Vibrant, kinetic and beautifully shot, Soul Kitchen – the newest offering from award-winning Turkish-German director Fatih Akin – centers on the motivational story of a local restaurant’s efforts to restructure its menu choices and attract new clientele. In a break from Akin’s previous more dramatic and culturally rich works such as Head-On (2004), In July (2000) and The Edge of Heaven (2007), Soul Kitchen treads lightly with its gentler approach to life and occasional moments of humor, making this film to cinema what crème brûlée is to dessert: an exquisite and highly delightful concoction to be savored at leisure and preferably in the company of a friend or two.
As if to confirm the nascent renaissance in Scandinavian cinema marked by such heavily acclaimed works as Let the Right One In (2008), Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and the more commercial Dead Snow (2009), director Erik Poppe’s Norwegian film Troubled Water sets out on a formidable task: to examine the nature of human loss and reconciliation in the wake of a Dostoevsky type tragedy. Profoundly sad and thought provoking, this meditative work is a clear triumph for humanist cinema; a true genre film that meets and exceeds the highest of expectations and is virtually guaranteed to move its audience like no other.
A long-awaited cinematic adaptation of Frédéric Beigbeder’s best-selling novel by the same name, Jan Kounen’s ambitious new feature 99 Francs is clearly meant to epitomize the French world view, offering an insultingly, cynically comical portrayal of modern consumer culture in general and of the advertising business in particular. Profoundly philosophical yet strikingly frank in its presentation, the film leaves a lasting impression by daring to playfully tackle serious issues while remaining dynamically paced, stylistically innovative and thoroughly entertaining throughout.
The latest cinematic effort from French director Cédric Klapisch, Paris is a collection of loosely interconnected episodes chronicling the experiences of various Parisians as they go about their everyday lives. The film’s charm and its greatest weakness lie in the fact that taken separately the comprising vignettes lack real punch, yet viewed together they leave only a fleeting impression, a fragile “mood-scape” easily dissipated by the slightest of disturbances. Though not quite a new francophone masterpiece, Paris offers a welcome meditation on themes that have long pervaded European cinema.
Among the countries of the world, Denmark is known in some circles for Hans Christian Andersen and perhaps more generally for good beer, but certainly not for its contributions to the field of world cinema. Yet, if director Henrik Ruben Genz’s Terribly Happy is any indication, this may be about to change. With its uniquely Scandinavian atmosphere of eerie moroseness permeating every shot, this well-paced suspense builder is the work of a talented auteur, an artistic triumph that sets itself apart from like-minded films by focusing on the quality of the experience it delivers rather than settling for cheap thrills.
Timur Bekmambetov’s return to the big screen in Russia after a two year hiatus – albeit this time in a production role – Black Lightning (Chernaya Molniya) epitomizes the emerging sci-fi trend in Russian cinema exemplified by such earlier films as Night Watch (2004), Day Watch (2006) and the more recent Inhabited Island (2008). With plenty of action, a story built around a flying vintage car and presentation bordering on magical realism, the film appears to have all the makings of a modern classic, yet neither the superfluous special effects nor the production budget of $8 million manage to save it from falling flat on its face.
Korea has produced a number of quality entries in the serial killer subgenre over the years, with Memories of Murder (2003) and The Chaser (2008) being two of the most prominent examples that come to mind. Yet, Kim Ji-woon’s latest epic I Saw the Devil, starring award-winning talents Lee Byung-hun and Choi Min-sik in the lead roles, clearly sets a new benchmark for like-minded films with its very high production values and the mere audacity of what is shown on screen. Initially banned from public theaters in its country of origin due to concern over “scenes that severely damage the dignity of human values” and edited upon release, the film has all the makings of a cult hit.