Transit (2018)


Direction: Christian Petzold
Country: Germany / France

German filmmaker Christian Petzold (Barbara; Phoenix) shows a predisposition to structure his dramas in a ravishing, oblique way. His latest effort, Transit, is set in the port city of Marseille during the Nazi invasion.

The central character is Georg (Franz Rogowski), a German Jew on the run, who finds a viable way to flee the country without arousing the suspicion of the authorities. He is in possession of a document issued by the Mexican consulate to another man that can guarantee him a transit visa. In truth, he stole the identity of that man, Weidel, a celebrated poet who didn’t resist the Nazi pressure and committed suicide in Paris. Weidel’s charming wife, Marie (Paula Beer), is also stuck in Marseille, waiting anxiously for him, so they can depart to Mexico, the much desired safe harbor.

In the meantime, and before meeting Marie in strange circumstances, Georg visits the wife and son of a comrade who succumbed to the manhunt. The woman, Melissa (Maryam Zaree), is mute and was born in the Maghreb; her sweet kid, Driss (Lilien Batman), loves to play soccer, forging a strong bond with Georg, whom he gladly adopts as a father figure. Both are illegal refugees in the country, which becomes a terrible inconvenience when Driss gets sick. Opportunely, Georg offers himself to find doctor Richard (Godehard Giese), who is having an affair with Marie but is planning to leave her soon to embrace a bigger medical cause in Europe. Marie is visibly confused. She wants her husband so badly that, for a couple of times, she had mistaken him for Georg, the man who strategized about saving himself by impersonating him. However, Georg decides to alter his plans after falling for her.


Georg can thank his lucky stars because in some cases, despair leads gradually to tragedy, especially if you are stranded and hopeless. In different situations, tragedies just come with fate. Ironically, “Road to Nowhere” by The Talking Heads plays during the final credits.

The extraordinary performances magnify the complexity of the characters, surrounding them with empathy. Still, you will find emotional pain in every each of them. It’s outstanding how quietly the director gets close to these people.

The plot, adapted by Petzold from Anna Seghers’ WW2 novel to fit the present-day, can be challenging sometimes, but the articulation of the scenes and that pleasurable ambiguity in the narrative turn the film into an interesting watching. Don’t expect many thrills, though, since the director is more interested in offering a wide tonal palette of emotional reflections than really shocking us directly through the images.


Blaze (2018)


Direction: Ethan Hawke
Country: USA

Better known as an actor, Ethan Hawke decided not to star in Blaze, a film he directed and co-wrote about the American country singer-songwriter Blaze Foley. Hawke may not make all perfect choices in this well-intended adaptation of Blaze’s ex-wife memoir, particularly in terms of duration and dynamics. However, he succeeds in enveloping the viewer with that same digressive sarcasm and melancholic torpor that got the musician, an alcohol-drenched, ZZ Top-like bearded man who died at the young age of 39. He once affirmed: “I don’t want to be a star. I want to be a legend". Real-life musician Ben Dickey played the character adeptly, in what was his first acting role.

On the gnarling inaugural scene, probably the most vivid of the film, a wasted Blaze and his junkie friend, the folk singer Townes Van Zandt (Charlie Sexton), drive a studio manager crazy. Blaze’s story, then unfolds as Van Zandt and Zee (Josh Hamilton), another musician, give an interview about the former's latest album.


The flashbacks, filtered with yellowish monochromatic warmth, show the ups and downs of the long relationship with his supportive Jewish lover, Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat), who would become his wife. After enduring disenchantment associated with Blaze’s drinking problem, she was forced to move on, leaving him in a pitiful state of decadence, playing songs about his life experiences for indifferent people in small, nearly empty southern pubs.

Capturing the emotional subterfuges of an artist you’ve probably never heard of, the film never felt less than thoroughly lived-in by a cast that was permanently in the care of making this small work a bigger achievement. It’s a lengthy, inebriating, and casually funny experience that didn’t fall into the usual traps of biographical films.


Bird Box (2018)


Directed by Susanne Bier
Country: USA

Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (Brother; After The Wedding; The Things We Lost in The Fire; Love Is All You Need) is commonly associated with heavy dramas and light romantic comedies. Her first American blockbuster, Bird Box, is a supernatural drama thriller starring Sandra Bullock as a single mother of two children who desperately looks for a safe place to raise them while the planet is under an unfathomable alien threat. Assuming ghostly forms, the invaders urge their victims to commit suicide right after they make visual contact with them. Therefore, the solution is to become blindfolded while outside and never listen to their persuasive words, which are deceptively uttered through the voice of a loved one who passed away.

Expecting a child, Malorie Hayes (Bullock) sees her all-too-lively sister, Jessica (Sarah Paulson), succumb at the sight of the enemy and takes refuge in the house of Douglas (John Malkovich), a sinister and pragmatic man who didn’t seem much affected after witnessing the death of his wife in shocking circumstances. In the house, they not only welcome the innocuous Olympia (Danielle Macdonald), another pregnant woman, but also Gary (Tom Hollander), whose behavior and intentions are far more suspicious. After the kids are born, an attentive man, Tom (Trevante Rhodes), gains her trust and becomes her lover. But anyway, Malorie will have to make a perilous two-day journey alone with the kids, helplessly named Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) and Boy (Julian Edwards). Blindfolded, they have dense countrified areas and a stirring river to be crossed. Is this practicable?


Eric Heisserer (Arrival; Lights Out) penned the script according to Josh Malerman’s novel of the same name, having Bier directing exclusively in the US for the first time. Aiming to the senses without never really impress or startle, Bird Box adopts easy strategies, creating frivolous scenes and employing contrived tones as a result of the narrative fatuousness and cheap abstraction.

Ms. Bier, whose previous directorial efforts kept toggling between competent and sloppy, fully embraces Hollywood this time with dubious quality, and that comes with a price. Following impossible, far-fetched routes, Bird Box is a lumbering and quite incongruous mess.


Heavy Trip (2018)


Directed by Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren
Country: Finland

The first directorial endeavor by the winning team Juuso Laatio and Jukka Vidgren tells about an unheard Finnish heavy metal band that embarks on a crazy trip to Norway in a desperate attempt to perform in the Northern Damnation Festival. They are eager to make everyone proud in their rural little village, Taivalkoski.

The four members of the band are very peculiar, starting by the lead vocalist, Turo (Johannes Holopainen), a tranquil, introverted fellow who is easily transformed into a powerful roarer whenever holding a mic. Turo works in a mental institution and nurtures secret feelings for Miia (Minka Kuustonen), a childhood friend.

Pasi (Max Ovaska) plays the bass and might not be totally normal. He works in the local library and remembers every song he hears. Lotvonen (Samuli Jaskio) is extremely fast on guitar and efficient in slaughtering reindeers in his father’s farm, while the drummer, Jynkky (Antti Heikkinen), is considered the toughest guy in the band. However, he often faints while playing due to lack of oxygen in the brain.

These talented musicians never played live before, but envision their big opportunity when the manager of the cited Norwegian festival (Ville Tiihonen) made a traumatic stop by the village. Although upset with the sordid events of his short visit, he accepts a demo containing one sole brutal original inspired by the sound of a reindeer grinder.


While waiting for a response of the manager, Turo tells Miia he’s heading to Norway with the band in order to impress her. They suddenly earn reputation, stepping up from losers to heroes, and even get to open a concert for Jouni (Ville Tiihonen), the swaggering vocalist of a soft-pop band who is flirting with Miia for quite some time. The concert becomes memorable, but for the worst reasons.

After being informed they wouldn’t be playing the gig, the quartet, now called Impaled Rektum, adopts the fearless attitude of true metalheads and rashly prepares for the trip. However, a last-minute incident forces them to recruit one of Turo’s intimidating patients, Oula (Chike Ohanwe).

They steal, commit profanation, and almost provoke a war between countries. Yet, nothing dissuades them from their goal, not even Miia’s super-protective father (Kai Lehtinen), a rigorous cop who, at the right time, decides to give a chance to Turo, the man he comically designates as the glue-sniffing criminal.

Heavy Trip is an absurdist, powerhouse folly, which feels spunky enough to honor the musical genre and comes filled with deadpan hilarity to please comedy addicts.


Daughter Of Mine (2018)


Directed by Laura Bispuri
Country: Italy

Laura Bispuri’s sophomore feature Daughter Of Mine takes mother-daughter relationships to an interesting level. Lifted by the sharp performances of its ensemble cast, this is an emotionally resonant tale that, still, could have offered more than just some modest pleasures.

The story centers on Vittoria (Sara Casu), a bashful 10-year-old who lives in a quiet Sardinian village with her mother, Tina (Valeria Golino), and father, Umberto (Michele Carboni). One day, she finds out she was adopted at birth and that her biological mother is Angelica (Alba Rohrwacher, the younger sister of prestigious director Alice Rohrwacher), an alcoholic young woman who spends her nights at the local bar asking men to pay her drinks. The good-hearted Tina has helped her financially since the kid was born, but now the young lady faces an eviction order that has no solution in sight.

Meanwhile, Vittoria starts visiting Angelica without Tina’s knowledge. The tactless, irresponsible young mother seems pleased for having the kid around before departing for good. In such a way that Tina becomes distressed with the idea of losing her only daughter. It’s sad when we conclude that this sudden bond has ulterior motives.


Interesting dynamics emerge from this triangle and there are a few ignominious situations to which a 10-year-old shouldn’t be exposed. They serve as emotional shockers in a journey that feels at once tough and merciful. After all, Vittoria is a victim of the circumstances.

If Golino convinces without enchanting, Rohrwacher, in her second collaboration with Bispuri, gives one of her best performances by shaping her character as it should be - with no structure, no reliability, no will to change. As far as the young Casu is concerned, this is an agreeable surprise with the qualified newcomer revealing strong acting skills as she personifies the object of dispute between the mothers.

Whereas Bispuri’s direction is guileless and focused, the script, co-written with Francesca Manieri, could have been slightly adjusted, especially in its final section where the complexity of the situation spins no payoff and got me a bit frustrated.


Wildlife (2018)


Directed by Paul Dano
Country: USA

Actor Paul Dano, best known for his roles in Love & Mercy and There Will Be Blood, has in Wildlife his directorial debut. Dano co-wrote the script with Zoe Kazan based on Richard Ford’s novel of the same name, directing an excellent cast composed of Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, and Ed Oxenbould. They are the Brinsons, a family living in Great Falls, Montana, in 1960.

Fired without a cause and feeling aimless, Jerry Brandon (Gyllenhaal) temporarily leaves his wife, Jeanette (Mulligan), and 14-year-old son Joe (Oxenbould) in order to join a group of firemen assembled to battle a wildfire that keeps consuming the nearby mountains, close to the Canadian border. Although this is an honorable and brave decision, it comes at a time when his family most needs him. Financial difficulties force both mother and son to find part-time jobs while the inflexible Jerry is decided to risk his life for a miserable salary.

With no news about her husband and mad at him due to his selfishness, Jeanette embarks on a bared romance with Warren Miller (Bill Camp), a middle-aged ex-veteran who thrives in the car business. She doesn’t love him, but he could provide the stability she and her son have been seeking for so long. How does Joe cope with this situation? Well, there’s a traumatic dinner at the man’s house and some unexpected visits that accurately elucidate about his emotional state. Will Jerry be able to mend things up when he returns or it will be even worse?


Compellingly written and acted, Wildlife is a mature drama about a crumbling marriage and the emotional struggle of a sensitive teenager who just aspires to see his parents together. On many occasions, he acts like the adult person who needs to put a stop in his parents’ uncontrolled impetus.

This closely observed family portrait, a study of loss and trauma, comes in tones of pervasive sadness. The fully shaped characters convey innate veracity, making us plunge headfirst into their afflictions, hopes, and frustrations. In particular, it is Mulligan who excels from start to finish.
Advancing quietly but in an assured way, Wildlife is heartbreaking.


The Old Man & The Gun (2018)


Directed by David Lowery
Country: USA

After terrific achievements such as Ain’t Them Bodies Saint (2013) and Ghost Story (2017), American writer/director David Lowery is definitely a name to be followed closely. Despite of the low-key vibe of The Old Man & The Gun, a biographical drama film about the ever-smiling robber and prison-escape expert Forrest Tucker, he doesn’t disappoint, weaving enjoyable episodes through a fusion of non-violent crime and sweet romance. For the script, Lowery based himself on an article by David Grann published in 2003 on the The New Yorker.

Supposedly, this is the last theatrical appearance of 86-year-old actor Robert Redford, who announced his retirement last August. Impersonating Tucker with that habitual devotion he always dedicates to his acting roles, Redford is joined here by Sissy Spacek, in what was their first collaboration on the big screen. The latter plays Jewel, the woman who conquers Tucker’s heart without being able to make him stop from robbing banks like a gentleman.


Partnering with longtime pals Teddy Green (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), Tucker never leaves prints, raises his voice, or makes any kind of fuss when operating his scheme. This happy fellow probably never shot a gun in his whole life, not even when escaping from prison, a feat he successfully completed 16 times. Nonetheless, his well-calculated maneuvers became objects of study of police detective John Hurt (Casey Affleck), who is visibly intrigued by and embarrassed for a ‘clean’ robbery executed by the time he was inside the bank.

This efficient account charms with a breezy fluidity, also displaying decorous looks and settings that conjure up that slightly opaque glow of the 1980s. The witty dialogue between Redford and Spacek feels refreshingly romantic, with Lowery abdicating of typical clichés in favor of a tangible honesty that burns with irony, love, and glee. Being a film of minor tensions, The Old Man brought me joy in the quantities required to make it noteworthy.


First Reformed (2018)


Directed by Paul Schrader
Country: USA

The challenges of faith are demonstrated with intense anguish in Paul Schrader's First Reformed, a psychologically disturbing drama film that tells the story of Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke). His insufferable life is like purgatory.

It’s a slow-moving yet incredibly arresting chronicle of a somber journey undertaken by the pastor of the first reformed historical church of Snowbridge, which, in the cusp of its 250th anniversary, is practically transformed in a touristy souvenir shop. However, this is the least of the concerns of Toller, whose deep crisis of faith is related to the loss of his only son in Iraq. Besides bearing the guilt of having encouraged him to enlist, the solitary 46-year-old minister is aching all over with both physical and spiritual pain. This is something that could easily take him to a tenebrous state of mental obfuscation. Drinking whiskey doesn’t help with the infirmity, and things only get worse after Mary Mensana (Amanda Seyfried), a pregnant parishioner, asks him to counsel her husband, Michael (Philip Ettinger), a tormented, hopeless environmentalist.

After Michael’s suicide, the reverend gets closer to Mary. Yet, his suffering is even more excruciating and all the disheartenment makes him another forlorn man. Will she be able to bring him some light and make him change the dire plans he has been preparing for?


Schrader’s confident filmmaking encompasses both restfully imaginary and painfully earthly scenes, with the film’s climax coinciding with an ambiguous finale meant to be pondered and discussed after the credits roll. The maturity and rigor bestowed by the script don’t surprise me either. After all, he was the one who penned Taxi Driver and adapted Raging Bull to be directed by Martin Scorsese.

Brooding in tone and sincerely acted, First Reformed succeeds on the strength of its complex theme, not only examining the hardships of faith but also alerting for the gradual decay of our planet. This is Schrader’s best film since Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters and one of 2018's highlights.


22 July (2018)


Directed by Paul Greengrass
Country: Norway / Iceland / USA

English director Paul Greengrass has a knack to recreate real-life events on the big screen, a faculty mirrored in brilliant films like Bloody Sunday (2002), United 93 (2006), and Captain Phillips (2013). Recently, he has turned his eyes to the Norway attacks of July 22, 2011, where a far-right terrorist diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder killed 77 people.

Charismatic actor Anders Danielsen Lie (Oslo 31; Reprise; Personal Shopper) impersonates the monster with a convincing and indispensable coldness in a dramatic thriller based on the book One of Us by Åsne Seierstad. Despite featuring an exclusively Norwegian cast and crew on behalf of credibility, the film is English-spoken, which I see as an inconsistent choice.

In spite of this debatable choice, the account starts one day prior to the attack as we follow the silent Anders Breivik (Lie) preparing meticulously a double onslaught. In the first place, a car bomb explosion in Oslo, quite close to the Prime Minister’s office, and then after that, a mass shooting on the Utoya island during a Workers' Youth League (AUF) summer camp, an event organized by the Labor Party. He performs the massacre dressed in a police uniform, vociferating words of hate against Marxists, liberals, and members of the elite.


Following Breivik’s arrest, 17-year-old Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli), who survived the tragedy along with his younger brother Torje (Isak Bakli Aglen), becomes a central figure, having his rehabilitation, frustration, and trauma captured by Greengrass' agile lens. In parallel, Breivik’s court proceedings clarify his political view based on a deep disdain for immigrants, also demonstrating his self-gratification for the evildoing and general aloofness from the rest of the world. For me, Geir Lippestad (Jon Øigarden), the lawyer specifically appointed by Breivik to defend him is the most intriguing element of a plot whose intelligible narrative facilitates the perception of the entire picture.

On the one side, Greengrass touches the melodrama through the use of some emotional manipulation, but on the other side, he creates a visceral impact with the horrifying scenes. As a thriller, it can be an entertaining watching and the adrenaline rushes as a consequence of the nightmarish carnage. However, whenever our mind focuses on the idea of reality, it’s pain and sympathy that envelop us. Having that said, and in spite of a certain number of aspects that could be ameliorated, the dramatization works more often than it doesn’t.


The Sisters Brothers (2018)


Directed by Jacques Audiard
Country: USA / France / other

This is a gratifying adaptation of Patrick deWitt's novel by French director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet; Rust and Bone; Deephan), who commands an excellent cast with John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix in the leading roles, and Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed as credible supporting actors. In his first English-language film, Audiard, who co-wrote the script with regular associate Thomas Bidegain, provides quite a bit fun as he depicts sequential reverses in the life of two criminal brothers, Charlie (Phoenix) and Eli Sisters (Reilly). The occurrences are incidental to a ravenous gold rush that starts in 1851 Oregon and ends in San Francisco.

While the younger brother, Charlie, is dangerously impulsive - he drinks and kills with equivalent zest, Eli is tired of being an assassin on the run. He actually lives to cover his brother’s misconducts. Both work for the Commodore (Rutger Hauer), a harmful man who assigned them to fetch Hermann Kermit Warm (Ahmed), a gold prospector and chemist who developed a secret formula to extract gold from rivers. Also in his tail is John Morris (Gyllenhaal), a patient detective with an intellectual posture, whose mission is befriending him before giving him away to the brothers. The plans change after Warm and Morris become true friends, which leads the former to make an irresistible proposition to the brothers. They promptly accept, also agreeing to part ways after this job. However, the unreliable Charlie puts everyone in danger after a terrible lapse. The ending is a pure nostalgic pleasure.


With salient dark humor popping out from time to time and a great score by Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water; Argo; The King’s Speech), The Sisters Brothers provides proper entertainment even when things become a bit out of control. The strong performances by the leads help to shape curious characters with strong personalities, and Audiard plunges into the Western genre with conviction and panache, offering reasonably more than just the essential. It may be a passive film at times, but never exhausting.


Claire's Camera (2018)


Directed by Hong Sang-soo
Country: France / South Korea

I can understand why Claire’s Camera, the new drama film by Korean director Hong Sang-soo, may be considered a bit shallow for some viewers. At the first sight, the story feels somewhat underdeveloped, but a deeper look into its incidents made me appreciate it more. Shot during the 2016 Cannes film festival, the film is an insouciant 68-minute reflection on relationships and time, the transitory and the permanent.

The most delightful episode of the film happens during its first minutes, when Manhee (Kim Min-hee), a film selling person in Cannes, is forced to resign from work without an acceptable reason. Her boss, Yanghye (Chang Mi-hee), justifies the fact with a sudden loss of confidence after five years working together but contradicts herself during the explanation. She states she hired her because of her honesty, something you can’t change with time, but now is trying to convince her that it changed.

After a while, we learn that the true reason for the dismissal was jealousy. The 50-year-old filmmaker So Wansoo (Jung Jin-young), for whom they work, slept with Manhee while drunk. Nothing wrong with that if he wouldn't be maintaining a romantic relationship with Yanghye.


The sadness of being without a job becomes attenuated when Manhee befriends Claire (Isabelle Huppert), a full-time Parisienne teacher and part-time photographer who is in Cannes for the first. She meets director Wansoo by chance, becoming a bit shocked by how much he drinks, and through her magical camera, encourages Manhee to figure out what she wasn’t capable to understand.

Fluctuating with slight temporal shifts, the narrative feels manifestly comfortable while the dialogues don’t measure up to other Sang-soo works, but feel naturally engaging nonetheless. Only some of the scenarios felt a bit too composed.

This is the second time that celebrated French actress Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher; Elle) works with Sang-soo, following their auspicious collaboration in 2012 with In Our Country. In turn, Min-hee (The Handmaiden), after the polemic news regarding her real-life affair with the director, continues his muse, having participated in all his works since 2015.

Claire’s Camera is not among the director’s best efforts and yet, has the power to captivate us with its lightness, effortless spontaneity, and instinctive charm.


The Wild Pear Tree (2018)


Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Country: Turkey

Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan is revered for his immersive tales, sharp topical observation, critical voice, and insightful approach. He was the mastermind behind the gems Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011) and Winter Sleep (2014). His new drama, The Wild Pear Tree, is not as strong as its predecessors, but effectively merges family complication and unemployment crisis in modern Turkey. It can also be pointed as a bitter reflection on loneliness and social/cultural alienation in an undermined society that offers no solutions for the youngsters.

Working under Ceylan's guidance for the first time, Dogu Demirkol is Sinan Karasu, a smart post-graduated man who aspires to be a writer. He returns to the rural village where he was born with the hopes of finding a job, a frustrating effort, and also trying to be financed by the local mayor to launch a book of personal memories. He finds nothing but unhappiness and disappointment everywhere, feelings that extend from family members to closest friends.

His father, Idris (Murat Cemcir), was a respected teacher before turning into an inveterate gambler who dreams about transforming the arid land where he lives into a green oasis. He just needs to dig a well and find water, a task he puts considerable time and effort into. Slowly, he destroys the household with debts and affliction, losing the trust of his wife, Asunan (Bennu Yildirimlar), who, helpless, confides her worries to her son.


Besides the family-centered bickering, the young man bumps into the beautiful Hatice (Hazar Ergüçlü), a downhearted childhood friend who gave up school and is about to get married in the interest of financial stability. But there are more encounters and long conversations, all of them tolerantly philosophical in tone. The one about art and preconception involves Suleyman (Serkan Keskin), an established writer who overreacts to Sinan's sarcasm. The one related to religion is pretty complex and puts him face to face with the tricky Imam Veysel (co-writer Akin Aksu) and his submissive yet purer apprentice Imam Nazmi (Öner Erkan). Not to mention the prepotent Ilhami (Kubilay Tunçer), a successful businessman who never studied, but reveals prejudice for the ones who did. Sooner than later, Sinan concludes that he has to cover all the expenses related to the book. He is a resolute man, even when expectation vanishes and disillusion sticks around. But by what means?

The film’s narrative arc demands attentiveness. It’s dense and talky, with a lot to absorb and almost no time to reflect. Yet, the deep meaning of the words blended with the pure, hyper-realistic filmmaking style of Ceylan, makes it a very rich experience. Finding a beautiful lyricism in its own desolation, the film dives into estrangement, existentialism, morality, and the passage of time with all the painful changes that might come with it.


Dede (2018)


Directed by Mariam Khatchvani
Country: Georgia

Mariam Khatchvani’s feature debut, Dede, is an expansion of her 2013 short film Dinola. The story takes place in 1992 Georgia, in a remote mountainous Caucasian region, Svaneti, where the unalterable, long-established tradition consent men to prevail, relegating women to housework and silence. Not happy with this procedure, Dina (Natia Vibliani) refuses to marry David (Nukri Khachvani), who just returned from the war zone in the company of his good comrade Gegi (George Babluani). The latter is the man Dina fell in love with. Besides hurt in the feelings, David is also ashamed as the wedding is cancelled and he fears to become the laugh of the village.

Following a tragic incident, Dina and Gegi eventually run away to his village,  eloping and having a son. However, the happiness doesn’t last long since Gegi is killed and her children taken away by her strict father, who, according to the unwritten laws, has the right to claim the child. Dressed in black for an indefinite mourning period, Dina earns the reputation of a black widow. They say she killed two men already, but apart from the gossip or what the other villagers may think, Girshel (Girchel Chelidze) is decided to take her as a wife, once again using the male-centric power at his disposal. At least he is a good man and really loves her. What can he do to make her love him too?


Impeccably photographed by Konstantin Esadze, the film impels us to ponder about how women are still mistreated in some regions, hampered from having an active role in any intellectual or creative affairs. It brings to view other pertinent aspects such as the absence of school or the belief in ancient rituals to heal, refusing medicine.

Inspired by her grandmother’s story, Khatchvani really dug into her roots, releasing a very personal, strongly feminist, and deeply felt film. The director addresses vital topics with a competent execution, which only failed in creating a bit more dramatic frisson in some essential parts of the story. I would say that, in this case and due to the power of the message, the whole is slightly more engrossing than the individual sections of the film.


The House That Jack Built (2018)


Directed by Lars Von Trier
Country: Denmark / other

In The House That Jack Built, Lars Von Trier’s subversive artistic qualities remain undiminished, even when he whimsically blurs the picture with a final chapter whose ludicrous irony and misrepresentation prevented the film to ascend to higher levels.

Set in Washington in the 70s and 80s, the story spans 12 years and depicts five random incidents that marked the long serial killing life of Jack (Matt Dillon), a wealthy engineer and a psychopath with severe OCD, who got famous as Mr. Sophistication. The nickname was earned at the expense of inventive atrocities inflicted to his victims, whom he photographed stylishly to fill the media’s first pages. In truth, this man is an art lover who turns his crimes into repulsive art forms. He possesses a salient narcissism that becomes uncontrollable whenever he feels humiliated. David Bowie’s “Fame” often accompanies the post-crime scenes in a way to intensify his sense of swaggering accomplishment.

The morbid occurrences are sequenced with occasional flashbacks showing Jack’s propensity for evil as a child, as well as voice-over conversations with Verge (Bruno Ganz), an imaginary character who appears by the end to show him to the gates of the hell where he belongs.


Although fun-filled, the incidents are uneven and decrease in force with time. The first of them, featuring the irresistible Uma Thurman, is the one that stays longer in the memory.

Dark humor and stinging sarcasm are added in a tale that can be hilarious one minute and gruesome the minute after. You'll need a strong stomach to digest the shocking secrets Jack has to unveil, a disturbing character whose obsession and impulsiveness will destroy him at some point.

While Matt Dillon is insanely convincing in his performance, Von Trier obtains an extravagant blend of horror and humor from the monstrosity of his character.


The Favourite (2018)


Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Country: UK / USA / Ireland

Magnificently directed by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth; The Lobster; The Killing of a Sacred Deer), The Favourite is a sumptuous historical comedy-drama and feminist extravaganza. It narrates the unmeasurable thirst for power of two cousins, Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), who engage in a battle with each other to earn the favoritism of the whimsical Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) of Great Britain in the early 18th century.

When Abigail, a former aristocrat turned servant, arrives at the royal house, she finds her duchess cousin Sarah enjoying all the authority bestowed by the queen, who, besides insecure and unstable in regard to the country’s affairs - England is at war with France - is also suffering from both physical and psychological illnesses. After finding out that Sarah and the queen maintain a secret affair, Abigail sets a strategy to conquer the power and get rid of her cousin, whose absence related to important war deliberations only expedites her plan. Jealousy and hatred play big in a film where men are relegated to a second plan.


Broadening his vision and maturing his signature style, Lanthimos skillfully weaves the threads of a story that never stops to amuse us in a sort of mundanity-meets-elegance. The pair of writers, Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis, thoughtfully crafted a story whose wittiness, cynicism, and madness helped to transform The Favourite in one of the most impressive works of 2018.

Shot with sophistication, this unconventional period film is a triumph in many ways. It showcases an off-kilter sense of humor and a special conglomeration of carnality, darkness, fragility, and opulence. The superlative performances from the ensemble cast set this venomous female triangle on fire. If Stone and Weisz are extremely qualified in their roles, Colman is a marvel, playing the childish, solitary queen with so much artfulness and brilliance.

The production values are absolutely formidable, including the set and custom designs, the convenient soundtrack with Baroque, Romantic, and contemporary classical music, and the stunning cinematography by Robbie Ryan (I, Daniel Blake; Fish Tank). Furthermore, I’m glad that the bold, inimitable Lanthimos didn’t lose the power to shock and captivate at the same time, a staple in his filmography.


Private Life (2018)


Directed by Tamara Jenkins
Country: USA

I struggled with mixed feelings after watching Private Life, Tamara Jenkins’ third feature (Slums of Beverly Hills; The Savages) about a middle-aged married couple in a desperate quest for a child. When regular fertility treatments don’t seem to be a solution for their problem, Richard (Paul Giamatti), 47, and owner of a theater company, and Rachel Grimes (Kathryn Hahn), a respected playwright, turn their focus to one last possible solution before going for adoption: In Vitro Fertilization.

After the initial reluctance, the procedure becomes a vital factor to refine the meaning of their marriage and goal as a family, but for this, they need an egg donor. As a consequence of frustrating online scams, their choice couldn’t fall on someone more problematic than Sadie (Kayli Carter), their young niece who is going through an emotional crisis. How will her parents, Cynthia (Molly Shannon) and Charlie (John Carroll Lynch), react to the idea?


Even granting that the smart script was matched by assuring performances, the repetition of the idea and static tone made me moderately disinterested as I got more and more disentangled from the characters’ obsession. There’s a vein of seriousness and poignancy, which Jenkins attempts to balance with awkwardly comedic moves. She also portrays the characters’ complexities with no exaggeration and that becomes the reason why the film wobbles but doesn’t disintegrate.

It’s a grown-up, patient look at infertility that, even enchanting here and there, misses that little spark that leads to the heart.


Shadow (2018)


Directed by Zhang Yimou
Country: China / Hong Kong

Shadow signals the powerful return of Chinese director Zhang Yimou to the wuxia epics, whose fanciful conception he dominates from top to bottom. The veteran filmmaker, whose extensive filmography includes masterpieces such as Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and To Live (1994), collaborated with Wei Li in the script of this fabulous tale set during the Three Kingdom era.

The selfish, presumptuous, and short-tempered King of Pei (Zheng Kai) is worried about the advancements of General Yang (Hu Jun), an unbeatable warrior who already took the neighbor city of Jingzhou. For his defense, the king relies on the high-ranked Commander Yu (Deng Chao), a quick-witted spearman whose true identity is Jing. Essentially, the plebeian Jing is the ‘shadow’ of the real Yu, meaning that he has been trained in an intensive way to become his double since he was rescued from the streets 20 years before.

Jing is confident that he can beat General Yang in a duel. However, the gutless King opts for a different strategy, offering his sister (Guan Xiaotong) in marriage. The future husband would be Yang’s insolent son, Ping (Leo Wu), who insults the princess by proposing an alternative solution: to take her as a concubine.


Jing is demoted of his duties for disobeying the king’s orders, and still, he doesn’t give up the idea of duelling Yang. Yu keeps on training him and fortuitously finds the pathway to victory through a smart tactic suggested by his wife, Madam (Sun Li).

Entailing dramatic tension, especially with the forbidden love between Jing and Madam, the film then segues into spectacular battles, complemented by terrific musical moments and a broad sense of uncertainty.

The physical confrontations take the shape of balletic dances, meticulously choreographed with whirlingly lethal umbrellas in the mix. Visually, it never ceases to dazzle our eyes, either through the quasi-monochromatic canvases displaying misty Chinese landscapes or the ingenious costume design. Shadow is a sumptuous sensory feast filled with spectacle, surprise, and madness.


Everybody Knows (2018)

Directed by Asghar Farhadi
Country: Spain / France / Italy

The work of some distinguished directors loses the charm and often the focus when they operate in a different cultural milieu. This syndrome seems to have caught Iranian master Asghar Farhadi, who gave us gems like About Elly (2009), A Separation (2011), and The Salesman (2016). Sad to say he stains his filmography with Nobody Knows, a fictional thriller set in Spain that unfolds monotonously and only sporadically piques our interest. Orienting a luxurious cast that includes Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Ricardo Darin, Farhadi failed to provide startles and thrills, relying solely on the dramatic side of things to impress. But even that factor was disastrous as he tiresomely attempts to suggest connections between the past and the present.

The film starts by capturing some newspaper clippings that reveal the disappearance of a little girl named Carmen. When Laura (Cruz) arrives at her small, picturesque hometown with their three children to attend her sister’s wedding, she couldn’t imagine she had been already chosen as an indirect target for something similar. In recent years, she has been living in Buenos Aires, where her architect husband, Alejandro (Darin), remained due to work commitments.


The wedding’s festivities suddenly turn into a river of tears when Laura’s teen daughter, Irene (Carla Campra), disappears mysteriously. She had been kidnapped while resting in her room and the ransom is 30 thousand euros. Obviously, there was a mole at the party and the kidnappers can be either family or friends. Jorge (José Ángel Egido ), a retired policeman who acts as he knows all the answers, studies possible motives and tries to find a logic for the puzzle.

All the same, the only one with the financial means to resolve the imbroglio is Paco (Bardem), Laura’s former lover, who is well established as a local vineyard owner. Intriguingly, Paco’s wife, Bea (Bárbara Lennie), receives the same warnings from the kidnappers. Secrets are unveiled slowly and unsavorily, while the drama becomes a disorganized spiral of affective manipulations.

Farhadi keeps on working family themes, but with a voice that lacks articulation. He brings a bit of Almodovar during the colorful party and the dramatic flair of Susanne Bier, but everything is inconsistently pasted with a melodramatic television air. There’s little to differentiate this film from other generic drama-thrillers out there, and even if the images shine bright, they were not enough to make Everybody Knows glittering like gold. To tell the truth, this was more of a pale experience that puts Farhadi under pressure for his next move.


The Family (2018)


Directed by Gustavo Rondon Cordova
Country: Venezuela

Embracing a gritty social realism, The Family is the most interesting drama coming from Venezuela since Bad Hair (2014). First-time director Gustavo Rondon Cordova takes an attentive look at a shattered South American country, currently facing political turmoil, criminality, hunger, and despair. Centered on father and son, this is a story of guilt, repent, and sacrifice. Their dilapidated lives need a radical change so they can find a path to a more hopeful future.

12-year-old Pedro (newcomer Reggie Reyes) belongs to that group of people who don't take insults lying down. He lives in a tough neighborhood of Caracas and spends most of the day in the company of his neighbor and best friend Jonny, barely seeing his single father, Andres (Giovanni García), a hardworking man who returns home only to sleep a few hours. Even though money is around, food is not abundant. An adversity they have to pull through on a daily basis.

One day, Pedro and Jonny got in a fight with a kid from the slums who had approached them with a gun to steal their cellphones. In an impulse of self-defense, Pedro slashes the kid’s neck with a piece of glass. Regardless if the boy lived or died, now their lives are in great danger. Aware of this fact, Andres, even running from job to job, tries the best he can to protect his only son. In turn, Pedro sees his progenitor as a weak man and keeps acting wild and disrespectful. The solution is to leave the block and then try to obtain more information from a safe place while letting things calm down.

Educational insufficiency and the milieu where you grow up represent crucial factors in the story, but also the social unevenness and corruption that hamper the country’s development. Andres might have felt embarrassed in front of his son after getting caught stealing liquor bottles from a fancy party where he was working as a waiter. However, it was from that moment on that Pedro gains some more respect, realizing how equally painful was his father’s reality.

The young Reyes stands out and the production values are strong, with a well-deserved special mention for the cinematography of Luis Armando Arteaga (Ixcanul; The Heiresses).


Happy As Lazzaro (2018)


Directed by Alice Rohrwacher
Country: Italy

Alice Rohrwacher keeps up the remarkable directorial career initiated in 2011 with Corpo Celeste and followed by The Wonders in 2014. Communicating with a superbly controlled cinematic language, the Italian director conjures up a surreal folktale in her third feature, Happy As Lazzaro, in which tradition and contemporaneity splice together with tribulation and grief.

Written in a somewhat prophetic way and told with a Visconti-like conviction, the film depicts the methodical life and daily struggles of the few naive sharecroppers that inhabit Inviolata, a mountainous off-the-beaten-track village. Among the youngest natives are Lazzaro (Adriano Tardiolo) and Antonia (director’s sister Alba Rohrwacher). The former, a pure-hearted young man who never complains about anything, is constantly solicited by those who need help, while the latter was selected to be the servant of the Marquise Alfonsina de Luna (Nicoletta Braschi), queen of cigarettes and wealthy proprietor of the local estate.

Shamefully, the Marquise exploits the villagers with the help of Nicola (Natalino Balasso), a tricky trader, who devours the bread and wine of the humble locals without giving them a cent in exchange. If anyone gets pretty bored around there, that person is Tancredi (Luca Chikovani), the Marquise’s rebellious son, who calls his mother a torturer. He forges an unlikely friendship with Lazzaro at the same time that simulates his own kidnapping.


Leaving the village is considered disrespect to the family and requires the Marquise's consent, but when Lazzaro wakes up from a long sleep, which epitomizes his own death, he finds no one but two burglars in the Marquise’s now decrepit house. One of the men is Pippo, Antonia’s son, but he is grown up and unrecognizable. Lazzaro, who didn’t age during all the years that have passed, reconnects with his family again in an unexplored city, where they struggle to survive. Either considered a ghost or a saint, Lazzaro searches for an adult Tancredi (Tommaso Ragno) and eventually finds him at the time he was trying to fraudulently sell Inviolata, now a property of the bank. Both got very happy with the reconnection, but modern society is a tough ‘place’ to live. Unfitted and misunderstood, our placid young star shed tears, suffering with his new reality.

Reinforced by the story of the saint and the wolf, the film counterpoints subjugation and freedom, in a thoughtful coupling between the mundane and the fantastic. Rohrwacher’s ability to acknowledge pain without being depressing is an asset, and her work is nothing less than a seductive elegy that overflows with imagination and pulsating heart. Despite the idyllic nature of great part of the story, the pace was never affected. In fact, it was often used to lure and hypnotize in conjunction with the powerful images.

It was curious to observe that, even being exploited, the hard-working peasants were so much happier in the countryside, where the economic factors were never the main reasons to exist. Not eschewing subtly wry humor, this depiction of irreparable loss, is an eye-opener for the strange direction the world is taking these days. Rohrwacher’s work is brilliant and very much recommended.