Film Review: The American

The American is part thriller, part drama, and wholly bleak. Although the film is beautifully shot, the sombre air that pervades does not make it a particularly enjoyable film.

Jack is a dangerous man, and a dangerous man to know. An assassin and gun-maker, Jack is sent to hide out in a remote Italian town before completing one last assignment. Although warned not to make friends, Jack manages to attract some company in the midst of his solitude…

There is not a lot to the narrative, it is a pretty straightforward affair. Unfortunately, the plot twists are evident quite early on in the film, which adds to the lack of suspense. These issues would not cause too big a problem if the film was either very entertaining or suitably thought provoking. As it stands, The American falls somewhere in the middle of the two. Although the film does sustain the interest for the most part, it does not feel as satisfactory as it should.

Jack is a brooding character; little is revealed about his history. There is never a sense that his real personality is on show. Jack appears more human in his interludes with Clara, when his cold exterior thaws just a little. He is not a character you can warm to, however, therefore it is difficult to root for a protagonist with so little personal identity.

George Clooney does an admirable job in carrying the sombre atmosphere through his performance. Clooney uses subtlety to convey the seriousness of his protagonist; it is just a shame there isn’t more to Jack. Violante Placido is likeable as Clara in a fairly archetypal ‘tart with a heart’ role.

Anton Corbijn captures the beauty of the Italian setting with his direction. Many of the images are picturesque; the film is almost like a promotional video for the region. There is very little camera movement throughout the film. The stillness of the shots at times contrast with some quite violent imagery. The quietness of the camera work seems to replicate the tranquility of the small town.

Beautiful imagery aside, The American is ultimately let down by a lacklustre script and a protagonist who is not engaging enough to make up for this deficiency.

The American is being screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.

Film Review: The Peddler

The Peddler is amiable documentary that will have you smiling and laughing throughout. Directors Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano and Adriana Yurcovich capture the action without judgement or negativity, resulting in a delightful film to watch.

Daniel Burmeister travels around small Argentinian towns making films. His only request to the Mayor is for food and lodgings. Burmeister makes his films on a non-existent budget using locals as his actors. The film follows the director as he auditions, shoots and screens his movie.

At the beginning of the documentary it is unclear whether Burmeister is genuine or a fraud. Any doubts are quickly vanquished, however, when the director talks of his love of filmmaking and why he goes from town to town making these moves. His passion for filmmaking is only matched by the love for his family, it seems.

Much of the film’s humour is derived from the inventive methods Burmeister employs to make his film. After holding auditions, he tells the assembled locals that they all in fact have made  it into his film. Later, he builds props himself, and even considers creative ways of fixing his car.

His slapdash approach is a cause for much amusement throughout The Peddler. Due to budget and time confinements, he pulls a local off the street to finish the vicar’s scenes, as the clergyman has already gone home. As the filmmaking process continues, you wonder what the end result will be. The scenes from the movie appear hilarious in their dialogue and action.

The directors excel in providing an encompassing view of Burmeister’s filmmaking process. In addition to the footage of the pre-production, shoots and editing, a number of the locals are interviewed about the filmmaker and the film. It is heartening to listen to their opinions; all have positive things to say about Burmeister, as well as extolling the value of the film in bringing the community together. It is obvious that the director is having a very positive effect, in spite of the quality of his film.

Burmeister is a fascinating subject, and The Peddler is filled with good-natured humour. As a light and heartwarming documentary, The Peddler ranks highly.

The Peddler is being screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.

Film Review: What I Love The Most

Not a lot happens in What I Love The Most. This wouldn’t be a problem if the characters were intriguing enough to compensate for the lack of plot. Sadly, they are not. The result is a film that becomes increasingly frustrating to watch.

María, from Buenos Aires, takes a trip to visit her friend Pilar. Both girls are at a point in their lives where they are not sure what they want, so try to enjoy their holiday before getting back to reality…

Although both María and Pilar are believable enough characters, there is nothing remarkable about either of them. This would not be a problem if the plot weren’t so meagre. Without a strong or coherent narrative, at least one of the characters needs a spark to them in order to maintain interest. Unfortunately, What I Love The Most does not provide this.

Instead, what is offered are interactions between the two girls themselves, as well as with other minor characters. The initial sequence, where the girls are chatting as they look out at sea, provides some insight into the two protagonists. The film, however, goes downhill from here by not revealing anything too engrossing about them. This is compounded by the style with which What I Love The Most has been shot.

Director Delfina Castagnino uses numerous long and wide-angle shots, and frequently films from behind the characters, often obscured by branches. This gives the viewer a voyeuristic point of view; it feels as if we are encroaching on private conversations. This works well in creating the feeling that these are just snapshots of conversations. However, the duration of the shots are another matter. Whilst at first the very long takes allow viewers to study the body language of the girls, the frequency of letting the camera roll long after conversation and interaction has ceased grows tired quickly. You would be forgiven for expecting something else to occur in at least one of these long scenes, but sadly nothing ever does.

By the conclusion of What I Love The Most, the sheer frustration at these elongated takes is almost overwhelming. Castagnino clearly hoped to exhibit some artistic prowess with this debut. With the copious shots barren of either dialogue or any real movement, What I Love The Most is sedentary to the point of sedation.

What I Love The Most is being screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.

Film Review: A Screaming Man

A Screaming Man is an affecting drama that eschews some initial humour for a serious and visceral narrative. Much of the film’s emotional clout is derived from the excellent performance of leading man Youssouf Djaoro.

Former swimming champion Adam loves working at as a pool attendant along with his son Abdel at a hotel complex in Chad. After some reorganisation at the hotel, Adam is forced to give up his job to his son. Adam’s humiliation at this turn of events leads him to make some life-altering decisions…

Despite the backdrop of a war-torn Chad, A Screaming Man is an intensely personal story. It is difficult not to feel sympathy for Adam, after being demoted from the job he loves, especially as his son replaces him. Along with the indignity of his ousting, it is clear just how passionate Adam is about swimming. Director and writer Mahamat-Saleh Haroun punctuates Adam’s humiliation with overt cues; Adam’s new uniform is ill fitting and he is made to run back and forth opening gates, for example.

A Screaming Man is a story about an aging man and his place in society. Given his precarious position at work, Adam is unable to offer his family (specifically his son) the same protection he could have once afforded. Thus, he is ineffective in his role as protector; this puts him at odds with the life he has become accustomed to. The film is also preoccupied with familial relationships. Haroun draws a sharp contrast between an early scene between Adam and his wife Mariam where they are affectionate and jovial with an uncomfortable and silent dinner later in the film. A Screaming Man, then, is bold with its parallels.

Djaoro offers a formidable portrayal of Adam. He maintains a reservedness that makes his more emotional moments all the more poignant when they occur. Dioucounda Koma is convincing as Abdel, particularly in later scenes. Hadje Fatime N’Gouta appears stilted as Mariam; there seems to be a lack of urgency in the dramatic scenes.

From the opening scene in the swimming pool, A Screaming Man uses the most vibrant palette. These early scenes of light contrast both visually and thematically with the sombre conclusion. The narrative is absorbing, although it lulls rather after an hour or so.

A Screaming Man is worth a watch for Djaoro’s strong performance, as well as some beautiful cinematography. Expect an air of sobriety, however.

A Screaming Man is being screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.

Film Review: Pink Saris

Pink Saris is a documentary about Sampat Pal Devi, the leader of the ‘Pink Gang’ in Uttar Pradesh, India. The film is engaging, mainly due to the fascinating nature of the focal character.

Documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto follows Sampat Pal as she strives to help women who have been victimised by tradition in the northern Indian state. Among the women she encounters are those who have suffered domestic abuse, girls who have been married at a young age, and women abandoned by the partners because of their lower caste.

Sampat Pal is such an interesting character for a number of reasons. Firstly, the nature of her work is positive and inspiring. In a place where women’s rights are often secondary to tradition, Sampat Pal comes across as a strong and forthright individual. Although her aim to help women is clearly genuine, she is also a flawed character. In her quarrels with her partner Sampat Pal appears condescending, while her assertion that she “beat up a cop” can be considered arrogant, although amusing. Thus, Sampat Pal is a layered character, attempting to balance her work with the Pink Gang at the same time as looking after her family.

Longinotto tries to speak with the young girls that Sampat Pal helps, however they are not always able to speak frankly. Nevertheless, viewers are left with the distinct impression that the rushed marriage of a young girl, for example, is not what she really wants, rather it is the best outcome in a situation with limited options. It is a pity that the families who abuse or expel their daughter-in-laws are not (or chose not to be) interviewed for the film. Their input would have surely resulted in a more well-rounded presentation of the incidents dealt with by Sampat Pal.

The compilation of footage shot at home and around the villages with Sampat Pal gives an encompassing illustration of Sampat Pal’s life. The numerous shots of town and rural landscapes become a little tired as the film goes on, however. Whilst the captions of information are mostly useful and relevant, some of the facts given at the beginning of Pink Saris seem a bit obvious, indicating the film appears to be intended for an entry-level audience.

Overall, Pink Saris is an interesting but not entirely satisfying documentary. The film, like its focal character, is flawed though its good intentions are undeniable.

Pink Saris is being screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.