From the quirky mind of Woody Allen comes the romantic drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona, set and filmed almost entirely in Spain with a soundtrack composed of light Flamenco ballads. Much like tasting premium wine, taking a stroll through a botanical garden on a sunny afternoon or savoring a serving of very fine chocolate, the film delivers a delightful and highly sensual experience likely to stay with its audience long after the credits have finished rolling. Although inquisitive in nature, the work poses far more questions than it bothers to answer – and manages to get away with this thanks to Allen’s refined yet witty direction.
Domovoy (The Ghost), the hitman thriller from promising new director Karen Oganesyan offers a much-needed sign of hope for Russia’s ailing genre film segment. To its credit, the film sports relatively high production values and slick cinematography resulting in a glossy, polished look; a hyped-up new age soundtrack nicely amplifies the masterfully crafted mood of otherworldly dread and suspense; and Oganesyan’s fresh take on controversial top-of-the-hour subject matter dynamically interweaved with Dostoevsky-lite elements that manifest themselves towards the finale complete the magic formula.
Massive. Ridiculous. Complex. It seems foolish to even attempt to describe Shion Sono’s four-hour-long exercise in absurdity Love Exposure, the film that turned heads at the Berlinale earlier this year and rapidly developed a cult following of otaku fans. Edited down from its original runtime of six hours, Love Exposure is epic in every sense of the word: it is at once a powerful meditation on religion, an allegorical commentary on sexuality in the modern world, a highly entertaining commercial production and an odyssey of sorts into Tokyo’s bizarre Akihabara subculture. While some may love it and others hate it, this film is unlikely to leave anyone indifferent.
Coming back from a screening of the Japanese/Russian anime First Squad at the San Diego Asian Film Festival, it is certainly not easy to settle on a final verdict for Yoshiharu Ashino’s new production. With its grim historical subject matter uncommonly serious for an anime, an intriguing narrative premise and beautiful visuals interspersed with real-life interviews with Russian and German World War II veterans, First Squad clearly treads on territory unfamiliar to traditional anime audiences, and ultimately succeeds – at least in some respects.
Just when you thought the international film circuit may potentially be running out of steam, from Estonia comes Ilmar Raag’s bold new film Klass, an up-close-and-personal examination of honor, cruelty and humanity in general. From its Zen-like opening narration to the ending credits, Klass maintains shocking matter-of-fact realism and raw intensity, firmly pulling the viewer into its turbulent world of bleak pastels, sleepy vocals and disturbed minds. The Estonian setting is merely a backdrop to the drama that unfolds as the events portrayed could easily be re-imagined in the cultural context of any modern European country.
One of the year’s more anticipated horror releases, J.T. Petty’s The Burrowers starts out promisingly in 1879 with mysterious killings of white settlers in the Dakota Territories set against the under-explored backdrop of the Old West. After a family is brutally murdered one night, an army captain is called in to investigate and track down natives presumably responsible for the crime. With this great premise, the film initially has much going for it, but as their lengthy expedition drags on, the central characters seem to gradually lose common sense and the novelty of the director’s generally cheap scare tactics gives away to apathy and ultimately infinite boredom.
With its exotic setting, lush jungle cinematography and moody soundtrack, Vinyan, the long-awaited new horror film from Belgian director Fabrice du Welz, has all the makings of a genre-changing production. However, what starts out as genuinely intriguing subject matter, soon becomes a promising foray into into the criminal underworld of South East Asia, which then takes on the tedious tone of Captain Willard’s journey upriver in Apocalypse Now (1979), and towards the end of the film falls apart completely as characters become increasingly irrational and events more and more difficult to swallow.