The Case for Global Film

Discussing everything that isn't Hollywood (and a little that is).

Archive for January 5th, 2013

That was 2012 in film – Des 1967’s lists

Posted by des1967 on 5 January 2013

Happy New year to everyone and apologies for the delay in my contribution. Just recovering from chaos of Hogmanay.

I didn’t find 2012 as good as the previous few years but I managed to miss some films which I was very keen to see, including Holy Motors, The Master (I thought Anderson’s Magnolia one of the best films of the 1990s), About Elly, This is Not a Film, Berberian Sound Studio, Shadow Dancer. Some of these will no doubt appear on my 2013 DVD list.

I’ve chosen ten on the UK cinema release list because I can’t find an obvious five which are far better than the next five and these are not necessarily in any order:

Rust and Bone (France/Belgium)

I usually have to psyche myself up to watch films featuring severe physical injury but the performance of Cotillard in particular made me overcome my squeamishness. Also a fine performance by Matthias Schoenaerts whose character’s lack of emotion at the beginning helped Stephanie to get beyond self-pity and rebuild her life. Alain couldn’t stay frozen forever and his transformation was incredibly well done.

Le Havre (Finland/France/Germany)

A Chaplinesque good-hearted fairy-tale about a group of ‘small people’ in the port area of Le Havre conspiring to help an immigrant boy on his way to join his mother in London keep out of the hands of the police. A sort of Finnish hommage to French poetic realism.

Goodbye First Love (France/Germany)

I’ve never been a fan of Rohmer but this film has the qualities fans of Rohmer often describe.

Anna Karenina (UK)

Costume drama needs a rethink and this is one of the most radical.

The Hunt (Jagten, Denmark/Sweden 2012)

Seems to be a common denominator among contributors so it must have something special going for it.

Liberal Arts (USA)

34-year-old Nat visits his old university and falls for Zibby, the bright 19-year-old daughter of his former professor’s friends. Could be classed as a romcom but the term doesn’t quite catch the mood and tone of the film. Terrific performances, especially by minor characters and by Elizabeth Olsen who threatens to put in the shade  her more famous sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley. Something  endearingly old-fashioned about the contact of the two protagonists – by letter. Here’s a clip of the couple’s correspondence rendered by voice-over which catches the flavour of the film.:

Your Sister’s Sister (USA)

Another American indy production. Interesting relationship triangle between a man and two sisters, witty and engaging. A bit of a rough diamond of a romcom.

Untouchable (France)

An uplifting comedy about the friendship that develops between a wealthy quadriplegic and his carer, Driss, an ex-convict. Has become the most seen film in French history and already doing better abroad than The Artist.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (France 2012)

A union official made redundant and his wife struggle to apply their long-held socialist principles faced with adversity.

Monsieur  Lazhar (Canada)

There seems to be a real flourishing of film in Quebec in recent years and this is a fine example.

An honourable mention to The Angels Share and a dishonourable mention to two American comedies which were both immature and very funny: Ted and 21 Jump Street.


DVD/TV/Festivals etc.

Once Upon a Time The Revolution/Duck You Sucker (Italy 1971)

Tends to be overlooked in comparison to the other two “Once Upon a Time” Leone films (The West and America) but still great, ebullient film making.

The Minister  (France/Belgium, 2011) (TOTAL French Film Festival)

Terrific performance by Olivier Gourmet (whom I’d only seen in Dardennes Brothers films such as The Son) in which he plays a government minister under pressure.

Sarah’s Key   (France, 2010)

Two time periods, Paris in 1942, during the notorious round-ups of the Jews by the Paris police, and present-day Paris and New York. A journalist (Kristin Scott-Thomas) suspects her in-laws may have benefitted from the Jews’ misfortune over 60 years before. In some way more effective in portraying these events than La Rafle.

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life (France, 2008)

Family melodrama which follows the story of a tumultuous family over five important days in their lives.

C.R.A.Z.Y. (Canada, 2005)

Another family melodrama, this time set in Canada. It tells the story of conservative father (a great country fan – which will explain the title) and his relationship with his five sons, in 1960s and 1970s Quebec and in particular Zac, a young gay man dealing with homophobia. 

Café de Flor (Canada/France, 2011)

Another Quebec film (also written and directed by Jean-Mark Vallé) which cuts between two seemingly unrelated stories. One set in Montréal dealing with the relationship between a successful DJ, his new, younger girlfriend and his still-complicated relationship with his ex-wife who can’t let go. The other, set in 1960s Paris, stars Vanessa Paradis as a fiercely protective single mother of a child with Down syndrome

Even the Rain  (Spain, 2010)

While a director and his crew shoot a controversial film about Christopher Columbus in Cochabamba, Bolivia, local people rise up against plans to privatize the water supply.


The final two are Spanish films directed by Fernando Trueba, a Christmas gift from Madrid. Probably on my list as seen most recently but they refuted the common claim that in Spain there is only Almodóvar.

Belle Époque (Spain/Portugal, 1992)

Set in Spain in 1931 Fernando, a young soldier, deserts from the army and is welcomed by the owner of a farm due to his libertarian political ideas. The man has four daughters, all of whom Fernando is attracted to and they to him , so he has to decide which one to love. Despite the subtext consisting of the issues that lead to the Civil War 5 years later, this is really a fairy-tale. I  think I would have hated it back in 1992 when it first came out, when Spanish film (and Spanish political culture generally) avoided any real issues to do with the Civil War (the so-called “pact of forgetting”). But seeing it now,  really enjoyed it and its utopian aspirations.

Chico and Rita (Spain/UK, 2010)

An animated feature-length film, the story of Chico, a pianist, and Rita, a singer, is set against backdrops of Havana, New York City, Las Vegas, Hollywood and Paris in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Strange having such a sexy animated film (outside Japan!). I probably still associate, subconsciously, animation with kids’ films. Good story, excellent animation, wonderful music.


What of 2013? Looking forward to seeing the films mentioned by other contributors, and want to fill a lacuna in my viewing experience by getting to grips with Kenji Mizoguchi. As for telly, looking forward to Season 4 of Engrenages/Spiral and the final half season of  Breaking Bad, one of the best US series but almost invisible in the UK.

And a New Year Resolution – not to go and see blockbusters because influential reviewers tell me how good and original they are – such as Skyfall, the latest Bond film, which bored me to tears after half an hour.

Posted in Film awards lists | 2 Comments »

Life of Pi (Taiwan/India/Canada/US 2012)

Posted by Roy Stafford on 5 January 2013

Pi (Suraj Sharma) attempts to tame the tiger.

Pi (Suraj Sharma) attempts to train the tiger.

The Life of Pi is an interesting phenomenon in contemporary cinema. I watched it in 3D from the front row of a small cinema – not necessarily the seat I would have chosen (I usually go for the third or fourth row) and the sensation of animals jumping into my lap was definitely odd. I can’t decide if the overall film was just an enjoyable traveller’s tale or whether there is a more profound narrative that I wasn’t reading properly. What is clear is that the film has captivated audiences around the world and set the electronic bulletin boards aglow with questions, theories and seemingly whole packs of ‘trolls’. Like Scorsese’s Hugo, this 3D presentation by a filmmaker with great skill in visualising a story and carefully handling his characters has gone some way to justifying this still cumbersome technology.

When Yann Martel’s original novel won the Booker Prize, I remember being put off reading it by the usual nonsense that surrounds awards ceremonies. I’m usually interested in Canadian literature but I didn’t explore this title further. If you don’t know the story, it begins in Montreal where a novelist visits Pi (Irrfan Khan) looking for inspiration for his next project. Pi tells him the fabulous tale of how many years earlier he survived months drifting across the Pacific in an open boat accompanied by a fully-grown Bengal tiger. The narrative mainly comprises a long flashback to when Pi was first a small child in Pondicherry, the French enclave in Tamil Nadu which finally joined the Union of India in 1954, and up to the disaster when Pi was trapped with the tiger as a 16 year-old. Pi’s father owned a zoo in Pondicherry but changes in his financial circumstances forced him to sell-up and take his family to Canada – along with some of the animals which he hoped to sell in North America. At the end of the fabulous tale, the novelist learns that there is another, alternative story about what happened to Pi in the boat and he is invited to choose which one he believes.

For those of us who don’t profess any religious beliefs, the film might seem a little off-putting since the novelist is told that the story will make him think again about the existence of God. Yann Martel is certainly interested in ideas about religions and he travelled to India partly to see temples, mosques and churches. As a 14 year-old, Pi tries out Hinduism, Islam and Christianity in his attempt to understand the world. Especially in North America, audiences (and critics) seem to want to focus on the religious dimension. For those of us in the increasingly secular UK (shown in the 2011 census) I suppose it’s good to be reminded that millions of people around the world do have religious beliefs. However, I don’t think that Life of Pi has to be understood through religious metaphors and allegories. It’s a mixture of fantasy and realism that exposes the central character’s humanity.

What’s most interesting about the film for me is that a Hollywood studio (Fox) thought that it had acquired a ‘property’ to develop into an American blockbuster movie only to discover eventually that while the film remains ‘American’ in terms of its script by David Magee and the excellent CGI effects work by Rhythm and Hues, everything else about the film is truly ‘international’. The proof is in the box office. Released first in North America, the film made $88 million in what Hollywood calls the ‘domestic’ market – making it a ‘flop’ given its budget of over $100 million. But in the ‘international’ market (i.e. the rest of the world) it has already made over $220 million with the Chinese and Indian markets together making over $100 million. That has to mean something.

Adil Hussain and Tabu as Pi's parents

Adil Hussain and Tabu as Pi’s parents

The film is visually spectacular without the need for much dialogue in many scenes and its story is ‘universal’, but much of the credit must go to director Ang Lee and his refusal to use Hollywood/Bollywood superstars – Tobey Maguire and Shah Rukh Khan are reported to have been considered at some point. Irrfan Khan and Tabu represent the cream of Indian acting talent (note to self – must find more Tabu films) and Gérard Depardieu makes a suitable villain – hiss! – in the present climate (he’s a tax dodger). I thought Suraj Sharma, the 17 year-old student who played the lead, was terrific. Lee made the film in Taiwan, India and Canada and it doesn’t at any point feel like an American film. It was worth staying to the end of the credits to hear the golden voice of Lata Mangeshkar on a song which I think comes from a 1970s Hindi film.

I’d like to watch the film again – on a bigger screen – and really get to grips with what Lee and his crew have been able to put together. There is a sequence in which the aspect ratio changes. The action at that moment was itself spectacular so I barely registered the change in ratio. Later I read that there are four different ratios used in the film at various times. In the opening credits sequence, the credits themselves are animated and the 3D effect is pronounced as animals move through the depth of the image. I found this very beautiful and quite arresting – although at other times I didn’t notice the use of 3D at all (apart from the darkened image and the heaviness of the glasses over my own specs). The other success is of course the digital effects that create the tiger on the boat. I can’t imagine that there are many cat lovers (or even dog lovers) that didn’t experience an emotional jolt when Pi lifts the massive head of the tiger weakened by hunger onto his lap. I felt the weight of a ‘real’ tiger and wanted to stretch out and scratch its ears.

To return to the India/China axis, Life of Pi seems like a breakthrough of sorts. I don’t think that it was just the presence of Irrfan Khan and Tabu that made me think of The Namesake, a film by Mira Nair, an Indian based in the US adapting another tale of a journey from India to North America. Ang Lee has already demonstrated his ability to make films about different modes of American culture as well as a British literary adaptation and explorations of his own Taiwanese film culture. He’s moved between very different genres and very different cultural contexts with ease. Perhaps with Life of Pi he’s begun to point towards the greater exchange of ideas about cinema between India, China and North America. I think that is where the future lies for cinema in global terms and Lee seems much more adept than the more conventional Hollywood forays into separate productions in India and China.

Posted in Chinese Cinema, Indian Cinema | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »


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