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.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

2014 Movie World Cup, Group A

And we are off. The first few films of the 2014 Movie World Cup are from Group A, similar to the first two games of the 2014 Soccer World Cup.

Group A: Brazil (Neighboring Sounds) vs Croatia (Buick Riviera)

Neighboring Sounds (O som ao redor) (2012, Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho)

Aided by a rich sound design & visuals, Kleber Mendonça Filho’s film ensures an immersive cinematic experience. A viewer gets a ringside seat in one of Recife’s neighbourhoods to witness the daily activities of the residents, including their morning and nightly routines. Depicting the everyday reality would have been good enough, but Kleber Mendonça Filho enhances the experience by adding layers of memories and nightmares with a few smart cuts. As a result, the multi-layered film contains a subtle sense of dread but in a much subtler note than Michael Haneke's Caché. This means that even when viewers witness harmless events in and around an apartment complex, there is a sense that something sinister is going to happen. The viewer can't be passive and is instead forced to examine each frame and its accompanying sound to know what the characters are up to.

Buick Riviera (2008, Croatia, Goran Rusinovic)

Goran Rusinovic’s brilliant film illustrates how hatred can persist through generations and lay dormant until one day it is unleashed into a full fledged war. On the surface, the film appears to be about two strangers whose chance encounter leads to volatile consequences but it is clear that the film is about more than just two people. The two characters give us one example of how hatred can suddenly flare out of a seemingly harmless situation and result in bloody revenge. In this regard, the film can explain why fighting broke out in the former Yugoslavia or why other cultures/tribes are in a race to destroy each other.

Group A: Mexico (El Violin) vs Cameroon (A Trip to the Country)

El Violin (2005, Francisco Vargas)

El Violin depicts how the seeds of revolution are laid and passed on from generations. The film features three generations of a family that are impacted by the military and how each person continues the fight. Shot in gorgeous black and white, the film gets off to a shocking start with scenes of rape. The torture and violence is left out of the frame in most cases with the attention focused on the grandfather, Don Plutarco (Ángel Tavira, mesmerizing), and his efforts to transport ammunition under the noses of the soldiers. Even though this is a Mexican film, the setting and events depicted in the film could easily apply to any Latin American country where a military dictatorship crushed voices of dissent among the people by usage of rape, torture and violence. As a result, it is an essential work that can be added to the list of revolutionary cinema.

A Trip to the Country (2000, Jean-Marie Téno)

Jean-Marie Téno travels from the capital Yaoundé to the Cameroonian country side to highlight some concerns relevant to the local economy such as the decline in agriculture and lack of infrastructure and also examines attitudes related to the desire for westernization and emulation of the west. The film is highly relevant for the Movie World Cup because it depicts the infrastructural and organizational problems in African soccer. An example near the end can help one understand why why there is a dispute about bonuses with the Cameroonian soccer team before every World Cup. A Trip to the Country shows how a local soccer championship game is almost disrupted due to money issues. As narrated in the film, all local teams had to pay increased registration fees to enter a tournament where the winner would get a trophy and prize money. However, moments before the final's kick-off, the finalists are informed there's going to be no trophy nor any prize money handed out. The players are not happy but are told by the officials to play. If organizational and infrastructure problems can plague the national team, then it is not surprising to see these problems taking place at the root level of the game. Although such problems are not confined just to Cameroon but inflict many other African nations as well, thereby making it hard for an African team to mount a serious World cup challenge.


Brazil (Neighboring Sounds) 1 - 0 Croatia (Buick Riviera)
Mexico (El Violin) 1 - 0 Cameroon (A Trip to the Country)

Both the film contests follow the same results as those of the Soccer World Cup. As strong as the Croatian film is, it offered no real contest to Brazil’s Neighbouring Sounds.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

2014 World Cup

With less than a day until Brazil and Croatia kick off the 2014 World Cup, here are my predictions.

Group A: Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon 

Brazil to win 1st, close fight between Croatia & Mexico for 2nd.

Croatia have a stronger midfield but not entirely sure of their ability to score goals. Still, will go with them to sneak in ahead of Mexico.

Group B: Spain, Holland, Chile, Australia 

Spain in 1st. The Dutch to narrowly take 2nd over Chile. If Chile were at full strength and had no injuries, I would have gone with them.

Group C: Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan 

Colombia in 1st, Japan vs Greece for 2nd.

The Greeks are more organized but Japan are more creative. It will be close but I am picking Japan to progress.

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy 

The Group of Death. There is always one in every World Cup and 'D' is appropriately it. Three teams with an equal chance to progress although Costa Rica won't be pushovers. Goal difference might play a big part in this group's outcome.

When the draw was made back in December, I picked Uruguay to get 1st and Italy for 2nd. Now, I am not sure about Uruguay as much. Their defensive approach worked wonders in Copa America 2011 but the side is aging and Forlan can't run himself into the ground like he was able to. Also, I am not certain Luis Suárez is going to be firing on all cylinders after the incredible season he had. England for a change have opted to bring in a lot of young players which will surely give the team a different and a more adventurous feel. Also, they don't have as much pressure on them as in the past and that could be a huge advantage.

I expect to be wrong for this group but will still go with my original December 2013 pick of Uruguay in 1st, Italy in 2nd.

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras 

An absolutely dreadful joke of a group. Despite all their problems, France surely can't screw things up although I expect them to tie the Swiss 0-0. And France may only register 1-0 and 2-0 results in their other 2 games.

France in 1st, Switzerland 2nd after a series of 0-0, 1-0 games.

Group F: Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria 

Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina progress easily in 1st and 2nd respectively.

Group G: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA 

The US will finally overcome Ghana but will they be able to get the extra point needed against Portugal or Germany to advance? It will be tough but if Cristiano Ronaldo is not fit, then Portugal could struggle.

Germany to win group, Portugal for 2nd. 

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, South Korea 

Injuries are certainly going to impact both Belgium and Russia but both should still progress from yet another weak group.

Belgium to take 1st, Russia for 2nd. 

Semi-Finalists: Brazil vs Germany, Spain vs Argentina. 

If Messi is fit and Ángel di María can reproduce his Real Madrid form, then Argentina could upset Spain. But for now, going with a repeat of last year's Confederations Cup final.

Final: Brazil vs Spain

If this is indeed the final, I expect Brazil to win. But if Argentina make the final vs Brazil, then it will be the most tense World Cup final I would have ever watched. And..I don't think I can stomach a Brazil vs Uruguay final.

The 2006 World Cup is the only one out of the last four World Cup tournaments that I was able to get most of my picks right. Therefore, I fully expect to be wrong this time around. But it should be fun, especially comparing these results to the 2014 Movie World Cup.

La Strada

La Strada (1954, Italy, Federico Fellini)

My review of La Strada is published on Wonders in the Dark as part of its Romantic Countdown.