Film Reviews

Film Review: The Vanishing (2018)

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Inspired by the real life events of The Flannan Isles lighthouse disappearances in 1900, where three lighthouse keepers simply vanished without explanation, The Vanishing spins an elaborate tale behind these disappearances. The film does not try to make sense of the mystery; instead it develops a voice of its own that echoes of old pirate stories, and explores dark themes of greed, grief, and the age-old tale of man versus nature.

Starring Peter Mullan and Gerard Butler, who both give excellent performances as the two seasoned lighthouse keepers – especially Mulan – , along with Conor Swindells as the twitchy newcomer of the group that is still learning their ways. The narrative begins to unfold after they find a dead man swept ashore with a locked chest, unable to fight the temptation of opening it they eventually discover it contains an enormous amount of gold. Their plot to dispose of the body and keep the gold for themselves is interrupted when two of the man’s friends arrive on the island searching for him, and slowly the keepers begin to lose all aspects of their morality and even themselves in an attempt to keep the gold.

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The film is a slow burn thriller; it takes its time to unravel all of its layers. Almost the entirety of the first act of the film plays off as some sort of forced meditation on the violent nature of the island and its effects on the three inhabitants upon it. Director Kristoffer Nyholm (whose name surely does sound like a Scandinavian rip off Christopher Nolan) manages to capture the ominous nature of the keepers’ job, as well as giving the viewer a taste of their inner struggles and background. As the plot thickens, the true character of each of the keepers shines brightly, and as they descend into madness together, one could only but contemplate on the origin of their darkness as much as they contemplate about it on screen themselves. Perhaps it’s the known fate of the characters that allows for all of this reflection rather than focusing solely on the story.

Surely The Vanishing is not without its flaws. The writing does get sloppy at times, throwing in leads that actually lead nowhere, and the soundtrack can impose itself upon the scene rather vulgarly at others, yet the gripping tale never lets go of its viewer. The film may not be the grand tragedy it aspires to be, but in its path to reach that goal, it certainly grants itself moderate appreciation as a solid thriller with excellent performances and mesmerizing cinematography that makes even the grimmest little Scottish Island appear as if cut out from a fantasy.

Rating: 7/10

Film Reviews

Film Review: Yommedine (2018)

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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.

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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.

Rating: 7.5/10

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Film Review: I am Love (2009)

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.

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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.

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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.

Rating: 8/10

Film Reviews

Film Review: The Square (2017)

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 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.