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December 2022

Trial by Fire

Saint-omer-movie-review-guslagie-malanda
Super Ltd.

MOVIE REVIEW
Saint Omer (2023)

As fairytales are to children, courtroom cases are to adults. A terrible thing has happened; and society comes together in a highly structured and regulated format to decide how to handle it. Instead of the terrible thing, the focus becomes the process of how society deals with it. A courtroom is a mirror of society, but structural issues such as racism or sexism are not under its purview; only individual actions are up for discussion. And once the decision of the court is made, the terrible thing can be wrapped up with a tidy little bow. Whether or not justice was done is not quite the point.

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Die Another Day

Puss-in-boots-the-last-wish-movie-review-antonio-banderas
DreamWorks Animation

MOVIE REVIEW
Puss In Boots: The Last Wish (2022)

“Puss in Boots” came out in 2011, which is kids’ movie years is back around the dawn of time. Its lead character, the suave sword-fighting cat based on Zorro, was introduced to the “Shrek” universe back in 2004, a.k.a. slightly after the big bang. The big bang in American animation was “Shrek” itself, an anti-fairytale from 2001 that took its studio, DreamWorks Animation, into the big leagues. It changed the animation game both stylistically, moving away from hand-drawn work into computer animation, and tonally. Shrek was a disgusting ogre who behaved the exact opposite to the picture-perfect characters from a mouse-themed studio. The movie itself was chock full of pop-culture references (bored parents laugh out loud but the references don’t usually age well), it cast famous actors as the characters which permanently altered how animation has been performed since, and furthermore its knowing, snide tone has also been aped by most of non-Disney kids’ movies released in its wake. Once upon a time, all that was fresh, but kids who saw Puss in Boots debut in “Shrek 2” in 2004 have their own kids now.

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Family Business

Broker-movie-review-song-kang-ho-gang-dong-wong-iu-lee-ji-eun
Neon

MOVIE REVIEW
Broker (2022)

“Broker” is a mess. It doesn’t quite know what point it wants to make about parents who can’t, or won’t, look after their babies, which means that it’s never sure where its sympathies ought to lie. At the start it seems simple. It’s a rainy night when a young woman in a black raincoat approaches a church in Busan, South Korea. It has a baby box, a place where unwanted infants can be safely left, but instead the young woman leaves her baby on the ground. Two other women (Bae Doona and Lee Joo-young) are watching from a car, and one approaches the baby and puts him in the box instead. What? Inside the church two men pick up the baby and delete the security camera footage. Wait, what? One of those men in Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), who works part-time in the orphanage attached to the church; the other is his friend Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho). Sang-hyun and Dong-soo are traffickers (the “brokers” of the title), prepared to sell abandoned infants for, well, it depends on the gender. Male babies are 10 million won (£6,200/$7,600). Female ones are 8 million won (£5,000/$6,100). This baby, whose name, Woo-sung (Park Ji-yong), is left in a note, is a male one.

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This Woman's Work

Jeanne-dielman-23-quai-du-commerce-1080-bruxelles-movie-review-delphine-seyrig
BFI National Archive

MOVIE REVIEW
Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Sight and Sound magazine is the leading repository of film criticism. It used to be the critical outlet of record – i.e., it was responsible for reviewing every single movie released in British cinemas – and is still one of the main resources for critical thinking on world cinema and non-Hollywood movies in Britain. As part of the British Film Institute, its critical reportage also aligns with the repertory program of the BFI cinemas in central London. And once a decade, the magazine asks hundreds of people heavily involved with cinema what the 10 best movies of all time are. There are no constraints on what people can choose, and this time 1,600 critics, film professionals and generally interesting people were polled. And the new film that headed the poll was a shocker. It was “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,” a Belgian movie about a widowed housewife made in 1975 by a 25-year-old woman, Chantal Akerman. It was only her second film. As a result of the poll result, “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” is now available to stream for the first time ever in Britain, and will be shown via a BFI program in cinemas around Britain next year. It is suddenly up for critical reassessment in a way that few movies are ever granted, and the reasons for that are just as interesting as the film itself.

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Faulty Memory

Aftersun-movie-review-paul-mescal-frankie-corio
A24

MOVIE REVIEW
Aftersun (2022)

First time writer-director Charlotte Wells very nearly did an excellent job with “Aftersun,” but she didn’t trust herself to get her point across, and overdoes it so badly the whole movie spoils. The framing device of adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) obsessively revisiting the camcorder footage of a holiday her 11-year-old self (Frankie Corio) took with her absentee father Calum (Paul Mescal, playing five years older than his real age), is completely unnecessary. Worse, Ms. Wells doesn’t trust the audience to figure out the import of this story, and therefore included several brief scenes about Calum’s state of mind which Sophie is not party to. The scene on the dive boat is an unforgivable cheat; the same point is just as beautifully, and more sadly made, when Sophie asks Calum how he spent his own eleventh birthday. But “Aftersun” is not meant to be an exercise in realism; it’s one of memory, and how wallowing in thin evidence can build its own narrative. That constructed narrative is not necessarily accurate of course, but that’s a problem for another film.

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