Film Reviews by DF

Welcome to DF's film reviews page. DF has written 35 reviews and rated 124 films.

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The Chambermaid

The hidden ones

(Edit) 03/06/2021

One expects that most of us will take ‘hotels’ for granted; we enter, we sleep and we leave. If we are not happy about what we paid for - we post reviews. After viewing this movie you might reflect a little bit when you next book into a hotel. The movie portrays the daily routine of the workers behind the scenes in a huge modern hotel and in particular a chambermaid named Eve who is a self effacing modest young woman trying to do the best for herself and her child. She works hard in the hope that she will attain her ‘dream’ to be promoted to work on the 42nd floor, the ultimate prize for a chambermaid. Eve, played so well by Gabriela Cartol, is exploited, because of her almost naive good nature, by guests and also by her more worldly wise co-workers. She babysits for a boorish posh guest with, ultimately, no thanks. Other guests hardly recognise her presence and  her co-workers see her as a mark for jokes or for their sideline efforts in ‘marketing’. The director Lila Avilés relentlessly shows the cold machinelike workings of the hotel but never letting Eve absent from the camera lens as she is remotely ordered about by her 'boss' using a walkie-talkie. Yet in spite of everything, Eve has hopes; promotion, acquiring a red dress and she even indulges in  a 'distanced' relationship with a window cleaner which is really full of pathos. Will her hopes come true and will she be rewarded for her tireless work? Will Eve find Eve? Avilés works the story very cleverly to a denouement in the very last seconds of the movie.  An excellent movie showing the grind of  ‘hospitality’ workers; an exploited alienated underclass unrecognised and hidden.

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Blackboards

Watch this movie

(Edit) 01/05/2021

This is an extraordinary movie and although made in 2000 it is still very much relevant; reminding us of the hopelessness and human tragedy of war. the movie follows two itinerant teachers across the beautiful but seemingly inhospitable mountains somewhere on the borders between Iran and Iraq. The teachers’ mission, whilst carrying blackboards on their backs, seems to be one of tragic/comic pathos. They hope to find pupils in villages and ask only pittances or some food for their efforts. The teachers eventually join two separate groups crossing the mountains; one, a group of children employed as contraband ‘mules’ and the other, a band of elderly men trying to return to their homelands. To me, the actual physical making of this movie seems remarkable and no less remarkable is the complete genuine commitment of the cast. The sole female part in the movie, Halaleh, is played movingly by Behnay Jafari (3 Faces). This movie is a powerful reminder of the absolute human tragedy of war and the unbearable hardships caused to ordinary people. There are, nevertheless, flickers of love and hope in the movie; an old sick man is selflessly helped by his companions, a young boy learns to spell his own name and Haleleh frantically at all costs protects her child. She says; “My heart is like a train. At every station, someone gets on or off. But there is someone who never gets off. My son.”

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Captain Fantastic

Cringe moments......

(Edit) 01/05/2021

Another fairly average product of the American ‘family’ road movie genre. A family living off-grid in the backwoods are under the care of their father whose character is a bizarre mix of Rambo and a guitar strumming hippy. The family, a mixture of boys and girls; all ages, have to leave their animal skinning antics to head off for the funeral of their ‘missing’ mother. Melodrama ensues as the family have to face the reality of the other America; junk food, sassy girls and the very conservative family of Dad’s in-laws who really don’t like his style of child rearing. One example of Dad’s style is to hand out presents of enormous deadly hunting knives to all the kids during a sort of alternative pseudo Christmas dedicated to Noam Chomsky (not too sure how N.C. regarded being tagged to this movie!). There are some similarities to other movies of this type; Nation Lampoon’s Vacation and Little Miss Sunshine, although they are lighter in tone (I do wonder about the American road movie nonchalance when dealing with corpses. I would imagine that spontaneously absconding with, and transporting a corpse in the family wagon would, in most countries, see one up in Court). Anyway, to lighten things up and offering cringe moments (imho), there is some very syrupy singing by the family.  

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Incendies

Consequences of war

(Edit) 04/03/2021

This is a good movie but its subject matter is disturbing. The story is essentially the unravelling of a woman’s history during a period of horrific internecine civil war in Lebanon. Nawal, the mother, is recently deceased after living in Canada with her twin children Jeanne and Simon, now adults.  In her will Nawal tasks the twins with tracing their father and brother who have been long lost back in Lebanon. Although I don’t usually like ‘flashbacks’, the director Villeneuve handles them well, treading together the mother’s past and the twin’s quest. Villeneuve’s movie is broad reaching in that it displays the absolute horror of war and the the dreadful consequences that befall women and children in war. There is a slow, steady build up of unease as the movie unfolds and there is an inevitability to the shocking outcome.  I understand that the story was originally staged as a play and I can understand that, in that format, it would be likened to ‘greek tragedy’; a family traumatised beyond imagination. A question in my mind (coming outside the movie) is why did the mother want the twins to undertake the search, knowing what would be revealed?

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Pain and Glory

Disappointing and a little ridiculous

(Edit) 25/01/2021

I do like Almodovar’s movies, but i will qualify this further down. I know that Pain and Glory has garnered the usual ‘rave’ reviews for an Almodovar movie, but, for me, it is disappointing and a little ridiculous. There are the usual Almodovar trademarks; the colours, medical matters, mother, and, of course, Penelope Cruz. It’s a bit obvious that there is probably a lot of Almodovar in the main character ‘Salvador Mallo’ (is there an anagram there?), played competently by Banderas, but this leads to a very well trod storyline; this time, a movie director losing his ‘mojo’ and doing a lot of reflecting. Salvador's last movie was many years ago but there is a plan by some institute or other to celebrate the movie. Salvador is contacted by an old friend and this leads to a reunion between him and Alberto, the actor who starred in the movie; they had fallen out and not been in contact for years. They patch things up mostly through the use of ‘chasing the dragon’. Alberto performs a one man show of something that Salvador has written about a ‘lost love’. and in an Almodovar style comedic scene both of them ‘sort of’ appear at the celebration event for the movie. Underlying Salvador, however, is his health and his angst about mother and his long lost lover, who reemerges towards the end for a ‘sweet’, but not re-established, reunion. I found that the self-indulgence of the movie caused me to sharpen my criticism and even become a little sarcastic about it. Some of the scenes I found to be ridiculous; the women washing the clothes had shades of Hollywood sugar. The characters Salvador and Alberto are so stereotypically lost glory celeb types; dressed in dated catalogue clothes and living in dated arty apartments (Alberto has the looks of some sort of retro cruise ship entertainer). Perhaps Almodovar intends all of this as irony? In one wholly unconvincing scene Salvador goes into the ‘hood’ to buy drugs from, of course, a black man. Such scenes and characterisations in my opinion drag the movie’s credibility down. At the beginning of the review I said that I like Almodovar’s movies, but, over time and in retrospect, it is sometimes the case that one changes how one rates movies and books as new perspectives evolve; maybe I have reached the stage where, with Pain and Glory, I can say now that I ‘used’ to like Almodovar’s movies.

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Vitalina Varela

I am not a director....

(Edit) Updated 30/12/2020

Undoubtedly Vitalina Varela rates 5 stars but for me there is a paradox; visually the movie is beautiful but i do think that the director, Pedro Costa, somehow overplayed his hand and failed his characters leaving them hidden in a virtual dark hopelessness. For the viewer it is difficult and discomforting to limagine the lives being portrayed; their misery seems complete, their destiny sealed. We know of the desperate situation of exploited migrant workers and this movie pulls no punches in its depiction, but the only message I got was despair (maybe the intention of the director ?) There is some ‘affirmation’ in the the marvellously self-portrayed Vitalina; a woman, in spite of her hardships, determined to live -  and to see the roof fixed. The fragile communality of the barrio people is all they have in life and death and their local Catholic priest is disintegrating because of remorse over previous failures. The movie’s cinematography is outstanding; fixed camera scenes with lighting reminiscent of Flemish old masters; all beautiful and to that extent rating the film 5 stars, but beyond that, I think the director fails because he has trapped his characters hidden in a sort of paradoxical beautiful obscurity. I have a feeling that the depiction of the characters would have fared better with less fussy black and white camera work but then again I am not a director!

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Camino Skies

Reservations about such documentaries

(Edit) 19/11/2020

The documentary follows a group of six persons undertaking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage and attempts to show in a very personal way some of the reasons why anyone would undertake such an ordeal. The filming shows quite realistically the tough physical trial of the camino along with the personal anguish that members of this particular group were trying to come to grips with. Nevertheless, I do have reservations about such documentaries. This particular one appears to have no specific input from the directors other than to ‘listen in’ to the conversations between the group members some of whom are going through severe trauma due to grief. It seems to be a random group of strangers but I did learn from a youtube interview with the directors that that they were actually selected, in Australia and NZ, as likely ‘characters’ for the documentary project. I have a feeling that such documentaries will always have an impact on the participants and how the react and ‘act’ because of the presence of the camera and this gives rise to ethical questions and as to what are the responsibilities of the documentary producers with regard to unintended consequences later on. Were the directors completely ‘hands off’ in what was going on? Since the Hollywood-esque drama The Way, there has been a lot more interest in the Camino de Santiago resulting in quite a few documentaries. I walked the camino in 2013 and came across four separate camera crews at work along the way; in fact one camera crew were refused access to a pilgrim hostal (albergue) because they were filming some sort of TV personality on a self promotional stunt. To a viewer without any knowledge of the Camino, its history and what it is about, Camino Skies might seem strange; why on earth are these people slogging their way through mud for miles on end in a strange land whilst indulging in self conscious camaraderie and lots of hugging? To undertake the Camino de Santiago is undoubtedly a unique experience; pilgrimage is an ideal opportunity for self reflection and renewal and, indeed, friendship. Some may find the documentary ‘uplifting’, I did however find this one a bit of a slog and also feeling a little uncomfortable about this type of voyeuristic documentary production.

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Inversion

A foggy metaphor

(Edit) 01/11/2020

A very straightforward movie drama well acted and directed.  The story revolves around Niloofar (Sahar Dowlatshahi) an independent woman with her own business who suddenly finds herself the victim of her rather horrible conniving family.  Because she is 'unattached' in the family's eyes that is unmarried, she is designated as the one to look after her ailing mother and face exile away from Tehran and to forfeit her business.  The reason for the mother's sickness is the pervasive smog that envelops Tehran; and this is a metaphor for the smothering gender and cultural oppression that Niloofar has to endure.  Nevertheless Niloofar tries to struggle back against the family whilst also dealing with a personal relationship involving an old boyfriend.  There are no fancy set pieces or arty camerawork in the movie; it is shot more or less in a soap-opera fashion with lots of face to face drama (and mobile phones).  The direction and acting however rise above soap-opera.  The few Iranian movies that I have seen have all been worthwhile and interesting, especially in providing glimpses of everyday life in Iran, for example; only men serving in women's clothes shops. 

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3 Faces

Alive or dead? Let's find out....

(Edit) 27/07/2020

Two movie celebrities Jafar Panahi and Behnaz Jafari, playing themselves in an unusual movie twist, make a journey to a village in a search for a young woman who had been messaging Jafari (that is, in the movie!) for assistance to escape her oppressive family so that she can pursue her studies. As a final ploy to gain Jafari's attention, the young woman stages her own video suicide and sends it to Jafari's friend Panahi.   Jafari is distraught and together with Pahani they both set off for the very isolated village to find out what is going on.  The village is indeed very culturally traditional and the people there have obviously no time for a young woman who might think of going to college; gender roles are well defined. Panahi makes some quirky and humorous observations of village life; for example, the village elders have a complicated car horn morse code system for regulating traffic on the narrow track up to the village, because they can't be bothered to allow improvements to the road, thereby compounding their isolation. Generally however the villagers are friendly to the two 'celebrities in a tradition bound way and, with some running around, Jafari attempts to track down the young woman and whether or not she is dead.  At first, all does not go well as Jafari throws a bit of a fit thinking that she may, after all, have been scammed.  The gender oppression of women in the village is cruel and obvious; there is an unseen character, an artist and ex actress who is ostracised by the villagers because she is what they call, in a dismissive way, an 'entertainer'.  The gender oppressiveness in the village is exposed but Panahi reflects on himself by using a little mischievous irony in a scene where he is 'hen-pecked' on the phone by his mother.  The cosmopolitan Jafari does not escape oppression either as she is expected to perform her celebrity role incessantly at work and in life.  Oppression is the theme.  Overall a movie well worth watching, quirky and thought provoking but also an insight into Iranian life and the subtlety of its excellent and brave moviemakers.

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Sunset

What one looks for

(Edit) 07/07/2020

This movie has taken some harsh criticism, but perhaps as with many movies one find what one looks for; if it's not 'your' movie, then it will be dismissed.  I liked this movie and I found it absorbing and intriguing.  As a period movie, its production was excellent, costume, set piece scenes all very beautiful together with some rather gothic and dark set pieces. Lili Jakab plays the central character Irisz with stoic conviction.  For me, what I found absorbing was the time and place of the movie's setting; Budapest on the eve of WW1 and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire.  It seems to me that, in the movie, the director Nemes is working to a background of violent tumult and social upheaval and revolution.  The central character Irisz, who comes to Budapest in search of work in a posh hat shop previously owned by her parents, appears as a character providing a narrative thread to a formulized story (a search) set within a society steeped in bourgeois corruption and obsequiousness to a dying and decadent ruling aristocracy.  The story of Irisz's quest to find her supposedly unknown brother takes her into dark places and meeting with dubious (usually bearded characters) who appear to belong to an anarchic revolutionary movement, led by her brother. Nobody wants to talk of the brother; these revolutionaries are not averse to assassination and hat shop destruction. Irisz is warned several times it would be best to leave town. Irisz's meeting with her brother does not end well.  To me, her journey to meet her brother (by river), and subsequent events have shades of a Joseph Conrad novel and perhaps a nod towards Coppolla's Apocalypse Now.  Near the end of the movie Irisz ironically transmogrifies into her brother (this might be a little far fetched).  Irisz does appear again after the movie has apparently ended, in one of the most harrowing and extraordinary scenes that I have ever seen in a movie. 

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An Autumn Tale

A lovely old town, a Renault 4 and vineyards

(Edit) 02/02/2020

This is a 'romantic-comedy’; nothing more and nothing less. It is very french and, perhaps because of its year, the stereotypes do stand out. There is the idyllic sunny french countryside, a lovely old town, a Renault 4 and vineyards. The characters, as well, fit the stereotype bill. The two main characters are fairly successful women with grown up families; one a wine maker and the other owns a bookshop. Isabelle, played very nicely by Marie Riviere, initiates a scheme to source a husband for her widowed friend Magali (Beatrice Romand) involving using the newspaper personal ads section. At the same time the 'very liberated' girlfriend of Magali’s son is plotting to match her erstwhile lover (yes, another french movie standard, a lecturer-student relationship) with Magali.  A wedding sets the scene for Magali to meet her would be suitors and various twists and turns throw Magali into a bit of a tizz. The newspaper ad candidate is quite a nice guy and the lecturer… well, a bit of a lecher. So, who might steal Magali’s heart?? I suppose in its day Autumn Tale may have seemed smart and cool but nowadays it is just about pleasantly entertaining and I once did own a Renault 4. By the way, the french language dialogue is very accessible and might be useful if you happen to be learning the language.

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The Heiresses

Exploring relationships

(Edit) 23/01/2020

An excellent and very profound movie exploring relationships in the seemingly unchanging world of a bourgeois society of older women in in the Paraguayan city of Asuncion.  But, for the two main characters, Chela and Chiquita, things are changing.  Times are hard and they have resorted to selling off the silver and furniture of their once opulent home.  For Chela, the partnership has started to fade and due to some sort of shady financial dealings Chiquita ends up in prison (a rather colourful place!).  Chela, who is wonderfully played by Ana Brun, drifts into a sort of ad hoc role of driver for her elderly card playing neighbours.  These outings for Chela liberate her from her previously closeted existence and she starts tentatively to seek a relationship with a younger woman, Angy.  Angy is without inhibitions in her lifestyle, street smart, and she soon realises what Chela might desire. Chela is emerging from a sheltered repressed existence; how will she respond?

Throughout the movie there are vignettes of this strange segment of society in Asuncion; for example, Chela and Chiquita, although on their uppers, still employ a 'maid' seemingly part of the traditional 'old ways' of class division.

A good movie, sombre but well worth watching. 

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Argentina

Zamba!

(Edit) 26/09/2019

Excellent movie.  Not what I expected but really enjoyable with music ranging from traditional folk to jazz ( fantastic performance from guitarist Luis Salinas).  Some mesmerizing dancing from a talented ensemble.  If you are interested in Argentina and its music old and new, I recommend this movie.   

1 out of 1 members found this review helpful.

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Guernica

ham-fisted romantic storyline

(Edit) 03/05/2018

I found this movie disappointing. The bombing of Guernica was a horrible and tragic episode during the Spanish Civil War and something worthy of a serious and sensitive recounting of events. The movie strings in a ham-fisted romantic storyline pandering perhaps to a broad audience base. The factual basis of the main characters actions I find dubious; a drunken American reporter? Yes, there were a few of them in Spain during the war. I reckon that the characters in the movie are drawn from the real-life reporters such as Hemingway, Capa and Taro et al (well described in the book Hotel Florida). The romantic element of the movie between 'Henry' and 'Teresa' is woeful and the photographer 'Marta' obviously based on Taro is a joke. As for the depiction of the propoganda/censorship offices; for a more accurate description of how they operated, Hotel Florida has a good insight. Although the director is Basque, I have a feeling his handling of the movie was compromised by the producers.

2 out of 2 members found this review helpful.

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Across the Waters

The synopsis of this movie fails to do it justice

(Edit) 06/12/2017

In my opinion the synopsis of this movie fails to do it justice. Cliché type comments such as 'thrilling drama', 'darkest hour' and 'hot on their heels' cheapen a movie that has more serious intent. Across the Water is a very good movie with an excellent cast (especially Danica Curcic) who do not overplay their characters in this disturbing story. World War 2 movies, or any war movies, often tend to build up 'heroes and villains' in a two dimensional way serving 'drama' and, dare I say, 'entertainment'. Across the Water sensitively portrays what happened to the Danish Jewish population when, after a period of toleration, the Nazis decided to begin persecution. The movie is not afraid to show that some Danes could either be opportunist mercenaries or Nazi collaborators. At the very end of the movie a note in the finishing titles tells us that 95% of the Danish Jewish population were successfully smuggled out of Denmark to safety. That was with the humanitarian assistance of Danish people. For me, the significance of this movie is not only the tragic story of Jewish persecution during WW2 but also bringing forward a reminder of how ethnic persecution continues to this very day right across the world. Refugees fleeing persecution face continuous suffering be it from mercenary gangsters or a politics and media which for whatever reason demonises and robs refugees of identity. The movie has some harrowing scenes; the separation of the fleeing family in the forest and the casual violence of the Nazis. The movie asks serious questions about ethnic persecution and its toleration. Across the Water is perhaps not a movie for entertainment but for me it is certainly a movie that I will remember. Highly recommended.

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