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Continental Film Night...

PETER WIX: Cinema is alive and well. The last few seasons have thrown up a very healthy number of screen gems like Jacques Audiard's Un Prophete and Michael Haneke's haunting The White Ribbon. Here are some more in this Continental Film Night summer digest... and, of course, a few rank turkeys to balance the see-saw. Note, most of the great films are independent while the crap, more often than not, has loads of money behind it. 

You, the Living (Du levande) - Roy Andersson 2007

A jewel; I'm reminded of films like Buñuel's The Phantom of Liberty or The Milky Way, which break with traditional narrative structure to reveal the farce and foibles of human nature through a sketch format that maximises cinema's voyeuristic powers; or the purest Monty Python comedy segues. But while Buñuel made interruption a style, Andersson's movie completes each of more than 50 vignettes with a Dutch master painter's intensity and punctiliousness, something the Spanish surrealist would never have had the patience for. The film's continual humour is cruel and so profound you will dare to share it only with your most intimate and intelligent buddies, unlike the Python humour in which pathos is found only by accident. I understand it took about seven years to make You, the Living. The aesthetic, mostly a kind of bleached, austere green (like that of sanitary ceramics in the 1950s) is beautifully hypnotic and suggests a bleak, unspecified Scandinavian cultural gloom. Each tableau tells the story of a loser, and often a winner who cannot be sure that the spoils of victory are anything to write home about. An ageing father is called away from the ludicrous pomp of a gala academic dinner to talk on the phone to his spoilt son, who pleads for money to get out of yet another scrape. We don't see the son, just the father reacting –

all very European cinema – and we are brilliantly informed of how resigned the old man is to an oppressive situation and one which he is knowingly guilty of having consented. I'm most taken by one of the opening sequences, when a depressed, alcoholic, leather-clad woman sits forlorn on a park bench and bemoans the fact that she and her partner do not have a motorbike. Her biker guy stands pathetically at a distance with a rather soppy dog, trying to persuade his love that life has meaning because there is a roast in the oven. Cue the ironic oompapa of a tuba band and, just like that, the woman breaks into a hilarious, Brechtian-style song, an early indication of the film's refreshingly open narrative style. It’s detail makes it one to watch over again while the true magic of this unknown director sinks in: his ability to portray the sad and the pathetic dynamics of our lives and extract not just humour from them but blooms and streams of beauty too. 10/10

Kynodontas (Dogtooth) - Giorgos Lanthimos 2009

It is significant that this extraordinary and macabre low-budget film has, at many screenings, prompted the exodus of a large part of its audience. Director Lanthimos – write this name in your head – has denied intending political or social allegory and claims it is just a strange story about a disturbed family. Both the surface details and the underlying metaphors could upset people, this is obvious. A significant part of most populations has suffered sexual abuse by parents and such scenes depicted in Dogtooth are very evocative. It does not dwell, however, on the sexual aspect of the story, but exposes, in demanding and often surreally funny scenes, the perverting psychological effects on three adolescent children of their demented parents preventing them from knowing the outside world. The kids believe that planes in the sky are toys, and that domestic cats are savage killers that make leaving the house and garden compound impossible. The privation of reality delivered upon these children is comprehensively explored and well conceived by Lanthimos. It extends to censorship of their lexicon. When one discovers the word 'cunt', for example, and asks mum what it means, she tells them cunts are large lamps. Zombies are small, yellow flowers. As you enjoy this effectively filmed and superbly acted independent Greek work, it is not easy to avoid thinking of the possible parallels it draws. Is this just an extreme metaphor about how right-wing and fanatically religious groups inculcate their young? Or are we looking here at our CCTV and media manipulated societies as huge families that limit our consciousness, deform our sexual development, corrupt our imaginations and deny us the truth. Are the likes of Frank Sinatra our real spiritual grandfathers, and his songs the carriers of comforting sub-texts that hide from us horrors (or heavens) our patriarchal leaders deem us unready for? Find out. What a wonderful film! 9/10

Have Mercy on Us All (Paris Vite et Reviens Tard) - Regis Wargnier

The 'Flic' flick in France, or cop movie, is a genre not best represented by this kind of

cliché-ridden example. Like a run-of-the-mill UK police thriller series episode, as many of them are. Not even an outbreak of the Black Death livens this up. 1/10

I Love you Phillip Morris - Glen Ficarra/John Requa 2009

It must be slightly worrying to find out you are to be played in a biopic by Jim

Carrey, but his performances are assured enough, in my opinion, for most people to consider it a mighty honour. This is no exception. A brilliant gay conman, Steven Russell, still serving a 144 year sentence for having exposed the Texan judiciary, prison authorities and political cheeses to ridicule through his outrageous fraud stunts and jail-breaks, is portrayed as having no worse motive for his exploits than being madly in love with a guy called Phillip Morris. Oh yes, he also came by large sums of money through illegal means in order to impress his lover, but for this crime half the wealthy in Texas might well be investigated, no? It's a Hollywood film but nicely put together. Carrey manages to be funny yet convey the tragedy lurking in his obsessive character and something of the manic drive the real person must have. Ewan McGregor is very convincing as the dainty, simpering lover. 7/10

The Book of Eli - Albert and Allen Hughes 2010

Oh dear. Let's take the Man with No Name and put him into a post-acopalypse plot in which cities don't seem to have changed since the 19th century Western days (when the best chance the human race had of annihilating itself would have been a gigantic bean fest). Let's make him black. Why not blind as well? Get Denzel Washington. Surround him by a deluxe pantomime cast including a rancid Gary Oldman to lead a Mad Max crew of road warriors. All we need is a commodity that Oldman would seek and Denzel can protect. Oil has peaked in movies, surely? Why not the Bible? Oh Christ! Brilliant –

a queue of devout multi-millionaires stretching from Ground Zero to Kansas City ready to finance a movie in defence of the old King James Revised. And you'd think they wouldn't try to get too po-faced about it... but you're wrong. There must be a market for this – post-cataclysm is most definitely in – and there are inevitably people who'll say "the best f***king film I've ever seen", but it is hard to believe sometimes that such a collection of clichés, right from the power fantasy fight scenes to the overused, de-saturated video effects, can still be considered viable entertainment. Worst of all, perhaps, is seeing actors of the claibre of Michael Gambon doing headless chicken hick alongside Rising Damp diva Frances de La Tour. Malcolm McDowell now aspires to the roles of erudites and ancients that used to be filled by Alec Guinness or dear Johnny Gielgud. And did I say Tom Waits is in this? Ooh, Miss Jones! All this bottoxed banality needs and, fortunately, won't get – because he's long gone to a far better saloon for great actors – is Rigsby himself in his moth-eaten cardy, squaring up to Denzel Washington and saying "Philip, I told you no good would come of that dramatic arts course at the Shepherd's Bush community centre." 0/10


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