black Panther), Oppenheimer is a cinematic feast which displays a competent universe of stars, a host of talented actors and many cameo’s that make up this epic, an overtly masculine take on a monumental historical figure filled with urgency and military importance, strategic significance and ethical complexity.

Whether celebrated or later despised as expertly crafted by Christopher Nolan who also wrote the screenplay, Oppenheimer is painted as a flawed but inventive scientist who gets too involved in the industrial military complex, represented by Matt Damon’s brute force army character Leslie Groves, while his past flirtations with communism were scrutinized as he had top level security to the hydrogen bomb that he built and created, which Truman used unblinkingly to bomb the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II in August 1945.

Oppenheimer is an intelligent multidimensional film about the controversial father of the Atomic Bomb set in an era when the world was changing too fast for the population to realize the consequences.

Oppenheimer gets a film rating of 9.5 out of 10 and is an intelligent dissection of the moment the world changed forever. Highly recommended viewing.

Conspicuous Display

Master Gardener

Director: Paul Schrader

Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Joel Edgerton, Quintessa Swindell, Esai Morales

Running time: 1 hour 51 minutes

Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Patty Hearst, Autofocus and Card Counter auteur director Paul Schrader returns with a fascinating multigenerational character study in his new film Master Gardener starring the alluring three time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver (Aliens, Gorillas in the Mist and Working Girl) as a prickly and difficult yet wealthy heiress Norma Haverhill who owns a beautiful estate called Gracewood Gardens.

In this lavish estate with an extensive formal garden in the French style is a meticulous horticulturalist Narvel Roth with a murky and dangerous past, whose previous life as a white supremacist is tattooed all over his chiselled body. Brilliantly played by Australian actor Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom, The Great Gatsby), Narvel is escaping his terrible past and trying to redeem himself as a horticulturalist while remaining discreet as a criminal informant who spied on his own gang and got police protection under a new identity.

Narvel Roth is tasked by the demanding and vicious Norma Haverhill to look after and employ her grand-niece, Mia a young directionless girl played by Quintessa Swindell (Black Adam, Granada Nights) who enters the privileged world of her great aunt, Norma who holds court in a beautiful mansion complete with a maid and butler.

As Mia interrupts the arrangement between Narvel and Miss Haverhill, relationships unravel and the beautifully kept gardens are subjected to disruptive elements which threaten the tranquillity of Gracewood Gardens.

Scripted by Paul Schrader and using the garden as a motif for growth and rejuvenation, Master Gardener is a seductive film about the complex issues of race relations in the United States. Schrader skilfully directs the narrative weaving in contemporary themes like racism, addiction, class and succession, but what really holds Master Gardener together are three superb performances by three actors from very different generations: Sigourney Weaver, Joel Edgerton and Quintessa Swindell, all of whom are mesmerizing.

Premiering at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival, Master Gardener is a stylish thriller with complex character actions in which each one of them are tempted by sex and violence, two of Schrader’s favourite topics.

Schrader has always been fascinated by the murkier sides of human relationships, the illicit deceptions and the brimming rage within each character that he creates. After all, this is a screenwriter that wrote the iconic film Taxi Driver starring Robert de Niro and Jodie Foster.

If audiences are a fan of Paul Schrader’s films and love a good film noir thriller, then watch Master Gardener, which gets a film rating of 8 out of 10.

An intriguing story directed by an auteur at the peak of his creative powers investing all the characters with crisp and challenging dialogue.

Tigers Don’t Get Bail


Director:  Visakesa Chandrasekaram

Cast:  Sivakumar LingeswaranKamalasiri Mohan KumarThurkka Magendran

Running Time: 100 minutes

Languages: Tamil with English Subtitles

Festival: Durban International Film Festival (DIFF)

Sri Lankan director Visakesa Chandrasekaram film Munnel had its international premiere at the International Film Festival Rotterdam earlier in 2023 and revolves around a Tamil militant Rudran played by Sivakumar Lingeswaran who returns home injured and is cared for by his strong willed old fashioned mother while searching for his missing girlfriend Vaani played by Thurkka Magendran.

Munnel is set away from the bustling metropolis of Colombo and is filmed in a very rural part of Sri Lanka whereby Rudran and his mother are living in almost poverty stricken conditions as they are fiercely protective of their own lives despite dreams of smarter things. Rudran played with a sort of stubborn arrogance by Sivakumar Lingeswaran is keen on buying a Samsung phone but he cannot afford it and he tells his mother of the wonders of new technology including Facebook and Instagram. Colombo is glimpsed at in flashbacks like an elusive city which excludes the indigent.

While Rudran is hanging out with the local village guys there is a court case brewing about his involvement as a militant in the infamous group the Tamil Tigers. Rudran was arrested for committing atrocities and crimes during the nearly four decade long Sri Lankan civil war from 1983 to 2009.

Munnel or the English translation Sand is a fascinating tale of a mother and a son whose innocence or guilt is never fully established right up until the end of the film. As the director wraps Munnel in traditional Tamil rituals and also highlights the sense of community in which the mother and son dwell even if there lingers suspicion amongst the villagers that Rudran could be guilty.

To a non-Western audience, there will be many cultural references which will be missed while watching Munnel, nevertheless it is a fascinating Sri Lankan film about the horrors of civil war and the focus on a militant that comes home only to be haunted by his past deeds. Incidentally Munnel was shot in 2019 amidst rolling blackouts, fuel shortages and a cost of living crisis in Sri Lanka.

After its world premiere at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Munnel was a welcome addition to the films screened at the 44th Durban International Film Festival in July 2023.

As a fascinating mostly rural set Sri Lankan film, Munnel gets a film rating of 6.5 out of 10 and is slow moving in parts but is worth seeing even if it is to catch a glimpse of an exotic country in which there exists very little external media coverage.

Worth seeing but many of the traditional religious scenes will be lost on Western audiences if they are not familiar with Tamil customs and rituals.

The Ice Cream Seller and the Writer


Director: Christian Petzold

Cast: Thomas Schubert (Austrian), Paula Beer, Eno Trebs (The White Ribbon dir Michael Hanneke), Langston Ubel, Matthias Brandt

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Language: German with English Subtitles.

Please note that this film has not had a commercial cinema release yet.

Acclaimed German film maker Christian Petzold returns with his new film Afire focusing discreetly on the wildfires that ravage Europe in the summer, wreaking havoc on remote holiday destinations. Petzold’s film Afire which premiered at the prestigious Berlinale, the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival, in February 2023 had its exclusive South African premiere hosted by the German consulate in South Africa at the Durban International Film Festival on Sunday 23rd July 2023 at Suncoast Cinemas and I was privileged to attend.

Afire contains only four main characters: tortured self-absorbed writer Leon superbly played by Austrian actor Thomas Schubert who was in attendance at the film premiere; the beautiful yet elusive Nadja wonderfully played with flirty desire by German actress Paula Beer; muscular lifeguard or swimming assistant Devid played by the gorgeous Enno Trebs who as a child actor appeared in director Michael Haneke’s brilliant Oscar nominated film The White Ribbon (2010) and lastly Felix played by Langston Ubel.

With the main location being a beach house near the Baltic Sea, initially Leon and Felix hire the beach house to get some work done during the summer. Much to the boy’s surprise is the appearance of the gorgeous Nadja who is mysterious at first until they soon discover more about her.

Then the athletic and buff Devid appears on the scene, initially presumed to be Nadja’s boyfriend but as Leon discovers that assumption is way off the mark.

The narrative that follows is a tragic comedy about four young adults struggling with their own artistic personalities and their limitations while their surroundings are slowly getting ravaged to the ground by extremely dangerous wildfires.

Director Christian Petzold holds the action tight and keeps the plot mainly between these four characters as they laugh, drink wine, sulk and go for swims. All of them except Leon brilliantly played by Thomas Schubert as a thoroughly dislikeable, self-absorbed and generally painful writer who is struggling to complete a novel which he knows is terrible.

Events take a deadly turn when Leon’s editor Helmut turns up for dinner one summer evening. The intellectually arrogant Helmut played by Matthias Brandt takes a shine to the gorgeous Nadja who flits around all these men riding a bicycle in a red dress, which becomes a motif for flaming hot desire and impending danger.

Afire is completely un-American and decidedly European in every respect. A contemporary tale about modern relations, complete with fluctuating sexualities, an existential threat of climate change which becomes real and a darkly tragic turn of events that inspired the writer to craft a more competent narrative around his fascination with the ice cream seller and the lovers that turn to ash.

Afire is a brilliant film, expertly crafted with effortless acting by all the four main stars. It is highly recommended viewing for those that enjoy premium European cinema content.

Afire gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and catch it at a cinema when it comes on general release.

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