Akira (1988), D.O.P: Katsuji Misawa, Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo
Akira (1988), D.O.P: Katsuji Misawa, Director: Katsuhiro Ôtomo
Director Abu-Bakr Shawky’s critically acclaimed debut feature film is a rather unique venture in a league of its own. The film which garnered an award at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for another two – one of which was the Palme d’Or – was met with a standing ovation upon its screening, for its highly humane approach towards a subject which has almost never been approached in Egyptian cinema before.
The story follows Beshay, a forty-year-old leper who leaves the leper colony in which he has lived his entire life to embark on a wild journey in search of his family. He is eventually followed by a young Nubian orphaned boy nicknamed Obama, and the plot unfolds around as the two of them run into their fair portion of mishaps. This is indeed the very basic formula for a road movie that explores the world through the eyes of its main characters, especially as it delves into Beshay’s inner struggles and often overlaps the present with flashbacks from his childhood, or even dreams of a completely different reality.
Shawky manages to explore ideas of acceptance and tolerance through a rather extreme example that despite having encounters that seem somewhat isolated succeeds in projecting the general air of prejudice of Egyptian society. The characters that Beshay meets on his way vary wildly yet are all connected by their evident hostility, whether it’s against the diseased, Copts, or even people of a lower social class than themselves. A minor setback remains in the way in which such ideas are reviewed through the characters’ dialogue, with lines that more often than not sound highly unrealistic coming from characters of such social backgrounds as introduced on screen. Overall the dialogue throughout the whole film frequently comes off as dry and amateurish, and I strongly believe that if the humane heartwarming factor of the film was somehow extracted out of it, the dialogue would have been extremely problematic.
Despite having numerous drawbacks, most of which are related to performances as is natural to using non-professional actors, Yommedine is a solid film that has enough high points to render it appealing to most audiences. The wit and humor sported by the main characters is enough to grip any viewer’s attention if not instant affection as well. The filmmaker shows a strong sense of individuality that allows his film with its peculiar story to stand out, and will most likely enable it to remain memorable and withstand the test of time as well. Whether or not its artistic value would be equally prized is debatable.
Directed by Italian critically acclaimed director Luca Guadagnino (Call me by Your Name, 2017) and produced by both Guadagnino and Tilda Swinton, spanning nearly eleven years in the making. I am Love is a gorgeous romance drama that manages to renovate the genre focusing on the effects of its main romance rather than the romance itself, eventually offering a well-crafted character study, masterfully portrayed by Tilda Swinton who simply prevails the screen in every one of her scenes despite the very little and mostly stiff dialogue.
Emma Ricchi (Tilda Swinton) is a Russian born now seemingly Milanese lady who appears to be in faux control of her household. She is first introduced on screen whilst preparing a dinner party for the Ricchi family’s patriarch, her false air of authority diminishes as she gets told a maid that her eldest son Eduardo (Flavio Parenti) is bringing a date she never heard of. During these very first minutes of the film, the camerawork along with the gorgeous interior set design manage to successfully relay the magnitude of the Ricchi’s wealth, as the camera glides from one room to the next in a seemingly endlessly spacious house, often times even lingering on family photos showing a perfectly content bourgeoisie family. Later that evening, Emma encounters Antonio; a young chef and eventually a friend of Eduardo’s, yet the insignificance of this encounter marks a stark contrast to how these two characters’ relationship would later thrive.
The film brilliantly manages to detect the development of the affair between Antonio and Emma with the utmost delicacy. There are no wild declarations of love, nor are there any passion fueled escapades. The affair is not the main concern of the film, but rather how Emma’s feelings of isolation within her own family seem to slowly fade away till they appear as nothing more than mindless echoing chatter at the back of her head on her way to pursue a real connection. Feelings of guilt and the morality of her actions are both extremely undermined, mainly because it appears as if there was none within her character to begin with, if anything, Emma’s affair with Antonio merely manages to breathe life into the porcelain trophy wife that she was within the Ricchis.
In a sense, the sort of connection that Emma reaches with Antonio is more of a connection with her past self before her marriage. The first time Emma and Antonio interact properly is while he is preparing a Russian Salad. On her solo journey to Nice to view her daughter’s exhibition, she spots him right below a Kremlin-like church, and it is only in the scenes where Emma and Antonio are alone on screen when she actually shares her past memories and simply reveals herself to the audience. Yet the romance remains subdued on screen, In fact a scene where Emma savors a prawn dish prepared by Antonio at his restaurant early on has much more sensual undertones than the two of them actually making love later on. A kiss that’s not even shot in focus sets an entire spectrum of emotions on Emma’s face in the following shot, where she sits alone in the bathroom conveying all her excitement and embarrassment without uttering a single word.
Perhaps the beauty of I am Love is that it is in fact Love introducing itself on screen as much as in the title. It does not instantly cause happiness, and it definitely does not avert inevitable tragedy. However, it allows the characters influenced by it to once again rediscover themselves, and eventually rebel against their own reality for no one’s sake but their own.
Ginger & Rosa (2012), Director: Sally Potter, D.O.P. : Robbie Ryan
To say that Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s film The Square is a bizarre work of art is a bit of an understatement. Juggling between comedy, drama, social, and political satire, Östlund masterfully delivers a film that has its audience laughing out loud mostly out of the awkwardness of the situation presented on screen, all while maintaining an absurdist tone throughout its staggering 150 minutes running time. The film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and is nominated for the Best Foreign Film in the upcoming Academy Awards.
The film revolves mainly around the life of a modern art museum curator named Christian (Claes Bang) who hires an advertising agency to promote the latest art installation attained by the museum. As the multi layers of The Square unfold, Christian’s life spirals out of control, beginning from his already turbulent relationship with a journalist, Anne (Elizabeth Moss), to his encounters with a young refugee boy that alters his bystander’s views on the political scene and the world around him, and eventually ending with the advertising agency’s extreme ideas that lead to catastrophic events endangering Christian’s tactically planned career and social status.
In the opening scene of the film, Christian is shown being interviewed by equal parts confused and amazed Anne. He discusses the concept of art, and the contemporary artworks showcased in his museum with such poise and confidence. He asks his interviewer whether placing her handbag in a corner of the museum would correspondingly turn it into a piece of art. A confused Elizabeth Moss asks “would it?”, Christian then takes a long pause as if he himself is not certain whether the bag would be considered art or not. With this tongue-in-cheek dialogue, accentuated by Claes Bang’s solid performance, Östlund sets the tone for one of the major themes of his film. What is art? And what makes art art? He pokes fun at contemporary art aficionados, suggesting that the real distinction that separates contemporary art from everyday objects is simply an elitist illusion, an emperor’s clothes sort of trick, that allows snobbish self-proclaimed individuals to decide what can and cannot be art.
This part of the review will contain spoilers for the film’s ending, so if you wish to watch this film spoiler free, you should probably skip the following paragraph.
“The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring, within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” Thus goes the motto of the latest art installment claimed by the museum. Christian is seen repeating these words multiple times during the film, yet his equal measures comical and upsetting encounter with a young refugee boy whom Christian mistakenly accuses of theft, proves that the finely polished art snob knows very little about equal rights and obligations. His constant efforts to refrain from making amends to the young boy’s family, hilarious as they may be, manage to irritate the viewer, especially as Christian persists on maintaining a cowardly and condescending behavior. However what makes this film really uncomfortable is the ending, as when Christian finally decides to offer the boy an apology, climbing an unmistakably square staircase to reach the boy’s lowly apartment, finally entering the infamous square, the family had already left. In a single blow Östlund denies his audience any form of catharsis, especially after watching the main character conducting himself rather very distastefully for two and a half hours.
The Square is a rich and complex film that manages to get its audience to laugh out loud then expertly drives them to rethink what they’ve just laughed about. It is social satire at its best, provoking the thought of its audience and introducing questions that are not necessarily novel, yet not often asked because of their uncomforting nature. Despite its erratic pace, unlikable characters and often equally shocking and hilarious script, this is a film definitely worth checking.
The Beguiled (2017), Director: Sophia Coppola, DOP: Philippe Le Sourd
A couple of old female taxi drivers, an acclaimed actor having a feud with the paparazzi, a young woman looking after her suicidal friend, and a hopeless romantic trying to resolve the divorce of her best friend while seeking a love interest herself. With an all-star ensemble cast, Iranian director Negar Azarbayjani (Facing Mirrors, 2011) manages to showcase a slice of Iranian life and everyday human drama. Her light-hearted 90-minute drama successfully immerses its viewer into the tiny details of the lives of each and every character shown on screen.
Adapting a non-linear storytelling approach, Azarbayjani cleverly manages to relate the intertwined everyday lives of her characters, and as the film progresses, the viewer manages to notice the sometimes even non-chronological connections between the characters’ lives. The variety of the characters and their problems also sheds some light on some of the problems facing Iranian society that are rather less spoken of, such as suicide and mental health or the legitimacy of organ transplant in an Islamic country. It may come across as biting off more than one could chew, but the delicate handling of these subjects among others and balancing them with other much lighter problems in comparison like seeking true love or rejection, help ease the audience into viewing these themes without feeling uncomfortable for analyzing them for long, or even putting too much thought into any part of the movie at all.
However, this superficial attempt at exploring some of the most widely recognized aspects of human suffering not only in Iranian society but in the whole world, may be exactly what can be considered the weakness of this movie. Despite being a very human heart-warming drama, Season of Narges fails to achieve anything more artistically or intellectually. In a way it delivers only emotion to its viewer ignoring a wide opportunity at exploring any of the proposed themes solely and in-depth. The solid performances, well-written characters, and decent cinematography all make this film perfect for a lazy afternoon, but sadly for nothing more.