Sunday, August 10, 2014

2014 Movie World Cup Final

The 2014 Movie World Cup kicked off back in December 2013 shortly after the Soccer World Cup draw was made. The spotlight lasted 8 months because it took a long time to hunt down 96 films from all the 32 countries in the tournament. Thankfully, a majority of the films proved to be exciting selections with only a few disappointments. Surprisingly some of the disappointments came from nations with an abundant amount of options, such as those from England and USA. On the flip-side, films from nations with limited selections proved to be a pleasant surprise, such as those from Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Honduras, Switzerland and Costa Rica. This little bit of unpredictability added to the fun and some of the results came as a surprise. For example, the two finalists, France and Italy, have an inexhaustible list of films to choose from but neither of the two films in the final, L’Argent and Il Posto, were in the original shortlist. Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert was initially Italy’s Film #3 but a chance visit to Casablanca Video brought Il Posto in the frame. A faith in Ermanno Olmi allowed me to take a gamble on the film, a similar gamble taken on Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs which was the other film rented on the same night. Both films proved to be worthy selections and more importantly these were the last two films I rented from the video store that was my source for foreign and independent cinema for almost two decades. Back in July, Bogie’s Casablanca Video shutdown while the original Casablanca Video in Marda Loop is slated to move to a new spot in mid-August. Therefore, it feels appropriate that one of those rented films has made it to the 2014 Movie World Cup final while the other finalist is the last film from Robert Bresson, one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema. The two finalists are a trip down memory lane to a time when 35 mm ruled and the word ‘film’ truly meant something.

2014 Movie World Cup Final

France (L’Argent, 1983, Robert Bresson)
Italy (Il Posto, 1961, Ermanno Olmi)

Both films abstract aspects of our society in such precise and fine detail that these films are timeless. L’Argent and Il Posto showcase cinema at its finest and are films meant to be seen multiple times with each viewing allowing for a different aspect to stand out, amplified by a viewer’s evolving life perspective.

L’Argent uses the life-cycle of a counterfeit money note to depict how society functions. In the film, a rich young man and a business owner easily get away by exchanging fake currency but an innocent worker Yvon (Christian Patey) has to pay the price for their crimes. Bresson’s film was released in 1983 but was based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy (The Forged Coupon) which was published back in 1910. The seven decade gap between the short story and film illustrates the timelessness of such a story because illegal trading of fake money or currency is as old as human civilization and cheaters have existed at every point in society. The film and short story could easily apply in modern times, with a slight variation. In our current society, fake currency trading has moved to the bits and bytes level as depicted by the 2008 Economic Crisis. As history has shown, the guilty, who are often the rich and well dressed men, get away while the workers get trapped. It is not a surprise to see the camera shop owner in Bresson’s film is dressed smartly while Yvon is shown to be in overalls.

Il Posto nicely captures the stress associated with writing an exam and waiting for an interview in order to get a job. The scenes are shot in a verite style and immediately brought chilling memories of my own experience writing exams. The brilliance of these scenes would have been enough to solidify the Italian film’s claim for the 2014 Movie World Cup title but Il Posto goes further and shows the fate that awaits when one passes the exam and gets the job: the dreaded office desk where a person can spend decades sitting in one spot. A promotion means a person moves up just one spot to a desk nearer to the front. As Il Posto shows, this front desk has more light while the desk at the back of the room is partially dark. Using such a simple technique of depicting rows of desks lit differently, Olmi is able to highlight the hierarchy and seniority that exists in offices. Of course, a variation in certain companies is that a promotion signifies moving to a better cubicle or an office with a window. On top of that, Il Posto also manages to show elements of romance and the excitement and hesitation associated with a first date. Il Posto is an Italian film made back in 1961 but it will always be contemporary as long humans have to study in order to find a job or an individual has to seek out a companion.

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
France: L'Argent 001113
Italy: Il Posto 111115

Italy takes the 2014 Movie World Cup with a 5-3 win over France.

2014 Movie World Cup Top 4 Films

1. Il Posto, Italy, 1961, Ermanno Olmi
2. L’Argent, France, 1983, Robert Bresson
3. Neighboring Sounds, Brazil, 2012, Kleber Mendonça Filho
4. La Promesse, Belgium, 1996, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Top 10 from all 96 films

A separate top 10 is required because the format of the Movie World Cup doesn’t reflect a true placing of all the films. This is due to the rules of the Movie World Cup where only one film from each of the 16 nations that advanced to Round 2 was selected. This impacted a nation with two or three strong films. Also, due to the draw, some good films were eliminated early on as they came across stronger films. On top of that, for the time in the history of the Movie World Cup, a coin toss was used to select a winner. South Korea and Russia were tied after all their three Group films could not be separated on goal-difference. As per the rules, the final tie-breaker was a coin toss. South Korea’s best film The Day He Arrives had tails while Russia’s Stalker was heads. When the coin landed on tails, it eliminated Stalker one of the top films in this Movie World Cup. Therefore, a correction in the form of a top 10 is required, a list free from the soccer draw and past end-of-year lists.

1. Stalker (1979, Russia, Andrei Tarkovsky)

Tarkovsky’s film based on Boris and Arkady Strugatsky’s novel Roadside Picnic can be seen as an extension of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and shows what could have happened after Godot arrived. In Waiting for Godot two men wait for Godot to bring them happiness. However, in Stalker two men (the Writer and the Professor) find their Godot in the form of man named Stalker who agrees to take the two to the Zone, a location that may provide happiness and help fulfill their wishes.

It has been almost two months since I viewed this film but I am still trapped in the Zone. A few more visits will likely pull me out.

2. Il Posto (1961, Italy, Ermanno Olmi)

3. L'Argent (1983, France, Robert Bresson)

4. Taste of Cherry (1997, Iran, Abbas Kiarostami)

5. In the City of Sylvia (2007, Spain, José Luis Guerín)

6. Le Quattro Volte (2010, Italy, Michelangelo Frammartino)

7. Neighboring Sounds (2012, Brazil, Kleber Mendonça Filho)

8. The Strange Case of Angelica (2010, Portugal, Manoel de Oliveira)

9. This is Not a Film (2011, Iran, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb/Jafar Panahi)

10. La Promesse (1996, Belgium, Jean-Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne)

The strength of these top 10 meant many other excellent films had to be left out. Some of these omissions include Like Father, Like Son (Japan), Extraordinary Stories (Argentina), When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Japan), The Battle of Chile (Chile), World on a Wire (Germany), Holy Motors (France), Bastards (France), Ossos (Portugal), El Violin (Mexico), Invasion (Argentina), The Referees (Belgium), Whisky (Uruguay), Post Tenebras Lux (Mexico), The Day He Arrives (South Korea), Two Years at Sea (England), Faces (USA) and A Useful Life (Uruguay).

Top 5 discoveries

The best aspect about the Movie World Cup is hunting for films from nations which are normally overlooked in cinematic discussion. This time around, there were some incredible films that were found from unexpected countries.

1. Aristotle's Plan (2006, Cameroon, Jean-Pierre Bekolo)

A tribute to 35 mm and cinephilia set against the backdrop of political charged revolutionary ideas. 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.

2. We are the Faithful (2005, Switzerland, Michael Koch)

This 9 minute short documentary captures the essence of a soccer game perfectly. The camera never shows us the game but we can gauge the game as per the fans' expressions.

3. Burn it up Djassa (2012, Ivory Coast, Lonesome Solo)

A first hand perspective on the dangerous street life in Abidjan.

4. Black Diamond (2010, co-production, Pascale Lamche)

In highlighting the corruption surrounding the trafficking of African players, the film looks both backwards and to the future when increased money injected in the global game will increase the problem.

5. Mi Amigo Angel (1962, Honduras, Sami Kafati)

The first ever Honduran film falls under the neo-realist category.

Honorable mentions: Bad Day to go Fishing (2009, Uruguay, Álvaro Brechner), Eldorado (2008, Belgium, Bouli Lanners)


Wednesday, August 06, 2014

2014 Movie World Cup: Semi-Finals

Semi-Finals Preview

Four different decades are represented by the semi-finalists of the 2014 Movie World Cup.

Brazil: Neighboring Sounds, 2012, Kleber Mendonça Filho
France: L’Argent, 1983, Robert Bresson
Italy: Il Posto, 1961, Ermanno Olmi
Belgium: La Promesse, 1996, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

Brazil was the only country out of the final four nations that was expected to reach the semi-finals of the 2014 Movie World Cup based on the strength of its selection Neighboring Sounds. This Brazilian film was the only previously seen entry out of the final four and its strengths were well known. On the other hand, the remaining three films were late editions and not in the first draft of selected films for the Movie World Cup. However, the pedigree of Robert Bresson, Ermanno Olmi and the Dardenne brothers should not make it a surprise to see their films in the final four.
Even though Brazil was expected to make the semi-finals, its presence is due to a sequence of events that don't adhere to logic. In 2013, Neighboring Sounds finished 2nd in the year end list to Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Japanese film Like Father, Like Son, a film present in this Movie World Cup. But Kore-eda's film was not selected for Round 2 as Mikio Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs was deemed to be the best Japanese film of Round 1. Once Like Father, Like Son was not selected, the Brazilian film was able to overcome When a Woman Ascends the Stairs on penalties.
As per simple logic, if a > b and c > a, then it follows c > b. But in the case of this Movie World Cup, b forced a tie with c and then b won on penalties.
However, these film decisions are not based entirely on logic because emotion played a big part. Naruse's film overcame kore-eda’s work because When a Woman Ascends the Stairs shows restraint and conveys lot of feelings without displaying open emotions thanks to Hideko Takamine’s excellent acting. However, that lack of emotion for Naruse’s film proved to be its undoing in penalties because the Brazilian film displayed a lot more nerve. As faulty as this process seems, it is exactly the way soccer tournaments unfold where teams win even though they should have lost with penalties being an unfair decider in many cases.
Semi-Final Results
Both semi-finals finished with an identical score-line but in reality, the French and Italian films were too strong despite the close scores.
Brazil (Neighboring Sounds) 2-3 France (L’Argent)

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
Brazil: Neighboring Sounds 100012
France: L'Argent 011103

The Brazilian film prevails in the production category due to its superior sound design and also takes the acting category for displaying a lot more emotion than the French film. However, L’Argent wins the match due to its story, cinematography and Bresson’s direction.

Italy (Il Posto) 3-2 Belgium (La Promesse)

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
Italy: Il Posto 110103
Belgium: La Promesse 001012

Il Posto gives up points in the cinematography and production categories to Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s well crafted feature but prevails due to its acting, story and Olmi’s overall direction.

Third-Place Match

In the Soccer World Cup, it does not seem fair to hold a third place match for teams that are still hurting from their semi-final loss. However, usually one team manages to regain some thrust while the other team appears to be on vacation mode. As a result, the Soccer World Cup’s third-place match is often a high scoring game. The same is the case for the Movie World Cup as both films combine for a higher score than either semi-final.

Brazil (Neighboring Sounds) 4-3 Belgium (La Promesse)

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
Brazil: Neighboring Sounds 110114
Belgium: La Promesse 101103

In reality, the contest was too close to call. Both films are rooted in their specific cities but they explore universal themes about migration to a city for a better life. In La Promesse, the film shows the struggle that illegal immigrants have to go through in the hope for a better future. While, Neighboring Sounds shows people who leave their village for the city to find jobs. But the Brazilian film adds another layer on top which gives its story the edge. Neighboring Sounds depicts how actions committed in rural areas can have a direct reaction in an urban setting. This gives the film a more cyclical feel.

Unlike the Soccer World Cup, Brazil bounces back and takes 3rd spot in the Movie World Cup.

2014 Movie World Cup Final

It comes down to this. A single match to decide it all. The 2014 Movie World Cup final is a repeat of the 2006 Soccer World Cup Final, France vs Italy.

France (L’Argent) vs Italy (Il Posto)

1983 vs 1961.
Robert Bresson vs Ermanno Olmi.

Monday, August 04, 2014

2014 Movie World Cup: Top 4

The Quarter-Finals of the 2014 Movie World Cup featured four enticing contests with eight excellent films. There was very little to choose between the films, a fact demonstrated by single point victories in three of the matches with penalties deciding the fourth one.

Brazil (Neighboring Sounds) 3-3 Japan (When a Woman Ascends the Stairs)

It is appropriate this match went to an emotional penalty shoot-out as emotion is the driving force conveyed by both films. The Japanese film has a beautiful story with some stellar acting that transmits the emotional roller coaster Hideko Takamine’s character of Keiko goes through. The Brazilian film does not use story and acting to get audience to feel emotions. Instead it uses sound, editing and cinematography to inject fear in the audience. As a result, the emotional impact of the Brazilian film stays long after the credits have rolled.

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
Brazil: Neighboring Sounds 001113
Japan: When a Woman Ascends the Stairs 110103
Brazil wins in an emotional penalty shoot-out.

France (L’Argent) 4-3 Portugal (The Strange Case of Angelica)

Two masters of cinema with thoughtful films that both show how a sequence of events impact two men who were only trying to do their job. In the French film, collecting payment lands a man in jail and a life of crime while in the Portuguese film, the protagonist ends up falling in love while on a routine job. The men in both films lose their head and soul, albeit by different means.

The French film narrowly progresses to the semi-finals on the basis of a stronger story and the attentive visuals one expects from a Bresson film.

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
France: L'Argent 011114
Portugal: The Strange Case of Angelica 100113

Mexico (El Violin) 4-5 Italy (Il Posto)

A classic rural vs urban match with the Mexican film showing how a revolution grows outside a city. On the other hand, the Italian film depicts the tension and nervousness that accompanies job hunting in a city. Both Black and White films use a verite style to give audience a front row perspective on events. As a result, both films are rich and immersive cinema. However, the Italian film narrowly edges into the semi-finals due to stronger finishing in the final third which means the film hits all the appropriate notes from start to finish.

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
Mexico: El Violin 111014
Italy: Il Posto 111115

Argentina (Extraordinary Stories) 3-4 Belgium (La Promesse)

The Argentine film has by far the most creative story while the Belgium film dazzles with its visual beauty, which has now become a trademark of any film by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
Argentina: Extraordinary Stories 010113
Belgium: La Promesse 101114

Like the previous round, Argentina are again involved in an identical match to the Soccer World Cup. However, unlike their 1-0 win over Belgium in Soccer, the Argentine film loses by a solitary point to the Belgian film.


96 films started the 2014 Movie World Cup but only four remain:

Brazil (Neighboring Sounds) vs France (L’Argent)

Italy (Il Posto) vs Belgium (La Promesse)

Three European films have reached the final four while Brazil are proudly flying the flag for rest of the world.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

2014 Movie World Cup: Top 8

The elimination round of the 2014 Movie World Cup starts with the round of 16. As per the rules, the two films will go head-to-head in either five or three categories.

1. If both films are fiction, then the following five categories will be used:

Acting, Story, Cinematography, Direction, Production (Sound, Editing)

2. If a Documentary is put against a Fictional film, then the following three categories will be used for both films:

Cinematography, Direction, Production (Sound, Editing)

If one film is considered superior than the other film in a category, it will get 1 point while the other film gets 0. If both films are strong in a category and can’t be separated, both will get 1 point each.

After all the categories are added up, if both films are tied, then a penalty shoot-out will be applied, which in this case is a subjective vote towards the film with the biggest emotional impact.

Brazil (Neighboring Sounds) 4-2 Australia (Snowtown)

Two intense films faced each other but in the end, the Brazilian film prevails due to its superior sound design and story. Snowtown features some chilling performances and takes the Acting category. Also, the cinematography of the Brazilian and Australian films helps set a fearful and chilly mood respectively and a tie is awarded in that category.

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
Brazil: Neighboring Sounds 011114
Australia: Snowtown 101002

Japan (When a Woman Ascends the Stairs) 5-3 Uruguay (A Useful Life)

Two films separated by more than five decades yet both shot in black and white. In fact, the Uruguayan film indirectly evokes the French New Wave and cinephilia, traits made famous in the Japanese film's decade. The final score may seem close but the Japanese film was in control from the start and easily cruised to a deserved win.

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
Japan: When a Woman Ascends the Stairs 111115
Uruguay: A Useful Life 011013

France (L’Argent) 5-3 Iran (Taste of Cherry)

The ultimate match of this round, a tussle between two giants of cinema. Both films are timeless in the subjects they explore and can always be looked upon as contemporary no matter which decade someone decides to view them. Robert Bresson’s last feature is a remarkable work that abstracts the consequences of illegal trading of money. The film shows a specific story but in reality, it could be applied to multiple scenarios including the 2008 Economic crisis. In the film, those who trade in fake money get away while an innocent person pays the consequences by losing his job. Without a job, he is forced into a life of crime to survive. In a short running time of 85 minutes, Bresson has shown the problems of society with considerable ease.

Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry is another crucial work that reflects on the most essential question about human life, whether it is worth living. The film is an expansion of Albert Camus’ query in The Myth of Sisyphus, an essay which begins with the following lines:

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.

Taste of Cherry is an art film that examines this very philosophical question that Camus talked about. It is a brilliant work that is worthy of a place in the 2014 Movie World Cup final but it comes up slightly short against Bresson’s masterpiece.

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
France: L'Argent 111115
Iran: Taste of Cherry 100113

Portugal (The Strange Case of Angelica) 4-3 South Korea (The Day He Arrives)

The liveliest encounter of this round as both films delighted with their lightness even though they covered many serious topics. The Portuguese film narrowly won due to the wonderful touch of master Manoel de Oliveira who is in control of every frame, from start to finish.

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
Portugal: The Strange Case of Angelica 011114
South Korea: The Day He Arrives 101013

Mexico (El Violin) 5-3 Chile (Tony Manero)

Revolution and Dictatorship are two aspects associated with Latin American history and appropriately the two Latin films in this match tackle these subjects head-on. The Mexican film is about a revolution in an unnamed country but it could easily be set in any Latin American nation where the military exert their authority over farmers and people living in rural areas. The dictatorship is the backdrop of Tony Manero but the film focuses on an individual who selfishly pursues his goal in ruthless ways. The Chilean film highlights in an atmosphere where people can’t trust one another, a sense of community does not exist and individuals can get away with murder because they have no attachment with anyone around them.

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
Mexico: El Violin 111115
Chile: Tony Manero 101013

As worthy are both films are, the Mexican film prevails because of its rich story which depicts how a revolution impacts three generations.

Italy (Il Posto) 5-1 Ivory Coast (Burn it up Djassa)

The Italian film is strong from start to finish in this uneven match-up but the Ivorian film manages a consolation in the cinematography category as it makes good use of handheld cameras to give a verite feel for life in the streets of Abidjan.

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
Italy: Il Posto 111115
Ivory Coast:Burn it up Djassa 001001

Argentina (Extraordinary Stories) 3-1 Switzerland (Signer’s Suitcase)

The Swiss film is the only documentary in the round of 16 and as a result, only three categories were used to pick a winner. Unlike the World Cup soccer match between these two nations, the Swiss film could not hold back the powerful Argentine entry. The Swiss doc features a creative mix of visual images spliced with music, which results in a deserved point.

Country: Film Cinematography Direction Production Score
Argentina: Extraordinary Stories 1113
Switzerland:Signer's Suitcase 0011

Belgium (La Promesse) 4-2 Germany (World on a Wire)

The realism of the Dardenne brother’s film allows it to overcome Fassbinder’s creative sci-fi World on a Wire, a remarkable 1973 TV series which helped lay out the entire framework for The Matrix.

Country: Film Acting Story Cinematography Direction Production Score
Belgium: La Promesse 101114
Germany:World on a Wire 011002


The top 8 films of the 2014 Movie World Cup still leaves the possibility of either an all South American (Brazil vs Argentina) or European (France vs Italy) final.

Brazil (Neigboring Sounds) vs Japan (When a Woman Ascends the Stairs)
France (L’Argent) vs Portugal (The Strange Case of Angelica)

Mexico (El Violin) vs Italy (Il Posto)
Argentina (Extraordinary Stories) vs Belgium (La Promesse)