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Dogtooth (2009)
It's not my fault! My parents are to blame!
30 January 2011
Our parents taught us everything we knew until the age when we joined the society. Now, many adult people blame their shortcomings on the influence of their parents.

Such people will adore this film.

Here, the children are absolute victims. Everything bad in their life is directly or indirectly the consequence of their parents' actions. I suppose the viewers of the kind I mentioned will feel a perverse pleasure mixed with pain... A kind of filial masochism, I guess.

The rest of you who are more like me, and don't get a kick out of identifying with victims, will be quite bored, I'm afraid. The film could have lasted 15 minutes and said all it had to say.

Anyway, it gets 6/10 because I admire consistency.
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The Promise (1996)
A melodramatic masterpiece
3 September 2009
Despite the criminal setting, the human trafficking and what have you, don't be fooled by phrases like "socially relevant". This is pure melodrama. In fact, any soap opera writer would proudly exploit the plot elements of the film.

But what makes it a masterpiece is the absolutely flawless direction. There is not a single scene that is superfluous. Blink and you'll miss an important link in the story.

Behind the apparent simplicity of each scene there is a lot of careful planning. The feelings and actions of the characters are skilfully pointed out for exactly as long as it takes to understand them. The Dardenne brothers are helped by a cast that remains etched in your memory, but I doubt any of the actors would shine this much in a less carefully directed film.
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Screwed (2000)
A very funny film, but too long for its own good
9 June 2007
If you're like me and don't want to waste your time on brainless comedies, you might have very well missed this nice little film. Why? Because it sure looks brainless at first. If I had had anything better to do during the first five or ten minutes of "Screwed", I'd have turned off the TV.

But I watched it long enough to realize it was actually very funny. However, it is so unashamedly and deliberately superficial that you can very easily miss its charm if you see only a couple of scenes. Each element (actors, script, direction) is weak by itself. But when they are combined, they somehow manage to conjure that rare magic which we call a good comedy.

Unfortunately, at the two-thirds mark, the film develops an additional plot which is just boring. Your cue: stop watching when DeVito starts ripping off posters from lampposts. From that moment on, the frequency of good jokes decreases dramatically.

Still, the first part of the film is a laugh fest. I recommend it to anyone looking for a good light-hearted (and slightly vulgar) comedy.
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Last Days (2005)
sorry, you don't know Blake
3 February 2007
The entire film is saying the same thing over and over again. But if I had to choose the most symbolic scene, it would be this one: walking through the forest, Blake arrives to a crossroads. One path goes left, the other right. He stops for a moment. Then he goes one way (right or left, doesn't matter).

Why did he choose one way instead of another? "No, I can't explain that," the director seems to be saying. "Sorry, but I don't know, nobody knows it." The message of the film, told in so many scenes, is that we can't enter a man's head.

Since other characters do not understand Blake, many viewers assume the director wants us to feel sympathy for Blake. Wrong. You can't understand Blake, says Van Sant. You don't know if he feels good or bad. You don't know anything about him. Basically, you don't know anything about anybody. It's a hard lesson, a lesson we don't want to learn, and that's why Van Sant needs so many films to convey it.
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The secret of the Hidden Blade
3 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Other reviewers said all that needs to be said about the qualities of this wonderful film. I will just cover a plot detail which can easily be overlooked, but which reveals just how intelligent the story really is. That detail is the "hidden blade" itself.

When the duel ends, the dying Hazama is pained by two things: that our hero Katagiri did not condescend to use the secret technique of the Hidden Blade against him; and that their master taught the technique to the inferior pupil. In fact, it is confirmed twice during the film - first by Katagiri and then by Hazama - that Hazama would have won their mock duels in the past if they had fought with real blades. Hazama was the better swordsman of the two, but he wasn't allowed to learn the Hidden Blade. Why?

We see the Hidden Blade at the end of the film, when Katagiri uses it against his superior, who was a scoundrel. We understand that the Hidden Blade is not a fighting technique, but a murdering technique. It cannot honorably be used against a samurai in a fight. That explains why he didn't use it against Hazama.

OK, but why didn't their master teach Hazama the Hidden Blade? The answer is simple: that technique has nothing to do with who is a better swordsman. Since it is so deadly, it can be taught only to a person who will not abuse it, a person of integrity. And Hazama was never such a person.

In this way, the ending cleverly ties all the loose ends of this great film.
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The Sea Inside (I) (2004)
Far worse than other reviews might make you think
18 March 2005
First let me say that I didn't approach this film with any bias. I think Javier Bardem is a great actor and I liked Amenabar's "Thesis" very much. I don't have a fixed opinion on euthanasia and I intend to judge this film's quality, not its ideology. That said...

Is it just me, or the script sucks? It's full of clichés and platitudes. Given such a controversial topic, it should have been quite original, with at least two or three twists and turns. Instead, all we get is:

"I wanna die, I wanna die, I wanna die." "Maybe you don't wanna die because of (insert cliché here)." "Hum... No, I wanna die, I wanna die, I wanna die."

And what's with the actors? Rueda is absolutely contrived, she acts like she's playing Blanche from "The Streetcar", an old diva with mannerisms. Bardem? I usually love the guy, but here he made me want to puke after his thirtieth fake smile in half an hour. The only actor I can truly commend is the one who plays his brother. He's marvelous, but he's got too little screen time. The nephew is also good, but his role is not that demanding.

Amenabar knows how to direct a movie, but his work here is uninspired. I gave the film a vote of 6 because of some great cinematography. Still, a few sweeping shots over beautiful countryside are not enough to make me like this film or recommend it to anyone.
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Why? (1971)
Very upsetting
3 December 2004
I saw this excellent film a long time ago, but it's still vivid in my mind. The plot is very simple. Sordi gets busted for something he didn't do. A series of coincidences and unfortunate events pushes him further and further into the murky depths of the state penal system.

As the film progresses, dark comedy is getting darker by the minute, as our hero gets stripped of even the basic human dignity. The scary bureaucracy and gritty prison sequences retain just enough realism not to slip into a morbid fairy-tale. If the story was not set in post-war Italy but in a dictatorship, it would come out as perfectly realistic.

Sordi, one of the best Italian actors of all time, is perfect as the naive good guy in an extreme predicament. This is paranoid entertainment at its best.
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Bad but original
20 August 2004
Although the film has many weak moments and the Bottoms character is obviously there only to fill some time (the dreadfully long driving and bedroom sequences), it has many curious elements.

The first part, right until Bottoms appears, is fast-paced and intriguing, with immoral and unpredictable characters that one can't help but be interested in.

The second part, although slacking the pace, turns into a surreal baroque fairytale with dark barons, killing masseuses, knights in armor and people being shot from cannons. The entire film is bathing in happy-go-lucky immorality that feels refreshing most of the time. Not the worst way to spend an evening.
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Funny, clever and full of surprises
13 April 2004
I haven't seen François Berléand anywhere else, but he is marvelous here. I was constantly watching out for him, guessing whether he was crazy, cunning or just blasé. The others are OK, but he simply eclipses them.

The film has some nice turns, especially in the first half, where it successfully keeps up a relaxed yet intriguing atmosphere of a rich man's weekend where anything can happen (very 70s). Also, there are great homosexual innuendoes balancing between funny and uneasy, something quite hard to achieve, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, the characters never develop after the first hour, and the ending is contrived. Still, its quiet humor, clever script and some great acting earned it my vote of 8.
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Harry Munter (1969)
Interesting but ultimately pointless
27 January 2004
This film shows us a strange kid, who is a genius but totally unable to relate to other people, trying to create an emotional bond with his girlfriend, his parents, an old lady, an old loser, and a crazy woman. There are some intriguing situations, like his relationship with his obtuse working-class father. Unfortunately, the film suffers from many long takes that are supposed to be infused with deep meaning, but are not justified by characters, which are shallow or insufficiently explored, so their quirkiness is irritating instead of endearing. Had the pace been quicker, this may have turned into a nice little film, considering the good acting by the lead and his parents.
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Living on the edge
19 January 2004
"Fever" is an apt title for a film that does not hold back on passions and continues the streak of wild romanticism that could be seen in a dozen Polish films since the legendary "Ashes and Diamonds". The film's atmosphere is hard to describe, but imagine something in a Byron-meets-Kafka vein: idealistic and highly emotional characters crushed by an omnipresent and invisible dictatorship.

Hard-core anarchist, desperately enamored bomber, honest but naive peasant, happy-go-lucky hooligan... None of them is your standard fare good guy, but it is hard not to sympathize with their tragic destiny. Yes, there's tragedy and Central European gloom all over the place.

The most terrifying and symbolic sight of the film takes place after a hanging, when a platoon of soldiers starts stomping the ground where they have just buried the poor devil. Funeral march indeed. To drive the point home, a hooligan is continuously whistling that most famous funeral march of all, composed not so surprisingly by Chopin, another Pole.

What really surprises me is that I'm the first person writing a comment about this great movie. Polish film buffs, where have you gone?
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Play for Today: The Kiss of Death (1977)
Season 7, Episode 9
Excellent early work
10 November 2003
Mike Leigh, uncompromising filmmaker who would later go on to reach stardom with "Naked" and "Secrets and Lies", showed all his potential power in his early made-for-TV film about an undertaker's assistant called Trevor.

This strange boy lives in a limbo between two worlds - the incredibly shallow and empty everyday life of English working-class youngsters and the terribly serious world of death and the dying. At first one gets the impression that he is half-witted, saying barely anything and occasionally grinning like an idiot.

When death is close, however, as in the scene with the sick granny, Trevor is transfigured: he knows exactly what to do, becomes authoritative and will not suffer priggishness. On the other hand, this intimate knowledge of death makes him unable to bear with the silly but necessary rituals of life, as shown in the "kiss of death" scene, where he is alone with a girl. This scene shows Leigh's supreme mastery of dramatic tension, as it goes on for about five minutes without the characters saying anything remotely sensible, but one feels that their every move is charged with some subliminal meaning.

Even if you do not care for deeper meanings, you might very well like this film. Leigh manages to be entertaining and humorous as always, showing much sympathy for his characters despite their unlikeable nature.
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A study in tragic idealism
27 June 2003
What starts as a light-hearted story, as our hero makes a ludicrous attempt to ignite a revolution, quickly turns into a tragic tale of a basically nice guy who tries to preserve his ideals in inhumane conditions. Although the script is an adaptation of a Tolstoy's short story, it looks more like something Kafka would have written if he had had more sympathy for his characters. The film reminds me of a 19th century caricature by Honore Daumier: a kid breathes on the windowpane of a shop, is caught by a guard, brought to trial, spends his entire life in jail, is released an old man, comes to the same windowpane and defiantly breathes on it, another guard arrives, but the man is already dead. The most beautiful scenes can be found at the end of the film, where the splendid and barren landscape of Venetian marshes is used as the adequate setting for the almost unbearably poignant finale.
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A Merry War (1997)
An endearing film
27 September 2002
If only more films were made with such clever and funny script, lively characters and downplayed irony! Comstock is perfectly embodied by Grant, and it's not hard to participate in his tribulations, as 90% of people have had money troubles and have tried to write a poem at one time or another in their life. I totally disagree with the comments which would like this film to be another Kafka-clone. We've had enough of that!
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