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3/26/2009

Film & Video

FFF: International Features

 

English Surgeon (4 Stars) British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh, a contemplative, affable gentleman, spends his vacation time volunteering in Kiev, Ukraine, where the citizens are desperate and medical equipment is scarce and antiquated. Most doctors would feel pretty good about themselves for contributing this kind of pro bono work, but Marsh remains haunted by a former patient’s death, and as he prepares for a dangerous operation on one man’s tumor, he seeks out the former patient’s mother for absolution. Filmmaker Geoffrey Smith crafts an intimate, often harrowing tale of resistance in the face of crushing despair.

Justin Strout

Il Divo (3 Stars) Dense and highly stylized, this biopic of ruthless and cunning Italian politician Giulio Andreotti swings wildly from infuriatingly confusing to thrillingly action-packed. Take, for instance, the opening sequence, which superimposes an “Italian glossary” over a black screen. For two minutes, we read encyclopedia entries about Andreotti, the various men connected to him and certain historical events in recent Italian political history. (Good luck with that.) Then we immediately cut to a stunningly effective sequence in which most of those same people are brutally gunned down, hanged and poisoned. We see the events of the Bribesville scandal that plagued Italy in the early ’90s and Andreotti’s involvement in them (although he was acquitted of all charges and still serves as senator today). Toni Servillo’s stellar performance as Andreotti holds the massive film together, but repeated viewing is required to grasp the web of deceit.

Justin Strout

Not Quite Hollywood (4 Stars) A Quentin Tarantino–assisted (naturally) look at the forgotten genre of Australian exploitation – or Ozploitation – films of the late ’70s and early ’80s that’s expertly edited, with nonstop clips from movies like Alvin Purple, Stork and Dead-End Drive In. Packing in interviews with seemingly hundreds of Aussies (and Jamie Lee Curtis, Dennis Hopper, Tarantino and other Americans), the dizzying amount of blood, sex and almost-deadly stunts is entertaining and salacious.

Justin Strout

Ramchand Pakistani (2 Stars) When an 8-year-old Hindu Pakistani crosses the invisible territorial line from his country into India (think Finding Nemo, only horrifying), he’s seized by Indian officials and thrown in jail along with his father, who went after him. This leaves the boy’s mother (the gorgeous and reserved Nandita Das) to endure hardship on her own during the five years her men are rotting in prison. Despite the film’s scenic beauty and high production values, it sinks during the jail sequences, which languish without strong characters to hold our attention.

Justin Strout

Séraphine (3 Stars) A tender, submerged performance by French actress Yolande Moreau anchors this conventional biopic of painter Séraphine de Senlis’ life, from her discovery while working as lowly housekeeper and on through her rise as one of the scene’s pre-eminent artists. Moreau, with her no-nonsense-yet-naive attitude, is enchanting, but director Martin Provost’s choppy storytelling prevents the film from ever fully breathing. Regardless, the film recently cleaned up at the French equivalent of the Oscars (the César Awards), winning Best Film, Best Actress and five other awards.

Justin Strout

Shall We Kiss? (5 Stars) Mark Twain said, “There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable,” and that goes double when it comes to sex. In his fourth feature film, French director Emmanuel Mouret effortlessly channels Eric Rohmer and François Truffaut in terms of romance and setting; he even gets the warm, popping film stock right. If his characters didn’t use computers, it would hard to tell the story isn’t set in the ’70s. Mouret frames the comedy with a man and a woman who hit it off one night, except the woman won’t kiss him despite the obvious sparks. She tells him it’s because of another man and woman – best friends – who ended up kissing and fell into a love quadrangle with dire consequences. We then flash back to that couple’s dance of the illicit and watch how every rationalization (“We should kiss again but make ourselves uncomfortable so the memory of the kiss is a bad one”) only gets them hotter for each other. As the cautionary couple, Mouret and the ravishing Virginie Ledoyen command the screen, and Mouret’s direction keeps things light and utterly amorous.

Justin Strout

Treeless Mountain (4 Stars) Already the winner of three festival awards (Berlin, Dubai and Pusan – and nominated for a fourth at the Indie Spirits), Treeless Mountain is the hard-to-watch and hard-to-look-away-from story of two young girls from Seoul who are left in the inept hands of their alcoholic aunt in provincial Korea while their mother scours the southern half of the peninsula for their runaway father. Korean-American director Kim So-yong, a Sundance Fellow for her first film, In Between Days, deftly handles the emotional battering the girls take at the hands of their inattentive aunt and through their mother’s abandonment, allowing them to find their own way through the suffocating circumstances and eventually breathe on their own.

— Rob Boylan

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