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Cinema at its most profound: “Corn Island” [2014, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Hungary]

A scene from "Corn Island" aka "Simindis kundzuli" (2014)Birds chirping, water flowing, and intermittent rain pouring, make up most of the audio in George Ovashvili’s exquisitely lush drama “Simindis kundzuli” [Eng. Title: Corn Island] – there are hardly any dialogues, and yet it sends viewers on a soul-searching exercise through the sheer eloquence of the messages that it conveys visually. This is profound and purposeful cinema, pure and simple!

A scene from "Simindis kundzuli" (2014)Geopolitical backdrop:
The river Enguri flows from the Caucasus mountains to the Black Sea, forming a de-facto border separating the breakaway republic of Abkhazia with the rest of Georgia. Little islands spring up in the river between the end of spring and summer, before rains and floods arrive to wash them away. These temporary river islands with nutrient-rich soil aren’t contested by any of the parties involved in their long-running frozen conflict; the Georgian, Abkhazian, and Russian soldiers mainly patrol the river to try and prevent (or facilitate) militants crossing the border. But some poor peasants use the natural phenomenon to claim, plant, and harvest a corn crop while these islands last.

Mariam Buturishvili and Ilyas Salman in "Simindis kundzuli" aka "Corn Island" (2014)The film observes an elderly Abkhazian man (Ilyas Salman) in engaging detail, as he lays claim to an island by constructing a shack upon it, and plant and tend his crop on the tiny patch of land in the middle of the river. He labours at his task with an air of stoic heroism, given his age and necessity. He is assisted in the endeavour by his granddaughter (Mariam Buturishvili), who’s probably also his only remaining relative.

Mariam Buturishvili and Ilyas Salman in "Simindis kundzuli" aka "Corn Island" (2014)Their relationship is as pristine and natural as the majestic landscape surrounding them, both of whose tranquillity are only momentarily disrupted by the reality of cracking gunfire and patrolling boats. The girl, in the throes of puberty, catches the eye of young soldiers and militants alike who venture near the island, and even though still a child, she could sense that there’s something different about the way men look at her now, and begins to like the attention directed at her.

A scene from "Simindis kundzuli" aka "Corn Island" (2014)The film, whilst depicting the protagonists confront the odds to reap their harvest, ponders deeply into the temporariness of our very being; the notion of ‘owning’ a piece of land, the idea of nationhood – distinguishing us from the rest, and nature’s abundant capacity to recycle, rejuvenate, and propagate life in all its forms unabashedly, and unsparingly. The Georgian film might have been intended for an audience close to home, but it also carries a universal, existential theme.

A scene from "Corn Island" (2014)The film pits man at his elemental state, devoid of trappings such as nationality, kinship, and entitlement, against the forces of life and nature. Elemér Ragályi’s breathtaking cinematography provides the grand canvas in which Ovashvili creates his meditative poem, that in a manner evoke the works of a Theodoros Angelopoulos or Béla Tarr. If you could muster the patience to sit through a hut being built in almost real-time, a patch of land being dug up for cultivation, and two characters lying down and staring into the sky without saying a word, you’ll gradually but surely become convinced that you’d been watching one of the finest and most ‘engaging’ films ever made in the year. This simple yet beautiful production from Georgia, Germany, France, Czech Republic, and Kazakhstan is without a doubt, Highly Recommended Viewing..!

The Nudity: Mariam Buturishvili
There is brief nudity from Mariam Buturishvili when changing out of her wet clothes, and while taking a dip in the river.

Mariam Buturishvili nude in "Simindis kundzuli" aka "Corn Island" [2014, Georgia]

Mariam Buturishvili in “Simindis kundzuli” aka “Corn Island” [2014, Georgia].

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Historical baggage: “Cargo 200″ [2007, Russia]

The allegorical Soviet drama “Gruz 200″ [Eng. Title: Cargo 200] is one of Aleksey Balabanov’s most important and uninhibited films to date. It is also lesser known than his highly acclaimed “Brother” duology for the very same reason – for being unsparing to his audience in a Gaspar Noé kind of way.

Cargo 200 (2007, Russia)Set amongst the industrial wastelands of 1984 Soviet Union, and apparently based on some true events, the film is a scathing critique of a system and society as Balabanov recalls it from his younger days. Meant as much as to shock as remind a growing number of Russians who have begun to look back at the past through rose-tinted glasses, the film minces no words in highlighting the rotten state of terror, corruption, and depravity that barely lay concealed behind its thin veneer of socialism.

Agniya Kuznetsova in Cargo 200At first glance, the main plot might vaguely resemble your average American slasher from the eighties, but this film takes it a step further by making a pointed observation of a nation’s sadness and collective impotence that drowned itself in alcohol and madness. Two sub-plots cross paths one after the other in a bootlegger’s farm on the outskirts of Leninsk – just as a corrupt professor of Scientific Atheism (Leonid Gromov) fixes his broken down car and leaves the farm after a heated religious debate with its owner (Aleksey Serebryakov), a happy-go-lucky youth (Leonid Bichevin) drops by to buy some booze for the night. He’d also brought along a girl he’d picked up at the nightclub, a Government official’s daughter named Angelika (Agniya Kuznetsova).

Agniya Kuznetsova from Cargo 200 (2007, Russia)A murder happens that night, and Angelika is sexually assaulted and kidnapped by a psychopathic police captain named Zhurov (Aleksey Poluyan), after the youth and owner of the farm have passed out drinking. The owner’s wife Antonina (Natalya Akimova) does little to intervene in both the crimes owing to a secret pact between her husband and the captain dating back to the time they served time together in a Gulag. And her kidnap is only the beginning of Angelika’s ordeal…

Cargo 200 (2007, Russia)‘Cargo 200′ is euphemism in Police parlance for the unmentionable reality of coffins arriving with dead soldiers from the war in Afghanistan. Balabanov makes a direct connection of wasted lives to the prevailing sense of social and moral decay, and accuses people, including the audience, of being part of the problem. In a telling scene, we see a platoon of young soldiers briskly climb aboard an IL-76 from which coffins are also simultaneously unloaded. Perhaps, it requires a nationalistic film maker like Balabanov to drive home the message that nostalgic eyes do tend to retain a blind spot for finer but essential details when recounting a ‘glorious’ past.

Aleksey Poluyan in "Cargo 200" (2007, Russia)The film is exceedingly well directed and put together, and its thoughtful, carefully period-graded cinematography and superlative editing misleadingly make it appear all too easy. Balabanov clearly knows what it takes to tell a story rather well. But whilst this menacing and dreary film isn’t exactly easy-viewing, it nevertheless emanates a strong whiff of dark humour even during the grizzliest of moments. In a memorable scene, Zhurov’s alcohol and telly-addicted mother complains to a visitor about flies in her apartment, where Zhurov was also holding Angelika captive.

Agniya Kuznetsova and Aleksey Poluyan in Aleksey Balabanov's "Cargo 200" (2007, Russia)And I have barely touched upon the gloriously grimy set-design, magnificently brooding industrial landscape, and the jarringly anachronistic but true-to-period pop-music soundtrack – their combined effect will haunt you for days after you’ve put away your DVD. Needless to say, this horrifying masterpiece is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.com DVD Link [NTSC] | Amazon.com Instant Video Link

 

The Nudity: Agniya Kuznetsova
Two hysterically morbid scenes feature nudity; it goes without saying that neither of them are pleasant to watch. The first is when Capt. Zhurov brings home a prisoner to sexually ‘please’ Angelika because he couldn’t do it himself. The second, longer scene shows Angelika chained to the bed totally nude and lying next to the decomposing corpses of her soldier-fiancé and the prisoner who failed to please her enough. Zharov will be reading back to Angelika the letters that her fiancé sent her when Antonina comes barging in.

Agniya Kuznetsova nude in "Cargo 200" aka "Gruz 200" (2007, Russia)

Agniya Kuznetsova in Aieksey Balabanov’s “Cargo 200″ aka “Gruz 200″ (2007, Russia)

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A brief review: “Dorsvloer vol confetti” [2014 Netherlands, Belgium]

Hendrikje Nieuwerf in "Dorsvloer vol confetti" aka "Confetti Harvest"Director Tallulah Hazekamp Schwab makes her feature-film début with the sweet and heart-warming coming-of-age drama “Dorsvloer Vol Confetti” [Eng. Title: Confetti Harvest].

 

From "Dorsvloer vol confetti" aka "Confetti Harvest"Set within a conservative farming community in the Dutch countryside sometime during the early eighties, the film centres around a precocious twelve year old Katelijne (Hendrikje Nieuwerf) growing up in a large family.

Hendrikje Nieuwerf and Suzan Boogaerdt in "Dorsvloer vol confetti" aka "Confetti Harvest"We see a stoic mother (Suzan Boogaerdt) and a hard working father (Steven van Watermeulen) bringing up their seven children in an orthodox Christian environment where everyone knew their place. And the discipline, apart from their parochial education, also extended to sharing household chores and farming duties.

Hendrikje Nieuwerf and Hannah van Lunteren in "Dorsvloer vol confetti" aka "Confetti Harvest"A naturally curious Katelijne, whilst wholeheartedly undertaking her tasks, is nevertheless drawn towards a wider, more modern world with secular and material values that she discovers during a brief stay at her aunt’s in the city. She takes advantage of the liberal surroundings to try out fashionable goods and dress-up as an adult.

Hendrikje Nieuwerf and Yannick de Waal in "Dorsvloer vol confetti" aka "Confetti Harvest"Katelijne also has a vivid imagination; she captivates her siblings by feeding them fantastical accounts made up by mixing truth with fiction, which while well-intentioned, will invariably land them in trouble, and sometimes, peril. One such occasion shall see her elder brother Christiaan (Yannick de Waal) forced into a marriage. It is her gesture to make amends in her very own way that lends the film its title.

Hendrikje Nieuwerf in "Dorsvloer vol confetti" aka "Confetti Harvest"Carefully composed and endearingly captured in bright hues, Talullah lends a nostalgic air to her film by accompanying it with a cheerful soundtrack. Her pleasant, sweet, and innocent protagonist might just as well be a pubescent version of Amélie. Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon Blu-Ray Link

 

The Nudity: Laurine Booij and Lotte Oskam
There is brief nudity in a scene when Katelijne narrates a story to Christiaan concerning two “pale” girls in the village who allegedly had the habit of sunbathing naked on the bed when their parents were not around. On one such occasion, a stranger who notices them will attempt to break in. Christiaan naturally gets curious and wants to know more…

Laurine Booij and Lotte Oskam nude in the 2014 Dutch film "Dorsvloer vol confetti" aka "Confetti Harvest".

Laurine Booij and Lotte Oskam from the 2014 Dutch film “Dorsvloer vol confetti” aka “Confetti Harvest”.

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A brief review: “Le mentor” [2012 France]

Veteran director Jean-Pierre Mocky started off as an actor and started making films by himself from the early sixties. Some of his films even find pride of place in the canon of world cinema. However, Mocky defies categorisation because he has dipped into almost every genre there is – and has written, produced, and acted in many of them. A non-conformist, he could be sublime and also eye-poppingly careless in the same film, but despite the occasional forgettable film showing up in his credits, he has maintained a loyal following among art-film fans.

Solène Hebert and Jean-Pierre Mocky in Le mentor (2012, France)

Solène Hebert and Jean-Pierre Mocky: “Le mentor” [2012, France]

 

Lean-Pierre Mocky in "Le mentor" [2012 France]I’ll start his filmography with one of his recent films, “Le mentor” (The Mentor), a contemporary comedy slightly out-of-touch with present times. The plot is naive perhaps, but it’s charming nevertheless, and pleasant to watch. He also plays the film’s lead character.

Solène Hebert, Jean-Pierre Mocky, and Clovis Fouin in "Le mentor" (2012, France)Businessman Ludovic (Jean-Pierre Mocky) becomes bankrupt thanks partly to a messy divorce. Living on the streets and getting by through questionable resourcefulness – he’s now a con artiste and cheat extraordinaire, he overhears a conversation between lovers Christian (Clovis Fouin) and Annette (Solène Hebert), and figures out instantly that the man is anything but progressive and will make a terrible partner.

Jean-Pierre Mocky and Solène Hebert in the film "Le mentor" (France)Ludovic decides to ‘rescue’ Annette from her relationship by becoming her mentor. Learning that she’s looking for a job, he dupes her into applying for a fictitious job offer, and calls her for an interview in a friend’s office after closing hours.

 

Jean-Pierre Mocky and Solène Hebert in Le mentor [2012, France]It doesn’t take long for Annette to identify Ludovic for the pauper that he his, but accepts him for his charming ways and kindness towards her. Besides, he finds her a ‘real’ job through an acquaintance, and also plays cupid to get herself a new boyfriend. Annette too readily joins ‘papa’ in his various hustles, and all ends well…

Solène Hebert in Le mentor (2012, France)This might be light entertainment with lots of credibility issues, production goofs and technical mistakes, but it is also a film that’s charming enough that you’ll momentarily forget its imperfections. As a bonus, the camera is in love with the very French, very easy-on-the-eye Solène Hebert – and the charismatic young newcomer can also act. At least for these reasons, the film is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.fr DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Solène Hebert, Bettina Kox, Daphnée Lecerf, and Anksa Kara
There’s frontal nudity from Solène Hebert when her character surprises Ludovic by stepping into the room naked. In another scene, we see three female customers in a spa where the never-say-die Ludovic tries his hands, as a masseur.

Solène Hebert, Bettina Kox, Daphnée Lecerf, and Anksa Kara nude in the comedy "Le mentor" [2012, France]

Solène Hebert, Bettina Kox, Daphnée Lecerf, and Anksa Kara in the 2012 comedy, “Le mentor” [2012, France].

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A film review: Így jöttem [1965 Hungary]

In his third feature, noted Hungarian director Miklós Jancsó presents a war-themed drama in the film “Így jöttem” [Eng. Title: My Way Home]. Considered by many as a masterpiece, it is a detached observation made with great detail but very little commentary, and focuses, as the title suggests, on a young soldier’s return home.

András Kozák in My Way Home [1965, Hungary]Set somewhere in Soviet Union during the final days of the Second World War, the film begins with an unarmed seventeen year old soldier, Hungarian Jóska (András Kozák), getting separated from his friends while fleeing a Cossack unit on horseback. Since Hungary had sided with Nazi Germany, he’s duly taken prisoner. However, he is soon released over a technicality and allowed to continue on his journey.

András Kozák in Így jöttem [1965, Hungary]But Jóska gets captured again, this time by a Russian regiment after he’s caught sleeping covered in an abandoned Nazi jacket. Owing to the fact that he’s still a schoolboy, they send him to help tend a dairy farm run by a Kolja (Sergey Nikonenko), a young Russian soldier. Kolja had been given this relatively lighter duty owing to an injury, with a bullet still lodged inside his body.

András Kozák and Sergey Nikonenko in Így jöttem [1965, Hungary]On one occasion, Kolja saves Jóska from being blown up by a landmine after he attempts to escape custody, and later Jóska too reciprocates by refusing an offer to join fleeing Hungarian prisoners, telling them that it would get Kolja ‘into trouble’. Despite neither of them understanding the other’s language, an unlikely friendship develops between the two. Away from the sounds of war and in the barren landscape, Jóska and Kolja bond and begin to behave as teenagers do during normal times.

András Kozák and Sergey Nikonenko in My Way Home [1965, Hungary]We observe their everyday chores and pranks; milking cows, target-practising on frogs in a canal, loading cans of milk onto trucks, chasing after naked women bathing, and fooling around with statues in a ruined museum. Yet just when we’d momentarily forgotten that there was indeed a war happening, a fighter plane ominously passes by, sometimes low over the lads’ heads who had stopped to watch. The reality of war will also separate the two, and Jóska sets out on his journey home once again…

András Kozák in My Way Home [1965, Hungary]One of the stars of the film has to be the breathtaking cinematography – orchestrated in what will become the director’s signature style. The well-choreographed aerial and panned shots firmly pin characters to their immediate surroundings to remind us of a ‘bigger picture’ whilst deliberately disallowing us the ability to read thoughts and motives. In some scenes, characters are either followed from behind or silhouetted altogether; we observe their actions, but rarely their state of mind. Apart from the film’s title, the only time Jancsó affords us any emotional contact with his characters is in the closing shot of the film, where he pans to a bruised and exasperated Jóska looking into the camera with an air of defiance, as if to raise a plea.

Sergey Nikonenko and András Kozák in Így jöttem aka My Way Home [1965, Hungary]The idea of a ‘natural’ friendship between a Hungarian and a Russian, with the short but brutal 1956 revolution still fresh in many people’s memory would’ve certainly caused a stir at the time of release. But to his credit, Janscó dilutes any potential propaganda value by succinctly focusing on the social dislocation and humanitarian implications of war. Consequently, we get to see a rather simple film without too many loaded metaphors, made with admirable skill and technical sophistication, and yet holding a charm that can relate to audiences even today. Highly Recommended viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity:
There’s just a single scene that features nudity – when the boys chase down girls bathing in a canal. But it is also one of the most beautifully crafted sequences in the film, where we see the ‘hunters’ themselves being ‘hunted’ by a plane swooping threateningly low over their heads – as if to deliver some kind of poetic albeit harmless justice. The scene is amusing as it is dramatic, memorable, and calling for all to see and appreciate.

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