Saturday, July 26, 2014

2014 Movie World Cup: Top 16

All 96 films of the 2014 Movie World Cup have been viewed and the group phase is now complete. The top 2 nations from each of the 8 groups advance to the Round of 16. Each nation's best film will take part in the Round of 16 and the winning films will move on to the Quarter-Finals.

Each nation had 3 films in the group phase with the following criteria:

Film 1: previously seen film from 2000 - 2013

The results of all Film #1 contests can be found in these 3 posts: Group A, Groups B-D, Groups E-H

Film 2: unseen film from 2000 - 2013

Film 3: film from 1960 - 2004

The Final standings of all 8 groups, along with the head-to-head results are listed below. As per the rules, if two nations were tied with the same points, all 3 films from each nation faced-off against each other. If the nations were still tied, then a coin toss was used to pick a winner.

Group A

Country Film #1:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #2:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #3:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Brazil Neigboring Sounds (2012, Kleber Mendonça Filho): W Once Upon a Time Veronica (2012, Marcelo Gomes): L Entranced Earth (1967, Glauber Rocha): W 6
Mexico El Violin (2005, Francisco Vargas): W Post Tenebras Lux(2012, Carlos Reygadas): W Presagio (1975, Luis Alcoriza): L 6
Croatia Buick Riviera (2009, Goran Rusinovic): L Karaula (2006, Rajko Grlic): L Witnesses (2003, Vinko Bresan): W 3
Cameroon A Trip to the Country (2000, Jean-Marie Téno): L Aristotle’s Plan (2006, Jean-Pierre Bekolo): W Quartier Mozart (1992, Jean-Pierre Bekolo): L 3

Brazil takes first place after winning a head-to-head match with Mexico 2-1.
Brazil 2 (Film #1, #3) - Mexico 1 (Film #2)

Croatia takes 3rd place after a 2-1 win over Cameroon in a head-to-head match.
Croatia 2 (Film #1, #3) - Cameroon 1 (Film #2)

Group B

Country Film #1:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #2:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #3:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Chile Tony Manero (2008, Pablo Larraín): D Old Cats (2010, Pedro Peirano/Sebastián Silva): W The Battle of Chile (1975-79, Patricio Guzmán): W 7
Australia Snowtown (2011, Justin Kurzel): D The Hunter (2011, Daniel Nettheim): L The Last Wave (1977, Peter Weir): W 4
Holland Borgman (2013, Alex van Warmerdam): L The Last Days of Emma Black (2009, Alex van Warmerdam): W The Northerners (1992, Alex van Warmerdam): L 3
Spain In the City of Sylvia (2007, José Luis Guerín): W Blancanieves (2012, Pablo Berger): L The Red Squirrel (1993, Julio Medem): L 3

Holland wins 2-1 over Spain in a head-to-head.
Holland 2 (Film #2, #3) - Spain 1 (Film #1)

Group C

Country Film #1:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #2:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #3:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Japan Like Father, Like Son (2013, Hirokazu Koreeda): W Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2013, Sion Sono): W When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (1960, Mikio Naruse): W 9
Ivory Coast Adanggaman (2000, Roger Gnoan M’Bala): L Black Diamond (2010, Pascale Lamche): W Burn it up Djassa (2012, Lonesome Solo): W 6
Greece Unfair World (2011, Filippos Tsitos): W Dos (2011, Stathis Athanasiou): L Ghost of a Chance (2001, Vangelis Seitanidis): L 3
Colombia Crab Trap (2009, Oscar Ruiz Navia): L Dog Eat Dog (2008, Carlos Moreno): L Oedipus Mayor (1996, Jorge Alí Triana): L 0

Group D

Country Film #1:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #2:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #3:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Italy Le Quattro Volte (2010, Michelangelo Frammartino): W The Great Beauty (2013, Paolo Sorrentino): W Il Posto (1961, Ermanno Olmi): W 9
Uruguay A Useful Life (2010, Federico Veiroj): W Bad Day to go Fishing (2009, Álvaro Brechner): D Whisky (2004, Juan Pablo Rebella/Pablo Stoll): L 4
Costa Rica Cold Water of the Sea (2010, Paz Fabrega): L Gestacion (2009, Esteban Ramírez): L Caribe (2004, Esteban Ramírez): W 3
England Trishna (2011, Michael Winterbottom): L Two Years at Sea (2011, Ben Rivers): D If...(1968, Lindsay Anderson): L 1

Group E

Country Film #1:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #2:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #3:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
France Holy Motors (2012, Leos Carax): W Bastards (2013, Claire Denis): W L'Argent (1983, Robert Bresson): W 9
Switzerland Das Fraulein (2006, Andrea Staka): W We Are The Faithful (2005, Michael Koch): L Signer's Suitcase (1995, Peter Liechti): W 6
Ecuador Crónicas (2004, Sebastián Cordero): L Qué tan lejos (2006, Tania Hermida): W A Titan in the Ring (2002, Viviana Cordero): L 3
Honduras El Porvier (2008, Oscar Estrada): L Amor y frijoles (2009, Mathew Kodath/Hernan Pereira): L Mi Amigo Angel (1962, Sami Kafati): L 0

The standings are identical to the 2014 Soccer World Cup with the points total pretty similar. These were the points in Soccer: France (7), Swiss (6), Ecuador (4), Honduras (0).

Group F

Country Film #1:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #2:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #3:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Argentina Gone Fishing (2012, Carlos Sorin): W Extraordinary Stories (2008, Mariano Llinás): W Invasion (1969, Hugo Santiago): W 9
Iran This is Not a Film (2011, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb/Jafar Panahi): W The White Meadows (2011, Mohammad Rasoulof): L Taste of Cherry (1997, Abbas Kiarostami): W 6
Bosnia and Herzegovina Cirkus Colombia (2010, Danis Tanovic): L Belvedere (2010, Ahmed Imamović): W No Man's Land (2001, Danis Tanovic): L 3
Nigeria Without Shame (2005, Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen): L Ezra (2007, Newton I. Aduaka): L Last Flight to Abuja (2012, Obi Emelonye): L 0

Group G

Country Film #1:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #2:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #3:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Portugal The Strange Case of Angelica (2010, Manoel de Oliveira): W Centro Histórico (2012, Pedro Costa/Manoel de Oliveira/Víctor Erice/Aki Kaurismäki): W Ossos (1997, Pedro Costa): W 9
Germany Everyone Else (2009, Maren Ade): L Gerhard Richter - Painting (2011, Corinna Belz): W World on a Wire (1973, Rainer Werner Fassbinder): W 6
USA Blue Ruin (2013, Jeremy Saulnier): W Blue Caprice (2013, Alexandre Moors): L Faces (1968, John Cassavetes): L 3
Ghana The Perfect Picture (2010, Shirley Frimpong-Manso): L Sinking Sands (2011, Leila Djansi): L A Sting in a Tale (2009, Shirley Frimpong-Manso): L 0

Portugal wins 2-1 over Germany in a head-to-head.
Portugal 2 (Film #1, #3) - Germany 1 (Film #2)

Group H

Country Film #1:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #2:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Film #3:
(Win, Loss, Draw)
Belgium The Referees (2009, Yves Hinant/Eric Cardot/Delphine Lehericey): W Eldorado (2008, Bouli Lanners): W La Promesse (1996, Jean-Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne): W 9
South Korea In Another Country (2012, Hong Sang-soo): D The Day He Arrives (2011, Hong Sang-soo): W The Housemaid (1960, Ki-young Kim): L 4
Russia Alexandra (2007, Aleksandr Sokurov): D The Edge (2010, Aleksey Uchitel): L Stalker (1979, Andrei Tarkovsky): W 4
Algeria Rachida (2002, Yamina Bachir): L Outside the Law (2010, Rachid Bouchareb): L Daughters of Keltoum (2001, Mehdi Charef): L 0

Both Russia and South Korea tied 2-2 after the head-to-head.
Film #1 was tied for both countries, South Korea had a 1-0 win for Film #2 while Russia won 1-0 for Film #3.

A coin toss was used to pick a winner. South Korea won, thereby eliminating The Russian film Stalker, a major candidate for the 2014 Movie World title.

Round of 16

The draw for Round of 16 matches is identical to the Soccer World Cup, meaning Winner of Group A meets the Group B runner-up. The following are the 16 films deemed to be each nation’s best chance to win the title.

Brazil (Neighboring Sounds) vs Australia (Snowtown)
Japan (When a Woman Ascends the Stairs) vs Uruguay (A Useful Life)

France (L’Argent) vs Iran (Taste of Cherry)
Portugal (The Strange Case of Angelica) vs South Korea (The Day He Arrives)

Mexico (El Violin) vs Chile (Tony Manero)
Italy (Il Posto) vs Ivory Coast (Burn it up Djassa)

Argentina (Extraordinary Stories) vs Switzerland (Signer’s Suitcase)
Belgium (La Promesse) vs Germany (World on a Wire)

An excellent line-up of films which will make for some enjoyable comparisons. However, looking ahead, the Quarter-Finals will have some fierce contests with very little to choose between the various films.

Soccer vs Film

The following 9 nations made it to the Second Round for both the Soccer and Movie World Cup:

Brazil, Uruguay, France, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany.

Incredibly, there is an identical match-up in both Soccer and Movie World Cup:

Argentina vs Switzerland.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

2014 Movie World Cup: Round 3

Film #3 match-ups of the 8 groups concludes the viewing of all 96 films of the 2014 Movie World Cup.

Group A

Brazil (Entranced Earth) 1-0 Cameroon (Quartier Mozart)

This turned out to be an energetic match-up as both films depicted plenty of rapid movement and pace to leave one scratching their head. Glauber Rocha’s Entranced Earth makes up a lot of ground depicting politics from grassroots all the way up to the presidential level. Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Quartier Mozart tackles witchcraft in quite a creative way, which is appropriate considering witchcraft is mentioned every time Cameroon’s soccer team plays at the World Cup. In the end, the Brazilian film is able to sustain its energy throughout its entire duration, resulting in a comfortable 1-0 win.

Croatia (Witnesses) 1-0 Mexico (Presagio)

A lackluster contest doesn’t provide the creative spark that was expected. The Mexican film, based on a short story by Gabriel García Márquez, has an engaging apocalyptic end-of-world premise but the production values let it down. The Croatian film uses multiple viewpoints to show a murder and has plenty of potential but runs out of steam over its 90 minutes duration. Still, Croatia registers a 1-0 win.

Group B

Spain (The Red Squirrel) 0-1 Australia (The Last Wave)

Time plays a big part in weakening the Spanish film’s chances while strengthening the Australian film. Julio Medem’s The Red Squirrel shows all the traits of a Pedro Almodóvar film, from the mystery to the heightened music and as a result feels unoriginal. The film might have been a welcome sight in 1993 but after seeing Almodóvar perfect his style over the last two decades, Medem’s film doesn’t stand a chance. On the other hand, Peter Weir’s The Last Wave manages to anticipate the end-of-world signs that Take Shelter showed or the Biblical path that Magnolia took. However, Weir’s film is rooted firmly in Australian territory as the film centers around Aboriginals and their rituals contrasted against the larger Australian society.

Holland (The Northerners) 0-1 Chile (The Battle of Chile, part I)

Going all the way back to 1992 proved to be helpful to experience Alex van Warmerdam’s developmental arc with regards to his dark comedies about urban middle-class Dutch society. One can see the origins of his sharp and relevant observations which he perfects in his subsequent films. However, the Dutch film does not offer much resistance to Patricio Guzmán’s remarkable verite documentary The Battle of Chile which shows the ground view in the aftermath of the 1973 military coup.

Group C

Colombia (Oedipus Mayor) 0-1 Japan (When a Woman Ascends the Stairs)

The Colombian film is an intriguing work based on a story by Gabriel García Márquez, the second film based on one of his stories in this Movie World Cup. Oedipus Mayor transports the Greek tale of Oedipus Rex to a Colombian town setting and unfolds a mythical tale of murder one layer at a time. However, the Colombian film easily falls to Mikio Naruse’s excellent Japanese film. When a Woman Ascends the Stairs depicts one woman’s attempts to carve out a respectable living by wanting to buy her own bar in a male dominated world. Despite being made in 1960, the film is timeless in showing the perceptions society puts on women compared to men.

Greece (Ghost of a Chance) 0-1 Ivory Coast (Burn it up Djassa)

In the Soccer World Cup, Greece stole a last minute win over Ivory Coast to advance to the round of 16. It was one of the most unfair decisions at the 2014 Soccer World Cup as there was no foul for which Greece was awarded a gift of a penalty. However, no such gift takes place in the Movie World Cup as the Ivorian film easily wins this contest.

Burn it up Djassa tells the story of three siblings, two brothers and one sister, in the dangerous Wassakara neighborhood of Abidjan. One of the brother is a cop but the other brother sells cigarettes and fancies making a quick buck by playing cards. The sister secretly works as a prostitute. Given their choices, it is a not a surprise that fate ends up setting them on a collision course. That is not before the film gives a good look at the neighborhood life, aided by a narrator, with long takes that allows one to get a feel for life on the streets. An engaging effort made on a low budget but with plenty of talent and heart.

Ghost of a Chance is set around a casino with two characters who dream of beating the system and making money. The complication comes in the face of a dealer in the casino, who happens to be the daughter of one of the men and wants nothing to do with her father. As chance would have it, the father’s partner falls for the dealer. There are some moments which inject life into the film but not enough to overtake the Ivorian film.

Group D

Uruguay (Whisky) 0-1 Italy (Il Posto)

No repeat of the Soccer World Cup result in this movie match as Il Posto overpowers the wonderful Whisky. The Italian film abstracts fears of exams and job interviews in such a manner that the 1961 feature is still applicable. The Italian film is a strong contender for the 2014 Movie World Cup title.

Costa Rica (Caribe) 1-0 England (If...)

On paper, this appeared to be a mismatch as a relatively unknown film from Costa Rica was pitted against such a well known English film that has gotten a Criterion DVD release. But as the Soccer World Cup showed, Costa Rica should not be underestimated. Even though this Movie World has not been a happy ground for Costa Rica, Caribe is full worth for its 3 point victory. Caribe highlights the important issue of how oil drilling and explorations can impact a paradise. On the other hand, If... (1968) feels dated as many other college films have superseded its impact such as Dead Poets Society over the last few decades.

Group E

Switzerland (Signer’s Suitcase) 1-0 Honduras (Mi Amigo Angel)

Sami Kafati’s Mi Amigo Angel is regarded as the first Honduras film and is quite an achievement. The black and white film falls under the neo-realist category and can be easily seen as a cousin to Luis Buñuel’s early Mexican films. Unfortunately, Peter Liechti’s Swiss film is an enthralling road film packed with thought-provoking ideas and memorable images garnished with some deadpan humor. As a result, the Swiss film takes all 3 points.

Ecuador (A Titan in the Ring) 0-1 France (L’Argent)

France have gotten a third straight mismatch as Robert Bresson’s L’Argent easily prevails over Viviana Cordero’s A Titan in the Ring.

Group F

Argentina (Invasion) 1-0 Nigeria (Last Flight to Abuja)

Hugo Santiago’s Invasion is a remarkable film, written by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares, that meshes Orwell’s 1984, Godard’s Alphaville and Latin American revolutionary ideas with noirish visuals. It is even more remarkable that this film is not that well known and has not gotten a wider English release DVD that it deserves.

Last Flight to Abuja is a Nigerian co-production that is much more polished than the average Nollywood film. It incorporates many elements from Nollywood movies such as romance and an affair but bases its drama in an airplane thereby drawing attention to a real life plane incident in Nigeria. Despite all the positive work by the Nigerian entry, the Argentine film is too strong in every department.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (No Man’s Land) 0-1 Iran (Taste of Cherry)

Abbas Kiarostami’s film easily overcomes Danis Tanovic’s worthy award winning No Man’s Land.

Group G

Germany (World on a Wire) 1-0 USA (Faces)

This was the closest contest of all the Film #3 match-ups and brought a clash of two film giants, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and John Cassavetes. But by a narrow margin, the German film edges for a win, repeating the same score as their 2014 Soccer World Cup encounter.

Portugal (Ossos) 1-0 Ghana (A Sting in a Tale)

A complete mismatch as Pedro Costa’s film easily walks away with all the points. However, A Sting in a Tale is the best of the three Shirley Frimpong-Manso films I have seen to date and would have fared much better against another film.

Group H

Belgium (La Promesse) 1-0 South Korea (The Housemaid)

Kim Ki-young’s 1960 film The Housemaid is an excellent film that is ahead of its time in many ways, especially regarding the twist ending and a character addressing the camera. But unfortunately, it cannot overcome the Dardennes.

Algeria (Daughters of Keltoum) 0-1 Russia (Stalker)

Tarkovsky’s Stalker is one of the best films to have been viewed in this Movie World Cup. An instant classic which defeats a very good Algerian entry.

Monday, July 21, 2014

2014 Movie World Cup: Round 2

The films taking part in the second match-ups of the Group stage form the core of the Movie World Cup because all the 32 films are previously unseen. Therefore, there is a possibility to discover a new treasure. Alternatively, a weaker film can impact a nation’s chances to progress out of the group.

Group A:

Brazil (Once Upon a Time in Veronica) 0 - 1 Mexico (Post Tenebras Lux)

With Brazil being the World Cup hosts, my biggest fear was picking a film that proved to be a mistake. Marcelo Gomes’ film was a complete gamble but since I loved his 2005 film Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (#1 on my 2005 year end list), I hoped his new feature would be worthy. Once Upon a Time in Veronica certainly has a nice pleasant tone to it and follows a tranquil pace rarely seen in Brazilian movies. Scenes are not rushed, there is no pulsating music, and no violence on display. Instead, we follow Veronica’s journey and attempts to form connections with people around her. 

Unfortunately, by luck of the draw, the Brazilian film is drawn against Post Tenebras Lux,  Carlos Reygadas’ new film which contains many scenes which jolt the senses and leave a lasting impression. Neither the Brazilian or Mexican film can be called a perfect work but the Mexican film has far too much creativity than the Brazilian entry.

Croatia (Karaula) 0 - 1 Cameroon (Aristotle’s Plan)

The Battle of the Farce.

Both films manage to contain plenty of comedic surprises. On the surface, the Croatian film Border Post looks to be a war film but as it turns out, it is about a manufactured threat of a war because a soldier does not want to return home to his wife because she would learn about his affair. The soldier has a STD after a fling with a prostitute and is told he needs a few weeks for it to be cleared off. He wants to delay his return so lying about a border dispute seems the only way to extend his stay.

At the time of selection, the Cameroonian film, Aristotle’s Plan, appeared to be a political gangster film but it is anything but that. Instead, it is a truly rewarding work that is a tribute to 35mm and cinephilia while set against the backdrop of political charged revolutionary ideas. The film features two characters called Cinema and Cineaste and contains gangsters who love watching movies in a cinema hall. The film contains many lasting dialogues and images, the most telling being the struggling filmmaker carting reels of his film in a shopping cart.

No other director has ever come up with such an image but this brilliant yet simple image symbolizes the problems of making an independent film, where a director is forced to be a beggar in order to complete their work. There is no shortage of humor or unbelievable scenarios which adds to the film’s charm. The film evokes Godard and is one of the best African films I have ever seen. It is a pity that this film will only get 3 points.

Aristotle’s Plan becomes the first discovery of the 2014 Movie World Cup.

The Croatian film, Karaula, would have had a better chance against many other films at this Movie World Cup but it does not match up against Aristotle’s Plan.

Group B:

Spain (Blancanieves) 0 - 1 Chile (Old Cats)

If there was ever a match-up where both films could be awarded 0 points, this would be it. Both are well polished productions but ultimately they end up being disappointing considering the potential of both films. Pedro Peirano, Sebastián Silva have made a touching film that has a touch of humor and contemplative feel about memory loss and aging.

Blancanieves, translated as Snow White, is an updated retelling of the fairy tale in 1920’s Spain complete with Matadors. The black and white silent images are indeed a joy to behold but the framework lets the work down.

Holland (The Last Days of Emma Black) 1 -0 Australia(The Hunter)

Both these films are much better than the Spanish and Chilean entries and would each have won 3 points if they were paired against them. But as it turns out, the Dutch film narrowly edges out the Australian film.

The Dutch film, a precursor to Borgman, contains some of the black humor and relevant digs at middle class household that Borgman has. The difference is that The Last Days of Emma Black is far more satirical and not as a dark as Borgman.

The Hunter is a mesmerizing look at a mercenary’s (Martin played by Willem  Dafoe) quest to find the last remaining Tasmanian tiger, a rare elusive animal that may be a myth. Wonderfully shot, the film shows how Martin goes about trying to find his target, including raising suspicion from the locals. Excellently shot by Robert Humphreys, the film creates its tense mood nicely.

Group C:

Colombia (Dog Eat Dog) 0 - 1 Ivory Coast (Black Diamond)

Dog Eat Dog is about a drug deal and robbery gone wrong and features some tense violent moments. Unfortunately, the film’s production lets it down and it easily falls to the Ivorian co-production.
Black Diamond is a co-production which could have easily been used for Ghana but is selected for Ivory Coast as it starts off by depicting the Ivory Coast soccer team’s quest to qualify for the 2014 Soccer World Cup. The film then moves to Ghana and highlights the reality of trafficking that exists in Africa where young talented soccer players are lured with promises of a better career in Europe, only for most of these men to be robbed of their money and abandoned. The film is relevant and shows the corruption that exists in the game but more importantly it gives a glance towards the future when Qatar will become a big player in the movement of African players to Europe through its various soccer academies.

Greece (Dos) 0 - 1 Japan (Why Don’t You Play in Hell)

Dos is a pleasant surprise, a truly independent Greek film that is poetic and features some haunting elements. Why Don’t You Play in Hell is Sion Sono’s tribute to 35mm dipped in blood. The first hour of Sono’s film lays the framework for the truly riveting second half which smashes through the roof. Easy win for the Japanese film.

Group D:

Uruguay (Bad Day to go Fishing) 1 - 1 England (Two Years at Sea)

Bad Day to go Fishing is cut from the same deadpan cloth as the Uruguayan film Whisky (2004) which in turn is inspired by Jim Jarmusch’s films. The rich visuals of the Uruguayan film powered by a funny screenplay make this a joy to watch. But as luck would have it, the Uruguayan film meets more than its match in Ben Rivers’s Two Years at Sea, a creative black and white film about a lonely man’s efforts to stay analog in a digital world. Two Years at Sea strips out even more material from Lisandro Alonso’s lonely man framework and drifts into avant-garde territory.

The two films could not be more different yet a draw seems like a fair outcome as neither film produces a late winning moment to justify three points.

Costa Rica (Gestación) 0 - 1 Italy (The Great Beauty)

Gestación is based on a true story about a teenager who is impregnated by her boyfriend and left to take care of herself. It is a relevant film that is well made and features good performances. But The Great Beauty has too much to win easily.

Group E:

Switzerland (We Are the Faithful) 0 - 1 France (Bastards)

We Are the Faithful is another unexpected discovery. The 9 min documentary short highlights a section of FC Basel fans who passionately support their team. The film looks at the fan’s main supporter who uses his loudspeaker to encourage the rest and get them to sing. The film does not show the soccer game at any point but we can gather how the team is doing by the fans' expressions. In this regard, the short is the equivalent of films which show an audience in a cinema hall.

Unfortunately, as it has happened a few times in this Movie World Cup, We Are the Faithful is drawn against a much stronger film and ends up with zero points. Claire Denis’ Bastards is too strong on all accounts.

Ecuador (Qué tan lejos) 1 - 0 Honduras (Amor y frijoles)

Qué tan lejos or How Much Further is a road movie with some humor that has enough substance to win over the Honduran film which is a romantic tale about a woman trying to make ends meet.

Group F:

Argentina (Extraordinary Stories) 1 - 0 Iran (The White Meadows)

Extraordinary Stories is one of the most creative and stellar films made in the last few years. It easily wins this contest over The White Meadows which is another worthy addition to the canon of artisitc Iranian cinema. It is safe to assume the Argentine film will be a contender for the best film of the 2014 Movie World Cup.

Bosnia and Herzegovina (Belvedere) 1 - 0 Nigeria (Ezra)

The Nigerian co-production Ezra depicts the recruitment of child soldiers in Sierra Leone spliced with questioning of one of the soldiers by a tribunal. The court scenes evoke reality and could apply to any African country where young kids are forced to kill at an early age.

Belvedere is black and white film about a few of the women survivors of the Srebenica genocide. It shows even though a war may be over, its scars live on and impact a new generation decades later in unexpected ways. The element of a game show in the film adds a touch of humor and lightens the mood while providing a critical view of contemporary society.

Group G:

Germany (Gerhard Richter - Painting) 1 - 0 Ghana (Sinking Sands)

The Ghanian co-production Sinking Sands is one of the best Ghanian films in recent years. It deals with domestic violence and does not soften the harsh details. In fact, it is an engaging film that features some brave performances from both leads.

The German documentary depicts the artful creativity of Gerhard Richter and is a living breathing work of art in itself. The visual beauty of the German film powers it to an easy win but plenty of credit to the Ghanian co-production for restoring some pride in its local film industry.

Portugal (Centro Histórico) 1 - 0 USA (Blue Caprice)

On paper, an omnibus film with segments by Pedro Costa, Manoel de Oliveira, Víctor Erice, Aki Kaurismäki sounded like a recipe for a winning film. What could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, everything! The four films are distinct elements that don’t mesh and as a result, the entire omnibus is a mess. The best segment out of the four is Pedro Costa’s entry which is more of an extension to his Fontainhas Trilogy.

Considering the problems that the Portuguese co-production has, the American entry is far more of a disappointment. The film based on the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks slowly falls apart and offers nothing worthwhile to discuss. Therefore, the Portuguese film wins by default although in fairness both films should be given zero points.

Group H:

Belgium (Eldorado) 1 - 0 Russia (The Edge)

Yet another discovery of the 2014 Movie World Cup, this time from Belgium. Having never seen a film by Bouli Lanners, Eldorado is a delightful addition to the deadpan category.

The Edge features some incredible cinematography in its gritty depiction about railroads, trains and the quest to go faster. The Russian film has plenty of muscle to overpower the Belgian film but the short running time of Eldorado ensures there are no wasted moments, thereby resulting in a comfortable 1-0 win.

Algeria (Outside the Law) 0 - 1 South Korea (The Day He Arrives)

The Algerian co-production is an engrossing film about the real life struggle for Algerian independence that started after WWII. It is a far more scripted and over the top dramatic film than The Battle of Algiers but Outside the Law manages to depict debates and fights from the perspective of a few key players.

The Day He Arrives is vintage Hong Sang-soo and features what one would expect from his films: filmmaker turned professor returning to his hometown, an ex-love, plenty of drinking with friends/strangers. Conversations and confessions flow as effortlessly as the alcohol and naturally people pour their hearts out. Even though there are familiar elements to his previous films, The Day He Arrives is still a wonderfully crafted feature that is shot in black and white, which lends a poetic beauty to the snowy streets.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

2014 Movie World Cup: Groups E, F, G and H

A round-up of the remaining films from round 1 of the 2014 Movie World Cup.

Group E: Switzerland (Fraulein) 1-0 Ecuador (Crónicas)

Crónicas boasts John Leguizamo and draws attention to the circus associated with 24 hour news channels which makes a mockery about journalistic integrity. But the film switches gear and ends up being a serial killer hunt film.

Fraulein takes place at a more languid pace and is a character study about three women at different stages of their life and how they are impacted by each other’s presence.

Both films have their moments and make this a lively contest. In the end, the Swiss film just narrowly edges out.

Group E: France (Holy Motors) 1-0 Honduras (El Porvenir)

The Honduran film El Porvenir made a big impact in the 2010 Movie World Cup when it made it to the semi-finals and eventually finished in 3rd place. It is a hard hitting documentary which starts by examining the prison conditions in the El Porvenir penal farm in La Ceiba and expands the scope to look at conditions in society which lead to people going to jail. The film is still unknown and cannot be found on but it a perfect example of what makes a good documentary. Also, the film is a bright example of why this Movie World Cup is vital in discovering films from around the world.

However, it is just unfortunate that El Porvier gets drawn against Holy Motors, a film that manages to encapsulate cinema’s major genres in one sweeping movie. Also, the French film was the #1 film in the Best of 2012 list.

The final score is only 1-0 for the French but that is because of scoring restrictions. Otherwise, the score might be closer to the 3-0 win that France had over Honduras in the 2014 Soccer World Cup.

Group F: Argentina (Gone Fishing) 1-0 Bosnia and Herzegovina (Cirkus Colombia)

Cirkus Colombia is one of the last films that was seen before making the cut-off for this Movie World Cup and it does not disappoint. It stars Predrag Manojlovic famous from Emir Kusturica’s Underground and his character Divko has a perfect foil in Azra (Jelena Stupljanin), his fiery and seductive second wife who lights the screen up with her presence. The film shows how Divko returns after a two decade absence to Bosnia and goes about to reclaim his house and kick his first wife and son out. The return of a man to his old surroundings shares a common bond with Gone Fishing but Cirkus Colombia is about a larger story about a nation and its people impacted by the war. While, Gone Fishing is purely a film about an individual man and his past. 

Carlos Sorin’s Gone Fishing elevates Lisandro Alonso’s lonely man theme from Liverpool and adds a more emotional layer to the film. It is heart-breaking yet soulful. Of course, given the film’s lackluster impact when it premiered at TIFF shows Gone Fishing is not everyone’s cup of matte. But in the case of this Movie World Cup, it is a deserved 1-0 winner.

Group F: Iran (This is Not a Film) 1-0 Nigeria (Without Shame)

There may never be a greater film match mismatch more so than this. The Nigerian film Without Shame is selected because it was the first Nollywood film I saw and still better than the other video productions I have seen since then.

With Iran’s win never in doubt, it is more fun to examine this contest in terms of theme. The closed setting of a house features prominently in both films but in the Iranian film, it is a genuine imprisonment for Panahi who finds a way to use every little bit of space to exert some creativity. In Without Shame, a father and son manage to make their house a prison for a woman (sister-in-law and aunt respectively) due to their repeated sexual abuse of her. The two men are free to roam the city but they choose to sneak into the house at every chance so that they can conduct their sexual acts.

Group G: Germany (Everyone Else) 0-1 Portugal (The Strange Case of Angelica)

The Germany-Portugal game in the World Cup was not much of a contest but the film competition is far more closer and enjoyable. Everyone Else is a firecracker of a film that is packed with emotion and drama while The Strange Case of Angelica is much lighter and manages to quietly convey its feelings. In the end, the Portuguese approach wins out.

Group G: Ghana (The Perfect Picture) 0-1 USA (Blue Ruin)

Unfortunately, another mismatch due to similar reasons as the Nigerian selection. The Perfect Picture was selected for the 2010 Movie World Cup because of the lack of choices for Ghanian films at that time. More films from Ghana are now available but not many more have been viewed to replace The Perfect Picture.

Blue Ruin is currently in the running for the top 10 films I have seen in 2014 and one of the best films I saw at Sundance earlier this year.

Just like in the soccer game, the American film wins out.

Group H: Belgium (The Referees) 1-0 Algeria (Rachida)

The Referees took #1 spot in the Best of 2010 list and proved to be too powerful for the Algerian film Rachida, which would have given certain other films in this tournament a run for their money.

Group H: Russia (Alexandra) 1-1 In Another Country (South Korea)

Two different genres and two contrasting styles certainly made it hard to choose an outright winner. Both films deserve three points as they are that good but in the end have to settle for one point each.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

2014 Movie World Cup: Groups B, C and D

Group B: Spain (In the City of Sylvia) vs Holland (Borgman)

The Spanish and Dutch films end up following the current footballing philosophy of both national teams. In the City of Sylvia can be classified as tiki-taka, a film characterized by patient build up, slow movements leading up to a satisfying finish. On the other hand, Borgman contains some of the Total Football flexibility where people swap roles which leads to a flurry of movements and emotions. At times, it is hard to keep track of which character is good or which is evil as traditional good characters look to be taking an evil position, while the villains are made to look like decent human beings. Gradually, the line between good and evil blurs.

Although, in this film contest, tiki-taka easily prevails. There is a singular focus and beauty to In the City of Sylvia that is far more appealing the constantly switching gears of Borgman.

Spain wins 1-0 over Holland.

Group B: Chile (Tony Manero) vs Australia (Snowtown)

Through a complete coincidence, films from two different parts of the world end up sharing a common bond as both films can be observed as portrait of a serial killer. Of course, Tony Manero is a subset of Snowtown as the Chilean film features a singular character. Whereas, Snowtown shows how a single person can start a cult group of killers. The Australian film is based on true events while Tony Manero places a fictional character against the real background of Pinochet’s dictatorship and tries to explain the character’s behavior as a symptom of the dictatorship.

Both films are dark and feature a cold framework which prevents any rays of compassion to creep in. The larger scope of Snowtown ensures a multi-layered case study but Tony Manero is impressive in the mood it creates.

Too close to call. That means, the first draw of the 2014 Movie World Cup.

Chile 1-1 Australia.

Group C: Colombia (Crab Trap) vs Greece (Unfair World)

Both films try to outdo each other in terms of rhythm and pacing. Crab Trap and Unfair World borrow some elements from the Contemporary Contemplative Cinema playbook but use it for completely different purposes. Crab Trap shows a slice of life in a part of Colombia rarely seen on screen and illustrates how even a remote segment of the country can be impacted by struggles taking place across the nation. The Greek film ends up going the deadpan route akin to the cinema of Aki Kaurismäki.

Crab Trap and Unfair World are both very good films and a draw would be a fair result. However, the Greek film narrowly edges out for a win.

Colombia 0-1 Greece.

Group C: Ivory Coast (Adanggaman) vs Japan (Like Father, Like Son)

The two films embody some of the characteristics that were on display when the two nations met in the 2014 Soccer World Cup. Japan jumped to an early lead and displayed plenty of heart and patience while Ivory Coast used their aerial ability and strength to power home for a win.

Adanggaman Ossei

Adanggaman is about the slave trade that took place generations ago in West Africa and shows how the physical attributes of the individuals played a big part in their selection. The film features fights where the strength of the main character is essential in survival.

Like Father, Like Son is all about emotions and is a tender film that warms up one’s heart. The film easily wins this contest.

Ivory Coast 0 - 1 Japan

Group D: Uruguay (A Useful Life) vs Costa Rica (Cold Water of the Sea)

Both films are about age, an aspect that can explain the result of the soccer match between both nations.

Even though A Useful Life is fiction, it touches upon the reality where cinemas are closing all across the world and many arthouses/cinematheques are becoming a thing of the past. The film shows how the main character Jorge spent most of his life working in the cinematheque but is now forced out in a world that does not respect films like the past did. When Jorge is forced to see a world without his beloved cinematheque, the film crosses the fourth wall into our present reality where flashy multiplexes are being built that carry only commercial movies which show no respect of cinematic history. In fact, the commercial movies remake films from a few years ago, in a race to constantly stay young and never age. Jorge has aged like cinema has and he is forced to live in a world where only new movies and weekend box-office totals matter.

Cold Water of the Sea is a coming of age film which shows that aspects of one's youth end up shaping their adult behavior. In order to understand the character's adult behavior, we have to examine their youth to understand how they ended up in a particular place.

Interestingly, the Uruguayan film deals with a topic that can explain the Uruguayan soccer team’s 1-3 loss to Costa Rica. The Uruguayan team is no longer young and therefore can’t press or attack with purpose like they did in the 2011 Copa America win. Instead, the younger Costa Rican team showed more energy and drive in the 2nd half to overturn a 1-0 deficit. Costa Rica’s best player in the match, Joel Campbell (an Arsenal player), is only 21 while Uruguay’s Diego Forlan is 35.

However, in the film contest, age is not a factor as A Useful Life easily wins over Cold Water of the Sea.

Uruguay 1-0 Costa Rica

Group D: England (Trishna) vs Italy (Le Quattro Volte)

Quite the exciting film match-up as both films have plenty of visual richness. Trishna infuses the frame with plenty of color as the film is set in India while Le Quattro Volte is mostly devoid of color given the Italian town’s surrounding and change of seasons. In contrast to many films shot in India, Trishna does not go through a check-list of sights/elements to show which is a welcome relief. Instead, at moments the camera just lets us observe events and understand the behavior of the characters. Both leads (Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed) are excellent and their body language is enough to understand their character’s emotions.

Le Quattro Volte is not an acting driven film and is about nature and progression of the soul through four different stages. It still manages to feature plenty of emotion even though humans are largely absent.

A tough film contest to call but in the end, the Italian film narrowly wins 1-0.