Ex Machina [ex_machina] (2015)

ex-machina three characters digital

★★★★★

Ex Machina (Alex Garland, UK 2015). Written by Alex Garland / Cinematography by Rob Hardy / Edited by Mark Day / Production design by Mark Digby / Music by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow. Starring Domnhall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno.

In Alex Garland’s debut film, Ex Machina, the CEO of a powerful software company, Nathan, lives in splendid isolation with a sole assistant in a secretive facility in the mountains. He has built a humanoid robot called Ava with artificial intelligence (AI). He invites an employee, Caleb, to administer a test that will allow the AI to persuade the tester that it is human. As the test proceeds, things start to go terribly wrong, plunging us into a thrilling world of deadly mind-games. Ex Machina is a beautiful but deeply disturbing human drama, unfolding a meditation on the hubris of creation and just what it is that makes us human. Read More

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The Secret in Their Eyes [El secreto do sus ojos] (2009)

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★★★★★
Directed by Juan Jose Campanella (Argentina, 2009). Written by Eduardo Sacheri & Juan Jose Campanella / Cinematography by Felix Monte / Edited by Juan Jose Campanella / Art direction by Marcelo Pont / Music by Federico Jusid & Emilio Kauderer. Starring Soledad Villamil, Ricardo Darin, Carla Quevedo, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, Guillermo Francella, Mariano Argento.

The best foreign-language film at the eighty-second Academy Awards in 2009, Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret in Their Eyes is an ingenious masterpiece of layered narrative, thematic complexity and astonishing cinematography, and yet works perfectly well as a thrilling, if startling, crime caper. A lengthy, doomed love affair is embedded in a story of crime and judicial corruption, which itself ordains the amorous adventure: love opens and closes the narrative, and crimes open and close the space within. The narrative also frames the city within the country: at the outset and during the story, from the country come calamity and inopportune distraction; and at the end, calamity returns us there.

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Microbe and Gasoline (2015)

★★★★★

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Microbe et Gasoil (Michel Gondry, France 2015). Written and directed by Michel Gondry / Edited by Elise Fievet / Cinematography by Laurent Brunet / Music by Jean-Claude Vannier. Starring Ange Dargent, Theophile Baquet, Diane Besnier, Audrey Tautou.

Microbe and Gasoline is an outstanding example of how conventional narrative and the joy of simple storytelling in the hands of a master of filmmaking can work in a tale that just wants to be fun. Gondry has achieved something that somehow seems rare these days: a heartfelt basket of delights about growing up, where the world is full of promise, and just the right balance is struck between hilarity, adventure and pathos. Not to be overlooked.

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Love (2015)

★★★☆☆

Noe love threesome

Love (Gaspar Noe, France 2015). Written and directed by Gaspar Noe/ Cinematography by Benoit Debie / Edited by Denis Bedlow and Gaspar Noe / Music supervision by Pascal Mayer with music by Lawrence Schultz and John Carpenter. Starring Karl Glusman, Aomi Muycock, Klara Kristin, Isabelle Nicou, Gaspar Noe.

Some films are plain hard work, and Gaspar Noe’s grim, uncompromising 3D Love (2015) is one of them. The storytelling is accomplished and the filmmaking of a rare intensity, purveying a formidable (if unintended) saga of sexual addiction. Regrettably, we are let down by a platitudinous script, questionable acting, and a half-baked philosophy which has no moral compass worth speaking of to anchor the meaning of the unrelenting scenes of blatant, ultimately tedious sexual activity. For all its strengths, who would want to watch this film more than once (pace Peter Bradshaw)?

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P’tit Quinquin (2014)

Quinquin

★★★★★
P’tit Quinquin. Four-episode TV mini-series and feature film (Bruno Dumont, France 2014. Created, written and directed by Bruno Dumont. Cinematography by Guillaume Deffontaine / Edited by Basile Belkhiri & Bruno Dumont / Produced by Rachid Bouchareb, Jean Brehat & Muriel Merlin. Starring Baptiste Anquez, Julien Bodard, Stephane Boutillier, Lucy Caron, Corentin Carpentier, Alane Delhaye, Lisa Hartmann, Philippe Jore, Philippe Peuvion, Bernard Pruvost, Celine Sauvage.

On the face of it, Bruno Dumont’s P’tit Quinquin is an absurdist crime caper and police procedural, humorous, quirky and plain daft in places, peopled with wacky adults and endearing children during an idyllic summer in coastal Normandy. So far, so good. But the beast lurks beneath the skin and Dumont, never one to give us an easy ride, distils an infernal allegory about French life which leaves us reeling.

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The President (2014)

The-President-2014-de-Mohsen-Makhmalbaf Titular

★★★★★
The President (Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Georgia / France/ UK / Germany 2014). Directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf / Screenplay by Mohsen Makhmalbaf & Marziyeh Meshkiny / Cinematography by Konstantine-Mindia Esadze / Edited by Hana Makhmalbaf & Marziyeh Meshkiny / Art direction by Mamuka Esadze / Set decoration by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Starring Mikheil Gomiashvili, Dachi Orvelashvili.

The President is a modern fairytale and parable of great beauty and savagery in which the horrors are real and not rigged to give way to any kind of fulfilment: we are left to guess at what the future might hold but are not abandoned without hope. A lone voice preaches love and reason; how might that be augmented to bring about a great shout?

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The Babadook (2014)

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★★★★☆

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, Australia/Canada 2014). Written and directed by Jennifer Kent. Cinematography by Radek Ladczuk / Edited by Simon Njoo / Art direction by Karen Hannaford / Production design by Alex Holmes / Music by Jed Kurzel /Badabook book by Alexander Juhasz. Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West / Production by Causeway Films.

Jennifer Kent’s brilliant debut The Babadook is a horror film par excellence, with the fascinating difference that the entire story can be experienced consistently and brilliantly at a purely psychological level. What other horror movie can claim also to tell such a wonderfully crafted tale of melancholy and grief?

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Leviathan (2014)

Leviathan 1

★★★★☆
Leviathan. Russia (2014). Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev / Screenplay by Andrey Zvyagintsev & Oleg Negin / Cinematography by Mikhail Krichman / Edited by Anna Mass / Production design by Andrey Ponkratov. Starring Alexey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenko, Roman Madyanov, Sergei Pokhodaev.

In Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan (2014), the injustice of corruption is forced upon us in a drama with no easy answers and in a narrative which , on the face of it, fails to console, however much we might yearn for redress. As the Leviathan is let loose on humanity, however, there may be a way to survive it.

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A Girl at My Door (2014)

Girl at My Door principal

★★★★☆
A Girl at My Door (Dohui-ya). South Korea (2014). Written and directed by July Jung / Cinematography by Hyun Seok Kim / Edited by Young-lim Lee. Starring Doona Bae / Sae-ron Kim, Song Sae-byeok, Kim Jin-gu.

The pint-sized Chichester International Film Festival consistently punches above its weight, among other riches in its twenty-fourth year, three outstanding police and detective thrillers from 2014, all of which go well beyond the merely procedural. Alberto Rodriguez’ Marshland puts a murder investigation in a moody landscape with a backstory from the Franco era; in Ramil Salakhutdinov’s A White White Night, a detective’s missing-person search in St Petersburg is constantly diverted by tales of the city; and in July Jung’s expressive A Girl at My Door, procedure has all but disappeared, replaced in this South Korean story by a mercurial relationship between a disgraced policewoman and an abused teenager in a forlorn fishing town.

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Miss Violence (2013)

Miss Violence At the Table

★★★★☆

Directed by Alexandros Avranas / Written by Alexandros Avranas & Kostas Peroulis / Cinematography by Olympia Mytilinaiou / Edited by Nikos Helidonidis / Art direction by Thanassis Demiris & Eva Mannidaki. Starring Themis Panou, Rene Pittaka, Eleni Roussinou, Sissy Toumasi, Chloe Bolota, Maria Skoula, Kalliope Zontanou / Constantos Athanasiades/ Nikos Hatzopilos.

Alexandros Avranas’ Miss Violence begins with a dramatic suicide, and only gradually do we realise that the death is a consequence of a plan gone wrong. Pulling no punches, the film depicts with surgical precision how a family colludes with someone who has taken complete control of them for a monstrous purpose. Read More