Starring a tattooed and terrifying Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises is a Russian gangster thriller film set in a very nasty London. Operating at a fever pitch of grim violence and revenge, the film has moments of humanity and charm, thanks to the visionary director, David Cronenberg, in one of his most approachable films. While the violence and action are brutal and cathartic, equally as impressive is Mr. Cronenberg's sharp understanding of the London crime scene and the various factions and languages that make up the largely hidden underworld.
In the mood for an impeccably crafted real-life thriller? This movie is for you. On the way out of a nightclub Victoria runs into four raucous German men who convince her to hang out with them. She is from Spain and has been temporarily living in Berlin. Her German isn’t very good, but her English is passable. She shares some drinks with her new friends, and strikes up a flirtation with one of them. But what starts out as light-hearted hijinks at 4:30am eventually swerves into darker and more dangerous territory, as Victoria is coerced into participating in her German companions’ dangerous plans. While the plot may sound like your standard issue crime drama, Victoria turns out to be something a little different, due to the thrilling and unusual way it was filmed – in a single shot. In interviews the director has talked about his process, and the challenges of filming an over 2-hour movie (it clocks in at 138 minutes) in over 20 different locations throughout the city of Berlin. The “one take” filming process could be viewed as a stunt, but in this case, I think it works well to serve the story. The tension built from the tightrope walk of the actors and filming crew adds to the ratcheting tension of the story line. Laia Costa give an astounding lead performance. There is not a single scene in Victoria where she is not present, and the movie would simply not work without her. A crazy, awesome movie.
Dheepan is a French film from the director of A Prophet. It contrasts elements of Sri Lankan and French culture to provide interesting insights into both, while crafting a heart-wrenching and heartwarming tale of makeshift families in unimaginable circumstances. Like A Prophet, Dheepan makes occasional and shocking use of violence to underscore elements of culture and illuminate the inner workings of the characters. A fascinating and exhilarating movie, winner of the 2015 Palme d'Or at Cannes.
How far are you ready to go for a friend? You will find yourself puzzled with this question after you watch 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Set in Communist Romania, it's about a college student assisting her friend in arranging an illegal abortion. When things don't go as planned they find themselves in extremely tense and uncomfortable situations. Powerful performances and a realistic script drive a suspenseful and interesting experience. Won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.
Pedro Almodovar’s films tend to swing wildly between comedy/farce and melodrama/tragedy. Volver somehow hits the sweet spot right in the middle of all four genres, with an added dose of magical realism. It’s a total joy to watch, which is really saying something since the story touches on murder, adultery, incest, malignant tumors, ghosts, and Penelope Cruz’s derriere. But maybe that’s the magic of Almodovar’s films? He’s able to take dark themes and surround them with bright colors, warm characters, and screwball humor—and really, is there anything better than that?
In my own wished-for parallel universe, French actors Vincent Cassell and Emanuelle Devos are voted the sexiest actors alive. I find them both transfixing and appealing in every role they’ve performed, and they are quite the pair here. Devos plays Carla, a put-upon assistant at a property management company. While good at her job, there is little room for her to advance her career, as she is one of the only women at her company and also has a hearing deficiency. Into her humdrum life walks ex-convict Paul (Cassell), who Carla hires as a personal assistant. It turns out that what Paul lacks in secretarial skills he makes up for in other ways. The first half of the film plays almost like a dark workplace comedy, before taking a dangerous turn towards psychological crime thriller. Overall, it’s a dark and sexy character study of two mismatched outsiders who turn out to compliment each other perfectly.
Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most gripping thrillers in recent years. It starts in a morgue where a corpse of a deceased femme fatale goes missing. Her husband is the first person to be suspected as evidence starts pointing to him for killing his wife and hiding the body. He is called by the police to the crime scene to help with the investigation that is led by a shady detective. The film then takes you on a journey filled with reflections on marriage, deceit and the character's urge to safeguard whats their own and the territories they are willing to cross to keep it. Drawing you into the atmosphere from the very start, it refuses to let you go out of it. All while maintaining a simple premise.
Human Capital is a rich and absorbing tale of two families tied together by love, money and a hit-and-run accident. One family is wealthy, the other struggling to get by in the days after the 2008 economic meltdown. Human Capital dexterously contrasts the social calculations the characters make about who can afford to step outside the lines of law and morality. The story is told from different perspectives, a device that serves to give the tale and the characters greater depth. In Italian with English subtitles.
This is director Hayao Miyazaki and producers Studio Ghibli at their best. On the surface level, it's a film about a young girl who stumbles into an abandoned theme park with her parents. She accidentally finds herself in a creepy spiritual world wherein she must find a way to save her parents and escape. More broadly, however, this is a film about the struggle for Japanese cultural identity in the wake of the economic crisis of the early 90's. A deep and deeply hypnotizing movie about a little girl's journey.