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Slow burning, uninvolving drama despite good intentions of the film makers
12 March 2020
Saw this at the Film Fest Ghent 2019 ( Slow burning should not always be a problem, were it not that in this film nothing much happens, all things considered. I had expected something more substantial after Harmonium / Fuchi ni tatsu (2016). If anything, it at least succeeds in making abundantly clear, is that a series of small things, on itself mostly innocent and beyond anyone's control, can do a lot of damage when combined, resulting in derailing someone's complete life.

Reputation is important, in that part of the world even more than here, and can affect the relationship with your fiancée (who is a medical doctor), can slam the door to future jobs (as a nurse), and can work out badly on your current job (nursing an elderly mother). All these problems come together in this story. Several scenes try to make clear to us, from glances exchanged, that there is more to it than we think we know at that moment, leaving it up to us to guess what lies underneath.

All in all, despite obvious good intentions of the filmmakers, neither plot nor developments involved me in any way. It all comes down to an unfortunate combination of circumstances. Our main protagonist cannot help it in any way, it just happens around her. The world crumbles down and she is helpless in the process. It may all be very tragic. But a real drama should offer more, like leaving me pondering what would I've done in these circumstances to arrive at a better outcome. Or letting me fantasize what the main protagonist should have done to avert the omens at hand. But I was not involved enough to make either effort.
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Showcasing that Internet changed many aspects of our life. Playful way to make people aware that cyberi-sation won't stop, leaving many people behind who fail to follow
3 March 2020
Saw this at the Berlinale 2020, where it was part of the official competition for the Golden Bear. I'm in limbo whether this is a movie getting cheap laughs at the expense of digital illiterates, or can it be an intentional satire how lowly educated people get into unsustainable debts, or does it want to demonstrate how modern times subliminally influence our society in more aspects than we think. Anyway, everything is exaggerated and enlarged upto the point that it is not funny anymore, for me that is, but a considerable part of the venue (over 1,750 seats) loudly disagreed several times with me on this point.

The primary topic of this movie is that Internet is changing more things in life than ever imagined. Let's call it cyberisation. Think of support- and helpdesks (on average supportive nor helpful), local branch offices disappearing, every task requiring access to a computer, and more along that line.

A positive point of this movie is that the main protagonists are neither the elderly with grey hair nor the baby boomers who are usually associated with computer illiteracy, because of not adapting to contemporary society that becomes more and more Internet-centric nowadays. It could have really been a matter of cheap laughs when they had casted old people in these roles. Luckily, they didn't. We saw people in their 30/40-ies doing stupid things with computers and telephones, having useless discussions with helpdesks and branch office employees, and so on.

A second topic, although it does not say it explicitly, is the underlying message that those lowly educated people are getting in deep debts merely by not understanding how money works, yet still wanting all sorts of things they cannot really afford when they really had done the math. A loan may be a quick solution on the short term, but eventually it all adds up to unsurmountable debts. A fortiori, a 10,000-euro loan to pay a blackmailer may seem a quick solution, but it is a very bad idea in the long run. It is a good thing that the woman in question did not get any, for all sorts of reasons like branch offices with no people authorized to help her. We were happy to see that a different solution came to the rescue.

I doubt this movie provides much news to the not-so-illiterate viewer. Everything that passed by is easily recognizable and certainly not far-fetched. An exception may be the implicit joke about a hacker calling him-self god, living in a wind-power generator and thus able to (illegally) get cheap electricity for mining bitcoins, all of this humor is bound to go over most people's heads. But there are ample hilarious scenes in stock for an enjoyable experience, albeit the continuous undertone is pessimistic and depressing, but not so much that you need a psych after leaving the venue. The depressed feeling may not be shared by everyone, but that was the way I felt it overall.

What is shown about privacy and the inability to remove something that has already appeared on Internet, should be known to everyone. Still, I'm not sure everyone has got that message already, and therefore it is good that the film makers rub it in. Even aforementioned hacker (god) declares himself unable to hack into the "cloud" as that needs more powers than even he has. The visit brought to a data center in the USA is not only completely redundant but also overly simplistic, seeing her freely wandering between the racks in a server farm without a guard around her. Eventually, she finds a rack labelled with her country (can you im-agine that??). She even tries to fit a USB-stick she brought along (for what purpose??) in one of the servers, but none of the holes on the front panel seems to accommodate her, so her mission failed.

Another good thing to be added to general knowledge is that clicks, likes and 5-star ratings can be bought. It is good to be reminded of this phenomenon, if only to cast doubts of high-ranking reviews and other ratings advertised as awarded by normal users like you and me. We see that said hacker seems to be able to implement similar things, for example to help the unfortunate über taxi driver, suddenly receiving 5-star ratings, unlike previously when only 1-star ratings was what she got. And the same hacker did even more than that to the "sextape" mother, who suddenly appeared in all sorts of news articles as a champion of all trades, all of which we know not to be true to reality.
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Exit (VI) (2018)
Eye-opener for me, showing problems faced wanting to cut oneself loose from extremist movements, regardless of left-wing or right-wing. Shows many sides of probems faced
9 February 2020
Saw this at the Movies That Matter documentary film festival 2019 in The Hague (NL). Very informative. It was an eye opener for me, having never thought about it how problematic it could be to cut oneself loose from these movements. Left-wing or right-wing seems to make no difference. Only the constant fear to meet someone from the movement on the street, would haunt me. We hear that it happens, and that such meetings frequently turn out violently.

Another issue is that some actions that seemed logical and justified at the time, are now causing regret, when realizing the amount of pain it brought within the circles of victims and innocent bystanders.

Many sides of the problems faced are brought forward in this documentary. Also how important it is to have a safe place to hide and support from a close friend, for at least the time needed to create a distance. It is a real problem to find such a place and such a friend. Please note that you've lost all your former friends in the process after joining the movement. In other words, all the friends you have at that moment are within the movement you are about to leave. It creates a vicious circle and hence a virtually unsolvable problem.
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Marighella (2019)
Shows heroic activism bringing risks for family, friends and bystanders. Also shows activists and counter forces both employ equally nasty techniques to achieve their goals
7 January 2020
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition, for some reason marked "out of competition" hence no candidate for awards. Entertaining, despite the troubles I have with heroism as demonstrated here, implying ample risks for family, friends and accidental bystanders. Of course, such downsides of activism can all be deemed collateral damage, regrettable but necessary and unavoidable for The Cause (with capitals). When countering activists, The Powers that Be (TPtB) go to every imaginable length, often much further than we see here, to achieve their goal of fighting "terrorists", thereby disregarding the sacrafices and aftermath they cause on their turn. Escalation on both sides lurks around the corner, bearing logical and unavoidable consequences.

Having said that, the fights and the successive phases the struggle gets into, are visualized very well in this movie. There are enough recognizable protagonists to feel along with the activists. A point this movie makes very well is that we are invited to reciprobably feel along with those tasked to fight them. Both parties use every means to their disposal, whereby the anti-revolutionaries are just a bit nastier than the revolutionaries. The revolutionaries may have our sympathy given the overreach of power coming from the state, but to throw a bomb into a police station or a government building, as we saw happening, is a sure way to kill innocent people. So, the activists are only marginally less nasty than their enemies who incarcerate, torture and kill as standard tools-of-the-trade to achieve their goal.

History may have proven these activists correct in hindsight. We, fully aware of the outcome, can easily be convinced that the activists were indeed Good, and those fighting them were Bad (or at least Ugly). There are similar issues with the WW II period when judging people afterwards. More than one perfect illustration of this phenomenon can be seen in the movie Never Look Away / Werk Ohne Autor (2018), written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. It makes us inspect our current opinions: who is with-us or against-us or something in between. Initially, the genre label "Action" on IMDB was too limited, but it is deservedly replaced later by "Action Drama History", as the movie has more to show than just heroic activism.

All in all, thought provoking elements embedded in the story make this movie more interesting than reading the synopsis did assume beforehand. Each coin has two sides. Who is "good" is only clear in hindsight, which is easy for us but not that easy at the time. On the other hand, a superficial viewer can easily be lured into the trap of heroism from the side of the activists, and dismiss the reactionary forces as bad or even criminal. Such rapid conclusions do not show this movie the respect it deserves.
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Daddy's Girl (II) (2018)
Story may seem to be about torture. It luckily does not show any of it. The story has more to it than it superficially shows, albeit a morale is not the proper word
7 January 2020
Saw this at the Brussel International Fantastic Film Festival 2019 (BIFFF for intimates). The director appeared before the screening for an introductory address. He told us that the script was originally written more than 10 years ago. It was at the time of SAW and the like, think "torture porn" as the main keyword. That version has been rewritten in the meantime to better adapt to changes in audience appreciation. The director considered this a logical consequence of the post-#MeToo era we live in nowadays.

The movie is well made and important steps in the proceedings are clearly shown, letting us live and feel along with the main protagonists. The "daddy" role is clear, given his history in Irak. But his daughter Zoë seems continuously in limbo. On one hand, she is very cooperative in bed with her father, as well as helping him to catch new girls. Both tasks are not natural for a daughter to do. On the other hand, she works against him by putting an end to the misery of one girl, though unclear why she helped specifically this one and not of her predecessors who similarly ended miserably. At another moment, she even attempted to put an end to it all.

Regardless of her motives to escape her current way of living, we get gradually the impression that Zoë has inherited some of the sadistic DNA of her father. We see her incidentally watch the tortures through an opening in the door (yet she usually stops looking very soon). This suspicion grows on us and is confirmed in the final scene, where she makes a totally different appearance (no details, no spoilers).

The implied message (morale is not the right word) of this movie is that not only men are sadists, seeking a form to consistently dominate women. Women have this "capability" too, though it can manifest in subtly different forms. The world is not so black and white as we are inclined to think. Given that the main protagonists are unsual in their purposes and their cooperation, one can derive several meanings from this movie. Superficially, we see a man chasing women and know (not see) him ending their lives in a dreadful way. But it is not a late SAW sequel. It brings hidden layers that still make it an interesting watch, and it bends several genre rules too. I wonder whether these not so obvious elements are intentional, or that I construe something out of nothing.
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Compelling story about a church used by two religions. Some underdeveloped issues, e.g. within Besnik's family, could have offered ample material for an extra half hour
7 December 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Saw this at the Munich film festival 2019 (in German: Film Fest München). It was a really compelling story albeit starting quietly and patiently. Initially, it fits the pace of a shepherd's daily life within a small village, though it steams ahead very soon after the quiet start.

Contrary to the usually hefty confrontations in disputes around religious issues, we see no violence in this movie, and everyone behaves in a civilized way. Nevertheless, we see the gaps widening further and further. There is no living-happily-ever-after ending, rather the opposite as more and more differences come to the surface, dividing families and neighbors who lived harmoniously together many years before. The drama is not confined to the dual usage of the church building. Besnik's family is also changing and growing apart, visualized in a final scene where their big dinner table is split in two separate sections.

Nice addition are the landscapes, the animals and the village itself, all photographed very well, though not stealing focus and certainly not deviating from the main story lines. There are two story lines, in fact, each could serve as a plot for two independent films. The film in its current form and shape has an open ending, and I could easily think of an extra half hour for some dormant conflicts that are left undeveloped here. I assume a deliberate choice by the film maker, if only to focus on the church issue and leave the family issues as undercurrent but not the main topic. I would not be surprised when told they had a brainstorm about both variants and made an explicit choice to get at what we saw today. It is their prerogative to do so.

All in all, I can recommend this movie to anyone, regardless of religious beliefs and political viewpoints. The hefty confrontations that I expected from the synopsis, very common when beliefs are the issue, were absent in this movie, and I am glad for that. The developments do not always follow the lines you assumed beforehand, but that is a strong side of this movie. That Bresnik's family shows some problems after initially having lived together in harmony, could have gotten more attention but this may be on purpose.
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Disappointment, given the interesting ingredients
7 December 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Saw this at the Munich film festival 2019 (in German: Film Fest München). For me is was a big disappointment, given the ingredients. Firstly, the quaint screen format and the unnecessary black&white annoy me, both probably intentional and with a special meaning that goes over a layman's head. Secondly, the story did not move me at all, despite the obvious fact that it was intended to do so, given the heart-breaking circumstances and the inequalities in the battle. Thirdly, the improbabilities hindered me. For instance, how did they suddenly find other women with similar stories??

Fourthly, how are we able to deduce that the parents are illegal immigrants and thus cannot produce an ID when filing a complaint at the police station?? I assume that their origin and status is obvious to everyone in Peru, but we are left guessing. The connection with contemporary immigration issues seems force fed to us, though not really relevant for the plot. (Side note: Maybe it was true for the parents in 1981, so not really forced fed. In case it is true to the original story, I apologise for my accusation.)

Of course, their quest was hopeless from the outset. No happy ending possible. We know that the children in question are already given to their respective adoptive parents, probably abroad or otherwise in a family with deep pockets and not prepared to let their new child go. It also raises an existential question, as spoken out loud in a hallway meeting with one of the lawyers: one can argue that the children in question are much better off now, with a solid future and bound to grow up in a prosperous family. I know it is against human nature to ask such questions, but it is a valid one: what right do the physical parents have when looking at it objectively and coldly??

The director told us before the screening that the actual story ran in 1981, but she translated all of it to 1988, being a pivotal period of Peru's history. It is her prerogative to do so, and it will be applauded by many as a vehicle to bring that era closer to us --we only know it from newspapers--, by showing how people lived there at the time. I personally do not care about this at all.

A bogus extra story line was the contact that Pedro had with an upcoming actor, who later turned out to be sexually interested in him. Petro got a death threat near the finale of the movie, stating they two were pigs and would be killed. Pedro immediately went out to break their would-be relationship with a poor excuse that neither of them really believed (he was accused on the spot to be weak). It would have been more interesting when the letter had been sent by the people that ran the shady business of stealing newborn children to sell them to parents, but nothing in the story pointed to such a connection.

All in all, I normally would have scored a 1 (out of 5) for the audience award, given that I hate format over contents (screen format, black&white, etc, and no compelling story to hold my attention). The transition to 1988 plus the contemporary element of investigative journalism made me hesitate. I eventually scored a 2, a tiny bit better but still not much. It defies the high praises that I read everywhere, but it is not the first time I disagree with the crowd.
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Mafak (2018)
Heavy subject. Very well portrayed. Main protagonist carries the story perfectly and genuinely
7 December 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Saw this at the Munich film festival 2019 (in German: Film Fest München). It is a heavy subject, but it is very well portrayed, without any intention to entertain us in a frivolous way. It will come down on you after having left the theater, when starting to ponder about it.

I found the beginning scenes a bit confusing due to time frames switching back and forth over the years. Clearly an attempt to show what happened before, and necessary for the context. It is not clear from the outset who is important for the rest of the story, but that may be my fault, mostly while being unable to connect the younger versions of respective protagonists with their older counterparts. The core of the story starts after Ziad is released from prison, taking most of the running time. Everyone is friendly and considers him a hero and a martyr. Their initial welcoming attitude, however, falters after some time when seeing that Ziad does not integrate. He even doesn't try to find a new place in society, which has changed considerably in 15 years time.

Ziad carries most of the proceedings and we closely follow him for better or for worse, meeting several people who potentially can turn his life around (neither of them succeeds). Everyone means well, but they fail to understand what's in Ziad's head. Similarly, can we hopelessly fail in coming closer to an understanding, as he is not very outspoken.
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iHuman (2019)
Insightful documentary about robots/drones, artificial intelligence, privacy concerns and decisions based on collected data
26 November 2019
Saw this documentary at IDFA 2019, the documentary festival in Amsterdam. This movie did not bring much news for me. This is not to be construed as a complaint. Rather the contrary, as I'll explain later. Much of this was already a topic of growing concern in IT-related journals. Also, lectures held at congresses and seminars presented ample eye-openers in this field, once I become aware of it and began following relevant specialists in the field. In other words, I was not taken by surprise when watching the very many relevant issues passing by. However, that is me, and it is more relevant to make the general public aware, and policy makers in particular.

I know it is not easy to find the right packaging for IT-related contents. I especially know how difficult it is to find the right visuals to support the message on screen. Of course, we now (again) saw the obligatory amount of screen gibberish (mainly program source text), network cabling, flashing lights on applicances, the insides of a server farm, and other boring images seemingly unevitable in this context. Talking heads cannot be avoided either. Nevertheless, I know of no better alternative to present the alarming message. The filmmakers used sort of an all-knowing narrator who guided us throught subsequent stories. I'm not sure that is the best solution, but it may work very well with an uninformed viewer who may intuitively build some trust in this man because of his reputation.

I asked my companion, not working in IT, rather one of the power-user type, about the eye-opening effects for her. She confirmed that this movie worked indeed and could very well serve its purpose to show interested people the many dangers ahead. Of course, those who are not interested at all, cannot be convinced with either talkshow, movie, book or article, so are beyond hope on all counts.

All in all, I suspect that this movie can do a good job of educating people on these very relevant topics, pertinent for everyone and certainly not confined to the world of IT. We cannot leave the decisions to the technicians who work there. We should particularly distrust their management, only interested in short-term profit, and damn the consequences. Politicians do not know yet how important it is for them to step in very soon, rather than wait until the problems become too big to unravel in hindsight. A few high-profile incidents in recent years (Facebook and Cambridge Analytics, among others), may be considered later as a blessing in disguise, by showing the average man/woman how these matters affect their lives. It remained under the hood for too long a time.
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Celibaat (2019)
Film title "Celibacy" attracts attention. Yet it covers other interesting subjects too, like choices made at an early age and loneliness
17 November 2019
The title "Celibacy" is an eye catcher attracting the attention of potential viewers, but for me that subject was not the main topic in the film. As expected, celibacy is an unmentionable subject among the monks themselves. More than one of them indicates that they've never had intercourse, and they think having missed an important experience. We thought similarly at a young age. You heard and read a lot about it, it had to be something very special. All these expectations make "your first time" overly urgent, more than really necessary. The memory I have afterwards is that curiosity and hormones take over and dominate the mind.

The same speakers also indicate that they don't have any real friends among their co-inhabitants. They don't know each other well enough to easily discuss these matters. Maybe also a side effect of the established situation that it's unusual to take someone apart and isolate from the rest (they each have their own room, but too small and unsuitable to retreat with the two of you, even if the room would have proper sitting facilities). It's only logical that real friendships are lacking, because it's a coincidental community (contrary to e.g. student residences where balloting is a mechanism to get like-minded people into the house). A monastery is different. The chance that you meet a best friend with whom you have better contact than with the rest of the group, is relatively small in a group of six. And elaborating on that, it happened in the past that one of the brothers left unexpectedly without complete clarity what his reasons were. That is even more remarkable while living so close together in the time before the departure. I deduce there is deep down a certain state of loneliness, although it is not entirely due to celibacy but rather a consequence of this mini world.

Besides celibacy (subject in the film title), it was interesting to hear why/how these men became members of the monastery, each with their own background and history. One of them had already entered the monastery at the age of 17 (no longer welcome at home, mother bombarded him with comments). Most others entered the monastery at a later age, perhaps after having thought a bit longer before taking the step. One had even been engaged for two years, but the vocation was too strong to continue the relationship, and thus he entered the monastery (with an open invitation for the ex-partner to their respective 25th anniversaries (monastery or marriage), which ultimately did not really happen, wisely or not he left aside).

Apart from preparing and clearing the refectory for meals, we see brothers active in the vegetable garden or feeding birds. During activities like these, no important matters are touched. Relevant conversations are all one-to-one (filmmaker operates on his own, without extra technicians). Particularly striking is the number of silences that fall during these conversations, none of those annoying or uncomfortable but appropriate to the subject. There are issues you don't think about on a daily basis. Some answers seem to arise spontaneously. They are all frank, albeit some a bit more than others. In fact, one of the residents confesses, in an extra scene after the credits, that he feels something towards the filmmaker, and at least wants to cuddle him.

In the Q&A afterwards, we got some statistics: the monastery originally had 40 residents, but now only six. There were a few temporary residents, but they weren't shown any further, only sideways during the communal prayer. The current six permanent residents were all AOW (65+) pensioners, no longer working outside the house. Some were teachers, some priests, one was a bookbinder by profession, etcetera. A pertinent comment out of the audience was that priests and monks used to have a certain status (I still remember the titles "heer-oom" and "heer-neef" (Dutch terms, lost in translation), maintaining a form of distance that is now completely gone. Nowadays, I think that the monastery or priesthood is deemed a strange existence, something extraneous, not of this world, no longer of our time.

The filmmaker hasn't done any research on other monasteries. He could go to this monastery, there were also meaningful conversations, enough for a feature film length (is now 70 minutes). As a result, he didn't look any further.

I counted about 30 spectators at this screening in Het Ketelhuis (near the A'damse Staatsliedenbuurt). From the website celibaat(dot)com, completely dedicated to this movie, it appears that the director makes a kind of tour through the Netherlands, all in all about 50 screenings (as of: October 2019). He is present at almost every screening for an after talk with the audience.
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The Climb (2019)
Collection of nice finds and unexpected turns of events. Inventive stories centering around two men their relationships with women and resp. families, spanning several years
12 July 2019
Saw this at fhe Film Festival Munich 2019 (in German: Film Fest München). An intriguing collection of nice finds, augmenting the at-first-sight downthrodden path of triangle relationships where two men compete for one woman, but there is so much more at that. A parallel topic is male bonding, said to be stronger than between man and wife but even so often falsified, but nevertheless working out surprisingly here in a very original way. We watch a series of separate stories, mostly some time passed in between, each having the same two men as center of attention. Each chapter carries a specific title, foreshadowing what we are going to see as dramatic development(s). For instance, in the first chapter with the title "I'll kill you!" comes to light that one of the men had a sexual relationship with the fiancée of the other one (no fatalities, however, despite the title of this chapter).

That said, I would have preferred that each of the chapters was introduced not only with an intriguing title but also with some context and a time frame. A spoiler-free example of the latter is the start of chapter 2. We obviously attend a funeral, but I was left too much time wondering who and why. Th "who" question is answered implicitly when the funeral leader invites "her husband" to say something. The "why" remains unanswered, and ditto how much time elapsed between chapter 1 and 2. The chapter ends in a very unusual way, when the husband gets into a fight with churchyard personnel around a shovel. Expect more such unexpected turns of events in this movie. This is one of its trademarks.

My feeling that I had to grasp for context happened similarly with subsequent chapters, where new protagonists were thrown on us without telling who-was-who. Nevertheless, the respective stories become clear after some time to get acquainted. Most important aspect of this movie is that the turns of events are unexpected and ample humor is included, contrasting with the also prevalent sadder moments. It all makes up a perfect mix. In other words, just like real-life outside the cinema runs its course, with ups and downs, and for better or for worse.

When ignoring the flaws in storytelling (assuming these flaws are real and not just my fault), watching this movie is a rewarding experience, not the least of the humor-riddled dialogs. Take for instance a "how long" question in the opening chapter, that was answered "still 2 miles", obviously not the assumed answer how long the offending sexual relationship had lasted. And the "I'll kill you!" exclamation was not to be taken literally, as we can see when the front cyclist hits a passing car, triggering its driver to leave the car and tries to attack him. The ranks are closed very fast in their combined effort to contain the angry car driver, and the earlier death threat is forgotten on the spot.

All in all, each of the chapters has its own merits, are well written and treat relevant situations and real people with real attitudes and opinions. The stories are diverse in topic and show different people in different circumstances, sharing our two main protagonists as common denominator. Indeed, their connection and their chemistry remain the central theme throughout the running time. Seeing them go through all these phases and events makes watching this movie a memorable experience.
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Down-to-earth social commentary packed in a noisy way of story telling. Watch how civil servants behave when they deem themselves important. Don't expect gadgets or aliens
11 July 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Saw this at fhe Film Festival Munich 2019 (in German: Film Fest München). This movie can easily be considered a vehicle for political/social commentary, rather than telling us anything about extraterrestrial worlds or civilizations. It can be deemed a spoiler, when I say that Celeste does not leave earth for any moment.

After a (too long) introduction to familiarize us with her family and work, we see the whole journey to the designated collection place for the take-off to another planet. As flies-on-the-wall we observe how everyone interacts with each other while waiting several days on something that no one is very sure about what to expect. We also meet people who were not chosen but still want a free ride to the planet, and their sneaky approach to achieve their goal.

Even more important, I think, is the interaction with the guards who try to smooth the emigration process and to control the undisciplined crowd. We see uniformed people, obviously power hungry and self-aware of their assumed importance, presumably showcasing the average civil servant or military. This is Cuba, and the movie lets us see some of it, how it functions and how people behave there. The story serves very well its purpose as a vehicle for social commentary.

The director made remarks in that direction in the Q&A, but I was not sure his express intention to put the guards under a magnifying glass. He especially mentioned the whistles that the chief guard consistenly uses to make clear that she had something to "say". I even heard her use the word "comrade", something that reminds me of earlier communist times. It made me wonder whether that word indeed survived recent developments in Cuba, or that it is only used by said power hungry people to enforce a situation in which they think to have the upper hand.

Insightful as it may be, the story is full of noise and not very well organized, throwing protagonists on us without making clear why (or if, or how) they are important for future developments. Maybe I should not have worried about this, merely enjoying the couleur locale and the way these people behave in their normal habitat (home, work) and later in an abnormal situation (waiting at the pickup point). But the first impression counts, leaving me with mixed feelings about how well the film makers succeeded in their goal of packaging political/social commentary in a story that can be seen by a wide audience. There are no gadgets, no aliens, just normal people thrown in a not-so-normal situation.
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Unusual plot. Remarkable and concise way of story telling, also presenting some unexpected turns of events. Very well watchable for non-fans of LGBT+ stories
11 July 2019
Saw this at fhe Film Festival Munich 2019 (in German: Film Fest München). Interesting plot, albeit a bit surreal, but it perfectly combines the attitude of the common man (m/f) towards queer behavior, on one hand, with superstition about life and death issues and incurable illnesses that may be cured nevertheless by unorthodox practices, on the other hand. This mixture offers all ingredients for unexplored avenues and unexpected developments. And it keeps us wondering all the time, against all scientific reasoning, whether our main protagonist will survive the two months allotted by his doctor.

Overall impression: Compact scenes, showing everything what had to be shown but nothing more than that. In other words: a very clever way of story telling, no frills and no distractions from the core theme. Very remarkable how we are led from A via B to C, and so on. I would hope that more film makers followed this example.

One does not need to belong to the LGBT+ community to nevertheless appreciate this story, so it can serve a broad audience. It is a fairy tale rather than showing how villagers react on queer behavior, as the latter can be predicted from very far away. Yet it is handled differently in this movie, leading to some unexpected turns of events, in addition to the obvious reactions from the crowd.
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The Pool (III) (2018)
Don't let an uninviting plot mislead you. Go watch tense scenes, unexpected developments and surprising twists. It's a showcase for the saying: Limitation Reveals The Master
3 May 2019
Saw this at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival 2019 (BIFFF for intimates). Remarkable how the film makers succeeded in filling one and a half hour running time with just a seemingly simplistic situational plot. Impossible at first sight, but they did it. It was not super-tense all the time, but there were ample unexpected developments to keep us alive. A bit of humour was included, also a bit of romance mixed with marital problems (even a row about an abortion in such dire circumstances). There is no limit to the number of mishaps and stupidities included in this movie, but without these we would have had no story and thus no movie with several tense scenes, unexpected twists and surprising developments.

I'm at a loss why the crocodile was not threatening all the time. It may be the nature of the beast, e.g. sleeping when its stomach is filled. A very unexpected development was that the crocodile even laid some eggs (it was a female one, the twosome deduced), coming in very handy when being stuck in the pool for three days already. Yet a dangerous thing to do, as the crocodile was not very happy when she could not find her eggs back, hence not prepared to be lenient.

The script also succeeded in giving an important role to dog Lucky a few times. Its action were not always in their advantage, but he still was very present some of the time, despite being outside the pool and with an unbridgeable distance between the dog and the twosome in the deep. Shouting to a dog and telling him what to do, does not always have the desired effect.

If on a quest to find an illustration of the saying that Limitation Reveals The Master, don't look any further. This movie has it all: less than a handful of protagonists, a confined stage for the players, only a few props, all of this assembled in a very simplistic decor. The crocodile may very well be the costliest item on the set, as it looked very convincing and alive, apparently not a DIY product.

All in all, though obviously an example of one-off entertainment, this movie is well made and included a lot of original ideas. Its synopsis may look uninviting upfront, but don't that let mislead you when deciding to book tickets for it. See for yourself who (if any) will survive.
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Cutterhead (2018)
Tense thriller in an underground world unknown to us before. It includes inherent dangers and safety issues, also showing a variety of foreign nationalities working together
3 May 2019
Saw this at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival 2019 (BIFFF for intimates). It is not a Horror or Thriller in the standard sense: no squeaking doors, no jump scares, no suddenly appearing ghosts, none of those clichés. Its tense may be felt nevertheless. We are constantly unsure how this story will end, given the deadly dangers awaiting the threesome we follow underground when disaster strikes.

Nice view on building operations underground, in this case construction works for the Copenhagen Metro. The setup looks like an organized chaos, but that is only the first impression and very unjust. These people know what they do, even when things go terribly wrong. And if all else fails, they can also count on salvage procedures and rescue teams. Panic and hasty decisions are out of the question, as theses are mostly counter productive.

Rie, our resident reporter, however, detests waiting for a rescue team. She wants action, even when it is risky, or when it violates regulations and safety procedures. She also goes against technical knowledge her fellow victims have, just wanting to do "something". She even lies about wanting to pee and needing some privacy, when in fact she prepares herself (out of sight) for an action the others would frown upon had they known her intentions.

Being there for PR purposes only, Rie's presence as a guest may be a nuisance, but she is a perfect vehicle for telling the story and following its developments from nearby. It gives us ample chance to understand why some things are done the way they are done in a working environment that we seldom get to see. As such, the screenplay is a success and seems the best (even the only??) way to sustain the story for one and a half hour, without risking to bore us. It clearly showcases the differences between people in Denmark, with Rie as piece de resistance in this movie, and the underground workers of all sorts of nationalities, who are there as the work pays very well (relative in their own country) and take the disadvantages (far away from family, problems with the language, risky and dirty working conditions) in addition and as inevitable.
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Permission (2018)
Powerful movie, well-told story, illustrating inequality between men and women as per current laws in Iran. Note: this movie successfully passed Iranian censors
27 April 2019
Saw this at the Movies That Matter film festival 2019 in The Hague. Very powerful movie, well-told story, perfectly illustrating inequality between men and women as per current laws in Iran, and also showing that women football is deemed to be of a lower level than male football. The latter even so applies in our part of the world, so no reason to be condescending about Iran for this part of the plot.

The bad guy in this movie is the husband, who is very stubborn in forbidding his (ex)wife to get a real divorce. He is also very creative in finding nasty means to get her back. One of his methods is to refuse permission to let her travel abroad. He has allowed her football career for many years, and they live now separated for one year already. What the husband really wants to achieve with this travel ban, I deduce from the proceedings, is that he wants to prolong their marriage and to resume living together again. Their struggle around the travel ban is even put before a legal court. We get the feeling that the judge was inclined to rule in her favor, but the law stood in the way. The husband, having the last word, was not prepared to give in anything.

It is important to note that this movie successfully passed Iranian censorship, something that we could have derived (if we'd known) from the words "In the name of God" appearing after the opening credits. Lately it became news that one Iranian cinema chain banned the movie, though for a reason we deem trivial (something to do with her flat mate; details escaped me). One can speculate that Iran allows a movie like this to be seen in their own country as well as in the rest of the world, if only to show that they are open to many contemporary issues and are reasonably liberal in letting women act on fields that were previously reserved for men only.

Several issues in this struggle are shown by means of a well-written story with believable characters. It also shows, between the lines, that Iran is a modern, civilized sountry, with streets and houses looking very much like streets and houses in our side of the world. Of course, we see scarfs everywhere, and many women dressed in black. I've seen many other Iranian movies, some passed censorship and others smuggled out of the country, but overall the modern, civilized image of Iran prevails. Whatever we may find about their emphasis on religion and the impact of related rules, Iran has by far surpassed the status of a developing country.

The final Q&A covered two main topics, namely inequality between men and women in Iran, and inequality in sports in Iran and elsewhere. Football is the best-known example of the second issue. I was not aware beforehand that it was so bad as told here by a former football player. With other sports, male and female competitions can run at the same time, but that is never the case with football and major football competition events always run in different locations and at different times. It seems to be related with football regarded as a typically manly game. It strengthened that image since the first woman liberation movement, many years ago, and maintained that until nowadays. For other sports, the male-female separation is not and never has been so severe as it was and still is for football. So, you learn something new every day.
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Profile (2018)
Original way of story telling. The story compellingly shows how women are recruited by ISIS, and how risky it is to participate, even if only for research purposes
27 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Saw this at the Movies That Matter film festival 2019 in The Hague. It was much better that I had expected after having read the announcement. We follow a risky strategy to obtain more insight how ISIS recruitment works for women. (Side note: Previously I saw various movies about recruitment of men, running along very different lines. Logical, as men are targetted to become a warrior and not the wife of a warrior. So, how the men are approached and recruited is completely different.)

The story telling is original, even while having a clear parallel with Unfriended (2015) by Levan Gabriadze. Nearly everything relevant happens on screen, alternating between Facebook, Skype or Texting/Messaging, whatever the situation demands. Similar to Unfriended, this movie is impossible to describe to people who did not see it with their own eyes, experiencing the very proof it is indeed possible to create a compelling story this way. I've seen both movies, and I can vouch that it really works. One reviewer wrote about Unfriended: (quote) It's a premise that seems ridiculous until you start to realize it might actually be brilliant, or at least charmingly clever (end quote). I wholeheartedly agree with that observation.

The story itself is told in time jumps spanning some 20 days. The timeframe we are in remains clear throughout, as we see the day at hand selected on screen. Obviously, everything we see is in the past tense. It has been continuously recorded and is thus accessible on a day to day basis. There are no time jumps backwards. The developments are shown in chronological order.

In parallel, we see main protagonist Amy leading a "normal" life too, as the female part of a couple looking for a new house. Her "other" life plays a role on the backseat, however. What we get from it implicitly is that their relation is not 100% harmonious. Does it suggest she is more inclined to get bonded with the ISIS commander, or is that just my interpretation between the lines and not intentional?? Or is it merely her research drive as an investigative journalist that carries the story forward??

Switching on screen between the two lives is sometimes confusing and clobbering the story logic, yet necessary to maintain proper context. The tension rises near the end, when Amy is about to travel to Turkey, with a pivotal moment while having a stopover in Amsterdam. In Turkey she expects to finally meet the ISIS commander she had continuous contact with, the same person who made various promises about her future life as his wife. He, for example, showed her around in a big house (a room for baby 1 and one for baby 2, and of course the master bedroom), also promising ample money to spend. In short: a life as a princess (literal quote).

During aforementioned stopover in Amsterdam she learns that her future husband does not meet her personally in Turkey. When she clearly states that he is breaking his promise as she was looking forward to meeting him personally, suddenly his tone of his voice changes considerably, becoming more imperative. There is no trace anymore of the former sweet "love bird" tone of voice. In the end, we have a better view on what this "marriage" entails. Amy knows it now too, just in time while still in Amsterdam.

The consequences for her future life are devastating for reasons shown in the final scene and in the text boards that appear before the credits. (*** spoiler ahead ***) Her false Facebook profile does not protect her as much as she had hoped. The ISIS commander has obtained ample location information where she lives, not by hacking Facebook but by investigating images that were visible via windows behind her, like the train line that runs behind her house, and some defining pieces of the city skyline. A fatwa is issued that tasks every true Muslim to find her and kill her in the nastiest way possible.
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Sakawa (2018)
Revealing fly-on-the-wall documentary about Ghanese scams luring overseas people into sending money by promising sex
21 March 2019
Saw this at the IDFA documentary festival 2018 in Amsterdam. Being a world premiere, there was no information available before the screening. I only had the festival website, from which I deduced that the story would delve deep into the problem of e-waste. For sure an interesting topic. Apart from the obvious pollution it leaves behind, this movie shows additional issues arising when disposed computer media like disks or other data storage hardware, is abused to blackmail someone elsewhere in the world, by using privately made photo or video material stored on it. Alternatively, one may exploit passwords found on a disk to masquerade as someone else. Still another method is establishing contacts based on personal data, using initimate knowledge found while pretending to be an acquaintance.

Contrary to my prior assumptions, however, I saw that e-waste was not the main issue at all. It was merely shown in passing. We see hardware being dismembered, often with greater force than I had imagined. I had wrongly assumed that rare chemical elements were to be rescued, being worth some money. I don't think recycling is common practice here, after having seen how crudely everyone dealt with the material. But we can leave that topic to another documentary: Welcome to Sodom (2018) by Krönes and Weigensamer (see IDFA website for details).

Plenty couleur locale is included in this movie. Many scenes show money going from one person to another, involving meticulously counting bank notes by both sides. Everyone seems eager for money, for all sorts of purposes, including legitimate ones, like entering an internship to become a hairdresser. Other examples demonstrated that everything can be bought, including a passport that one can obtain via a travel agent. Is this one of the (many) messages that the film makers want to convey?? As a result, I found this a "noisy" movie, by showing a lot of personal stories, thus hiding the main subject for unprepared viewers. An example is above "hairdresser" story that confuses the issue. Such side-paths prevent the movie from hitting the target audience with the intended morale or message.

The announcement on the IDFA website mentioned the example of a man having to buy fish ad 250 euro per week commissioned by his employer, while himself earning only 12 euro per month for the job. Indeed, this gap in incomes and wealth seems typical for the situation of many in that country. It may explain why there is no compassion with the people they rob overseas via the so-called Ghanese scams. Everyone living there knows as a fact that people in the USA, Europe etc have lots of money. Simply browsing through photos found on the disks or via Google Street View displays expensive houses. It clearly depicts an unsurmountable gap in perspectives on the value of money. (The situation is comparable for the so-called Nigerian scam, Commonly known as the "419" scam. It is practiced for many years already, and does not seem to stop. This has little to do with Nigerians having no conscience, but rather comes from said gap in incomes and wealth.)

The movie does not take a stand, nor does it frown upon what is happening. We see the complexity of what is going on, which we never would have known otherwise. Superficially, the scams look so easy but in fact take a lot of care and persistence to massage the victims. I would not be surprised when a large percentage of the contacts "worked on" will eventually falter, meaning that the victim doesn't transfer the money asked for a sea voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, either while suspecting a scam or simply while not having the requested amounts available. That these scams are happening is an open secret in Ghana. No one condems it when "whites" are on the other side (see reasoning above).

In the final Q&A, the film maker mentioned that he avoided taking interviews, these usually leading to sad stories about money shortage and their deplorable way of living. He has chosen a different composition by just observing, something he could do without disturbing the proceedings. This "fly on the wall" way of filming is typically something an arbitrary film maker from outside Ghana would not have been able to accomplish.
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Retrospekt (2018)
Kaleidoscope of issues around domestic violence, and balancing work vs home. Expect an unusual way of story telling, probably puzzling unprepared viewers but rewarding
11 March 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019. This movie shows a kaleidoscope of contemporary issues, easily recognizable by everyone. Apart from a central role of domestic violence that triggers most developments, we also see underlying problems around being passionate for your job and to what extent you can let it go in favor of your family and related domestic tasks. These are cleverly mixed to demonstrate there are always two sides.

On one hand, Simon foresees problems when he would pressure his employer to have all Fridays off, after which his wife Mette simply tells him "go find another job where you can". Simon reacts with a puzzled and confused look, unable to find the proper words stating she doesn't understand anything about his line of work. We see later that her lack of understanding seems irreconcilable, when for instance, as part of a hefty discussion, she belittles his work as "finding an efficient way to operate a steamroller" (Simon works for a road builder). Most people will recognize similar debates from their own situation, or know of others in their neighborhood.

On the other hand, Mette takes her work literally home when she finds Miller not getting sufficient help from the support group where Mette's previously worked. She feels an urgent need to act on the problems Miller has with her violent partner cq ex-boyfriend Frank, by taking Miller home when husband Simon is a week away on business. This solution starts off very well in the beginning, but it is bound to have unexpected consequences. Mette's and Simon's job passions may look very different on the surface, yet are very similar in that everything must make way for solving job-related problems, at the expense of a safe and peaceful family life. Each in their own way, neither can let go of problems at work.

Contrary to many reviewers I found the story not overly puzzling. I must admit that I was prepared for a non-linear way of story telling, saving me lots of confusion (I think) during the screening. I cannot deny, however, that I missed more than a few clues and hints. For example, only in hindsight we learn that Frank is the one and only bad guy in all story lines. It can be deduced from a passing remark in the beginning. That is the moment when Miller tries to convince Mette that they both should join forces in pressing charges against Frank, because he is both her violent ex-boyfriend as well as the cause of Mette's injuries and her subsequent recuperation after an obviously serious mishap. The connection between these two problems and that Frank seems to have caused both, becomes clear after the screening when talking to others who had seen the same movie but picked up very different hints than I did.

One can wonder whether the non-linear way of story telling contributed anything to the viewer experience. Was it only a gimmick, an experiment, something to let reviewers chew on?? The recitative singing voices surfacing every now and then, may be intended as an extra form of subtitling. It may represent the "ideal spectator", like the chorus in a Greek drama. In other words, to point out or to comment on what happened just now. Alas, if that was the intention, it missed me all along, partly as the words were not always understandable, partly due to being not aware that the voices might have been an important aspect of the way this story was told. So, on one hand I was prepared for the time shifting way of story telling due to having read the announcement on the Berlinale website. But, on the other hand, I still was not aware that the sound track was in some way significant. I may thus have overlooked a lot of important information.

All in all, even when missing part of the story line, the issues are very recognizable. Finding a balance between work and home is an important topic, next to the problems with domestic violence that move the story forward. I found the acting very convincing, particularly the scenes in the rehab center. Mette obviously had severe speech problems, apart from her visible scars (including a large one showing through her hair, apparently from brain surgery). She needed help for even basic tasks, like eating. Frequently in her circle was a cynical and obstinate co-patient, named Klaas, bringing life to several scenes that would otherwise have left us depressed.

The scenes where Mette and Klaas were in, inside and outside the rehab center, emphasized the unfavorable situation of such patients. Though each had very different health problems, all showing only very little progress with few ups and many downs, regardless of the obvious care and help they got. Also, visits from family and friends were well-intended but not always helpful. In a way, Klaas had a similar role as aforementioned Greek chorus, by repeating that Mette may feel being in bad shape and not recovering very well, but he emphasized that she had the least problems of all other patients.
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Successful undertaking to show three decades of life within a Chinese rural environment, covering all ups and downs that can befall an average family
1 March 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition. Two prizes were awarded: Silver Bear for Best Actor (Wang Jingchun) and one Silver Bear for Best Actress (Yong Mei). Apart from the acting, it was very interesting to see China transform in thirty years time, albeit that we see only a rural part of China, far away from the big city centers, thus avoiding large scale business and touristic areas.

Showing China while undergoing a drastic change, is one of the main themes of this movie, if not the main one. From a side line we get to see the transformation in progress, going from a communist country towards modern (semi?) capitalism. Factories, workplaces and houses the people work and live in, seem carefully designed to be true to the reality of the times at hand, thereby demonstrating an admirable attention for details.

A perfect example was the factory closure. The gathering with the workers was very illustrative. It showed that such things went in communist times exactly as how it goes nowadays. The workers assembled can protest and find that the director must be sent away. The harsh reality was (of course) in communist times exactly as in our capitalist times. Jobloss overcomes the humble workers, as if it was a natural disaster. There is nothing they can do about it, regardless of all being called "comrades". Neither can help be found in communist textbooks and the principles of "worker's self management".

On the other hand, regarding the implicit second theme, the family related stories of the protagonists, the developments were difficult to follow for me. This was partly due to some unnecessary time jumps and flash backs, partly caused by not telling who-is-who when a new protagonist appears, partly because of me being unable to tell Chinese people apart. Though the story starts with a fatal drowning accident, the people involved will re-unite in the end and will live happily ever after, even when the real truth comes out thirty years later, and even after someone admits having played a dark role in the accident.

It is no problem to sit out the three hours this movie lasts, though not really involving on a human level. And it was certainly not moving or heart-breaking as per what other reviewers wrote. The ground cause for this psychological distance is (see above) the difficulties I had to follow the persons involved, besides the fact that their logic was failing on me a few times.

All in all, I was glad to have seen this movie, regardless of my problems with following the various personal story lines and their interwoven connections. The nearly three hours are easy to sit through, so no problem there. And the ending was a surprise (no details, no spoilers), particularly because it did not cause a hard break in relationships, despite there would have been ample reason for a break-up after admitting a few 30-year-old lies.
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Ghost Fleet (2018)
Insightful documentary about shady fish catching practices at sea
1 March 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the Culinary Cinema section. We watched an insightful documentary, about something that we (really) don't want to know. It is somewhat similar to our knowledge that we need cows/chicken/pigs to grow meat/eggs/milk, while at the same time being worried about their welfare. Nevertheless, we rather do not want to give up our daily portion of the final product.

That there was something sinister going on with sea food, was new to me. Firstly, there is the slavery which is the core of this movie's story. Indeed, a daunting fate for those who come into such a situation. Secondly, there is also the fact that these fishermen do not care about destroying the fish population in general: loads of extra incidental catch that they find in their nets, is thrown overboard as redundant stuff they don't need.

The people who succeed in escaping usually land on a very foreign coast, having no other choice than hiding in the jungle for years. There is no future for them. Their family in Thailand thinks they are dead, after having fruitlessly waited for a number of years. It is all very depressing, but the movie makes it abundantly clear and is impressive in that respect.

There is uncertainty about the number of contemporary slaves. The only sure thing we know is that the group of activists who we followed in this movie, already had found and repatriated some 5,000. In itself this is an impressive figure. It makes us wonder, however, how many are still there at sea, without any hope to escape. Estimates, mentioned at the end, vary wildly but numbers with 5 and 6 digits came about.

All in all, insightful but feeling helpless to do something about it, other than observing control stamps and quality labels on what we buy in the supermarket.
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For me a WTF experience. Synopsis was promising but story went nowhere. Interesting to see very different scores from professional critics versus "normal" viewers like myself
1 March 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition. The Jury awarded a Silver Bear for Best Director (Angela Schaneler). Not my idea, as this movie was a WTF experience for me. I did not walk out as something happened all the time and I was hoping for a desperately needed binding conclusion where it was all about, alas to no avail. The synopsis was promising, but the story actually went nowhere.

The threesome animals (donkey, dog and hare) we see in the beginning, suggesting life on and around a farm, returned in the end, without having any connection (as far as I could see) with what happened in the rest of the movie. No clue whether it is relevant or not.

All of the core story is located in Berlin, far away from the country side. I also noticed, especially in the first quarter, a lot of semi-still scenes, like a cartoon where someone says something significant, after which the scene jumps to a subsequent scene with a new meaningful sentence spoken.

There are a few longer scenes, all centering around the mother. Among others, we see her buying a second-hand bike, having a long monologue towards a stage director she meets at the supermarket, delivering unsolicited advice towards the teachers at Philip's school, returning the bike to its previous owner due to some malfunctions (wasting a lot of running time), and much more such scenes without any obvious useful purpose.

Peculiarly, contrary to the gist of the announcement on the Berlinale website, not Philip was apparently the center of the story but rather his mother with her unpredictable behavior. She seems to hide a lot of rage underneath, bursting out at random moments, like when her daughter has used the stove to prepare something to eat, followed by a heated discussion and even throwing both her children out, who can do nothing else than wait on the street until she cools down. This is not motherly behavior in any way, though her children embrace her even after being pushed away, so I assume this sort of scenes happened more often before.

One reviewer wrote that there was boe-ing ànd applause at the end of this movie's premiere yesterday. I'm glad that I'm not alone in loosing track of this movie and its theme (if any). It is also interesting to see that professional critics score very differently (average 7) from "normal" viewers like myself (average 4.4). I don't know what to write about this movie, other than the above. It is very difficult to write a consistent discourse about this movie.
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Uninviting plot but the atmosphere "got" me. Developed very well into a tense story. Not the downtrodden path horror movie with zombies that it initially seemed
1 March 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition (but got no prize). Peculiarly, the venue was only half full, contrary to all other screenings in foregoing days in the Berlinale Competition with usually 1,750 viewers present in the same venue. I assume that many people thought this movie had all appearances of a downtrodder path Horror movie with zombies. That genre left traces by everyone, caused by bad B-movies we all sat through in the past but avoid them nowadays. However, this movie does not have any of the negative characteristics of said genre with a bad reputation. It is true that strange figures appear when the story progresses, but they stand still, make no sound and do not attack. They just stare from a safe distance.

The fatal car accident in the opening scene could have been a suicide or a real accident. We saw it happen and we can't tell either way, and neither has the police any idea. The dilemma casts a shadow over all daily tasks within the village. The uncertainty eats the villagers, and the topic returns several times in conversations. It is a closed community of 200 to 300 people, committed to support each other, to the extent that outside help is flatly refused by the mayor.

At first, we see nothing out of the ordinary. But strange things start happening, albeit innocent and harmless. Gradually, it gets stranger and stranger. The first time that we come to think there is more to it than just strangers wandering around, is when a "social worker lady" is locked up after one of the unknown figures outside a derilicted building slams the door while she is inside. No harm gets to her, she easily escapes and reports the incident. Without any witnesses she meets nothing but disbelief. Probably a "weak nerves" case is a common conclusion.

When more and more strange figures appear, we become gradually aware that something is really going on. The figures do not harm anyone. They maintain a safe distance from the villagers, they just stand there and make no sound. Nevertheless, their mere presence feels threatening. It is no use to describe what happens next. Suffice to say that situation and atmosphere "got" me. It became more intense by the minute. I have no explanation why, and also no idea how the film makers achieved the effect it had. For me a unique experience, as most "horror" movies have no effect on me at all.

I must confess to be slightly put off at first, due to the festival announcement talking about the 16 mm format intended to strengthen the admosphere, and that traditional celluloid was used for similar reasons. This sounded like a typical case of format-over-substance. In other words, conversation pieces for professional critics and film makers, but shooting over the heads of layman viewers like myself. But I stand corrected and my prejudice proved false. Despite the format and the cellulloid, or maybe even thanks to this, the atmosphere took me in and kept me interested all the time.

All in all, an intriguing movie by effectively letting a tense atmosphere grow on me, something I felt deep inside. I wonder how the film makers did it.
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Mr. Jones (2019)
Documentary about something that happened nearly a century ago. Still, its "fake news" topic is more relevant than ever
28 February 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition section (but got no prize). In the current era of "fake news", this documentary comes at a suitable moment. Propaganda is not new and invented many decades ago, if not centuries ago. The current scale and persistence is without precedent, however. If this movie showcases the value of professional and honest journalism, it is very welcome today. Even when showing a chapter in history that is nearly a century old, it brings a contemporary message.

We witness a daunting adventurous trip that results in a report about the famine in the Ukraine. It is a story that no politician at the time wanted to be brought in the open. He has to deal with obstructions on several levels and by several parties, in Russia where it could be expected as well as in his homeland UK. The Powers That Be deem a good relationship with Stalin more important than people's lives in the Ukraine. The actual truth behind the industrial "miracles" in the Ukraine, as repeatedly told by the Sovjet propaganda machinery, is very different. We witness it from close by. Alas, our reporter is captured and moved out of the country, with no proof whatsoever other than his memory. With famous Pulitzer Price winner Duranty siding on the Sovjets and consistently countering Jones, there is a problem who to believe...

The story develops in stages. We see the risks he takes, we see him remove some obstacles e.g. by forgering a letter of recommendation, we see his arrival in Moscow with a visum valid for a week only, and most of all we see his journey through the Ukraine in question. We see from very near that such a journey was not something to be taken lightly, coming very close to witness what a famine really means. We also see wheat being shipped to Moscow, as this is the "currency" that Stalin needs to pay for armery and planes, things that are officially manufactured in Ukraine as per Stalin's propaganda (aforementioned industrial "miracle").

As a documentary about the pre-WWII part of Russian history interacting on a political level with the rest of the world, particularly UK and USA, it works very well for me. I knew little about this beforehand, and it clarifies a lot. However, did I miss that insight before today?? (I think not.) It was nevertheless a tense two and a half hours, where so much could go very wrong, fatally wrong even, be it in Moscow, be it in the Ukraine, or even back in the UK with spies and hired killers all around. His adversaries may deem his reports unwelcome, and with their deep pockets and vazals to be hired they can get away with everything bad that an honest reporter may befall.

Question remains whether the two-and-a-half hours running time were necessary to get the message across. I know that Killing Your Daughters is not always easy, but we viewers have rights too. Please don't construe this as a statement that I was being bored stiff. Nevertheless, mixed feelings about the pacing of this movie remain.
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Beautiful story, covering religious traditions and ineradicable male chauvinism. A "loser" category woman rises to the challenge and an improved version comes out of it
27 February 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition for the golden bear. The jury awarded none of the available prices, however, but still I was very satisfied to have seen thie movie. At its core is a nice story, that develops very well, irrespective of the initial setting of a "loser" type of woman who consistently fails to find a job. It covered lots of social commentary about religious traditions dating back from medieval times and about ineradicable male chauvinism. Both topics were to be expected after having read the synopsis.

You can imagine that it has all the elements of a biblic parable, combining several parties who all claim they are right: (a) the vaste gathering of young men, having trained for diving to get the cross, but Petrunija was first, so the men hold that she "stole" the cross while only men can participate in the ritual since centuries, (b) the church is involved, but the patriarch refuses to file a complaint that she "stole" the cross, which would be a lie, so he tries several other arguments, (c) the police, populated of course with lots of male chauvinist pigs, but not all of them fit in that category, (d) the two parents, concerned about what the neighbours will say, and (e) a woman journalist accompanied by a male camera man, having their internal struggles with their bosses and with each other.

Everything that happens in this movie, a lot more than can be derived from above ingredients, showcases the current state of that part of the continent: it is a small world, and residuals of past centuries are still very persistent. The visible presence of mobile phones at the scene where the cross is dropped in the river, allowing the diving act of Petrunija to be filmed and going "viral" on Youtube, seems contradictory to the previous sentence. Can it both be true??

The nice thing is that we see Petrunya change from a sheep to a wolf, something related to a story told by the interrogating police officer, about a sheep disguised as a wolf. But then she turns the story around in the final scene.

Petrunija is a perfect example of a "loser" in the beginning, but she becomes calmer and calmer as the story progresses. We see her grow to become a better woman out of it after this experience. Notwithstanding (I must admit) that I had expected some police brutality while she was held in "for her protection" custody, but there was none of it. And neither is there any trace of corruption, albeit common in many East-European police forces (I know that Macedonie is no ex-Sovjet country, but still I cannot avoid thinking of the many ex-USSR movies that I've seen).

All in all, while covering several interesting topics as side dishes on the menu, the fact that Petrunya rises to the challenge and comes out of it as a better version of herself, is the main course of this story. Unattractive as she is from the outset, the process she goes through is richer with developments than could be assumed from the synopsis. So ignore the uninviting title of this movie, and book tickets for it at your earliest convenience.
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