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.

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