Every once in a while a bold new picture from the most unexpected corner of the world hits the international film scene baffling film critics and surpassing the audience’s wildest expectations. Such is the case with Ralph Ziman’s gritty crime thriller Jerusalema, set in post-apartheid South Africa. Clearly on par with the likes of contemporary classics City of God (2002), Tropa de Elite (2007) and the more recent Slumdog Millionaire (2008), Jerusalema tells the story of self-proclaimed gangster Lucky Kunene, his spectacular rise from poverty to power, and the illegal empire he built amid the Hillbrow slums of modern Johannesburg.
While admittedly formulaic and replete with rather cliché plot devices, Ben Affleck’s second directorial feature The Town is nonetheless much more than a Hollywood marketing vehicle. Starring Rebecca Hall and Affleck himself in the lead roles, this is a very decent crime drama with a good mix of intriguing story, sporadic character development and high-octane moments. Affleck borrows heavily from classics such as Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994), Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (2000), and Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River (2003) to construct a vibrant, kinetic film rich in action and atmosphere, and catch the viewer off guard with an ultimately tragic denouement.
What is it with art films and the subject of death these days? First Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) took the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival last year, then Clint Eastwood followed up with his morbidly themed Hereafter (2010), and now we have Biutiful, the latest uber-depressing effort from Alejandro González Iñárritu, supposedly one of the greatest filmmakers operating today in the Spanish-speaking world. With Javier Bardem in the lead, this ill-fated venture into existential angst is painfully slow, ridiculously pointless, and a very far cry from Iñárritu’s excellent Amores Perros (2000).
With Martin Scorsese in the director’s chair and such prominent names as Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Kingsley attached to star, the much-anticipated Shutter Island had high audience expectations to fulfill from the moment it was announced. Hence, the commercial success of this outstanding suspense thriller is particularly impressive as it appears to have been achieved organically, without resorting to a watered-down scenario or cheap scare tactics. In Shutter Island, Scorsese manages to walk a thin line between delusion and reality while at the same time delivering a work that remains highly entertaining throughout its entire 138 minute runtime.
Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan is nothing short of a masterpiece, a complex yet incredibly dark, frenetic noir classic. Given the Woody Allen subject matter of this unromantically barren, magnetically grim picture entirely devoid of positive characters, the nasty surprises lurking in the many plot twists – be they the product of drug-induced hallucinations or flashes of real life desperation – quickly become rather routine, losing their shock value and producing only a muted emotional response. For those who care to follow through, however, the work delivers on all counts; the less attentive among us will find Black Swan to be the perfect remedy for insomnia.
Light romance is admittedly not a genre that comes to mind when one thinks of recent Brazilian cinema, which has been largely dominated by such high profile, critically-acclaimed works as City of God (2002), The Elite Squad (2007) and Carandiru (2003). Focusing on crime, violence and urban poverty in the slums of Rio, these socially significant films have been easy to associate with a troubled image of Latin America in the minds of the international audience. Hence, Jorge Furtado’s optimist-driven work The Man Who Copied offers a much-needed respite from the doom and gloom, a welcome change of scenery that reveals a different and more gentle side of the modern Brazilian psyche.
In choosing Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives to receive the Palme d’Or award, a decision which effectively ensured the Thai art film’s international distribution and exposure to a wider audience, the jury at this year’s Cannes Film Festival surely forgot to mention an important detail about their selection process – precisely what it was they’d been smoking. Loved by critics, loathed by audiences, this work is nothing more than a painfully dull, needlessly dragged out series of random, amateurishly shot sequences and stills so profoundly uninteresting and pointless you’ll soon find yourself wishing Uncle Boonmee took less time to die.