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HHFF 2008 Film Reviews: Part 1
by the KinoCritics

8TH Day, The ****
Chadchai Yoodsaranee, Thailand
Auntie Chub’s (Watsana Chalakorn) house is her universe. Her life is austere: she takes in wash, buys from local stalls, enjoys pleasures as simple as her mind is. Day One: fate intervenes from the street outside her house. A little girl waits for her mother; Chub takes Nong Pair (Jennis Oparsert) into her house to look at her daughter’s toys, adamant that Nong not take any toys when she leaves. Meanwhile, psychology student  Num (Thanarate Siriwattanangul) has a thesis project to do. He lives across the street from Chub and pays scant attention to his neighborhood, but on this day fate puts Chub and Nong into his line of vision. Nong Pair disappears, her parents and the neighborhood are frantic. As the days peel by, we realize Chub suffers from a slow debilitating disease that affects her mind, even though she fights to control it. Shot in lush back and white, Chub’s flashbacks are in color and impart vital background information. With each day, tension builds. “Life goes on without an end…Society will distinguish between black and white.” A sensitive, artful thriller. (Marinell Haegelin)

31 Minutes, The Movie***
Pedro Peirano/Álvaro Díaz, Chile/Brazil/Spain
How can a mere hand puppet be so darn cute? Juanin is the last of his species and highly coveted for a rare-animal collection kept by the evil millionaire Cachirula. Juanin produces a successful TV show and lovingly paints a portrait of the popular but arrogant presenter, Tulio, to celebrate his birthday. Cachirula’s henchman sabotages the gift, making Tulio a laughingstock. Juanin is sacked from his job and immediately kidnapped and taken to Cachirula’s private island. Thanks to CCTV, the evil plot is uncovered and the TV crew rushes to the rescue. Based on the satirical South American TV series of the same name. Move over Muppets! (Mary Wienke, BT***)

35 Rum  (35 Rhums/35 Shots of Rum) ***1/2
Claire Denis, France/ Germany
Life for widower Lionel (Alex Descas), a Parisian Metro train driver, his life has centered on daughter Josephine. Now an adult, Josephine (Mati Diop) looks after her father while she tries to balance the demands of her budding personal life. Intertwined in their lives are friends, and neighbors in their building, their extended family. In this carefully crafted film, with subtle directorial handling of the story from Claire Denis, we see how love transcends the normal emotions people live through — loss, hope, growing older, growing up and letting go. The result is a film with which many will be able to identify. À votre santé! (Marinell Haegelin)
35 Rum  ***
This is a low-key emotional journey dealing with life’s changes. The director Claire Denis manages to open up a whole spectrum of feelings without much dialog, relying on the sensitive performance of her well-chosen leading actors Alex Descas (widower Lionel) and Mati Diop (daughter Joséphine) to draw us into the life of the characters. 35 Rum, a German-French co-production, won the Art Cinema Award (C.I.C.A.E.) at the Filmfest Hamburg 2008. (Birgit Schrumpf)

Acné **1/2
Federico Veiroj, Uruguay/Argentina/Spain/Mexico
Rafael Bregman is a 13-year-old in a normally dysfunctional, upper middle class, Jewish family in Uruguay. He plays piano, visits prostitutes, smokes, plays cards with and seeks advice from his friends. With regular visits to a dermatologist, he hopes to regain his self-esteem by ridding himself of facial acne. Rafa saves his first kiss, his bona fide declaration of love, for classmate Nicole, which proves trickier than he expects. An average film with nothing remarkable or memorable to elevate it from being… uninterestingly normal. (Marinell Haegelin)

Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, France/Algeria
 Adhen shows us the social microcosm of a pallet factory on the outskirts of Paris, where
most of the workers are Muslims. Some repair pallets, others are mechanics.
Their lives are defined by their work and their faith. Their boss, Mao, is a Muslim too and
wants everyone to convert to Islam - with mixed results. Recent convert Titi circumcises himself with a pair of scissors, because his colleagues tease him, and has to be taken to hospital. Some of the workers see Mao as a good boss and good Muslim who treats them fairly, others call him a crook who owes them money. When Mao provides the Muslim workers with a room to serve as a mosque for the Friday prayer and appoints the imam as well, some question his motives. Is their boss using their faith to manipulate them? As tension mounts, Mao fires the mechanics (who seem to be most critical of him), and they go on strike. 

A realistic film with impressive images and believable characters, Adhen is well worth watching and provides food for thought. Director Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche won, among others, the Award of the Youth at the Cannes Film Festival 2006 for his film about Algeria, Bled Number One. (Christa Greiff, BT***)

Adoration **1/2
Atom Egoyan, Canada
High school French teacher Sabine (Arsinée Khanjian) gives her class a translation exercise that has a profound effect on one student. Simon (Devon Bostick), integrates the facts of the newspaper article into his blurred family recollections. An accident resulted in his becoming an orphan, under the care of his fumbling uncle, Tom (Scott Speedman), at an early age. Simon takes his recreated version on-line with non-startling results: utterly out of context is a “mysterious” woman who appears at their home but with a second appearance her identity is perceptible: Simon is left to sort out reality from fiction. The film has too many transparent layers. Who adores whom? (Marinell Haegelin, BS****, KB****1/2, NT****1/2, BT****)
Adoration ****
Director Atom Egoyan successfully uses a multi-layered approach by applying interaction through modern media technology (computer chat rooms) as well as the painful outcomes from those online chat rooms to create a complicated but riveting story line.  He produces a film that navigates through feelings of fear, anger and mistrust to explore thoughts on terrorism, prejudices of a religion and ethnic basis which begins in a simple classroom setting where teacher Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian)and student Simon (Devon Bostick) go out of bounds on a school project. Their paths are linked together by the loss of Simon’s parents in a car accident years before but are just now dealing with the mourning process which takes an unusual route. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

All that she Wants **
Denis Côté, Canada
At first, probably all that Coralie (Eve Duranceau) wants is a nice husband, two kids, and a picket fence around the rose-covered cottage. What she has is a step father/grandfather (a little inferred incest here), an absent, probably in the morgue or an asylum, active participation in n phone sex, and three red-neck, violent neighbors, who open a brothel with two Russians girls. Country life in Canada never appeared so threatening, all made more so in black and white. In the end, Coralie probably wants everyone to return to life and her kidney to be reinserted into her body. Text comes sparingly; everyone spends hours on the front porch, violence hovers in the air. A sure sign of male power is a German eagle T-shirt, right?  “Slow-menacing-white-trash” in a nut shell. Denis Côté has made 15 award-winning short films and a first film (Drifting States) which won first prize in Locarno, 2005. I’ll save judgment until I see more, but right now, I’m frustrated with this film. (Becky Tan)

As Simple as That ****
Reza Mir Karimi, Iran
A day in the life of Iranian housewife Tahareh (Hengameh Ghaziani): she cooks for her children, is supportive of her husband, helps her neighbors, and feels unfulfilled. Religious Iranians consult the esterkhareh to find out if a wish or dream will come true, which requires a cleric to open the Koran at random and then interpret the text he finds there. Tahareh faithfully consults her cleric; wishing for something different to happen, she keeps her suitcase packed and the freezer full. Yet it is her low self-esteem that makes her blind to the influence she wields on those around her. This film from Director Reza Mir Karimi is lushly layered with character and cultural nuances, humor, shots that make you want to see more, deftly portrayed interpersonal relationships. Tahareh takes on an intimate journey of self-discovery.  (Marinell Haegelin, BS **, BT**)
As Simple as That **
Tehateh’s marriage does not seem that bad to me.  She may be bored and can’t connect to her husband but she still has her children, friends and opportunity to create art. Probably the hardest part for her is that she must depend on this religious book to determine her life instead of herself. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Back Soon **1/2
Sólveig Anspach, Iceland/France
Anna (Didda Jonsdottir) decides it is time to leave Iceland, wanting her two sons to grow up in a warm environment. However first she has to sell her thriving drug business. In the course of two days, while negotiating the sale, she encounters unanticipated challenges with her brother, an Irish lass and a goose. We become intimately involved with her children, family and friends. Labeled a “quirky, feel good movie” (the shots of Iceland send shivers up your spine), the “quirky” bogs down and does not elevate the film from being more than sporadically entertaining.  (Marinell Haegelin, MW: bomb)

Bachna ae Haseeno ****
Siddharth Anand, India
During the last years Indian Bollywood movies have made it into the international film festival circuit. Heart-throb Sha Rukh Khan’s Om Shanti Om had its German premiere at the Berlinale 2008 and Bachna ae Haseeno opened at this year’s Filmfest Hamburg. After director Siddharth Anand’s success of his film Ta Ra Rum Pum this is his second film for Hamburg.

He presents us with a youthful story about the ever-charming Raj (Ranbir Kapoor) and three of the women he falls in love with. During the round-trip through Europe with his boisterous friends he literally bumps into sweet, romantic Mahi (Minissha Lamba) on the train in Switzerland, but she is bespoken to a “suitable” young man back in India. Raj is not ready to marry yet, he is enjoying his easy sex-appeal, and women just take to him. He very much enjoys the gorgeous, sexy and independent Radhika (Bipasha Basu), but has to get on with his life when business takes him to Australia. Here he becomes friendly with Gayatri (shooting star Deepika Padukone, last seen in Om Shanti Om). She is a student, driving a taxi to pay her rent; she is beautiful, smart and confident. She knows what she wants out of life. She is the one toppling Raj’s ideas about love and women.

This is essentially a film for teenagers but dad will also enjoy looking at beautiful girls (and boys) dancing to disco music in the most colourful outfits. Mom will be pleased with the sound morality that always rounds off a Bollywood film. Nearly all the cast, including grandma and grandpa, are dancing happily together at someone’s wedding. And as customary, films are never shorter than two to three hours, and this one is no exception with 160 minutes of fun. In addition to the love story you get to see beautiful snapshots of Europe’s tourist sites as well as Australia’s. (Birgit Schrumpf)

Bis Später Max (Love Comes Lately) **1/2
Jan Schütte , Germany/Austria
An incorrigible lover, almost 80 year old author and lecturer Max Kohn (Otto Tausig) easily shifts from his reality to that of his fictitious characters. He gambles Reisel (Rhea Perlman), his long term and neglected lover will continue to understand his liaisons. Max’s encounters regularly develop into predicaments with funny, and forced-funny results. Merging three short stories by Nobel prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer, the film, however, does not differentiate enough between Max’s reality and his stories. Even though well-acted, the film’s end is unsatisfying; Jan Schütte, director / writer does not tie-up Singer’s stories to a coherent conclusion. (Marinell Haegelin, NT)
Bis Später Max  **
Max moves between love and death as his short stories parade his character through the arms of several women.  Despite his age and having dealt with prostate cancer, he still has his charisma in his subconscious which draws the story line of these women to him. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Blindness (Die Stadt der Blinden) ****
Fernando Meirelles, Canada/ Brazil/Japan
Suddenly one person inexplicably becomes blind, then two, then three. Soon several hundred are quarantined in an abandoned factory, surrounded by soldiers in watch towers. There is little contact with the outside world except for food deliveries. Life is even harder than normal imprisonment as everyone is blind, except the doctor’s wife (Julianna Moore). She pretends to be afflicted in order to stay by her husband’s side. Everyone desperately clings to some semblance of order and guidance as raw, selfish greed takes over in the form of rape, theft and murder. In the end they flee their prison which has caught fire, only to find the whole city in a state of blindness and chaos. Fernando Meirelles won the right to film the book by José Saramago, because, based on his films City of Men and The Constant Gardener, Saramago believed that Meirelles could avoid turning it into a zombie film. His instincts were right. The film is easier to understand than the book (which is full of run-on sentences). The white light and often fuzzy pictures made me feel blind as well; this was a good means of involving the audience in the plot. It is an excellent example of society out of control without leadership or rules, such as Lord of the Flies or the Isabelle Huppert film The Time of the Wolf (which also played at the Filmfest HH a few years ago). Starring also Mark Ruffalo and Gael Garcia Bernal, it was in competition at Cannes 2008.   (Becky Tan, MW***, KB*****)

Bonjour Sagan  ***1/2
Diane Kurys, France
The film begins with the19-year-old Françoise Sagan (amazing performance by Sylvie Testud) who wins the 1954 Prix des Critiques for her first novel Bonjour Tristesse also an immediate smash hit across the Atlantic. Following her bohemian but troubled life till her death 50 years later, Sagan is shown taking responsibility for her entourage with her prolific output despite her extreme self-destructive behavior.

Speaking at the FilmFest Hamburg Diane Kurys emphasized her film is not a documentary but fiction. “This is my way of meeting her” was her comment after indicating a friend got her interested in the project four years ago at the time of Sagan’s death – who also insisted “You MUST cast Sylvie Testud as Sagan,” a tip well-taken as Testud intensely depicts her complex loneliness.

Tidbits: Sagan has a sister, now 85 years old whose voice sounds like her famous sibling. And contrary to what is in the film, on her deathbed Sagan never said she did not want to see her son. Film starts in Germany on January 19, 2009, but be ready, this French film will probably have German subtitles. (Nancy Tilitz, BS***1/2)

Continental, a Film without Guns **
Stéphane Lafleur, Canada
A man disappears, another tries to validate himself, the third tries to get hold of his luck, and then there is a woman with an identity crisis. Back and forth: lonely people, ill at ease with their lives. Repercussions resonate, linking supposedly non-connected lives. There are black comedic moments, but the film falters from confusion and mundaneness.  (Marinell Haegelin, BS**, KB***1/2, BT*)

Cut Loose
Jan Verheyen, Belgium
(BS***, MW***, NT****)

Darling ****

Christine Carrière, France
Darling… a name any young (Océane Decaudain) fat girl, miserably living within a dysfunctional family, disdainfully treated by her parents (Anne Benoît and Marc Brunet) and yearning for the outside world, would want. Their farm edges a highway, hence she watches trucks incessantly pass and dreams of the “freedom” of a trucker’s life. Years go by: eventually Darling (Marina Foïs) gets a citizen band radio, learns the lingo and starts talking to drivers. One of her first chats is with “Romeo” (Guillaume Canet), who is anything but the Shakespearean hero. His abuse is galling, her spunky defiance uplifting. It is her love for her children that finally drives Darling to find the courage to take action. Splendidly executed, this film is based on a true story; we take away an unsettling disbelief in “justice.” (Marinell Haegelin, NT****, CG****)

Desert Within, The ****
Rodrigo Plá, Mexico
Set in 1926 Mexico during the anti-Catholic / anti-clerical Cristero War, under extreme stress farmer Elías (Mario Zaragoza) makes a choice that dictates his life’s direction. Told through the eyes of his youngest and weakest son Aureliano (Guillermo Dorantes), the film’s biblical-like (with Shakespearean undertones) chapters are Guilt, Penance, The Sign, and The Forgiveness — that never comes. To save his large family, Elias moves them into the desert. The years pass, Aureliano paints: the family saga is preserved in religious altarpieces that adorn a church Elias is obsessed with building so God will forgive him. Without contact to the outside world, adolescents Aureliano (Diego Cataño) and his sister Micaela (Eileen Yañez) share a special bond. Arrogant Elias’s retribution comes at a high price. Director Rodrigo Plá’s film has a very well developed plot and is beautifully executed: animated graphics, applied at precise points throughout, make for a magnificent ending. Mexican directors just keep giving us amazing films – gracias! (Marinell Haegelin, BT****)
Desert Within, The ****
Rodrigo Pla has mastered a timely classic which is reminiscent of films such as the Grapes of Wrath and Giant. Pla striking style transforms these dark images into a moving woodcut print. It’s no wonder that The Desert Within won many awards at the Guadalajara Film Festival since Pla’s script and film techniques perfectly blend. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Duft des Apfels, Der (Boni Seu/The Smell of Apples) ****
Ravin Asasf, Iraq/Germany
Handing out apples before this movie was a brilliant idea since after seeing this film you can’t smell or eat the apple.  Director Ravin Asaf thanked his crew profusely and explained that the logistics of making this film were like bringing an elephant across the desert. For example, they were forced to smuggle people and equipment across the boarder. The forgotten Kurdish town sends a message to the future about the long term effects of using poison gas and its destructiveness of a community. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer, BS***, MH)

Eldorado *****
Bouli Lanners, Belgium/France
Eldorado is one of the few films that are very funny, have black humor with a surrealistic twist, have poetic scenes, touch on social issues and don’t drift into slapstick.

When Yvan (Bouli Lanners), a sloppy, unkempt second-hand car dealer, returns to his small house at night, he finds a burglar under his bed. It is the dead-scared, whimpering junky Elie (Fabrice Adde) who has broken in to find a few Euro in a glass jar. Yvan, himself lonely and lost, takes pity on Elie who needs transport to visit his parents near the French border. When he finds Elie stranded on the road, he picks him up in his ramshackle US old-timer and the two take off through spectacular landscape, meeting the most bizarre people on their way. One wonders how a small country like Belgium in the middle of “civilised” Europe can have such vast empty country side and produce such variety of weird characters. They spend an afternoon with a boozing clairvoyant, survive a car crash in the forest and a nightly thunderstorm. During their time together Yvan becomes quite fond of the young man who reminds him of his dead brother. Could his life become meaningful again?

Director Bouli Lanners, who wrote the script and plays the lead role, very deservedly was announced the Winner of the Quinzaine at Cannes 2008 with the Award of the International Film Critics, Best European Film and Prix Regards Jeunes. He is looking back on more than 40 Belgium and French films as an actor, but this is his second feature film as director. His first feature film Ultranova won an award at the Berlinale 2005. (Birgit Schrumpf, NT**, BT***)


At the German premiere of Eldorado
Eldorado was chosen the closing film at the Filmfest Hamburg playing to an enthusiastic full house at the CinemaxX Dammtor. Bouli Lanners and his young colleague Fabrice Adde greeted the audience after the German premiere of their film. Bouli Lanners told us that his script was based on real facts in as much as he had surprised a burglar, not in his house but on his boat. After a few hours of talking to the desperate young man he took pity on him – only to be robbed again by the same fellow. (Birgit Schrumpf)

Everlasting Moments *****
Jan Troell, Denmark, Sweden/ Norway/ German/Finland
A camera’s mystique, since its invention, has been to capture time, to preserve a moment… forever. Maestro director Jan Troell’s gift to us is to encompass this simple fact in such an absorbing, enriching story.

Maja Larsson (Callin Öhrvall), oldest daughter of Maria (Maria Heiskanen) and Sigfrid (Mikael Persbrandt) recounts her family’s history. In the early 1900s, her working-class Swedish parents are challenged by external factors — poverty, social change, war — in providing for their ever-increasing family. Her father is boisterous, good natured; her mother caring, stable.

“You see what you want to see,” Maja remembers her mother saying. Maria had won a camera in a lottery, which she finds one day in the back of an armoire. She takes the camera to local photographer Sebastian Pedersen (Jesper Christensen) to sell; instead Pedersen convinces her she should use the camera once at least, and subsequently teaches Maria the intricacies of photography. The resulting photographs are what Pedersen senses; Maria has a unique way of seeing the world around her. He encourages her, and their special relationship becomes a centering point for Maria; kindly Pedersen becomes “Piff Paff Puff” to her and the children.

Sigfrid meanwhile, a womanizing drunk, behaves recklessly, threatening his family’s welfare. Ever stalwart, after the children are in bed Maria turns the kitchen into her darkroom, causing Sigfrid to feel even more threatened by Maria’s photography and the independence it brings her. Sigfrid’s rage, impotent against her new-found strength and tenacity, reaches a crescendo that has devastating results; Maria’s ultimate choice, while perhaps puzzling, also epitomizes life.

Director Jan Troell, with Niklas Rådström’s superb screenplay, breathes life into each character, all brilliantly portrayed. Heiskanen’s face richly reflects infinite variations of emotions, Persbrandt fluctuates effortlessly from scoundrel to charming, Öhrvall aptly blends innocence with level-headedness; Christensen’s subtlety speaks volumes. Mischa Gavrjusjov and Jan Troell’s impeccable camera work frames each golden shot as if it were a photograph; original music from Matti Bye enhances the shifting moods throughout. Based on a factual account, this fascinating story is told so well, it is like a first-rate novel you do not want to end. An exquisite masterpiece, this film will be: everlasting. (Marinell Haegelin, BS****)
Everlasting Moments *****
Director Jan Troell is a true master with the camera. Each scene sends us back in time and each moment is wonderfully shot and significant. The title couldn’t be more appropriate as this film takes us back to Sweden in the 1920’s and we can actually visualize what Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen), one of Sweden’s first photographers, saw through the camera.  The view of daily life with color tones in brown gives us a naturalistic view of the hard life in that time period. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)

Everything is Relative
(Mary Wienke***, KB**)

Eye Of The Sun***
Ibrahim El Batout, Egypt, Marocco
El Batout is best known for his documentary films for television and his second feature film, Eye of the Sun has a documentary format where the audience is addressed directly by a story teller. The movie is set in modern day Cairo and weaves together the lives of many people, including Ramadan, the poor taxi driver, (Ramadan Khater) and Selim Bay (Boutros Boutros-Ghaly) the millionaire whose car is chauffeured by Ramadan. At the centre of the story is Ramadan’s eleven-year-old daughter Shams, whose life is affected by events which took place before she was born. Eventually all the strands of this long, meandering movie are brought together in an upsetting ending. This movie was made without a script and with lay actors and it is to the director’s credit that he has managed to produce such an interesting film. (Jenny Mather, (KB*, BT***)