Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah – Black (2015)

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A 15-year-old girl in a black gang in Brussels must choose between loyalty and love when she falls for a Moroccan boy from a rival gang. The city of Brussels, plagued by high rates of youth unemployment, is home to nearly forty street gangs, and the number of young people drawn into the city’s gang culture increases each year. It’s in this criminal milieu that directing duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah set Black, a pulse-pounding contemporary take on a Shakespearean tragedy. Worlds collide when Mavela (Martha Canga Antonio), a teenage girl with ties to Brussels’ Black Bronx gang, meets Marwan (Aboubakr Bensaihi), a member of a rival Moroccan gang, at a police station. Keenly aware of the consequences of getting involved with someone from another gang, they at first resist their attraction to one another, but they can only resist for so long. Continue reading

François Ozon – Frantz (2016)

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Screwball comedy master Ernst Lubitsch took a rare stab at straight drama with 1932’s “Broken Lullaby,” the tense story of a soldier who attempts to make amends with the family of a man he killed in World War I. Preeminent French director François Ozon also wanders into unconventional territory with “Frantz,” his astonishingly beautiful and inquisitive remake of Lubitsch’s film, using it as a springboard for a profound look at alienation and grief. Continue reading

Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne – La fille inconnue AKA The Unknown Girl (2016)

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In Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s very best films, you know exactly what you’re getting — until the quiet dramatic pivot that gently ensures you don’t. In “The Unknown Girl,” only the first half of that assessment is true, though what we get is largely exemplary: a simple but urgent objective threaded with needling observations of social imbalance, a camera that gazes with steady intent into story-bearing faces, and an especially riveting example of one in their gifted, toughly tranquil leading lady Adèle Haenel. What’s missing, however, from this stoically humane procedural tale of a guilt-racked GP investigating a nameless passer-by’s passing, is any great sense of narrative or emotional surprise: It’s a film that skilfully makes us feel precisely what we expect to feel from moment to moment, up to and including the long-forestalled waterworks. Though it will receive the broad distribution practically guaranteed the Belgian brothers’ work these days, the film is unlikely to prove one of their sensations — more the healthy arthouse equivalent of a biennial checkup. Continue reading

Frédéric Choffat & Julie Gilbert – Mangrove (2011)

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A young woman travels with her child to a remote coast on the Pacific in southern Mexico where she grew up. She had lived with her father in a house on the beach until her beloved, a young fisherman from the neighbouring village died a brutal death, causing her to flee. Years later she returns to make peace with the ghosts of the past. Continue reading

Lav Diaz – Elehiya sa dumalaw mula sa himagsikan AKA Elegy to the Visitor from the Revolution (2011)

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Like Prologue to the Great Desparecido, Elegy finds Diaz looking back to the Filipino Revolution of the last years of the 19th century. Here, he imagines a woman from that era visiting the Philippines of the present-day. Around her time-travel, Diaz weaves a three stories with characters drawn from his usual stock: a prostitute, a musician and three petty criminals. As so often in Diaz’s recent work, Elegy looks back to the Revolution to measure the vast distance between the hopes of that defeated movement and the poverty, desperation and corruption (both political and spiritual) of the Philippines today Continue reading