Film Reviews

Film Review: The Square (2017)

The_Square-694525750-large

 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.

Film Reviews

Film Review: Season of Narges (2017)

 MV5BNzQ5NmQ3YmMtYjYyNC00MWJiLThjNTUtMTVkNDE3ZDM1YjUyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjkxOTM4ODY@._V1_SY1000_SX800_AL_

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.

004d6203

Film Reviews

Film Review: Withered Green (2016)

For some reason I felt like writing this one in Arabic, however I’ll try to update this review with the English version as well ASAP, because this beautiful film definitely deserves both languages.

أخضر يابس

 بشعرية شديدة, و الكثير من السوداوية, يتابع فيلم “أخضر بابس” حياة بطلته ايمان في رحلتها للبحث عن أحد أعمامها لمقابلة عريس  شقيقتها الصغرى بدلا من والديهما المتوفي. و بينما تتوالي فصول الفيلم ينكشف لدي ايمان مدي تقييد هذه العادات و التقاليد لها و لأختها سويا. الفيلم ذو الثلاثة و سبعون دقيقة هو الفيلم الطويل الأول لمخرجه محمد حماد, و التجربة السينمائية الأولى لبطلته هبة علي, و هو حائز على جائزة المهر لأفضل مخرج من مهرجان دبي السينمائي الدولي.

على مدار أسبوع, تتبع الكاميرا ايمان أثناء قيامها بمشاغل حياتها اليومية التي تمزج بين الهدوء و الرتابة, فتنطلق من أعمال المنزل اليومية, لرحلتها المتكررة بالترام, لتعمل بمحل حلويات يبدو عليه القدم و البساطة.  يتخلل هدوء عالمها النسبي الاحباط حين يتوالى عليها فشل محاولاتها لاقناع الأعمام الذكور بمقابلة العريس الشاب. كذلك يستمر جو عام من القلق طوال الفيلم حيث يبدو أن ايمان تعاني من مشاكل صحية لها علاقة بالخصوبة, الأمر الذي تتجاهله متعمدة و بشدة طوال فترة الفيلم, حتي يظهر تأثيره الصادم كليا بالمشهد الختامي.

withered-green

 رغم هدوء ايقاع الفيلم الذي يصل أحيانا الي حد الملل, الا أن هذا الهدوء النسبي هو في الواقع أقوي عناصر “أخضر يابس”, فما أن  يتسلل الجو العام للفيلم للمشاهد حتى تمتزج مشاعره كليا ببطلة الفيلم, شاعرا بالكم المتضاهي من الضجر و الاحباط و العجز الذي تشعر به. يتطرق لذهن المشاهد أفلام مثل جين ديلمان (1975) لشانتال أكيرمان أو الخروج للنهار (2012) لهالة لطفي, حيث نجح صناع الأفلام الثلاثة بايصال شعور الوحشة و الفراغ الذي تمر به بطلاتهم بواقعية شديدة. ذلك بالاضافة لأداء بطلة الفيلم هبة علي, الذي على الرغم من جموده أحيانا, الا أنه ينجح كليا بايصال ما تمر به ايمان فقط عن طريق ملامح وجهها و بأقل حوار ممكن. فعلى الرغم من جمال الفيلم, تبقى تجربة مشاهدته مرهقة الى حد كبير لما يحويه من حزن خالص في كثير من الأحيان.

تصوير الفيلم بالغ الحرفية, تملأه كادرات تظهر بعد أيمان عن الكاميرا و ضآلتها على الشاشة, تماما كبعدها و ضآلتها عن حياتها نفسها.  كذلك المونتاج, حيث يتخلل حياة ايمان اليومية مشاهد لسلحفاتها المنزلية التي تبدو على الرغم من بطء حركتها و كأنها تنعم بحياة أكثر راحة و صفاء من ايمان. و يضفي طاقم العمل غير الاحترافي, و الذي يتكون أغلبه من أقارب صناع الفيلم و أصدقائهم, طابع من الواقعية الخالصة على الفيلم, فينجح أخضر يابس باضافة بعد انساني ملموس لشخصياته, فهي أكثر من مجرد شخصيات خيالية ,بل هي واقع المجتمع المصري بذاته, و يبقى تمرد ايمان بنهاية الفيلم على تقاليد هذا المجتمع و تحكماته ما هو الا ردة فعل لكم الضغوط التي تعرضت لها, بل هو أقرب ما وصلت اليه من التصالح مع النفس و مواجهة الواقع بدلا من تناسيه في تجهيز ستائر المنزل لمقابلة العريس المنتظر, أو ترتيب معروضات المحل.

 

Film Reviews

Film Review: Sheikh Jackson (2017)

 From acclaimed Egyptian director Amr Salama (Asmaa, 2011, Excuse my French, 2014), comes a 90-minute feature that defines the mediocrity that has overcome mainstream Egyptian cinema. The amateurish endeavor which stars some of Egyptian cinema’s most recognized faces was surprisingly selected to be submitted for the 90th Academy Awards, despite its conspicuous flaws and shortcomings on both the artistic and entertainment aspects.

Sheikh Jackson

 The story follows a religious man as he goes through a crisis of faith when he realizes that his childhood idol, Michael Jackson, is now dead. The film shifts from the present to past memories to even dream sequences in its journey to unravel the life and upbringing of its main character, spawning a number of supporting characters and subplots along the way that most of the time serve no purpose whatsoever to the plot. This nonlinear approach at storytelling, along with the clumsy script, eventually leads the whole film to appear rather messy and underdeveloped.

 Despite the fine camerawork and lighting, mainly the change in color palettes between present day and past memories, Sheikh Jackson fails to deliver the artistic merit it promises. The vulgarly flawed script, stiff acting, the lack of depth that all the characters sport whether supporting or even the main character itself, and the particularly cringe worthy CGI of a certain dream sequence all guarantee the film’s inevitable fall into oblivion over the upcoming years.

Sheikh_Jackson_1

 I tried not to bash this film, I honestly did, however there is something absolutely insulting when presenting similarly unexceptional films as masterpieces, especially when other underrepresented indie films are much more worthy. In the end, Sheikh Jackson may be an entertaining film, that is if you overcome the excruciatingly unrealistic societal backgrounds of the main characters, the highly clichéd script, the god-awful CGI, and the extremely distorted soundtrack, but is it really worth submitting to the academy, or even receiving half the praise it got? I highly doubt it.

Rating: 3/10

Film Reviews

Film Review: Hounds of Love (2016)

 

DBCeO0rXgAAKaaj

 Australian director Ben Young’s debut feature film is a dark tale, the darkest I’ve seen in years, about a murderous couple in the suburbs of a small town in Australia. The film is a Psychological thriller based on the murders and kidnappings of Perth’s murderous couple The Birnies, and though this fact is never mentioned in the film, the similarities between the murders committed by The Birnies and those represented on screen are incredibly hard to miss. Now before we go any further, this film is indeed not for the faint of heart. Despite the fact that almost all of the violence and gore is done off-screen, Hounds of Love remains a nerve wrecking experience that will ultimately disturb its viewer.

 The story follows a rebellious high school girl, Vicky (Ashleigh Cummings), who is stuck in the middle of her parents’ divorce. One night she escapes her house after being grounded only to be lured into the home of deranged couple Evelyn and John White (Emma Booth and Stephen Curry). What follows is an 80 minute long nightmare of disturbing perversity and torture, and some very fine filmmaking. The strength of Hounds of Love lies not in the gore and the bloodshed, but in the fact that it keeps everything as realistic and authentic as possible. The way John and Evelyn lead their lives is highly plausible which makes for an even more chilling story. In other words; Ben Young managed to capture true human evil on screen, and it is both unsettling and mesmerizing.

maxresdefault

 As the film progresses, we delve deeper into the demented psyches of the couple as the dynamic behind their relationship unfolds in front of Vicky, who soon realizes that her only way to escape is to use this dynamic in her favor. Hounds of Love goes the extra mile in trying to explain the highly abusive codependent relationship that binds these two murderers together. Backed by praise worthy performances from all the cast – especially the two leading ladies – the film delivers a powerful and troubling character study of the minds of serial killer couples. Perhaps the film’s only sin is that its pace is often confusing; with it being too slow for a thriller, yet too fast for a drama. This discontinuity gives an impression of being rather underdeveloped.

 Hounds of Love is a film destined for critical acclaim. Its powerful camerawork, intense performances, and ultra-realism all make for a respectable work of art that would both shock and captivate its audience, and it would definitely appear on lots of lists for best Australian films in the future.

Rating: 7.5/10

 

Film Reviews

Film Review: Baby Driver (2017)

 I have to be honest with you here; I was in a position to choose between Baby Driver, Edgar Wright’s latest action-packed, comedy heist movie, and Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s epic endeavor that has been showered by rave reviews from the critics over the past few weeks. Needless to say I went with Baby Driver, because I would take Wright’s quirky originality over Nolan overrated pretentiousness any day, but let’s not get into this argument just yet.

baby-driver-poster-700x1038

 Starring Ansel Elgort as the title character; a young man who is forced to work as a getaway driver for a crime lord called Doc (Kevin Spacey) in order to pay off his debt. Trouble arises as soon as Bats (Jamie Foxx), a wild and unpredictable mobster, joins the group for a risky heist that threatens to get everyone in it imprisoned or worse, and that includes fellow mobsters Buddy (Jon Hamm), and Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). The film which includes some of the most impressive car chase scenes over the past few years was shot by Bill Pope (The Matrix, Cosmos) with some gorgeous black and white vignettes about the main character’s love interest Deborah (Lily James) and a colorful color palette typical of Wright.

 The film also contains an extraordinary soundtrack including both classic rock tracks, and some original tracks remixed from actual dialogue in the movie. The remarkable thing with Wright’s use of the music in the film is that it’s not there simply to add some liveliness in the background of a scene, the music of Baby Driver is more or less the star of the film. It is explained in the film that the main character has a constant buzzing in his ears and thus uses music to drown it out, however the way the music tracks are incorporated in the car chases and basically the characters’ everyday lives goes way beyond that. According to an interview, Wright stated that the opening scene of the film was inspired by the track used in it; “Bellbottoms”, and that he even included the tracks he wanted to use in every scene with the script surprisingly before the studio secured these tracks’ from their owners.

baby_driver_dua_xe_am_nhac_8

 Baby Driver is an exhilarating ride with great visual comedy and not just some cool punch lines, it has a refreshing approach when it comes to using music in an action film, which keeps the whole thing original and creative. However, the film doesn’t really take itself too seriously in terms of exploring a new aspect of filmmaking or something similarly grand; it is simply a heist movie, it’s true that it’s a really cool heist movie, but it doesn’t really introduce any groundbreaking ideas to the genre, and that is exactly why I went with Baby Driver and not Dunkirk, because personally I’d rather pay for a film that knows exactly how good it is and what it offers to its viewers than another with somewhat exaggerated delusions about its own artistic value, and that kind of self-awareness is exactly why I believe Baby Driver will eventually evolve into a cult classic over the following couple of years.

Rating: 6.5/10

 

Film Reviews

Film Review: Brimstone (2016)

 The first English speaking film from Dutch director Martin Koolhoven (Winter in Wartime, 2008) is a two and a half hour long western epic about a young woman who has suffered in her life probably more than all the women in Lars Von Trier’s films combined.

Brimstone

 Starring Dakota Fanning (Liz) and Guy Pierce (The Reverend), the story begins when the Reverend arrives at Liz’s town. The young mute woman who works as the town’s midwife instantly recognizes the man and the terror he brings from her past for both herself and her family. As the chapters of the film unfold the story of Liz’s melancholic past is told in gruesome detail, and the nature of her dark and twisted relationship with the Reverend is further explained. The performances by the two main actors are highly impressive, yet fail to divert the viewer’s attention from the conspicuously flawed script, and it most certainly is flawed.

 Recounting the relationship between Liz and the Reverend would require spoiling the entire film. However, it is safe to say that it includes some very dark themes and taboos, and although it is almost always refreshing to see filmmakers venturing into the darker areas of humanity often left untold on the silver screen, in Brimstone these efforts fail miserably. It appears as if the filmmaker bit more than he could chew with this one, after all you cannot include child abuse, pedophilia, domestic abuse, human violence, sex worker’s rights and religious fanaticism in one film, even if it’s a 2 and a half hour one. The main problem lies within the spreading of these themes throughout the film, as they are all clustered together in the second act dividing the film into two distinctly separate halves, and ultimately disrupting the pace of the entire film.

 Another rather disappointing quality of Brimstone is its unceasing determination to fall into clichés and stereotypes. I understand it is mostly a genre piece and avoiding formulaic ideas about the American old west is almost inevitable, still the film’s use of recurrent and corny ideas regarding the representation of evil characters and religious fanatics on screen is rather frustrating. Scenes as lightning striking as the bad guy is introduced, or a man flying out the window by a single rifle shot tend to devaluate the artistry of the entire film. Besides, the story itself progresses into an over the top purposefully depressive tragedy that reaches its peak of irrationality by the ending scene, at which point the film has already lost its credibility.

Brimstone 1

 Brimstone includes some beautiful shots, yet its cinematography is not particularly remarkable. The performances are notable, yet they cannot hold the film alone. The characters diverse, yet far-fetched and over blown. Brimstone may be an acceptable film, passably entertaining, but it’s definitely not the masterpiece it is promoted to be.

Rating: 4/10