(Films not released or shown in Chicago until 2013)


Two documentaries in the Top Ten list this year, one more in the Honorable Mention, as non-fiction films challenge fictional dramas for the best of the year.  


What the best fiction films of the year all have in common is strong character development, an all but absent aspect of feature films of late, where one appreciates what is turning into one of the lost arts of cinema, especially American cinema.  While there are many ways to accentuate character, when it’s done right, the films are literally unforgettable.


Nice to see such a strong showing from women directors, three in the Top Ten, who often receive short shrift, overshadowed by men in the movie business, mentioned every year in the male-dominated Cannes official selection, but taking on some of the most controversial topics, several written by the women themselves, and doing so eloquently.  Anyone seeking an alternative to the testosterone fueled, male fantasy world continually dominating movie screens around the world would do well to seek them out.  While there are female directors who are every bit as driven by violence as men, Kathryn Bigelow comes to mind, one of the unique features of films originating by women is offering a different perspective on how to deal with the same sense of injustice and outrage, where some of the best films of the year offer a less incendiary and graphically explosive approach, instead internalizing violence through intimate character studies and meticulous, novelesque detail. 


Speaking of that, the film event of the year was the 10-film Claire Denis retrospective, each one a cinematic powerhouse. 


Also the UK is back making relevant films in the social realist style, but with a modernist twist, adding humor and autobiographical insight.


Woody Allen wrote his darkest work ever, which translates into one of his best films in over 30 years.   


Jia Zhang-ke made one of his more gorgeously accessible films, discovering the genre form while delivering a blistering critique of his nation’s ills.


Rithy Panh has made a challengingly experimental masterpiece that is one for the ages. 


And welcome back Xavier Dolan, a director that continues to take us places we’ve never been, dreamed of, or even imagined, and yet every one of his films delves into undiscovered territory, a promised land of hidden treasures that are uniquely expressed with a kind of electrifying kaleidoscopic invention, always presented in an elegant cinematic bouquet. 





Top Ten Films of 2013


1.)  The Missing Picture (L'image manquante)

2.)  Laurence Anyways

3.)  A Touch of Sin (Tian zhu ding)

4.)  Tabu (2012)          

5.)  War Witch (Rebelle)

6.)  Bastards (Les Salauds)

7.)  Blue Jasmine         

8.)  20 Feet from Stardom       

9.)  Top of the Lake – made for TV

10.)  Ginger & Rosa



Honorable Mention


Amour (Love) 

At Berkeley

Short Term 12 


The Angel's Share        




1.)  THE MISSING PICTURE (L'image manquante)    The Missing Picture (L'image manquante)          A                    

Cambodia  France  (90 mi)  2013  d:  Rithy Panh                      Website      Trailer


Imagine a society in which money has been banished. A society in which you would be arrested if you wear eyeglasses, if you wear ties, or if you speak a foreign language. One where it is prohibited to wear bright colors, to have long hair, to marry for love, to even express emotions. You are a traitor if you catch a fish, or pick a fruit. All of these actions signify that your have an individualistic way of thinking, not a collective one. These activities signify that you are educated, that you are bourgeoisie, and that you are therefore an enemy. Simply for reading this essay, you would be considered an enemy, one who needs to be eliminated. While such a society sounds possible only in fiction, this is what happened during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. They attempted to eliminate the middle-class, but what happened in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 was the elimination of humanity. The idea was to go backward, to become peasants again, to de-civilize society. To lose everything we have gained.

—Randy Rosenthal, book review of Rithy Panh’s The Elimination from The Coffin Factory, Review • The Elimination by Rithy Panh | The Coffin Factory


For many years, I have been looking for a missing picture: a photograph taken between 1975 and 1979 by the Khmer Rouge, when they ruled over Cambodia...On its own, of course, an image does not prove mass murder, but it prompts us to think, to meditate, to build history. I searched for it in the archives, in old papers, in the villages of my country, in vain. Now I know: this image must be missing. I was not in fact really looking for it; would the image not be obscene and insignificant? Thus I have made it up. What I offer you today is neither the image nor the search for a unique image, but the image of a quest: the quest that cinema allows.                 

Rithy Panh


While the film has a Chris Marker essayist tone about it, with a pensive first-person narration beautifully expressed throughout, written by Rithy Panh but spoken by French-Cambodian actor Randal Douc, the film is a somber meditation on memory and death, specifically the Cambodian Genocide that took the lives of Panh’s family during the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s.  The Maoist regime, modeled largely after China’s Great Leap Forward (1958-61) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), executed 90% of Cambodia’s creative artists and performers, while also targeting intellectuals, teachers, doctors, former military police members, lawyers, and religious devotees, mostly in the very first year of rule, effectively eliminating any form of western technology, decimating the once thriving film industry, abolishing the middle class, while advocating a communal way of life, where city dwellers were forced into punishing agrarian labor camps to live and work in the rice paddies, where they were told “A spade is your pen, and the rice paddies your paper.”  Perhaps most significantly, citizens were evaluated according to how closely they adhered to the new ideology, where children helped eliminate their own parents.  And while the stated enemy was foreign imperialists, the fact is they murdered 1.7 million other Cambodians, where the combined effects of executions, forced labor, starvation, and poor medical care caused the deaths of nearly one-third of the Cambodian population.  Largely inspired by his own book, The Elimination: A Survivor of the Khmer Rouge Confronts his Past and the Commandant of the Killing Fields, that he co-wrote with French novelist Christophe Bataille, the film won the Un Certain Regard award at the Cannes Film Festival, and while it’s considered a documentary, it must be included in any discussion of the best films of the year, as it’s a potent subject, an amazing film aesthetic, and one of the most dramatically powerful films seen in years.  Its haunting expression feels more like a sacred religious experience, a transcendent film that attempts to express the indescribable, as words are clearly inadequate, and the overall tone is one of unending sorrow. 


What Apichatpong Weerasethakul is to Thailand, Rithy Panh is to Cambodia, arguably the foremost documentarian chronicling the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, where both largely reflect the Buddhist consciousness of their respective nations, where much of their artistic careers were built reflecting upon the horrifying aftermath of Communist killings, developing memory plays that interact in the present with the audience.  Since there is no known footage of Pol Pot executions or even evidence of ordinary life, the director describes this as “the missing picture,” enlisting the aid of French-Cambodian artist Sarith Mang to help chronicle the Khmer Rouge years with literally hundreds of clay carvings of all the missing people.  Panh and his family were among the 2 million residents of the capital, Phnom Penh, who were forcibly evacuated (none of it captured on film apparently) to rural areas by the Khmer Rouge, where a once vibrant city becomes totally deserted on April 17, 1975, The Missing Picture YouTube (1:30), where Panh is exactly the same age as Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel in The 400 Blows (Les quatre cents coups) (1959).  Their autobiographical portraits couldn’t be more radically different, as Panh’s use of hand-painted clay figurines are used as stand-ins to represent himself, his family, and so many others during the reign of terror, continually mixed with old newsreel and modern day footage, as well as a heartbreakingly personal narration that provides a vivid account of the horrors experienced, where first his parents, nephews, and little sister all die, one by one, while his brother disappears early, and he is left as the lone family survivor left to tell the story.  This unique method is highly inventive, where perhaps the most memorable is mixing live images of a dancing actress into his memory world, creating a magical effect, Clip: The Missing Picture, "Childhood Cinema" (NYFF51)  YouTube (2:12).


The musical score by Marc Marder beautifully supports the film, as the continually shifting music and sound design, along with the flowing narration, provide a fluid sense of motion and movement, like the wind or the lapping waves of the sea, even as the figurines remain still.  Listening to him describe life in the camps is reminiscent of Elie Wiesel’s autobiographical novel Night that recounts his experiences at age 16 in Auschwitz and Buchenwald at the height of the Holocaust, where he learns “Here there are no fathers, no brothers, no friends, everyone lives and dies for himself alone.”  You wouldn’t think little stick figures could convey such deep meaning, but it is shockingly effective, where the horrifying death of his sister couldn’t be more devastating.  As he describes the starvation in the camp and the delusional ideology that produces so much death, equally as methodical as the guillotine or gas chambers, these lives hold no meaning whatsoever to the regime, where the figures disappear before our eyes, a hauntingly convincing technique. 


If I close my eyes, still today, everything comes back to me. The dried-up rice fields. The road that runs through the village, not far from Battambang. Men dressed in black, outlined against the burning horizon. I’m 13 years old. I’m alone. If I keep my eyes shut, I see the path. I know where the mass grave is, behind Mong hospital; all I have to do is stretch out my hand, and the ditch will be in front of me. But I open my eyes in time. I won’t see that new morning or the freshly dug earth or the yellow cloth we wrapped the bodies in. I’ve seen enough faces. They’re rigid, grimacing. I’ve buried enough men with swollen bellies and open mouths. People say their souls will wander all over the earth.


In order to maintain his sanity, he reflects upon better times in his youth, yet this also vividly describes the extent of what has been lost, as people were friendlier and happier then, a time when food was plentiful and music filled the air, such as this local rendition of Wilson Pickett’s “Midnight Hour,” Clip: The Missing Picture, "Plane Savior" (NYFF 51)  (1:32).  With extraordinary grace, Panh tells the story of his ravaged country subjected to incomprehensible horror, including 500,000 American bombs, where “the more bombs the American B-52s dropped, the more peasants joined the revolution, and the more territory the Khmer Rouge gained,” suggesting the Cambodian genocide was a direct result of American action, knowledge few Americans hear about or are aware of, all the more reason to see a film that resounds with such indescribable pain and open defiance.  Often playing like a video installation, drawing us nearer to the experience, the film resonates with such deeply felt intimacy that its very unusualness heightens the effect.  This is a world where “color vanished like laughter, song, and dance,” where the only object anyone was allowed to own was a spoon.  “The revolution’s promise existed only on film,” as peasants are seen happily toiling in the fields from the regime’s own propaganda footage that absurdly mocks the pitiful stream of deaths that comprise the abysmal reality.  The rusty film cans seen in the opening moments remind us what a fragile thing memory is, where this brief historical moment wiped out more than twenty years of freedom and independence, all but rewriting a nation’s history by replacing everything that previously existed with pathetic propaganda films.  Panh’s extraordinary film creates a visual record of what was lost, where his first-hand experience reminds us how cinema plays such a prominent role in shaping our view of history. 



2.)  LAURENCE ANYWAYS    Laurence Anyways              A                    

Canada  France  (168 mi)  2012  d:  Xavier Dolan        Official site [Canada]


Two pale figures
Ache in silence
In the quiet ground
Side by side
In age and sadness

I watched
And acted wordlessly
As piece by piece
You performed your story
Moving through an unknown past
Dancing at the funeral party

Memories of childrens dreams
Lie lifeless
Hand in hand with fear and shadows
Crying at the funeral party

I heard a song
And turned away
As piece by piece
You performed your story
Noiselessly across the floor
Dancing at the funeral party


The Cure - The funeral party - YouTube (4:15), 1981


Easily one of the movie experiences of the year, yet this film was inexplicably chosen to bypass theaters from the entire Chicagoland region and instead played for less than a week in the barren and isolated realm of South Barrington in a 30 theater Cineplex that sits in the middle of an empty field, where at the time tickets were purchased the box office clerk had never heard of this film, where a friend and I were the only two patrons (perhaps all day, perhaps all week) to watch this incredible movie.  Only 19 and 21 when he made his first two movies, now 23-years of age making his first film that does not star the director, he nonetheless writes an original script, directs, edits, subtitles, produces, and does the costume design for his third film, something of an epic romance, a film navigating ten years in the complex and turbulent relationship between a couple in the throes of love where at age 35 the man becomes an openly female transsexual, a gender shift that tests the boundaries of love and tolerance.  The cinematic reach of this film is simply outstanding, where one would be hard pressed to find a more originally conceived film all year, where the fluidity of the slo-mo and hand-held camera movement by Yves Bélanger is balanced by perfectly composed shots, likely by the director himself, where the look of the film is meticulously shaped.  The acting throughout is superb, especially the passionate and powerful performances of the two leads, Melvil Poupaud (who first worked for Raúl Ruiz at age 9 and a last-minute replacement for Louis Garrel) from Ozon’s HIDEAWAY (2009) and TIME TO LEAVE (2005) as the more subdued Laurence and Suzanne Clément as the fiery Frédérique, more commonly called Fred, where there are blown up moments of anger and melodramatic excess, but also heartfelt moments of quiet restraint that express an intimate sincerity, approaching a kind of honesty rarely seen in films today. 


Not since Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret (2011) has a film delivered so many sensational sequences, where the sheer originality factor is impressive, as every scene is beautifully set up, and Dolan’s exquisite use of music can be jaw-dropping on occasion.  Some may feel cheated that the story only tangentially explores gender identification, never approaching a sex change, that it is far more about the tragic effects of an impossible love saga between two strong-willed, artistically inclined characters.  Both, however, are clearly defined, where at nearly three hours in length the film is a marathon for all concerned, where the emotional peaks and valleys are explored at length, delivering cluster bombs of emotion, giving the film a novelesque scope, thoroughly taking its time, often lingering far longer with characters than other auteurs might dare, a common criticism of Cassavetes as well, giving the film a few jagged edges and a feeling of imperfection, where this is not the shortened product as a result of studio demands, but already feels like the extended director’s cut.  Despite claims of youthful indulgence or exaggerated overstylization that make conventional filmmaking seem like ancient history, it remains one of the best and most convincingly moving films seen all year due to the director’s unflappable persistence in accentuating such a deeply felt, carefully nuanced level of humanism.       


Set in and around Montreal during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, the story spans an entire decade, using a completely naturalistic film style intermixed with surrealist bursts of inspiration, where perhaps no one uses music to the same dazzling effect as Dolan, expressing the state of mind of the characters while also providing an infectious dose of youthful energy.  The film begins in an empty apartment, curtains flapping in the breeze, as a door closes like an ending chapter from a book, as Laurence walks outdoors into the light of day dressed as a woman, drawing looks of curiosity and surprise, perhaps even flirting with danger, set to Fever Ray’s “If I Had A Heart” Exclusive: Watch The Opening Sequence From Xavier Dolan's ...  (2:23), where Dolan startlingly provokes the audience with a montage of close-ups and faces, where the viewing audience itself is reeled into this spectator observation mode, becoming part of a collective Greek chorus that bears witness to the events we are about to see.  All in all, this is an exceptionally delivered opening sequence, before backtracking and telling the story entirely in flashback.  Laurence is a 35-year old award winning novelist and literature professor who asks his students questions like:  “Can one’s writing be great enough to exempt one from the rejection and ostracism that affects people who are different?” while Fred works as an assistant director in the movie industry.


All of Dolan’s films are comments on gay culture, where this one may dig the deepest, showing inconsistencies between the progressive idealization and the reality of everyday life, where the shallowness of looks and appearances somewhat unexpectedly is part of the equation, intruding into areas of desire.  The couple’s happiness is expressed early on through a black light sequence, Laurence Anyways - Club scene [The Cure - Funeral Party] (1:25), where the untapped joy, energy and exuberance can be unnerving and a bit overwhelming, appearing larger than life, until out of nowhere, on Fred’s birthday, Laurence announces he’s been living a lie, that he can’t go on living as a man anymore, knowing in his soul that he was always meant to be woman, comparing it to holding one’s breath underwater for over 30 years, finally allowed to surface for air.  Initially, finding this outrageous, Fred is aghast and thinks nothing could be more cruel, but soon comes around to realizing that whatever it is, irrespective of the abject negativity Laurence has received from both families, especially Fred’s bitchy sister, Monia Chokri, a dour picture throughout of pessimism and gloom, she needs to be there for Laurence, becoming her biggest supporter, helping her through the transition with hair, makeup and clothing.  After a few failed attempts, Laurence arrives in the classroom dressed as a woman, to a pall of silence, broken finally by a question asked about homework, but the state of mind is sumptuously revealed to the music of Headman’s “Moisture (Headman Club Mix)”  Laurence Anyways (2012) Best Scene YouTube (2:33).


Despite the cruel difficulties that Laurence must endure, where prejudice contributes to a whopping 41% attempted suicide rate among the transgendered, even worse for non-whites or those living outside metropolitan areas, the film exhibits various stages of shaky confidence, where her life is never trouble free, including getting the crap beat out of her, exactly as portrayed in Fassbinder’s mother of all transgender films, In a Year of 13 Moons (In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden... (1978), it also leads to a mental breakdown of sorts from Fred, who is ill-prepared to handle such a major psychological change, as she feels her life literally coming apart, where the camera follows each of them as they go their separate ways, feeling a bit like the tragic end of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Les Parapluies de Cher... (1964), where another all-consuming love gets lost and slowly fades from view, yet remains very much alive in the minds and imaginations of the viewing audience.  Fred’s re-entry into fashionable high society is expressed in a surreal entrance to an extravagant society ball, where she literally floats into the party, to the music of Visage’s “Fade to Grey” Laurence Anyways - Scène du Bal - YouTube (2:58), where the director can be seen lighting a cigarette at 17 seconds.  Laurence maintains a somewhat masculine look and retreats into the fringe regions of transgender society, including a family of aging drag queens and burlesque singers that feel right out of a Fellini movie, preferring a self-imposed isolation where she can write and heal her own wounds. 


Perhaps the scene of the film is set to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, a composition of manic and furious energy (“not a revolt, but a revolution”), where after continually being denied entrance back to her parent’s house, for fear of how this radical transformation might effect her father, she finally returns to the front door drenched in a downpour of rain, a truly pathetic sight, where her mother, a picture of chilly, overcontrolled perfection as played by the stately Nathalie Baye, simply can endure no more, picking up the television that her husband is continually planted in front of and slams it to the ground, inviting Laurence into the doorway in full view of her father, deciding straightaway to get a divorce, where instead of ostracizing Laurence from her home, her life will forever include the daughter she never had.  For Laurence and Fred, however, attempts to stay together do not end so well, where we are treated to an emotional blitzkrieg of accusations and confessional outpourings, with an incendiary performance by Suzanne Clément (showing at least a dozen different hairstyles) that should elevate her to the cover of fashion magazines and star status, where she ferociously defends the man/woman she loves, Laurence Anyways - Restaurant Scene (English Subtitle) YouTube (2:31), utterly confused herself by what it all means, where Dolan repeatedly drags us through the mud of hopeless despair, rubbing our noses in the derailed aftereffects of a broken romance, until sheer exasperation drives them away.  While they do briefly reunite years later, expressed with a giddy Surrealist happiness in the winter snow, Laurence Anyways - Ile au Noir scene (1:48), it quickly fades again into a distant memory, as the film is about how brutally hard it is to survive loving someone, where Dolan’s brilliance in depicting an aura of love transcends the transgender story of what it means to be your true self, as the film ends on a beautiful grace note back at the beginning, with a door opening at the first sparks of love, when “everything was strange and new.”



3.)  A TOUCH OF SIN (Tian zhu ding)    A Touch of Sin (Tian zhu ding)         A                    

China  Japan  (133 mi)  2013  ‘Scope  d:  Jia Zhang-ke


One of the few award winning films at Cannes this year, winning the best screenplay, which one might question, as the supreme directorial flourish is usually what sets a Jia Zhang-ke film apart from the rest, but as it turns out, it’s an extremely well-written story that continues to surprise right through to the end.  Offering a rather blistering comment on what it’s like living in China at the moment, where citizens are in a Kafkaesque situation forced to endure unthinkable realities where there is literally no escape from the unending comedy of horrors inflicted upon them by the powers that be, as the government attempts to offer an alternative to generations of totalitarian communism, but the introduction of capitalism has produced a black market economy that resembles the Russian mafia.  How is any ordinary citizen supposed to deal with the unlimited power and reach of those guys?  The distance between the “haves” and the “have nots” is even more unfathomable, where most everyone continues to have nothing while a privileged few hoard it all.  In Jia’s hands, it’s a near surreal landscape, where he continually mixes in pictures of a haunting past into the present, effectively using images of shrines, pagodas, and classical art contrasted against the busy city streets, where the looming presence of the past is evident everywhere.  Through the lens of cinematographer Nelson Yu Lik-wai, the director continues to provide films of ravishing beauty, where the poetic visualizations are often spectacular, and this is no exception, but there is also an intrusion of darkness, utter brutality, and ruthlessness, leaving behind a particularly empty void of responsibility, where Chinese citizens are continually expected to do more with less.  The picture of life in China, ranging from the busy southern metropolis of Guangzhou to the more rural townships in Jia's home province of Shanxi, couldn’t be more bleak, where the promise of brighter days ahead appears stained in blood and tears.   


What this film does express, unlike anything else this arthouse director has ever done, are grandiose, somewhat spectacular, spectacle sequences of graphic violence, where it appears he even turns to the martial arts wuxia genre form, as incredible as that sounds, while other scenes resemble the Charles Bronson vigilante justice style movie, with irate citizens taking matters into their own hands.  But the appalling idea of Chinese citizens resorting to guns to exact justice or revenge has the feel of western fantasia, like some kind of idealized dream sequence similar to Bobcat Goldthwaite’s raucous American satire God Bless America (2011), as China prides itself as being different than the excessively violent images continually coming out of the gun-happy West, yet here it is thoroughly entrenched in the grim realism of everyday Chinese life depicted, where people are backed into a corner feeling they have no other choice.  At the Cannes Film Festival press conference the director acknowledged the film would have to be edited to play in China, as we see a variety in choices of weapons used, from hand axes, meat cleavers, shovels, crowbars, hand guns, shotguns, and knives, where the neverending barrage of assaults does reflect the extreme degree of economic and psychological damage citizens are forced to endure, where they are pushed to the breaking point of near insanity, resorting to such extreme means only because the options are otherwise dire or nonexistent.  That said, this is a work of rare intelligence and cold observation, where you’ll be hard pressed to find this kind of acute criticism coming out of China, or even America for that matter.  While this is a series of interconnected stories that actually happened in real life and will be compared to other similarly written movies, like the broad overreach of interglobal (“We are all connected”) interconnectivity in the Guillermo Arriaga stories of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s movies like AMORES PERROS (2000), 21 GRAMS (2003), or BABEL (2006), or the conniving, manipulative nature of Paul Haggis’s CRASH (2004), this is not like any of them, and comparisons seem frivolous, as Jia has his focus clearly on what’s happening “inside” China and never points his camera or his insights elsewhere. 


While it all unravels with an element of surprise, the director uses four different characters to carry out the existing themes that are raised throughout the film, where characters overlap, but not the storyline, including Dahai (Jiang Wu), a frustrated coal miner in Shanxi province whose outrage hits the boiling point when the corrupt capitalist owners sell off the collective property of the mine without paying dividends to the workers, driving brand new Maserati and Audi cars, even a private jet, and then refuse to even discuss the matter afterwards.  Zhou San (Wang Baoqiang) is a nomadic migrant worker on a motorcycle (wearing a Chicago Bulls cap!) with a secret inner life that is never revealed, but he apparently makes a living off of his own inflicted road kill.  Xiao Yu, Jia’s frequent actress and real life wife, Zhao Tao, is conflicted over a longterm affair with a married man while working as a receptionist at a spa.  Within the span of a few hours, she is both assaulted by the man’s family at work, while also forced to violently fend off unwanted advances from drunken businessmen who expect sexual favors for their wads of cash.  And finally Xiao Hui (Luo Lanshan) is a young factory worker who is blamed for an accident at the plant, fleeing to a neighboring city where he gets a job in an upscale hotel that provides sex services for its disgustingly wealthy customers, one of whom is amusingly played by the director himself, catering to their every need, where he falls for one of the attractive comfort girls (Li Vivien), but is doomed by her relentlessly demanding subservience to the customer’s needs.  Finding another job in yet another mindless factory, he finds himself living a hellish existence in a ghetto styled high rise building, where the neighboring building is a mirror image, ironically called the Oasis of Prosperity, revealing row upon row of laundry hanging outside on the line.  The sense of confined suffocation is certainly prevalent in three of the four characters, where the fourth resorts to criminal behavior to get out from under it.  For him (Zhou San), living at home with his family in a dead end town is equally suffocating.      


It’s a brilliantly conceived film that reveals the depths of complexity through multiple characters experiencing their own agonizing sense of loss and suffering, where each strand of the story reflects a certain dehumanization associated with economic prosperity.  In each, they escalate to an outburst of violence while also showing a deeply layered societal sense of indifference and alienation, where an overriding fatalism seems to be choking the very life out of people.  Separated from any real meaning or connection to one another, individuals are forced to live in tiny spaces that resemble prisons from which they have no escape.  The working environment especially holds such an oppressive and hostile look of vacuous sterility that it resembles the meticulousness of Austrian documentaries like Nicolaus Geyrhalter’s OUR DAILY BREAD (2005) or Michael Glawogger’s WORKINGMAN’S DEATH (2005), or more specifically the stunning power reflected in the seemingly endless opening shot of Jennifer Baichwall’s MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES (2006), seen here Stars Of The Lid - Taphead (12:55) in the first seven and a half minutes, though the clip adds music that is not in the film, and it quickly cuts away before the shot actually comes to a slow stop, finally holding on a worker asleep at his station.  The slow tracking shot down a side aisle of a huge Chinese iron assembly plant of 23,000 workers reveals endless rows of bright yellow-shirted factory workers sitting at their work stations performing a synchronized monotony of repetitious motions, many of whom seem relieved to stop and stare at the camera’s obvious intrusion, where the accumulation of ever-expanding space defies all known concepts of rationality.  These technological wastelands drive the nation’s economy but leave the workers doomed to indifference and solitude.  With another outstanding musical score by Giong Lim, formerly working with Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-hsien, Jia’s aesthetic is characterized by images of loneliness and alienation, often cast in silence, where the classical past comments upon the present, as the individual is sucked into this vacuous emptiness that is his place in life.  The violence in the film is often raw and brutal, but it’s shown alongside rampant corruption, grotesque factory accidents, low wages, human rights abuses, and spectacular wealth and growth, where according to the director, “The expansion in China has been so fast, there’s been no room for the system to catch up with any humanity.”  A brooding and atmospheric film, using disturbing genre forms to express his own personal outrage (and perhaps to connect to a wider mass audience), Jia offers a bravely honest and bewilderingly angry sense of defiance.    



4.)  TABU (2012)     Tabu (2012)                    A                    

Portugal  Germany  Brazil  France  (118 mi)  2012  d:  Miguel Gomes


People’s lives are not like dreams.     —Aurora (Laura Soveral)        


A bold, brilliantly written and directed film, where at least part of the joy is in its magical film construction, mirroring the original TABU (1931) directed by F.W. Murnau, a joint project with heralded documentarian Robert J. Flaherty, set in the Polynesian South Sea island of Bora Bora, inverting the two halves which were originally called “Paradise” and “Paradise Lost,” shown here in opposite order.  The film shares similarities to the original even in theme, as both comment on the effects of European colonialization in an otherwise native setting with a beguiling beauty that is so idealized that it becomes mythical.  Blending fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, becomes so seamlessly integrated in both films that the two halves continually comment on one another.  The brilliance of the Gomes film is the extraordinarily magical 2nd half, which is so stunningly beautiful, not to mention amusingly told, that the audience is so captivated by the originality of the story that there’s an instant desire to see the first half again, curious about what might have been missed to see how it all connects.  The second half of the film is all narrated by a single character who describes the story, where the sound of his voice is the only sound heard for the duration of the picture, unraveling like a literary work without dialogue or sound effects, other than some carefully chosen songs, giving the appearance of a Silent film, but the miraculous stretching of the imagination is a thing of beauty, startlingly original, more fabulously inventive than the tedious melodrama of the highly acclaimed, Academy Award winning The Artist (2011), which seems like a cheap imitation by comparison.  Two magical realist literary works immediately spring to mind, the most obvious being Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), all taking place in the mythical but intensely real town of Macondo, where surrealism and the supernatural are ordinary occurrences, stretching the boundaries of what is considered reality.  The second is Michael Ondaatje’s picturesque family portrait in his fictionalized autobiographical memoir Running in the Family (1982), where he returns to his native Sri Lanka (Ceylon at the time of his birth), blurring the lines between fact and fiction, recreating a scandalously colorful, highly detailed portrayal of his eccentric family, set in an exotic landscape of colonial decline. 


Shot in gorgeous Black and White by cinematographer Rui Poças, the more realistic first half is in 35 mm while the magical second half is blown up 16mm.  Opening much like the Coen brothers’ A SERIOUS MAN (2009), with an amusingly ominous Prologue narrated by the director himself set in the wilds of early European exploration of Mozambique in Africa, a Portuguese colony until 1975, with the sweaty black hired hands using machete’s to chop a way through the brush for a hero known only as “the intrepid explorer,” the unscathed white man all dressed up for a safari adventure in khakis and a pith helmet, but never lifts a finger to help, allowing others to do all the back-breaking work, sadly reaching an early demise when he feeds himself to the crocodiles, distraught with grief over his wife’s death, whose ghost can be seen on the shoreline warning him that he will never escape his heart.  In a unique blending of the present with the past, a transition shot suggests what we’ve been watching was being screened in a Lisbon movie theater, which middle-aged Pilar (Teresa Madruga) watches intently with an older gentleman asleep on her shoulder.  After a feigned attempt afterwards to impress her with flowery love talk that she ignores, they go their separate ways home.  With absurdist deadpan humor, the strictly Catholic Pilar leads an uneasy existence, concerning herself with the problems of others, offering her home to a young Polish girl visiting Lisbon with friends, which is amusingly rejected when the young girl lies about her identity, participating in human rights demonstrations, hanging a friend’s painting on the wall every time he comes over while continually rejecting his attempts at courtship, but her real interest is with her zany neighbors across the hall in her apartment complex, Aurora (Laura Soveral), a candidly outspoken and temperamental old woman and her devoted Cape Verdean maid Santa (Isabel Muñoz Cardoso).  Aurora has blown her life’s savings playing slot machines at the casino and is openly suspicious of Santa who she believes is casting Black magic spells.  Mostly seen from Pilar’s somewhat saintly perspective, the three women speak directly into the camera offering close-ups with extended monologues, contrasting their personalities, where both Pilar and Santa are driven by duty, straight-laced and conservative, leading dreary, world-weary lives while the more free spirited Aurora rambles on about recurring dreams of crocodiles and hairy monkeys lurking near her bedside, carrying the emotional burden of a troubled past, where her vivid recollections are simply a marvel of invention.  While getting the least amount of screen time, the dour and taciturn Santa remains an object of scorn by her employer, though upon reflection, she may actually be the moral center of the film. 


Aurora’s medical condition takes a turn for the worse, suffering from the effects of dementia, but recalls a name from her past, Gian Luca Ventura (Henrique Espírito Santo), a rugged, still handsome, silver-haired gentleman that Pilar finds in another retirement home, stopping first for coffee in the artificially designed rainforest of a shopping mall.  As they sip their coffee, Ventura narrates in voiceover how he met the young Aurora, Ana Moreira from The Portuguese Nun (2010), fifty years ago in an unnamed African colony.  Draped in a literary feel, Ventura’s ingenious story has the playfulness of the García Márquez novel, richly detailed, extravagantly layered, literally transporting the audience into a magical time and place very much like the mythical world of Macondo, which is itself an elusive Paradise, one that eventually disappears altogether.  Aurora is the beautiful but spoiled and filthy rich heiress living at the foot of Tabu Mountain where native servants wait on her hand and foot, leading the ideal life with her perfect husband, Ivo Müller, the local game-hunter who resembles The Man with the Yellow Hat‎ in Curious George stories.  The young Ventura, Carloto Cotta, is a Bohemian free spirit with matinee idol good looks dodging arrest wherever he goes, eventually settling down next door, where we quickly learn he plays in a band singing Portuguese cover versions of 60’s pop songs, like The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,”  The Ronettes YouTube (2:46) or the Phil Spector produced Ramones cover of “Baby I Love You” "Tabu" Movie Clip #3, directed by Miguel Gomes  YouTube (2:57).  The film’s silence and apparent indifference to the native people and culture around them is simply chilling, especially expressed in a pool party sequence where they all appear oblivious to taking any interest in any life forms other than themselves, becoming obsessively self-indulgent, throwing caution to the wind, as represented by Aurora’s carefree love affair with her lusty neighbor Ventura, a completely reckless act that suggests tunnel vision, acknowledging the couple was “indifferent to the fate of the empire,” but perfectly expressing the casually hedonistic European view of colonialization.  The rhapsodic sweep of their romance is magically transporting, but also morally unsettling, while as they’re recklessly ignoring the dangerous marital consequences, they’re equally oblivious to the rising tide of angry militarism surrounding them. 


Following the Cahiers du Cinéma magazine tradition in France, where Godard, Rivette, Truffaut, and now Olivier Assayas all got their start in film criticism before they ever made a single film, Gomes worked as a critic in Lisbon as well.  Although his mother grew up in Angola, Gomes had never ventured into Africa until this film experience brought him to Mozambique, where at least part of the idea for the movie developed from meeting a group of aging Portuguese musicians waxing nostalgic over their days in pre-revolutionary Mozambique, where Gomes indicates “The Africa in the film is more like the mythology of Africa that was produced by colonialism—and, of course, by cinema.”  In his review of TABU Miguel Gomes's 'Tabu' - - Movies - The New York Times, New York Times film critic A.O. Scott faults the director for glossing over the issues of colonialism in favor of a more compelling film aesthetic.  “Unlike other recent European films (like Philippe Falardeau’s Congorama and Claire Denis’s “White Material”), “Tabu” views colonialism as an aesthetic opportunity rather than a political or moral problem. It is full of longing — hedged, self-conscious, but palpable all the same — for a vanished way of life, in contrast to which contemporary reality seems drab and numb.”  But the film structure cleverly plays each half against the other, suggesting there are far-reaching consequences for both the doomed love affair but also practicing foreign policy politics with blinders on, as both lead to tragic ends, which includes the isolated sense of alienation in the first part, also a deep sense of regret.  Aurora, Santa, and Pilar reflect the aftereffects of the sins of the past, still attempting to piece together the disassembled remains of the earlier excesses, leaving psychological scars of wounded memories, still fragmented, unable to discern fact from fiction, historical myths from truth, both past from present, where the indifference of modern society is living proof that many of the wounds from the past have not healed, are still not understood, and continue to be mythologized, much like the continuing politicalization of the present, where dissenting points of view are attacked through heavily financed political advertisements, where it’s again hard to find the truth through the fabricated smokescreen of fiction.  What makes this film so unique is the clever playfulness of the tone, resembling the imaginative whimsy of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012), but with surprisingly more depth and complexity, adding more rich textures, subtle symbolism, a variety of wonderful characters, and an otherworldly effect, where Gomes finds strange ways to revisit the unpleasantries of the past through such an experimental and powerfully poetic approach.  TABU is a corrective for past crimes, this time utilizing authentic African songs and chants in balance and harmony with the surrounding lands, where despite the lush Silent screen visualization, it’s the white colonizers that continually appear woefully out of place. 



5.)  WAR WITCH (Rebelle)    War Witch (Rebelle)       A                  

Canada  (90 mi)  2012  d:  Kim Nguyen                       Official site


There are well over 9 million refugees and otherwise displaced people from conflicts in Africa, where five and a half million have died in the Congo alone since the outbreak of fighting in August 1998, becoming the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.  If this scale of destruction was in Europe, it would already be called World War III, with the United Nations and world leaders rushing to provide food, doctors, humanitarian aid and various peace plans to help stabilize the region.  But Africa is largely ignored, even though the conflict in one country affects many other neighboring nations that must support a continuing stream of refugees, becoming a world humanitarian crisis that is also largely underfunded.  The vast majority die of non-violent causes such as malaria, malnutrition, diarrhea, and pneumonia, all preventable diseases caused by military conflicts, where nearly half the deaths are children, more than 200,000 women have been raped, where on average some 45,000 continue to die every month, nearly the amount of Americans that died in the Vietnam War.  Shocking figures anywhere else in the world, but in Africa we have all too easily come to accept this ongoing human atrocity.  In fact, the world may actually benefit from this regional destabilization, where powerful, influential nations find it easier to pluck precious resources from a war-torn nation, such as blood diamonds, including the Millennium Star, the second largest ever discovered, where the Congo still exports nearly 10% of the world’s diamonds, the precious commodity people are losing their lives over.  As with most conflicts in Africa, the current situation is likely caused by the lingering aftereffects of colonialism, where as recently as 1961, the Belgium colonial rulers and their longtime financial partner, the United States, imprisoned and executed the first democratically elected leader of the Congo just 12 weeks after the election, Patrice Lumumba, a revolutionary advocate for independence from Belgium, whose government officially apologized in 2002.  The United States remains silent on their participation.  A military puppet was installed, Col. Joseph Desire Mobutu, a corrupt and self-serving opportunist who maintained a brutal reign, receiving military assistance from America under the ruse that it was to prevent a Communist takeover, becoming the second richest leader in the world, behind only the Shah of Iran, another American installed puppet.  Allowing the nation’s resources to be harvested by the world’s richest and most powerful nations left the actual Congolese people destitute and wretchedly impoverished.  That is the legacy of colonialism and the root of most all conflicts in Africa.   


Kinshasa was just a small fishing village located on the Congo River, while now it’s the third largest city in Africa (behind Cairo and Lagos) with 9 million inhabitants, also the second largest French-speaking urban area in the world after Paris, where French continues to be the language of newspapers, schools, and the government, where it could exceed Paris in population within a decade.  Director Kim Nguyen, currently living in Montreal, was born and raised in French-speaking Quebec in Canada to a Vietnamese father who emigrated to Canada in the early 60’s and a French Canadian mother.  Perhaps as a way of getting a better understanding of his own Vietnamese war-torn heritage, Nguyen spent 10 years interviewing many of the child soldiers living in Kinshasa, developing a script based on the firsthand testimony of what they endured, eventually making a film about the unspeakable realities that exist for child soldiers.  This familiar terrain was also explored in Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s Chad Civil War Trilogy, ABOUNA (2002), Daratt (Dry Season) (2006), and 2010 Top Ten Films of the Year: #2 A Screaming Man (Un homme qui crie), also Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s Johnny Mad Dog (2008), where a 15-year old boy leads a band of children carrying AK-47 assault rifles during the Sierre Leone civil war crisis.  These are all beautifully shot films that involve the conscription of young children who are kidnapped by heavily armed warlords looking to fortify their ranks and send them off to the front, which is exactly how this film opens in the adrenaline-laced opening few moments.  Nguyen adopted a technique working with child actors inherited from Andrea Arnold in FISH TANK (2009), where she was able to achieve outstanding natural performances from non-professionals by shooting chronologically, releasing only that part of the script needed for each day’s shoot.  The biggest difference in Nguyen’s film is the use of a young female lead character, Rachel Mwanza, where instead of a young male soldier emulating older males, young girls have literally no one to look up to and are easily victimized sexually by other male soldiers. 


While the film was shot in the Democratic Republic of Congo, using some mesmerizing beautiful locations, the country is never named in the film, as it is a fictionalized composite of any African country in turmoil.  The actress Rachel Mwanza was in real life abandoned by her parents at 5 or 6, lived with her grandmother for awhile but ended up living on the streets of Kinshasa, which is where she was living when the director held a public audition.  Mwanza is unforgettable as Komono, winner of the Best Actress at the 2012 Berlin Festival, endlessly tormented by the war, where the film follows her for three years beginning at age 12, a mere child one moment, and in an instant, a knife placed to her throat, she must kill or be killed, where her village is literally wiped out by marauding invaders in a matter of minutes, where what they came for is not money, resources, or food, but more children to fill their ranks, where the younger age makes them easier to brutalize, intimidate, and brainwash, training them to work collectively at the behest of a strong rebel leader that is rarely ever seen, as they are the front line troops.  At first treated like everybody else, Komono is taught the use of an automatic weapon, but what she discovers after drinking what she calls “magic milk, extracted from certain leaves in the forest, is the ability to see and communicate with the spirits of the dead, including her own parents that she was reluctantly forced to shoot back in her village.  This element alters the interior landscape that Komono describes as she narrates, mixing searing realism with a more poetic sensibility, where as the sole survivor of a firefight after being warned by the ghosts to run, the rebel leader, known as the Grand Tigre Royal (aka:  Great Tiger, Mizinga Mwinga), describes her as a “war witch,” believing she has mystical powers and can sense the presence of the enemy.  She becomes the most valuable prized possession among the troops, where anyone causing her harm has to answer to the Great Tiger.  She becomes best friends with an albino soldier known as the Magician (Serge Kanyinda), as he carries with him charms and small pouches of various herbs and roots that offer potent spells.  After they miraculously survive a heavy firefight, just a small handful of ragtag survivors against a vastly superior enemy force, the Magician convinces her that the Great Tiger can’t be trusted and they need to escape. 


A richly complex and profoundly significant film that offers an internally healing message, the entire complexion of the film changes with a journey through the colorful village landscapes populated by ordinary civilians, where they find the Magician’s uncle, a strong and powerful man known as the Butcher (Ralph Prosper), who immediately welcomes them both.  One of the more impactful images of the film is a poster inside the Butcher’s home of Patrice Lumumba hanging on the wall, much like Americans have similar pictures of JFK or Martin Luther King – all dead luminaries.  It’s clear that everyone around them has lost family members and have been harshly affected by the war, still carrying deep-seeded wounds, but the young couple can finally relax enough to start developing feelings for one another, where Mwanza in particular brightens up when the Magician asks her to marry him.  Refusing to budge unless he finds her a white rooster, the mood develops a lighter tone where all the chicken coops are searched to no avail, yet the locals are familiar with the customary marriage ritual, continually teasing the Magician.  It’s here the lush and colorful vegetation, including the most gorgeous driveway ever seen, mixed with a killer musical soundtrack, with selections from the Soul of Angola Anthology 1965-1975, including the soulful ARTUR NUNES - tia - YouTube (3:45) and the hauntingly tranquil Tanga - Eme N'gongo Iami - YouTube (3:54) that simply intoxicate the viewer with the exotic locale of the Congo, where the warmth and local charm of the people rubs off on the young couple who finally get married, with the Magician finally displaying a little flair for magic.  Despite their happiness, she is still haunted by the ghosts of her parents who insist upon a proper burial in their hometown.  The blending of a documentary style realism with myth, superstition, local custom, and warmth all feed into this mesmerizing account of a surrounding nightmare of endless brutality, where the enveloping war just continually sucks innocent people into it.  One of the nicer aspects of the film is Komono’s running dialogue with her unborn child, who at times is her only friend in the world, where she’s forced to stand up for herself for the sake of her child, having to make impossible choices during wartime.  The film has one of the more original birth scenes ever recorded, lovingly etched in the viewer’s memory, where the two of them continue on in the mystifying journey to finally bury the past, much like something seen in a Weerasethakul film where characters are always haunted by ghosts of the past.  While her experience, though harrowing, is also a lyrical journey of survival, and probably not that different from many of the survivors the director interviewed who likely still suffer aftereffects of grief and remorse.  It’s important to note the battle has been raging for over 14 years in the Congo, much of it over control of precious resources, creating an entirely new society of traumatized victims, many of whom will likely never be able to bury the ghosts of the past.  This film is a fitting tribute and poetic requiem for the dead, especially the brilliantly chosen music that seems a fitting way to commune with the lingering spirits. 




Well over a year after filming ended, a United Nations peace plan to stop the war was signed by 11 African countries in February 2013, called the Peace, Security and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Known as the Second Congo War, one should note that peace accords were signed in 2003, yet the fighting continued for another decade.  Let’s hope the dramatic power and spiritual uplift from the film finally allows peace to prevail.  



6.)  BASTARDS  (Les Salauds)     Bastards (Les Salauds)       A                      
France  Germany  (97 mi)  2013  d:  Claire Denis


One of the mysteries at Cannes this year was leaving this film out of competition, where easily one of the best films of the year was relegated to the second tier of Un Certain Regard films, especially since Claire Denis is one of the great artists working today, where you’d think France would want to showcase her unique talent.  The director herself may have been too modest about drawing attention to herself, which competition films tend to do, at least for the first screening anyway where it’s like the creator is the very center of the universe, as all eyes are on the film while enthusiasts around the word await the critical results.  For most, it’s an enviable position, as cinema’s most prestigious festival provides so much free publicity, but Denis shirks the limelight and retains a more private profile, allowing each one of her films to speak for themselves.  Due to the narrative ambiguities in nearly all her films, they’re often misunderstood initially and gain more of a critical following only much later.  The reasons for this are the inherent complexities of her films, which often take some time to digest, and aren’t suited for one time only, knee-jerk reactions.  Nonetheless, the announcement of a new Claire Denis film is always a major cinematic “event,” as the director has simply never made a bad film and continues to make challenging works that are both intelligent and adult in nature.  Loosely drawing upon William Faulkner’s novel Sanctuary (1931), Denis raises similar unspeakably dark themes of rampant drug use, corruption, family betrayal, infidelity, incest, lurid sexual crimes, as well as corncob rape sequences, all of which leads the viewer into a downward spiraling cesspool of utterly despicable human behavior.  As bleak and downbeat a film as you will see all year, it continually surprises, however, with fractured narrative ambiguity, visual mastery from cinematographer Agnès Godard, and superb leading performances from Vincent Lindon and Chiara Mastroianni. 


Working for the first time with a digital camera, the director’s usual methodical long takes, including static wide shots of landscapes mixed with tight close ups are replaced here by the suffocating intimacy of a handheld camera, giving the film a jagged, deeply fragmented syle, shot mostly using claustrophobic interior locations, creating a deeply unsettling, psychologically disturbing look at French sex trafficking and prostitution scandals involving powerful men of great wealth.  Denis indicated the film started with an idea she had after watching several Kurosawa films from the 50’s and 60’s starring Toshirô Mifune, which made her think of Vincent Lindon’s body, solid, sexy, “a body you can trust, a solid body you can lean on.  In Kurosawa’s films, the tragedy is that this strong man was crushed by corruption or mistrust at the end.  My film started with that body.”  Denis also read a news story about a young woman found drugged and naked next to a garbage dumpster.  In this film, set in the unrelenting bleakness of a noirish nightmare, she imagines a backdrop to her story.  Opening in a torrent of rain that obscures our view out the window, while inside a man is seen through a doorway staring at the image in the shower, creating a sense of intimacy and voyeurism.  Then, an intrusion, as if from another world, where a young girl (Lola Créton) in heels is seen dazed and naked wandering down an empty Parisian street at night, stumbling out of the house where her father has committed suicide (never explained), and her mother (Julie Bataille) is being led away by the police, blaming everyone in sight,   It happens so quickly we’re not sure of the relationships, only that it takes place in the flicker of a murky gloom, becoming the darkest movie Denis has ever made, where characters are literally submerged in the incessant foul play. 


Marco Silvestri (Vincent Lindon) is a ship captain that receives news of the suicide while at sea, where he’s dropped off to come to the aid of his sister Sandra (Bataille) and niece Justine (Créton), who ends up in a psychiatric hospital.  The family business of women’s shoes has gone belly up with bills it can’t hope to pay, where his sister blames it all on the actions of wealthy international financier Edouard Laporte (Michel Subor) who has bankrupted her husband’s business.  Marco rents a flat in the same building as Laporte, where he’s immediately intrigued by his sexually attractive partner, Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni).  The building itself becomes a centerpiece of the film, where the massive interiors are barely lit, suggesting an unfillable emptiness, and an insatiable desire, where Marco and Raphaëlle, who is almost always left alone, begin a torrid affair, with Godard  illuminating the faces in close up shots that appear like lurking shadows.  While the erotic moments become the most stable aspects of his multi-layered life, Marco becomes the moral center of the film, symbolized as the virtuous, male protective body, taking care of Raphaëlle’s restless insecurities while looking after Sandra and Justine as well.  Denis clearly sympathizes with the caged-like plight of the femme fatale character of Raphaëlle, making great efforts for the audience to identify with her complications and moral ambiguity, where she could just as easily be the protagonist of the film, which is why the finale is so shockingly effective.  In someone else’s hands, it would never have the unmistakable poetry, where Denis’s approach is more delicate, subtle, and nuanced.  The film is a The Intruder (L’intrus)-like trip into the heart of darkness, where the dysfunctional family element provides a theme of contamination and infection reminiscent of Trouble Every Day (2001), an immaculate noir in the classical sense, dark and convoluted, where Denis offers empathy for her characters throughout. 


The voyeuristic aspect of the film intrudes into the audience as well, as we clearly get inside the head of characters who are both being watched and those doing the watching, with both forces eventually brought together in an erotic embrace, where we again project ourselves into the drama without actually leaving our seats.  Of interest is the way Denis holds the audience in rapt attention by the way she films the seduction scene.  Typically in film noir the femme fatale lures the hero into a compromising position, but here Marco is actively seducing Raphaëlle, shown with his back to the camera, where the audience sees the effects of her sexual longing, often changing the focus and perspective between them, continually sucking the audience into this lurid world of sexual intrigue.  But Marco hasn’t a clue what kind of world he’s returning to, having been away at sea, avoiding all family ties and responsibilities, where his family dysfunction, like that of Raphaëlle’s world, is clouded in a maze of secrets and deception, the kind that only money can protect, not best intentions, where he couldn’t possibly understand the deep-seeded ramifications of just how far his sister and her husband would abdicate their parental responsibilities, allowing the film to touch upon issues of sexual exploitation that open doors into horror and terror.  By the time the audience gets wind of just how prevalent the danger is surrounding this man, with people driven by base impulses, where particularly odious is a skin-crawling incest subplot, with literally everyone around him synonymous with the film’s title, we realize that he’s doomed, unable to extract himself from this sinking quicksand that is the moral abyss he’s found himself in, which only makes the enveloping dread and anguish more devastating.  Played out like a fever dream where love is nonexistent but delusion is everpresent, we watch the slow, poisoned, self-inflicted destruction of two family units, one irreparably shattered, the other hanging by a thread, where the exposure of their secrets rises like a dark shadow out of the ashes of doom.



7.)  BLUE JASMINE    Blue Jasmine                 A                  

USA  (98 mi)  2013  ‘Scope  d:  Woody Allen             Official site


After an 8-year sabbatical making movies overseas, Woody Allen finally returns to America like he’s found the promised land, writing his most entertaining and dramatically rich screenplay since the 1980’s when he was working with Mia Farrow, doing a constantly inventive and theatrically invigorating variation on Tennessee Williams, in particular his 1948 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Streetcar Named Desire, featuring an exceptional international cast led by Australian actress Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, who is something of a nuclear force operating on another wavelength from all other Allen actresses, doing a modern riff on Blanche DuBois, a younger version of the delusional, perpetually fragile woman who has fallen from grace, but has yet to realize the staggering enormity of the abyss she’s fallen into.  Written with Blanchett in mind, she is onscreen for nearly every shot of the film, showing a range of emotion that hasn’t been seen in a Woody Allen film in over thirty years, perhaps ever.  While this is clearly an Allen film, it’s also something of a departure for him writing such an intensely dramatic role, easily one of the best in his lengthy career, where Blanchett seems born to play the part, not seen having this much fun since NOTES ON A SCANDAL (2006).  While she’s not as prominently featured, equally enthralling is British actress Sally Hawkins as Ginger, last seen performing against type in Submarine (2010), playing the sister role of Stella Kowalski, a more earthy, warmhearted and working class woman who must contend with physical brutes for men, brilliantly played by Brooklyn-born Andrew Dice Clay (who hasn’t been in a movie in 12 years) as Augie, her first husband, and later Jersey-born Bobby Cannavale as Chili, her fiancé, two physically imposing Stanley Kowalski characters, working stiffs whose foul mouths and quick tempers have a tendency to “lose it” from time to time, while also seen trying to sweet talk their way back into good standing.  What’s surprising is the effectiveness of flashback sequences, where half the film takes place in the past when Jasmine was a wealthy Upper East Side socialite married to Hal, Alec Baldwin, a Wall Street investor whose financially fraudulent business practices eventually lead him to the slammer, but not before he steals every last dime and nickel from all his investors, leaving Jasmine embarrassed and without a penny to her name, sadly moving across the country where she hopes to make a new start in San Francisco with her more commonplace sister.         


The culture shock of living in an ordinary environment leaves Jasmine horrified, depleted of her reason for living, which appears to be a concept of worth based upon the accumulated reserve of unlimited funds to spend, where she instead regularly pops Xanax as if it were candy out of a bottle while slurping down Stoli vodka martinis with a lemon twist, leaving her in a distorted state of mental deterioration.  Despite her dire economic situation, Jasmine continues to pass herself off as upper class royalty, where it’s simply inconceivable for her to alter her lavish lifestyle, continually criticizing her sister for settling on Neanderthal brutes that only reflect upon her low self-esteem, while the two men in Ginger’s life never let Jasmine forget how her conniving thief of a husband stole all their money along with everybody elses, making him the most wretchedly despicable man on the planet.  But Jasmine is not deterred, completely incapable of sympathizing with the working class or their real world problems, consumed instead with her own worries, wondering what has a woman got to do to escape the doldrums of mediocrity, where she believes all it takes is the need to think big, bigger than the vacuous trap that defines Ginger’s life, working at a grocery store, taking care of two kids, and never having a moment for herself (or her sister) anymore.  Since Jasmine’s life has been a gluttony of hedonism, where every waking moment has been spent indulging in life’s pleasures, including a husband that bought her every extravagant gift and luxury item she could ever hope for, perhaps this made it easier for her to look the other way when her philandering husband was sleeping around with every attractive woman he set eyes upon, where both felt it was their God-given right to have whatever they wanted in life.  And for awhile, they were riding high among the social elite, written about in the celebrity tabloids as an up and coming power couple, holding extravagant parties where important people show up, as if this validates their very existence.  But now, of course, she’s lost everything, having to accept criticism from the morons in Ginger’s life that literally make her cringe, finding their crudeness to be revolting, believing their lack of sophistication and refinement will only prevent Ginger from ever wanting more out of life, as she’s settling for these hopelessly undistinguished losers.  


Jasmine’s plans for the future, of course, make little sense, as she has no work qualifications whatsoever other than the ability to assemble an overpriced luxury wardrobe that distinguishes her from those in more practical attire.  Her sheer incompetence in learning necessary work skills sets her apart from Ginger’s efficient reliability, someone who’s gotten two kids to school and can still show up for work on time.  Jasmine, on the other hand, is literally overwhelmed by anything having to do with work, needing pills and yet another cocktail to help alleviate all the tension she feels.  Jasmine would have us believe that it’s not easy being rich, where you have to cater to all the whims of eccentric personalities in people who have never been told no, who are used to getting what they want, where it’s impossible to please everybody, while at the same time having to organize tiresome fundraisers for the poor, where extending a helping hand to others is fraught with difficulties and unending pressures.  In Jasmine’s world, life is a neverending theatrical performance, where it’s all about style and flair, where ordinary concerns never even enter into the picture, where the working stiffs in Ginger’s life are exactly what’s wrong with the world, men who have no ambition or dreams, who think too small, continually toiling in a dead-end job working for others, where they’re constantly being told what to do, so they spend their own lives ordering others around like the narrow-minded bigots and tyrants that they become.  Allen creates an excoriating picture of the aristocratic mindset, especially when Jasmine and Hal are flush with money and find it so burdensome to stop thinking about themselves for a single moment and have to put up with out of town visitors like Ginger and Augie who are so out of place in “their world” that they may as well be from another planet, like the world of the mundane.  What is initially such a hilarious portrait of polar opposites grows deathly serious by the end, becoming one of the darkest works Allen has ever written, a devastating portrait of a dream deferred, where the unbridled lust and grandiose ambition of the great American Dream has lost its luster, becoming a pathetic picture of lost and fragmented memories of an already forgotten era, where the rich are portrayed as manipulating and conniving thieves, while the poor and middle class are stuck with working off their accumulated debt, stuck in an endless quagmire not of their own choosing where they live the lives of indentured servants, like bought and sold commodities, each one easily replaced by the next sap waiting in line to take their place.



8.)  20 FEET FROM STARDOM     20 Feet from Stardom      A               

USA  (91 mi)  2013  d:  Morgan Neville


Arguably the best documentary (when seen), and a candidate for one of the best films of the year, a history lesson on the roots of racism in the music industry, but a film that takes an altogether different tone, where the expression of bitterness would be self-defeating, so this is a film that exudes beauty and transcendence through music.  Following the success of Australia’s The Sapphires (2012), a feelgood documentary that recreates the lives of four Aboriginal singers that toured Vietnam singing in front of American GI’s in the late 60’s as a soul group, this is another remarkably upbeat story about some of the more infamous backup singers in history that never became household names.  The common thread in nearly each of their lives was coming from a religious background, as so many are preacher’s daughters, where gospel music is something they learned from early childhood.  Perhaps the most eloquent spokesperson is Dr. Mabel John, brother of blues legend Little Willie John who originally recorded “Fever” Little Willie John - Fever - YouTube (2:40), and at age 82 likely the oldest, as she performed with Billie Holiday just weeks before Holiday’s death, and is the first female signed to Barry Gordy’s Motown label, having earlier worked in the insurance business in Detroit with his mother.  Later she worked with Ray Charles as the musical director of the Raelettes, co-writing as many as 50 songs with Charles before eventually leaving secular music altogether to become the pastor and founder of the Joy in Jesus Ministries in Los Angeles in 1986, earning her doctorate in divinity from the Crenshaw Christian Center in 1993.  Something of the reigning matriarch of the selected singers, her wisdom about finding an undisputed truth in singing is particularly insightful, claiming James Brown learned all his moves from some of the preachers who were touched by the spirit.  Another common element is Ray Charles, who was the first artist to take gospel into the mainstream, opening up a style of music that resembles a preacher calling to the choir, that answers back with background singers Ray Charles - What'd I Say LIVE - YouTube (4:16, live in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1963), exuding an earthy sensuality that opened up careers for many of the black women featured in this film. 


The revelation of the film is realized by the extraordinary range of emotion not only found in the exemplary music performed by these women, but in the stark honesty and unpretentiousness of their lives.  Having never risen to stardom, where the quality that defines a backup singer is harmony and blending into the whole, they perform without egos.  That is not to say they don’t have them, as these women are divas in the music industry, but they have the unique ability to set aside their own individuality, yet they often perform the part of the song best remembered by listeners without getting the credit.  The perfect example is Lou Reed’s 1972 hit “Walk on the Wild Side” Lou Reed - Walk On The Wild Side - Rare Video-HD - YouTube (4:13), as the responding chorus where “the colored girls sing—doo, da-doo, da-doo, doo doo doo doo” is easily the part of the song that sticks with us, offering a momentary joyful explosion in the middle of an otherwise desperately sad and often monotonous, drug-filled journey for individual recognition.  Add to this the absolutely delightful combination of David Byrne’s art school artistry finding a soulful groove with Lynn Mabry doing background vocals in Talking Heads “Slippery People” Talking Heads Slippery People - YouTube (4:06).  The film cleverly shows album covers of the era with the faces of the lead singers whited out, suggesting it’s not about them, but that part of the song sung by others.  A chilling example comes from Darlene Love, who in 1962 sang the lead in Phil Spector’s hit single “He’s a Rebel,” but when she heard the song on the radio afterwards, it was still her voice, but the group credited for the song was The Crystals The Crystals (Blossoms) - He's A Rebel (original recording) - YouTube (2:25).  This kind of musical theft was common in the industry, especially by white producers of black artists, where singers remained under contract, much like movie stars during the heyday of the studio system, which literally *owned* their rights, to do with as they pleased.  Eventually, through sheer perseverance, Love’s voice became among the most sought after backup singers in history, as the musicians themselves recognized raw talent and wanted to work with her.  The most heartbreaking aspect of the story is once Love finally freed herself from the contractual obligations of Phil Spector, she signed with Gamble and Huff, who immediately sold her contract back to Spector, which has implications of a slavery plantation system.


Another common element between these singers is the personal belief that if one remains true to one’s calling, stardom will follow, as nearly every one thought they’d have a solo career.  One of the backups who came closest was Merry Clayton, who now in her mid 60’s remains a force of nature, who began as one of the Raelettes.  Growing up in New Orleans listening to Mahalia Jackson, in 1964 she recorded the first version of “The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss),” although it was Betty Everett's version of that same year that reached the Top 10 of the music charts.  She is perhaps most famous for her contribution to the Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter”Gimme Shelter 1969 - The Rolling Stone - YouTube

 (4:34), a reflection of the most turbulent era of the American 60’s.  With surprising detail, she recalls being called out of bed at 2 in the morning, arriving at the studio in silk pajamas with curlers still in her hair, about as unassuming an entrance as possible  After laying down a single track, they asked for another, where she literally blew the roof off the building, Merry Clayton's isolated vocals in the Rolling Stone's "Gimme ... (31 seconds), adding the steamy erotic sensuality the Stones were looking for.  She was pregnant at the time and unfortunately suffered a miscarriage afterwards—the price for 30 seconds of glory.  During the 70’s, she was the only black female to record with producer Lou Adler at A&M Records until Janet Jackson arrived in the 80’s, but her solo career never took off, claiming the radio would play “only one Aretha.”  Equally heartbreaking is the story of Claudia Lennear, who had a taste of stardom before it eluded her grasp, initially singing with Ike and Tina as one of the Ikettes, with their sexually provocative stage moves, “We were R&B’s first action figures,” becoming the inspiration for the Rolling Stones song “Brown Sugar” Brown Sugar The Rolling Stones - YouTube (3:56), touring with Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen and George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, which she called a cosmic experience.  Her voice can be heard on the soundtrack to Alan Pakula’s KLUTE (1971), Michael Small - Bree's Abandon (Take It Higher) (1971) - YouTube (3:04), playing during a scene at a discotheque, and even did an August 1974 Playboy spread, but she dropped out of the business, developed a love of languages, and today she teaches Spanish classes.  


Perhaps the most talented of the backups, at least in terms of overall range, is Lisa Fischer, the only one who is an outright star, though she prefers to remain behind the scenes.  She backed up Tina Turner, expanding her talent working with the meticulous vocal perfectionism of Luther Vandross, while also going on every Rolling Stones Tour since 1989, seen live in 1995 in Amsterdam,  Rolling Stones - Gimme Shelter - Live _95-Lisa Fischer - YouTube (6:00), seen again two years later in St. Louis The Rolling Stones - Gimme Shelter (Live) - OFFICIAL ... - YouTube (6:50), but then sheds that stage persona for an exquisite rendition of  her own song, Lisa Fisher - How Can I Ease The Pain. Live - YouTube (5:02), for which she won a Grammy, rivaling Whitney Houston for sheer vocals extraordinaire, while also singing a hushed but perfectly harmonious backup to Sting’s angelic “Gabriel’s Message” Sting, if a Winter's Night...2-Gabriel's message - YouTube (3:27).  The new kid on the block is the young Judith Hill, selected as Michael Jackson’s duet partner for his 2009 planned comeback This Is It Tour before Jackson died mysteriously, short-circuiting her career, but she’s been a favorite backup of Stevie Wonder for years, as he appreciates the majestic purity of her voice, seen here singing one of her own songs, “Desperation” Judith Hill | Desperation LIVE - YouTube (3:11).  While these women are all uniquely talented, the beauty of the film is that it allows the filmmaker to probe the depths of their humanity, where there are literally layers of history contained within, becoming one of the more telling comments on the turbulent 60’s, yet showcasing it through music, perhaps the most perfect expression of the soul.  Despite the hardships they all face, music has a way of transcending all earthly matters, where rather than recount the political turmoils of the era, the director explores that changing reality through the impassioned lives of these women.  Like a pinch hitter in baseball, these women were only called upon to perform perhaps 15 or 30 seconds in someone else’s song, yet time and again we see how they make it uniquely their own, where these are no nonsense, literally kickass women displaying the dramatic maturity of the greatest actresses of our time, yet remain unseen, unheralded, and largely unrecognized, where in the case of Darlene Love, the only one in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the industry literally placed someone else’s name over her voice.  Rather than remain angry and defiant, these women have displayed nothing but professionalism where they continually rise above the fray, where the film offers a triumph of the spirit, becoming one of the most gorgeously uplifting movie experiences of the year.    


The featured backup singers


Merry Clayton (one of Ray Charles’ Raelettes, Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter,” which resulted in a miscarriage afterwards, Lynard Skinner’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” Joe Cocker “Feelin’ Alright,” Carole King)


Lisa Fischer (toured with Tina Turner, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan, Dolly Parton, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle and Sting on “If On a Winter’s Night,” also toured on every Rolling Stones Tour since 1989)


Judith Hill (selected as Michael Jackson’s duet partner for This Is It Tour before Jackson died, sang the lead on the song “Heal the World” at his memorial sevice, released a tribute song “I Will Always Be Missing You,” back up singer with Stevie Wonder)


Dr. Mabel John (the first female signed by Berry Gordy to Motown's Tamla label, also Ray Charles, co-writing 50 songs while becoming musical director of the Raelettes, becoming pastor and founder of the Joy in Jesus Ministries in Los Angeles in 1986, earning a doctorate in divinity from the Crenshaw Christian Center in 1993)


Gloria Jones (back up singers the Blossoms, also recorded the 1964 song “Tainted Love”)


Claudia Lennear (Ike and Tina Turner & the Ikettes, George Harrison, inspiration for Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” resulting in August 1974 Playboy appearance, Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” Beatles “Come Together” and “Let It Be,” the Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Woman,” and Sly & the Family Stone “I Want to Take You Higher,” now teaches Spanish, French, English, and remedial math at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California)


Darlene Love (lead singer on Phil Spector’s #1 hit single “He’s a Rebel” in 1962, initially lead singer, later erased and changed to backing vocals on The Crystal’s 1963 hit “Da Doo Ron Ron,” also one of the featured artists on Spector’s 1963 Christmas album, singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” also U2’s 1987 cover version, and performed every year on The David Letterman Show on the last episode before Christmas from 1986 to the present, The Blossoms, The Crystals, Sam Cooke, Dionne Warwick, Tom Jones, Sonny & Cher, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame March 14, 2011)


Lynn Mabry (Sly & the Family Stone, Parliament Funkadelics, joined Talking Heads for “Stop Making Sense”)


Janice Pendarvis (David Bowie, Sting on “The Dream of the Blue Turtles”)


Táta Vega (background vocals for Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Rufus “Tell Me Something Good,” performed musical voice of Shug Avery in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 film The Color Purple)


The Waters Family (Julia, Maxine, and Oren, worked with Donna Summer, Paul Simon, Michael Jackson on Thriller album, music for The Lion King and James Cameron’s 2009 film Avatar) 



9.)  TOP OF THE LAKE – made for TV    Top of the Lake          A                           

Australia  Great Britain  (350 mi – 7 episodes) 2013 d:  Jane Campion and Garth Davis 


You can be very hard. And what I don't like is that you think it’s strength.   

—Robin’s mother Jude Griffin (Robyn Nevin)


There’s no match for the tremendous intelligence of the body.     —GJ (Holly Hunter)


There has been a gradual introduction of movies made for television into film festivals, where the Melbourne and Telluride Film Festivals were among the first to program the three films in the RED RIDING TRILOGY (2009) made for British television, while the full-length, 5-hour French version of the Olivier Assayas film CARLOS (2010) premiered at Cannes, and the Venice Festival premiered Todd Haynes’ MILDRED PIERCE (2011), all to critical acclaim.  This year Jane Campion’s feminist noir TOP OF THE LAKE became the first television series to ever premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, later screening again at Berlin, a 6-hour jointly produced BBC and Sundance Channel film TV miniseries spread out over 7 episodes, though the pacing and burning intensity are much more effective when compressed into a single viewing, especially without having to undergo commercials and the repeating credit sequence.  Since it had been four years since she made a film, Campion reveals her thoughts on finding more freedom working in television from the Hollywood Reporter, “Feature filmmaking is now quite conservative. The lack of restraints, the longer story arc:  It's a luxury not there generally in film.”  Campion’s AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (1990) was originally produced as a New Zealand television miniseries, but was re-edited and released internationally as a film.  Set in Laketop, a small town set on a gorgeous lake in a remote and mountainous area of New Zealand (actually shot by Adam Arkapaw at South Island’s Moke Lake and the cities of Queenstown and Glenorchy, including Lake Wakatipu seen here:  1,280 × 960 pixels), Elisabeth Moss plays Robin Griffin, a big city Australian police detective from Sydney with a specialty in child investigations, who happens to be visiting her mother who is stricken with cancer, but it’s also something of a coming home experience, as she grew up in the region as well.  Called in for an emergency, the local police, under the command of Detective Sgt. Al Parker (David Wenham), have a pregnant 12-year old Thai girl named Tui Mitcham (newcomer Jacqueline Joe, supposedly discovered at an Auckland swimming pool), who may have been attempting a miscarriage or drowning herself in the lake.  What’s immediately clear is not just the plight of the child, but the antiquated male-dominated police procedures where women continue to be leered at as sexual objects, routinely called sluts (or worse), and crimes against women are not really taken seriously by anyone in town, seen more as the usual sport between a man and a woman, so no one respects Robin’s authority on the case and can be heard making snickering comments on the side.  No one, for instance, takes the crime of rape against a 12-year old girl seriously except Detective Griffin, where they all heartily agree to her face that she’s right but then make no effort whatsoever to find the rapist.


It’s no accident that the best episodes are directed by Campion herself, including the first, fourth, and final two episodes, feeling almost mythical, featuring some stunning performances, where the richly detailed pieces of information unraveling in the opening few minutes are nothing less than intoxicating, filled with the beauty of the landscape, local color and plenty of eccentric characters.  Echoes of David Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS (1990 – 1991) are evident, especially in the exotic setting, the small town mindset, a body washed ashore, the toxic effect of holding onto secrets, strangely offbeat characters, and the presence of an outsider, in each case an abnormally astute police detective.  Like Laura Palmer, Tui is at the heart of the film, attractively appealing and the picture of innocence, as no one knows the truth about her, especially after she reveals the name of the father is literally “no one.”  Through Tui, Campion seems to be suggesting that women’s behavior in particular is a product of family dynamics, the surrounding community values, and the random events that comprise our lives.  What’s perhaps most frightening is the callously disturbing and pathological behavior of her father, Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan at his most sinister), the town’s drug lord whose two sons are equally psychopathic in carrying out his dirty business (where the patriarchal family circle is actually Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).  We see evidence of their nonchalant brutality in an opening scene, where they haven’t an ounce of concern for human life, living in a heavily armed fortress compound protected by modern surveillance equipment and intentionally starved pitbulls that run rampant.  When Tui quickly disappears, we begin to understand what it might be like as a girl growing up in this town.  This exact same subject is then explored through black and white flashback sequences, as Robin suffered her own share of childhood trauma growing up in this town, where the parallel lives of Robin and Tui remain linked throughout the film.  Interestingly, Elisabeth Moss was not the first choice for the film, as Campion offered the part to Anna Paquin, who declined due to her pregnancy, and when the part was offered to an American actress, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation pulled out of the project, insisting that it would only fund the film with an Australian or New Zealand lead actress.  The choice of Moss is literally perfect in the role, where it’s hard to think of the film without her, largely because she never overacts or displays too much, and though she is deeply scarred, reminiscent of Jodie Foster’s tenuous predicament as Clarice Starling in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), she continues to be defined by her intelligence, constantly guarding her thoughts, where the impact of others can easily be read upon her face, an opaque presence that mirrors the world around her, remaining mysteriously vulnerable and even fragile while standing up to a dominating male presence. 


What distinguishes this film is the densely plotted novelesque quality, where even comically drawn secondary characters are significant to the overall portrayal of humans desperately in need, where there’s an untapped ferocity of spirit seen in both Tui and Robin.  Adding to this picture of a lone voice in the wilderness is an inspired idea to create a separatist women’s collective, a Greek chorus of damaged women living together in trucked-in shipping containers at a lakeside retreat called Paradise that sits on disputed land, as Matt claims they’re trespassing, a rag tag group of exiled women led by Holly Hunter as the dispassionate GJ, a guru-like presence in pants spouting Zen-like philosophic utterances, as if she can read each person’s future, but possessing the deranged personality of a social misfit herself, often seen pacing the grounds while off in the distance a few naked women are continually seen running free.  The lustful nature of the women is part of the untold story, including the sexual promiscuity of several of the women living on the compound, including a memorable scene from Geneviève Lemon (the 7-minute woman) who played the lead role in SWEETIE (1989), as the men in town are perceived as testosterone fueled adolescents, especially in the moments Robin spends enduring endlessly abusive taunting by men in bars, yet woman have to find their place in an existing contemporary landscape, including Robin’s own sexual desires, seen developing for Johnno (Thomas M. Wright), a childhood sweetheart and one of Matt’s offspring, a good son that rejects the maniacal nature of his tyrannical crime boss father.  The two are a sexual force bonded together by her childhood trauma, where Johnno was her high school prom date and suspiciously absent afterwards on a night she was brutally gang raped by four drunken men.  This trauma gives her all the more reason to protect Tui, even if the town has given up looking for her, suspecting she must be dead after the passage of two months.  There’s an interesting thematic projection of men’s fears and limitations, expressed through the perceived effects of hostile elements, as no one thinks she could survive out there alone in the cold, while the repeated mention of the lethal quality of the water is always described as so cold that “no one could survive in that water.”  Yet somehow, just when Robin is told her mother has terminal cancer, easily one of the key moments in the film, intimately captured with the camera holding completely onto Robin’s face, at that exact moment when all hope is lost, there is also a chance that Tui has somehow survived.            


Tui’s absence changes the nature of the film, as her unseen presence, Robin’s own personal trauma, and her mother’s impending death all blend together and continually haunt Robin, who becomes the film’s dominant force, as events are continuously seen through her eyes.  The on again and off again relationship with her boss, Al, always seems to be of secondary importance, part of the police procedural component of the film, as their presence together is usually mandatory.  But his exclusively male take on events offers a differing viewpoint than her own, but Campion is careful not to make him one-dimensional, where he’s one of the more complexly drawn characters in the film, though never entirely likeable, especially as he’s seen to be in cahoots with Matt’s criminal empire, usually protecting him or tipping him off about upcoming police activities.  But Robin doesn’t know this and continually exposes a vulnerable side to him, where her life is an open book while we know almost nothing about him.  His extravagant home offers a clue, and is the setting for one of the more controversial events in the film, as he invites her over for dinner where she stupidly drinks too much and eventually passes out, waking up alone in his bedroom the next morning wearing one of his shirts.  He reassures her that nothing happened, that she vomited all over her clothes, so he was forced to wash them, all of which sounds like a perfectly acceptable explanation.  And that’s the problem with Al’s character, as his answers are too pat, sounding overly detached and too well reasoned ahead of time, never speaking passionately in the moment, where what comes across is an arrogant and pompous man that’s used to getting his way and never having to answer for it.  Al typifies the male mentality of the town, even if Matt is the Alpha male, while he sits quietly lurking in the background collecting his cut of the overall operations, running a secret Ecstasy and amphetamine lab underneath Matt’s home.  In contrast to Robin and Al, Matt has his own sexual experience with one of the women from the compound, Anita, Robyn Malcolm, who simply craves male companionship.  Their hallucinogenic outdoor experience in the woods on Ecstasy is unusual for how it sensitively portrays a ruthless crime boss at his most vulnerable state, used much like the LSD cemetery sequence in EASY RIDER (1969), where the dealers are seen under the influence of their own drugs, often haunted by impending thoughts of death and mortality.   


At some point, and one barely realizes when it occurs, the focus shifts from the overly destructive and malicious behavior of the adults to the often misunderstood and more innocent motives of kids, where a strange young girl (Georgi Kay) dropped off at the women’s compound is continuously seen playing an electric guitar in various natural outdoor locations, NEW Ipswich- Georgi Kay (live) (4:50), offering voice to a new and different force that hasn’t been seen much or heard from, namely the next generation, Tui’s generation.  Robin interrogates a young boy for shoplifting, Jamie (Luke Buchanon), seen crossing the lake in a kayak, suspected of bringing food to a drop site, significant as he’s one of Tui’s best friends, perhaps even the father.  Jamie has the unusual habit of not speaking to adults, so Al tries to knock some sense into this kid, using decisively forceful measures until he’s thrown out of the interrogation room by Robin.  The kid disappears the next day, along with all the food in the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets, leading to a kind of idyllic Lord of the Flies gathering of kids in the woods without the presence of a bullying leader, where we discover the re-emergence of Tui along with boatloads of friends.  But Matt and his gang are soon on to them, forcing a very pregnant Tui and Jamie to escape, only to lead to certain tragedy, which has a horrific effect, especially within the women’s compound.  The slowed pacing also reflects a kind of impasse, a turning in the tide, where some of the women are finally willing to stand up to these powerful men, refusing to be scared or intimidated by them.  In a memorial sequence for one of the lost kids, Georgi Kay - Joga (Top of the Lake - Jamies memorial scene ... (2:40), featuring Mirrah Foulkes as the distraught mother, some may be shocked or confused at just how unmanly the women are, as they don’t go the Eastwood vigilante route and demand justice through the power of a gun or through brute strength, which is what movies have trained us to expect, but this psychological transformation has been slow in coming and continues to evolve at an excruciatingly slow pace, yet it’s among the more unique scenes in the film, as the women collectively express a quiet desperation without any hint of violence, viewed as an exclusively male domain.   


The finale goes even further down that road, where the discovery of a date rape drug figures prominently into the tortured lives of teens, many of whom in the past have ended up dead under mysteriously unexplained circumstances.  It’s all a bit alarming, but it also figures into Robin’s own past, where it doesn’t do her any good to dig too deeply into the heart of her own trauma, never wanting to meet the child she gave up for adoption as she never wanted to explain to a child that they were the product of a gang rape, thinking this revelation could induce suicidal thoughts of zero self-worth, deciding it’s better to “Fuck the truth,” where life is so much more complicated than we could ever imagine, where human behavior is simply too despicable.  One theme Campion appears to be advocating is that the more attention paid to pain, the worse things often become.  The movie can be shocking at times with its spurts of sudden violence, but in this film it’s not about women chasing after vengeance, where the obsession for justice only creates more injustice, as it’s so easy to lose sight of the arc of your own life, but it also shouldn’t be some inhumane evil that we continually answer to.  In the end, the film veers into an ambiguously disturbing road movie, like a journey through an existential wasteland, actually discussed at great length in the women’s group talkathons, which are almost a parody of self-help groups, where GJ often berates their whining and moaning, claiming they’re “madder than ever,” saying she needs to “just get away from these crazy bitches,” getting as far away as she can, yet still taking us on an interior journey more self-reflective and psychologically complex than what we’re used to from crime dramas, like say the highly successful THE MILLENNIUM TRILOGY (2009).  Actually it’s more like the continuing arduousness of The Odyssey, a prolonged journey filled with epic challenges, where the hero survives only by extraordinary cunning and perseverance, where likewise the collective effect of this film is an assault on the senses, causing a shock to the system and a rewiring of the circuitry, finding oneself at the center of a great human tragedy, offering no societal cure or moral answers, nothing more than the brave choice of learning how to discover our own humanity, often the last one thing we pay any attention to as we’re so busy navigating our way through life.  But in the end, eerily enough, someone, perhaps even Robin, is going to be in a position to help raise a child that is the product of gang rape, as the cycle of life continues where we’re continually forced to face our worst fears. 



10.)  GINGER & ROSA     Ginger & Rosa      A                                

Great Britain  Denmark  Canada  Croatia  (90 mi)  2012  ‘Scope  d:  Sally Potter


Sally Potter sees the breakdown of moral order not only as an expected part of the human condition, but also equally problematic is the way humans obsess over the impact.  Any film that starts with the picture of an H-bomb explosion, followed by shots of an obliterated Hiroshima shortly afterwards in 1945, could hardly be considered subtle, and this film parallels the shattering aftereffects in an equally devastating portrait of human callousness and careless disregard.  By creating a story of two British mothers who were pregnant in the hospital at the time, she frames the original incident as having impact over the rest of their lives, and more importantly, their children’s lives.  While YES (2004) was an artist’s personal reaction to the 9/11 attacks, where she started writing the story the day after, this film is about growing up in the late 50’s and early 60’s when the world was dominated by the imminent threat of nuclear attack, culminating with the Berlin Crisis of 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the closest the world has ever come to an all-out nuclear war.  As someone who grew up during this era, mainstream magazines featured photo essays displaying the ghastly effects of deformed thalidomide babies, with constant references to survivalist methods and building backyard bomb shelters, showing a concern about the rise of building nuclear reactors, especially after the SL-1 disaster of 1961, the only known fatal reactor accident in United States history, when a steam explosion killed three plant operators.  Both adults and children were constantly fed end-of-the-world images, where popular books of the era with post-apocalyptic themes were On the Beach (1959), Alas, Babylon (1960), and Fail Safe (1964), while Godzilla movies became all the rage in Japan, becoming one of the most recognizable symbols of Japanese popular culture, the only nation to suffer the effects of a nuclear bomb.  Perhaps the ultimate black comedy to grab the public’s attention was Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), a laceratingly dark comedy that satirizes the theory of mutually assured destruction, aka the doomsday device which leads to complete, utter and irrevocable annihilation.  In England, where this film takes place, the trauma from World War II remains, where recollections are still prominent of underground subway stations being used as air-raid shelters from The Blitz, prolonged nightly bombing attacks of London by Nazi Germany at the start of World War II, causing a sudden rise of built-in cellars afterwards in larger houses.  It took until the reign of Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997 – 2007) to pay off the reconstruction post-war debt to the United States, where a national program of shared sacrifice was the rule, so part of the character of the country is defined by the arduous challenge to rebuild their lives.  Anyone who has lived through this era realizes what a profound effect it had on all age groups, which is the setting for Potter’s film.   


While this director has a career in experimental (and somewhat autobiographical) films, where her film YES (2004) was strangely written in iambic pentameter, this may be her most conventional and audience friendly effort, beautifully shot in ‘Scope by Robbie Ryan, where it’s primarily a character study that accentuates strong performances all around, one of the director’s strengths, in particular Elle Fanning (who was 13 when the film was shot) as Ginger and Alice Englert (Jane Campion’s daughter) as Rosa, both born on the same day in the same hospital seventeen years earlier.  Set in London in 1962, the film races through their earlier childhood where the two are seen spending all their time together and remain best friends for life.  Rosa never knew her father, having abandoned his child at birth, while Ginger’s parents have a rocky marriage, where her mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks) suspects her husband Roland (Alessandro Nivola) of sleeping around with younger women, usually with good reason, as he’s something of a libertarian, especially where his sexual interests are concerned.  Nonetheless the girls are intelligent, well educated, and highly individualistic, often giggly when they’re together, going through typical teenage stages like kissing and smoking together, also ironing (straightening) their hair, while also taking an active interest in various social causes, like the campaign for nuclear disarmament, also attending Ban the Bomb demonstrations, as this takes place during the era of the Cuban Missile crisis.  This social conscience developing so young pleases her father, as he is a pacifist activist and a former conscientious objector who spent time in jail for his beliefs, writing articles advocating that young men refuse to serve in the military, a thankless job that keeps him busy and away from home for lengthy spells.  Ginger somewhat idealizes her father, as he’s a man of ideas, and mostly locks horns with her mother, as she’s the one that has to keep an eye on her daughter, as Ginger and Rosa are mostly out on their own, keeping their own schedules, doing pretty much whatever they want.  Ginger expresses an interest in poetry and is seen reading constantly, hoping she might be a poet, while Rosa is less introverted, finding it easier to meet boys.      


What makes this film especially interesting is how effortlessly it sets up the youthful idealism as an extension of 50’s conformism, perhaps best expressed by the superbly inventive jazz music soundtrack that perfectly expresses a liberation of the spirit, a literal transformation in sound, beginning with Dave Brubeck’s Take Five - The Dave Brubeck Quartet (1959) (5:20), but also in short order Bird Gets The Worm / Charlie Parker The Savoy Recordings (2:38), Sidney Bechet - Petite fleur - JazzAndBluesExperience (3:19), Thelonious Monk - (I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance (With You) (4:22), and Miles Davis - Blue In Green (HQ) - YouTube (5:33), where this pair of friends is a perfect example of tolerance and open mindedness in an era when the women’s movement had not yet begun, and no one had yet heard of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.  They were flower children before the term was invented and attracted to worldwide peace movements before they were in vogue by the end of the decade.  Potter then turns the screws on their friendship, allowing reality to intervene, which is shockingly discomforting, becoming the dramatic thrust of the film, blossoming from their carefree youth into attractive young women vying for the attention of the same man, becoming more intensely serious and dramatically complex, evolving much like a stage play.  Rosa grows sick and tired of hearing Ginger continually talk about her Dad, having never had one, so she decides to do something about it just as Ginger declares her independence from her mother, blaming everything on her small-mindedness, moving in with her Dad.  But her day of liberation is jeopardized by her best friend, who suddenly takes a romantic interest in her father, exposing a free-thinking man of the 60’s for what he is, a sexual predator of young girls whose ego is stroked and vainly flattered by all the attention, disgustingly rationalizing his actions even as Ginger’s interior world is shattered and destroyed.  Interestingly, the mother she felt was the cause of all her teenage troubles ends up being her staunchest ally, but at seventeen, an age of awkwardness and emotional turmoil, life is never what it seems.  While Ginger’s attention was on nuclear fallout and the end of the world, her innocence is demolished into smithereens in a Cassavetes-like scene from A Woman Under the Influence (1974).  As an interior journey, the film turns extraordinarily bleak, especially the way secondary characters rarely seen in 60’s popular culture (a radical feminist and gay lovers) are used as a kind of Greek chorus to comment upon the moral abyss of the age, where complacency becomes a substitute for destroyed ideals.  With eloquence and poetry, the film ends on a grace note with Thelonious Monk playing Thelonious Monk -The man I love (5:20).  







Honorable Mention 



AMOUR (Love)          Amour (Love)         A-                  

France  Germany  Austria  (127 mi)  2012  d:  Michael Haneke      Official site [jp]


Haneke has made a powerfully devastating film about the horrible indignity of dying, and watching someone you love deteriorate before your eyes, where in your mind they’re still alive and strong, the way you remember them, except they’ve become fragile creatures that can’t help themselves anymore.  What’s different about this approach is Haneke’s unsparing and exhaustively banal detail in depicting all aspects leading up to death, including the unsettling, interior psychological turmoil that plays into such a personalized experience.  Perhaps Haneke’s crowning achievement is casting the aging couple with French New Wave cinema royalty, writing the film for Jean-Louis Trintignant (who’s 81) as Georges, from Claude Lelouch’s A MAN AND A WOMAN (1966) and Eric Rohmer’s MY NIGHT AT MAUD’S (1969), a superb actor who hasn’t worked in seven years, while Emmanuelle Riva (85) is Anne, from Alain Resnais’s HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR (1959), the one who has a series of medical setbacks.  Both appeared in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s THREE COLORS TRILOGY, Riva appearing in BLUE (1993) while Trintignant was the lead in RED (1994), where both personify a cultured European dignity with an undisputed air of intelligence in their roles, which certainly comes to play here, as both have professional backgrounds living in an enormous Parisian apartment with an entire wall filled with shelves of books, including a piano, where she was a revered piano instructor, along with various drawings and paintings on the wall.  This couple is the epitome of cultural refinement, where it’s actually a joy, initially, to watch their clever wordplay with one another.             


The initial intimacy is followed by the realization that Anne is likely having a minor stroke while sitting at the breakfast table, where hospital efforts to restore her back to full health fail, leaving her partially paralyzed on her right side, requiring a wheelchair, where Georges has to help her get in and out of bed, her chair, the bathroom, and anywhere else she goes, but we never again see her leave the apartment, creating a highly restrictive use of ever confining space, as if the walls are caving in on them.  While they still maintain a daily routine, where the mundane details become the surgically precise structure of the film, they simply don’t get out anymore, so all they have is each other, music, and photograph books of earlier memories.  Their daughter Eva, Isabelle Huppert, shows obvious concern, thinking her mother should be receiving round the clock hospital care, but after her initial experience, Anne has no interest in ever returning to another hospital.  Eva complains to Georges, as if he’s not doing enough, but he’s taking care of her himself, feeding her, helping her perform the daily exercises, with nurse visits three times a week, and the doctor every other week, but Eva is devastated when her mother has another mild stroke and loses much of her speech, where her indistinguishable words don’t make sense and she can’t make out what her mother’s trying to say, which only becomes more disturbing.  None of the medical setbacks are shown, but happen incrementally, where Anne, once a fiercely stubborn force to be reckoned with, becomes completely helpless, requiring full-time care, which Georges is happy to provide, though it is exhausting.  He is the consummate picture of a man giving his undying devotion to the love of his life, where he is still consumed by her presence, still filled with the incredible aura of her life. 


But no matter how well educated and culturally aware, this never prepares anyone for watching a dying partner, where the daily grind eventually grows frustrating, especially when all you’re looking for is just a tiny sign that the person you’re married to is still there.  Haneke has a seamless approach to unraveling his film, where memories and dreams are mixed into the daily routines, reflecting the inner thoughts of those onscreen, where the mosaic of mixing them all together is an extremely accurate reflection of their existence.  So too is the way Georges starts hiding just how ill Anne is becoming, especially from Eva, who continues to call for the latest updates, where his energy to respond without anything hopeful to say simply disappears with each passing day, yet she persists, which from Georges’ point of view feels like an invasion, as all this couple has left is a few private moments.  The energy it takes out of her mother for one of Eva’s visits is something perhaps only Georges understands, which leaves Eva even more devastated as she simply doesn’t know what else to do.  Georges, of course, knows he’s already providing all there is to do, but he can’t change the agonizing twists of fate.  The lingering finality of the experience is hauntingly sad, as there’s nothing about it that’s easy or refined, where the underlying theme that persists throughout the film is a civilized and genteel couple who are cultured, who understand that beauty stands alongside life’s tragedies, but this still leaves you weakened and trembling at the knees, where nothing can prepare you for the inevitable finality.  Haneke doesn’t make any of this comfortable for the viewer, but it is a daring and exquisitely elegant portrait of what awaits us all, given a poetic and wordless farewell that has a touch of theatricality to it, where there are no neat bows tying up loose ends, instead there’s a sudden flood of emptiness, and the rest is silence.    


If truth be told, my own personal life has had an overload of painfully prolonged and tragic deaths very reminiscent of what is portrayed onscreen, unfortunately witnessing too many people die in the end stages of cancer, so there is a certain degree of traumatic discomfort when encountering the subject once again, especially with the unaltered, unedited amount of realism mandated by this director, which to a large extent is the dramatic power of the film, the accumulating effects of death shown with such acute detail.  As a result, this is not a film likely to be revisited again.  The film is reminiscent of Maurice Pialat’s THE MOUTH AGAPE (1974), another film about a woman slowly dying from cancer, a starkly realistic portrait of death, told in segments of real time with long takes of her lying in bed.  While Haneke narrows his focus to an aging couple very much in love, Pialat paints a satirical portrait of the woman’s family avoiding bedroom visits or any dealings with sickness or death as they instead find ridiculous ways to pleasure and amuse themselves as they all wait for her to die.  In contrast, Haneke shows us the face of death through an exacting control over the increasingly oppressive material, confining actions within a ruthlessly restrictive space, which seems to parallel Georges’ efforts to maintain control over his beloved wife, right down to locking her inside a room so no one else, including her daughter, can see her in such a deteriorating state.  However, once distanced from Haneke’s film, the more one appreciates a certain simplistic perfection, though one can't yet determine overall greatness when the subject matter alone is something that would likely never be returned to, so as a one time only experience, how significant can a film be?   Might the same be asked of Haneke’s own loathsome Funny Games (1997), or Pasolini’s SALÒ, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975)?  Still can't answer that perplexing question.  Final thoughts, however, are appreciating the film’s tenderness and restraint, including the unique way Haneke expresses compassion through unspoken, interior thoughts and a highly inventive use of visual cues, offscreen sound, and original imagery, much like Edward Yang’s touchingly poetic finale of YI YI (2000).



AT BERKELEY    At Berkeley          A-                     
  (244 mi)  2013  d:  Frederick Wiseman 


What I’m interested in is making movies about as many different subjects as I can, and as many different forms of human experience. 
— Frederick Wiseman


Wiseman has made a couple of shorter documentaries of late, including BOXING GYM (2010) and Crazy Horse (2011), which seemed all too brief, requiring shorter shots with more edits, and while still interesting, the director feels much more comfortable returning to his longer format of four-hours here, which allows greater exploration.  Without any identifying commentary, and no narration whatsoever, the chosen subject here, the University of California at Berkeley, is a sprawling campus situated on 172 acres across the bay from San Francisco, still managing several major American laboratories, two for the Department of Energy, and perhaps the most infamous, the Los Alamos National Laboratory (still the largest employer in the State of New Mexico), where Berkeley physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer was the scientific director of the Manhattan Project that developed the first atomic bomb during World War II.  The Berkeley Lab has discovered 16 chemical elements, more than any other university in the world, while also producing 72 Nobel prizes.  Yet today, when people think of Berkeley, they are likely reminded of the radical activism of the 60’s, including anti-war demonstrations and the birth of the Free Speech Movement that spread across college campuses throughout the nation.  The same site remains an active location for protests and marches, where a Free Speech monument has been erected, also the Mario Savio Free Speech Movement Café.  Wiseman was granted free access to the university by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who also happens to be a physicist, by the way, where we’re witness to the fall 2010 semester, a time that coincides with the downward spiraling economy, where between the years 2008 and 2012, the state appropriations decreased by 27%, or nearly a billion dollars, to its current all-time low, causing salary reductions and furloughs for faculty and staff while roughly doubling the tuition costs.  Of course, the student response was a drumbeat of protests, where Birgeneau reveals “Protests are part of the culture at Berkeley.”     


The economic reality is state expenditures have undergone a radical shift from appropriations for higher education to massive expenditures for prisons and correction programs, where that trend isn’t likely to turn around any time soon.  Despite the budget storm, the university has maintained their top global position (currently ranked #9) and top national U.S. News and World public school rankings (listed as #1), the top public university for the 16th year in a row.  What’s clear from the outset is Berkeley is a public funded institution, yet it more than holds its own with the prestigious Ivy League private schools with histories dating back to the Puritans.  This is no small accomplishment, as they must carry the torch that public funded universities are more accessible and offer greater diversity, a theme heard throughout the film, but with higher tuition and fees, students are witnessing the benefits of the best and cheapest systems of higher education eroding away.  And while the film may surprisingly offer more air time to the administrators, it’s the classroom sections that truly elevate the film.  Wiseman provides a cross section view of the administration, faculty, and students, literally eavesdropping on a variety of subjects, where we immediately zero in on a classroom discussion about whether it is in the public interest, whether it is considered part of the greater good to provide financial incentives and aid to help the poor both here at home and abroad, where the lone black woman in the classroom indicates the country has been averse to helping poor black neighborhoods throughout her entire lifetime, so it’s something she’s grown to expect, suggesting people of color have had to learn early on that if they work hard enough, they may at least get *an opportunity* to receive a world class education and the accompanying career benefits that come with it, while middle class whites, who are suddenly suffering from the economic challenges themselves, have always *expected* that education should be given to them as a birthright.  So from her perspective, why should black tax dollars help support poor whites that generationally have never wanted their tax dollars to help support black students?  This searingly intense discussion contains some of the most interesting classroom discussion heard since the high school class in Laurent Cantet’s Palme d’Or prize winning film The Class (Entre Les Murs) (2008), and is easily one of the most riveting scenes of the year, yet it provocatively expresses what kinds of challenges are unique to public schools, where they are part of a larger ideological clash between idealism and practicality, and are expected to define their own vision for the future.


When the camera moves outside, there’s plenty of activity with music groups performing before a largely disinterested throng, or various student protests marching through the center of the campus, yelling their slogans while other students are seen lying on the grass.  Meanwhile the campus security is holding a meeting devising a plan on how to maintain adequate security in anticipation of a large student protest expected later in October.  Working in cooperation with the city of Berkeley mayor, police, and fire departments, three tiers of security are agreed upon, one where the campus police provide all the necessary containment, or a second level that may need available units from local police to assist, while the most serious is an official request for back up, a state of emergency that wasn’t used for over ten years, perhaps out of respect for the school’s history, but was called upon twice in the past year. Chancellor Birgeneau is a fascinating and sympathetic figure, always upbeat, looking for new ideas and comments, where as a former protester himself, he supports student protests, as the university is a major player in the existing free speech movement.  He’s also addressing the subject of tenure with his faculty team, suggesting there’s a difference between making a case supported by evidence, and cheerleading, liking someone and thinking they deserve tenure, something easily seen through in a matter of minutes.  Like any university, it’s only as good as the teachers in the classroom, where despite laudatory research projects and other commendable work, he still insists upon excellence in the classroom.  For most of the other administrators, they appear to be doing their job, where we see them at work, while Chancellor Birgeneau operates at a different level, seen more as a visionary, as he oversees every aspect of the university, always seeking ways to improve at every level, to leave it in better standing than when he took over.  Currently the ethnic enrollment of new students in the Fall of 2012 is 24% White, 21% Chinese, 12% International, 9% Mexican, 8% South Asian, 5% Korean, and only 3% Black. 


When the demonstration finally materializes, it’s a big event, with speeches touting the effectiveness of protests held a year ago when the legislature caved and rescinded some of their planned cuts, where they recall the significance of 60’s activism, where a movement is larger than any few individuals and has the power to change history.  As they march to the student library, they take over the building, issuing a set of demands that the Chancellor must meet by 5 pm of that same day, where a lot of loud rhetoric with students holding microphones makes a lot of noise.  What’s perhaps most interesting is not the various speeches, but watching those from China or Muslim women with their faces covered in headdress staring silently at what must seem like life on another planet, as all of this activity is forbidden in their countries, yet this has to have a profound effect upon them, extending to their network of family and friends.  No one is arrested, as they are allowed to voice their concerns, and when the Chancellor’s office drafts a carefully worded response that doesn’t really commit to anything, they all soon dissipate and return to their classes.  While this momentarily creates an empty void where there was an energetic build-up for a major confrontation, but its all part of the college experience, building ideals and expectations, followed by disappointments that lead to a new set of expectations.  One of the classroom discussions is on Thoreau’s Walden Pond, where behind the placidity and stillness of the peaceful lake, an image that renews itself even after seasonal storms or icy winters and lives on in perpetuity, is a carnage of animal and plant attacks, where in order to sustain life, one set eats the other to survive, something that caused great concern to Thoreau, who despite all attempts to live a spartan existence, himself relied upon food and local resources for sustenance, concluding that man would always be separate from nature.  One of the unique perspectives offered is that of a veteran’s group, many of whom were initially sinking from the difficulties incurred in the transition from military to student life, but with the help of a campus veteran’s group, a resource not always available at universities, they were able to reassess what their goals and missions were.           


As always, some segments are more intriguing than others, but Wiseman’s film absorbs the many arguments and perspectives offered and remains accessible throughout, feeling perhaps more political than his earlier work, but due to the all-encompassing depth of the examination, it’s an invigorating and continually thought-provoking piece, where the viewer receives a variety of relevant insight not likely encountered any other way other than experiencing it yourself.  Some of the more interesting shots might be called transition shots, used much like Ozu, where Wiseman films a janitor sweeping a lengthy staircase, or a landscaper’s leafblower clearing a walkway, or various construction projects taking place, where we see a team pouring cement, eventually leveling it off, or a steamroller flatten out a layer of road asphalt, as these are projects showing the public’s tax dollars at work.  Former Cabinet Secretary of Labor Robert Reich is seen instilling his views that all major goals of any project need to be challenged in order to be successful, where part of a good working team is providing that self criticism.  Working in the Clinton Administration, it nearly killed him that in government he was surrounded by so many “yes men,” people whose idea of keeping their jobs was simply telling the boss what they think he wants to hear, revealing a story about being in a crowded elevator full of his handlers after a particularly ineffective TV talk show, asking what did he do wrong?  While the consensus told him he remained on point and made effective arguments, a lone voice from the back from a nearly inaudible woman suggested that he used his hands too much, immediately generating daggers in the looks from superiors.  But she reiterated, when asked again, that for TV you’re more effective without all the hand gestures.  Reich said he remembered that woman and kept her on his staff, and gave her multiple promotions, always remembering that she was someone who would provide an honest answer when he needed it.  There’s another classroom discussion dissecting the metaphors in John Donne’s love poems, a humorous skit on the social pressures of Facebook, while there’s also a staged performance of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, where one of the hallmarks of the play, besides depicting ordinary life in America, is deciding what time capsules to choose that a hundred or a thousand years from now will tell the future something about these times we’re living in.  In a beautifully abstract dance piece, mixing fantasy and a folksy American reality, what’s clear from this film is art survives as a timeless expression.  



SHORT TERM 12           Short Term 12      A-                       

USA  (96 mi)  2013  d:  Destin Daniel Cretton              Official site


You are not their friend, and you are not their therapist. You’re here to create a safe environment, and that’s it.             

—Jack (Frantz Turner)


The gut wrenching, emotional powerhouse blockbuster of the year, this film is an offshoot of a 22-minute short by the same name that won the Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking at Sundance in 2009, and later won an Academy Nicholl Fellowship Award for screenwriting in 2010, eventually expanded into a full-length feature film.  Rejected by Sundance earlier this year, the film was chosen to premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, winning both the Audience and Grand Jury awards.  Of particular interest, Keith Stanfield as Marcus, who also performs some of the musical soundtrack, appears in both the short and the feature, while the initial focus in the short was on a male supervisor at a residential foster care facility for “at risk” youth, the feature length film switches this to a female role.  The writer/director worked for several years in a similar facility after earning a degree in communications from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, lending extraordinary insight and authenticity to what’s portrayed onscreen.  From the opening moments of the film, largely understated, using an economy of means, the audience is totally immersed into a completely unfamiliar world, as these are mostly kids society has discarded, living in a cinder block, dormitory style compound where for their own safety they’re not allowed to close their doors, where there’s no place else for them to live as they’ve been too deeply damaged.  Repeatedly beaten or sexually abused by their own families, the deep seeded anger and bitterness is so pervasive that these kids continually retreat from the world, tarnished and wounded souls, becoming cutters or suicide risks, and have an especially hard time expressing themselves, often at a loss for words, yet one can’t help but appreciate the details, especially such natural interplay between characters.  Interestingly, the staff that supervises them are no more than a few years older than the kids themselves, occasionally displaying some of the same behavior based on similar backgrounds.  


The anchor of the film is the lead supervisor Grace, Brie Larson, who is nothing less than a revelation in this film, displaying a range of emotion and a commitment to these kids that is nearly inhuman, as she embraces each and every one of them like a big sister, as if they are all part of the same family, where they all matter.  Of course, these kids have all grown up thinking they don’t matter, as if there’s something wrong with them because they allowed someone bigger and stronger to abuse them, like it’s somehow their fault.  The anger and shame they feel couldn’t be more pronounced, as it’s always there, lying just under the surface, where each kid has a distinct personality which is largely expressed in nonverbal ways, beautifully captured by the restless and constantly roving camera of Brett Pawlak that seems to get into everybody’s face, creating a continually developing series of impressionistic portraits of human intimacy.  It hits you at some point that this isn’t like other films.  Maybe it’s how uncomfortable you become by the dizzying camera movement, or the volcanic eruptions of spontaneous rage, where the staff has to physically hold these kids down to stop them from hurting someone, where they are assaulted by the most venomous, profanity-laced stream of insults imaginable, as if a part of Linda Blair from THE EXORCIST (1973) has somehow managed to infiltrate into the bloodstream of these kids.  And then a short time later, when things have calmed down, they’ve only grown closer, as they helped shelter someone from the storm, becoming comrades in arms, sharing the most inexplicably intimate circumstances, remaining non-judgmental, and still being there for them afterwards.  It’s not easy to understand how in one moment you are being spit upon, hated, and your life threatened in a demonic fury, and a few moments later you are genuinely hugging that same person.  The emotional intensity on display is not what we’re used to, as it’s not make believe or exaggerated for effect, but is heartbreaking because it so accurately reveals what these kids are trying to express.  This is the pain they have to live with every day. 


Part of the brilliance of the film is the way it values personal connections and balances time spent both with the kids and the staff, slowly parceling out bits of information, interjecting humor and lighter moments, contrasting the difficulty of helping these kids with how hard it is maintaining trust in adult relationships, so that the overall effect is accumulated knowledge, where we’re always gaining greater insight into these lives.  We quickly learn Grace is having an affair with fellow staffer Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), both of whom adore working with these kids, as it singularly defines who they are, people with a commitment to being there for those who have been hurt the most, living with and working with the most vulnerable among us, where she can be near saintly in her attitudes about helping others, but often can’t utter a word about her own feelings.  Mason shows extraordinary patience in trying to deal with her, as she blocks him out sometimes, almost always because there’s something else on her mind that keeps her extremely guarded, as 24/7 she’s responsible for continually protecting her charge from huge reservoirs of darkness that always seem to be closing in on someone.  Grace is an employee that doesn’t need to be told what to do.  Working on the floor, she sees instinctively what needs to be done, and she protects these kids like a hovering angel.  The unseen force in the room is being part of a government bureaucratic system, where there must be other short term units just like this one, where they all have to answer to a higher authority, like a doctor, a psychiatrist, an administrator, or a politician who sits at a desk and reads reports but doesn’t get the overall picture of what’s going on in the lives of these kids.  When action is taken that literally shatters the confidence of one kid, Grace will rally to their defense, often to no avail, as she’s told “You are not their friend, and you are not their therapist.  You’re here to create a safe environment, and that’s it…We’re not here to interpret tears.”  But of course, Grace and her staff are the ones comforting these kids during their most agonizing moments, helping them survive their worst nightmares, where they rarely have the luxury to interpret coherent thought, as it’s almost always communicated in tears or unimaginable rage.  One of the key moments of the film is listening to Marcus, the oldest kid on the unit who’s just days away from turning 18, scared shitless about becoming emancipated, bitterly battling the demons in his head as he raps about “The pretty pictures in my fuckin’ head are faded/Look into my eyes so you know what it’s like/ Living a life not knowing what a normal life’s like.”



LORE    Lore               A-                   

Australia  Germany  Great Britain  (109 mi)  2012  d:  Cate Shortland   Official site [au]  


One of the more uniquely original and powerfully compelling war stories to appear onscreen for awhile, this is a joint Australian-German production, where an Australian director has essentially made a German language film, co-adapting the screenplay along with British writer Robin Mukherjee from one of the three stories in British author Rachel Seiffert’s 2001 novel The Dark Room.  Unlike most World War II war stories, this one contains no battle scenes and takes place just after the war, where the focus is on the psychological aftereffects where German people are quickly being judged and harshly condemned, little of which is widely known or written about.  Told from the point of view of surviving Nazi children who were once part of the indoctrinated Hitler Youth where they were led to believe Hitler was a national hero, a leader glorifying the best of what Germany represents, reality comes as a crushing blow, where mostly they are in complete disbelief, as if a terrible hoax was being played upon the entire nation, not even realizing at first that Nazi Germany has been wiped off the map, as the rumors they are hearing about death camps are too gruesome and impossible to believe.  Suddenly ashamed of their German heritage, they are part of a stunned and disbelieving nation that is unable to express their grief.  While the film plots the slow journey of growing awareness, it should be pointed out that some 12 to 14 million German people living in German occupied territories during the war had to be transported back to Germany, becoming the largest transfer of any population in modern European history, where most came from the Eastern territories of Poland and the Soviet Union (7 million) and Czechoslovakia (3 million).  It was this group, mostly women and children that were the most severely mistreated before they were ultimately transported back to Germany.  Thousands died in forced labor camps, millions died of hunger and deprivation, while as many as 2 million women and girls were raped by members of the Soviet Red Army, some as many as 60 or 70 times, a despicable way of punishing the defeated, all carrying with them a collective trauma that became part of the new East German nation.  While this film doesn’t delve into historical details, it certainly examines the heavily stigmatized psychological shame of defeat. 


In the spring of 1945, as the last signs of German resistance collapse, Hitler commits suicide as invading Allied forces are streaming into Germany.  Only after the Third Reich is defeated militarily are the horrors of the Holocaust revealed, instantly tarnishing and disgracing the entire German nation.  The film stars Saskia Rosendahl as Lore, at age 14 the oldest of five children, including Nele Trebs as her younger sister Liesel, André Frid as one of three younger brothers, Günther, Mika Seidel as Jürgen, and a perpetually crying baby named Peter.  As their father is a Nazi SS officer, the parents are seen early on burning all incriminating evidence such as books, swastikas, and other war memorabilia, literally fearing for their lives before both are imprisoned by the Allies, leaving the children alone to fend for themselves, where the last instruction the mother gives them is to make their way to Hamburg, some 500 miles to the north, where they will be safe with their grandmother.  Having little money and only a few items of jewelry, their long, hellish journey is a nightmare of filth, disease, and starvation, where they join a mass exodus of refugees across the country all seeking food and safety, where their privileged status as part of the Nazi elite is quickly undermined by the most urgent need of the bare necessities, food and drink for the baby, and the need to stay alive, often forced to beg angry and hostile strangers for help.  For many, it will be hard to imagine that victims of the Holocaust are not only those that perished in the camps, but also the German people struggling to understand what took place around them, feeling utterly betrayed, confused beyond belief, where each startling new revelation is more horrifying than the last.  What elevates this film is its refusal to shy away from the subject matter, where Lore is a proud and educated German, where the only nation she knows is a Nazi state, but she’s barely a teenager suddenly thrust into this position of responsibility and dire urgency, where they literally have to walk most of the way through the hallucinogenic squalor of a scurvy-laden, death-tinged Black Forest, as the trains, now in Allied control, are no longer running.  “You must remember who you are,” Lore insists, as all of the children are prominently featured throughout, each with their own individual characteristics, but also victimized by their Nazi upbringing that is little more than a lie, where each has to confront this brutal realization in their own way.    


What is exemplary here is the consistency of tone throughout, where Lore, despite her strict upbringing of German arrogance and staunchly anti-Semitic views, is such a sympathetic character, profoundly out of her element, destitute and alone as she guides her family through the countryside, but also deeply disturbed and conflicted about what she discovers.  Most of this is expressed through wordless sequences of doubt and uncertainty, where the camera follows her in close ups, changing speeds to slow motion, where she struggles with every decision, unsure of herself every step of the way, yet forcing herself to exude a quiet confidence that is continually shattered.  This internal imbalance is contrasted by the pastoral beauty of the surrounding countryside, often idyllic, beautifully photographed by Adam Arkapaw, accentuating a simple harmony of nature that humans continually defile, while the hauntingly poetic musical score by Max Richter adds still more layers of depth and complexity.  As they quickly take their place at the bottom of the food chain, they are forced to take the blame for the hateful actions of their parents and the entire Nazi regime, as a flurry of contempt and derision is suddenly thrust upon their shoulders, where especially the youngest boys are utterly confused what to believe.  When a strange young man begins to follow them on the road, Thomas, Kai Malina from Haneke’s THE WHITE RIBBON (2009), Lore is doubly overprotective, especially when she discovers he’s carrying Jewish identity papers and bears a concentration camp tattoo, not wishing for him to touch any of them.  Her iron will slowly dissolves into a different kind of standoffish acquiescence, however, as he loves to play with the boys and as he’s able to find food, where the balance of power literally shifts in his direction, reminiscent of Jenny Agutter’s equally enthralling transformation in Nicolas Roeg’s WALKABOUT (1971).  This concession on her part, the yielding of power to a completely unknown entity, is the mirror image of the Third Reich, where she has little choice but to capitulate, losing the last shred of Aryan dignity in the process, where she is literally transformed by the abandonment and despair felt by every German citizen, as they were ultimately lied to and betrayed by the Nazi regime.  This film offers a unique perspective, exploring the horrendous consequences of the Holocaust through the eyes of the Nazi children who will bear the brunt of the sins of their parents, an inspired and thoroughly provocative account that couldn’t be more poetically expressed, where Saskia Rosendahl’s performance is utterly captivating.



THE ANGEL’S SHARE    The Angel's Share        A-             
Great Britain  France  Belgium  Italy  (101 mi)  2012  d:  Ken Loach


And I would walk five hundred miles
And I would walk five hundred more
Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door


The Proclaimers - I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) - YouTube (3:39)  


Loach took Cannes by surprise last year when he won the coveted Jury Prize (3rd Place) for what was considered one of his more lighthearted efforts, and while it may not carry the dramatic heft of Shakespearean tragedy, this is one of the director’s most likeable films.  Working with screenwriter Paul Laverty for their 10th collaboration, the brilliance of his writing is telling, as it’s exactly what’s missing in movies today, where the film’s special charm and appeal is largely based upon the expertly defined Scottish characters, showing themselves as the brainless twits they are in the opening scene where a drunken man flirts precariously close to the edge of a railway platform, taking offense with the frantic railway security microphone warnings, which causes a drunken tumble onto the tracks, barely even noticing he nearly gets himself killed The Angels Share (Opening Scene) - YouTube  (1:44).  The hilarious use of profanity throughout the film (which is subtitled) is utterly priceless, established early on, where the language itself becomes one of the central features of the film.  It’s nearly impossible not to snicker upon hearing the meticulously detailed nature of criminal charges committed by our movie heroes, read one after the other, where what they’re really guilty of is finding joy in discovering an alternative path, finding absurdity in the overcontrolled world around them, where conformity to the established rules is simply not in these characters.  Albert (Gary Maitland), the man on the platform (a street cleaner in real life), has rocks in his head for brains, where his act of inebriated idiocy gets him 100 hours of community service, where the sentencing judge tells him “Your profound stupidity is matched only by your good fortune.”  In the case of Robbie (first-time actor Paul Brannigan), a diminutive fellow with giant ears poking out of his head, like a miniature Star Trek Vulcan that gets lost in the mad drunken ravings of Scottie, his history of near psychopathic violence would trouble any prospective prison inmate, so he’s surprisingly not sent to jail, but is given 300 hours of community service, largely because his girlfriend is 8-month’s pregnant, and perhaps the fragility of a tender baby can help transform what amounts to a career thug into a human being at last, or so hopes the court.  Following the reading of his sentence, we hear more, where Mo (Jasmine Riggins) was caught attempting to steal a macaw, but was apprehended when the tail feathers were seen sticking out of her purse, or Rhino (William Ruane) who has a penchant for destroying statues of any enemy of Scotland, often heard quoting patriotic slogans while in the throes of a drunken stupor.     


When this rag tag group of social misfits all meet for community service, they are under the assured guidance of John Henshaw as Harry, a likeable enough guy, by no means a hard ass, and someone who has the flexibility to display a little sense of humor every now and then.  Receiving a call while on duty, his job is to officially deliver Robbie to the hospital, as his wife Leone (Siobhan Reilly) is delivering their firstborn.  But what he witnesses first hand is a colossal beating by a trio of Leone’s uncles warning Robbie to stay away from the baby or they’d kill him, giving him acute insight into just what Robbie’s up against in his struggle to turn his life around.  Having no place else to stay that’s safe, Harry allows him to spend the night, celebrating the birth of his “wee lad” named Luke, pulling out some special aged whisky for the occasion.  While the two enjoy a snort, what they’re more fascinated by is learning the ritual surrounding taste contests and developing the unique ability to determine origin just by the smell and taste.  Harry becomes such an enthusiast that he takes them on a tour of a whisky distillery in the Scottish Highlands, where Albert sees his first Scottish castle in Edinburgh and Robbie learns he has a quality nose, meeting a whisky buyer (Loach veteran Roger Allam) who’s quite impressed.  It’s there they learn that the giant wooden kegs used to cellar whisky, sometimes for decades, lose nearly 2% every year to evaporation, what they call “the angel’s share,” suggesting divine intervention.  Once Robbie returns home, however, there’s someone waiting to pulverize him, usually in small groups carrying heavy weapons, where his life expectancy diminishes day by day.  Loach clearly understands how working-class youth continually get themselves into trouble, but also how they are stigmatized by housing project violence and rampant unemployment, where no one lifts a finger to help alleviate the cause, yet the media rails against these kids every day, blaming them for their own predicament, or for failing to lift themselves out if it, as if by some miracle.  While the British invented kitchen sink realism in the 50’s and 60’s, including Loach’s own POOR COW (1967), expressed with a near documentary feel, here Loach gets under the skin of the working-class mentality through their prolific talent for getting themselves into trouble, expressed so perfectly with heavily satiric, profanity-charged language and absurd humor which takes the edge off the blisteringly accurate portrayal of bleak social realism in the tenement housing projects, where these kid’s hopeless futures are the forgotten souls that have become about as meaningless to the world around them as the deadend lives portrayed in most every Aki Kaurismäki movie.          


What Loach finds in this film through that humorous banter and dizzying interaction between characters is a special, indefinable quality that separates humans from other species—personality.  Instead of feeling down and out, as if their lives don’t count, they have a natural affinity for defiance, to literally defy the odds, reflected in the clever kinds of small criminal acts they specialize in, where Robbie gets the idea to utilize the group’s talents to steal an extremely rare batch of recently discovered whisky that is about to be auctioned for over a million pounds.  While the audience knows what they’re up to, they have no idea how they intend to pull it off, turning this into a thrilling road movie as they’re off on yet another misadventure, this time wearing kilts, where the mood of optimism is enhanced by the surging energy of an upbeat theme song about whisky drinking, The Proclaimers - I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) - YouTube (3:39), which never sounded more perfect.  Witty, hilarious, given a realistic style and a natural spontaneity in the key roles, Loach counteracts the neverending societal drumbeat of dehumanization of working class youth by creating such likeable and sympathetic characters.  It’s not what happens, but the beautifully orchestrated layers of comical complexity written into how it happens that continues to surprise throughout in an audaciously thrilling whisky heist, where the supposed dregs of the earth walk right into the lair of the wealthy and the snobbishly super-elite without attracting suspicion and steal the most precious commodity right underneath their noses.  While poking fun at the pretentiousness of the aristocracy, featuring a real-life “Master of the Quaich,” Charlie MacLean, Loach adds a bit of comic ingenuity by continually exposing our working class heroes to their own special flair for fucking things up, as after all, what they all have in common is getting caught.  The enchanting intrigue of the story never wavers and never resorts to hackneyed stereotype, where the unique dialogue is just so head-splittingly funny throughout, one often forgets how rare it is to experience such an intelligently crafted film as this.  What it lacks in profundity, it makes up for in originality, youthful vibrancy, and the utter joy of being alive, easily one of the most delightful times to be had in a theater all year.  While it is a bit of a fantasy, something of a stretch for a known advocate of social realism, it does feature brilliant writing, unforgettable characters, and the scintillating, profanity-laced dialogue is simply sensational. 





*Jean-Louis Trintignant – Amour

Mads Mikkelsen – A Royal Affair (2) + The Hunt (1)

Robert Redford – All Is Lost 

Jimmy Wong – Soul

Bruce DernNebraska 

Idris Elba – Mandela:  Long Walk to Freedom


*Emmanuelle Riva – Amour 

Julie Delpy – Before Midnight 

Suzanne Clément – Laurence Anyways

Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine

Brie Larson – Short Term 12

Sara Forestier – Suzanne


Tye Sheridan – Mud 

*Peter Mullan – Top of the Lake 

Sam Rockwell – The Way, Way Back

Ben Foster – Kill Your Darlings 

Devin Ratray – Blue Ruin 

Yuri Bykov – The Major


Adriana MascialinoSuperclásico

Kristin Scott Thomas – Only God Forgives 

Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine 

Piroska Molnár – The Notebook 

June Squibb – Nebraska

*Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle 


*David O. Russell                     USA                            American Hustle 

*Jia Zhang-ke                           China  Japan                 A Touch of Sin

Michael Haneke           France  Germany  Austria         Amour

Miguel Gomes    Portugal  Germany  Brazil  France       Tabu 

Emir Baigazin       Kazakhstan  France  Germany           Harmony Lessons 

Xavier Dolan                            Canada                        Laurence Anyways


Mark Boal – Zero Dark Thirty

*Spike Jonze – Her

Paul Laverty – The Angel’s Share 

François Ozon, adapted from Juan Mayorga – In the House

Xavier Dolan – Laurence Anyways

Woody Allen – Blue Jasmine


Alexey Matveev, Gleb Stepanov, Arthur Sibirski and Michael Tarkovsky – Happy People:  A Year in the Taiga

Nicolas Bolduc – War Witch 

Yves Bélanger – Laurence Anyways

Leah Striker – Wolfschildren

*Chung Mong-hong – Soul 

Nelson Yu Lik-wai – A Touch of Sin




Top of the Lake

Blue Jasmine

The Spectacular Now

*American Hustle




War Witch

To the Wonder


*A Touch of Sin

Museum Hours




In the House

Blue Jasmine

*Stranger By the Lake

Harmony Lessons



A Royal Affair

Behind the Candelabra

Laurence Anyways 

*American Hustle


Thomas Newman – Side Effects

*Cliff Martinez – The Company You Keep (2) + Only God Forgives (1) + Spring Breakers (3)

Skrillex and Cliff Martinez – Spring Breakers   

David Wingo – Mud (2) + Prince Avalanche (1) 

Philip Miller – Of Good Report

Giong Lim – A Touch of Sin 



*The Missing Picture

20 Feet from Stardom

At Berkeley 

Short Term 12

The Act of Violence

The Gatekeepers