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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Crash Dive

Thirteen-lives-movie-review-viggo-mortensen-colin-farrell-joel-edgerton
Vince Valitutti/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
Thirteen Lives (2022)

“Apollo 13” might have been the film that changed the game in Hollywood. It was a dramatic re-enactment of a real-life event most people had either forgotten about, or not quite understood the historical importance of. But that aborted space flight happened in 1970; and Ron Howard directed the movie version in 1995. Nowadays the rush to adapt real-life events into filmic re-enactments happens almost as soon as news cameras arrive on the ground. “Thirteen Lives” is about a Thai football team getting trapped in a flooded cave in 2018 – that is to say, four years ago. The teenagers who were in that cave are still teenagers now. Is that a spoiler? But how can it be, when the incident is so fresh in our minds? So what Mr. Howard needed to do was find an angle like what “Apollo 13” had. In that case, it was to remind us of human ingenuity in times of crisis and what humanity lost by stopping our exploration of the universe. It is unfortunate that this time around, Mr. Howard did no such thing.

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Life Under Siege

Our-river-our-sky-movie-review-darina-al-joundi-ali-el-kareem-zainab-al-ghanimi
Oxymoron Films

MOVIE REVIEW
Our River . . . Our Sky (2022)

The key scene in this Iraqi film comes about two-thirds of the way through. Sara (Darina Al Joundi) is on a bus stuck in Baghdadi traffic when there’s a nearby burst of machine-gun fire. Everyone ducks, wearily; they have all done this before. It’s 2006 and the war is raging. But it’s soon over, with only one corpse in the street; and the driver reassures the passengers they are all safe. Everyone sits up, mutters a few curses, take a few deep breaths and starts cracking jokes. If their bodies were dumped in a strange part of town, at least it would be a nice change of scenery! Maybe their corpse can go to Paris, Venice, Dubai! And this group of strangers all laugh in glee at still being alive.

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Made to Measure

The-blue-caftan-movie-review-saleh-bakri-ayoub-missioui
Courtesy of TIFF

MOVIE REVIEW
The Blue Caftan (2022)

Now this is cinema. It’s a small movie, with a slow pace, focused on watching three people think their thoughts and say very little of what they are actually thinking. It’s set in a place most people have heard of – Casablanca – but in a world most people haven’t – the workshop of a master craftsman (a maâlem) who embroiders caftans by hand. In Moroccan culture, caftans made by a maâlem are a treasured possession designed to last the lifetime of the wearer, or even passed from mother to daughter in a way that perhaps only christening gowns are in the West. (One customer mentions her caftan was a gift from her husband on the birth of their first son, 50 years ago.) Or at least they were. Times being what they are, hardly anyone is interested in buying something designed to last forever anymore. But a movie like “The Blue Caftan” makes a beautiful, enchanting case for always taking your time.

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Bearer of Bad News

Until-branches-bend-movie-review-grace-glowicki
Courtesy of TIFF

MOVIE REVIEW
Until Branches Bend (2022)

Robin (Grace Glowicki) is in her 20s and works as a grader at the fruit factory in town. It’s one of the best jobs going locally; and she is proud to do it, and takes it seriously. She lives with her younger sister Laney (Alexandra Roberts), who dates the rich boys for whom a summer of physical labor is a fun escape. Robin dates men who are married. There’s Jay (Paul Kular), with whom she is forever having arguments in parking lots; and there’s factory management Dennis (Lochlyn Munro, excellent as the bland, depersonalized face of corporate evil). As a grader, it’s Robin’s job to give the fruit the final once-over before putting them into the punnets which go to the shops. In one fruit she notices a kind of beetle. Not on the fruit – in the fruit. She has the presence of mind to go on break before taking a few photos and bringing the evidence to Dennis. She’s worried this is an early harbinger of an infestation, the kind that can ruin an entire crop and throw the whole valley out of work. The kind of modern-day plague that can cause your parents to lose their farm and hasten their deaths and leave someone living alone with their sister. Dennis reassures her he will handle it, but Robin already knows about the lies married men can tell.

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Restricted Aria

Chevalier-movie-review-kelvin-harrison-jr
Larry Horricks/20th Century Studios

MOVIE REVIEW
Chevalier (2022)

The opening scene is almost too good to be true. Mozart himself is giving a concert in Paris when an audience member stands up and insults him. Of course Mozart laughs – he’s Mozart! – but the smile vanishes when the insulter challenges him to a violin-playing duel. Of course Mozart accepts – he’s Mozart! – but soon realizes that the challenger is actually pretty damn good, and the audience is so delighted by his chutzpah and his skill that they cheer him to victory. Who the hell is this? Well, his name is Joseph Bologne (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and before this triumph he stood out in 18th-century French high society anyway. He’s Black.

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