Medicine For Melancholy. Talk-fest two-hander is a touch too aware of its own classy smartness, but is executed with an beguilingly fresh combination of intelligence and sweetness. Shot in cool, sepia-hinted monochrome, it's a post-modern quasi-romance in the Linklater/Sunrise/Sunset vein – set in some quietly well-heeled, nicely unfamiliar corners of San Francisco. The fact that this is a city where African-Americans comprise a surprisingly small minority is just one of countless subjects discussed by our (black) quasi-lovebirds. They make for pleasant, stimulating company – though, oddly, they're peripheral to the most surprising and effective sequence, an informative, all-too-brief documentary-style discussion of SF housing-issues.
Our Beloved Month of August. Ambitious in structure but wayward in execution, this genially sprawling 2-1/2-hour affair shows evidence of ample talent – but director/co-writer/co-editor Gomes is prone to self-indulgence. First half largely comprises ethnographic / anthropological documentary sequences about a rural Portuguese backwater during mid-summer, when cheesy pop bands tour from village to village performing sentimental romantic numbers. The emphasis then shifts to a soap-opera-style fictional story involving one of the groups, involving a puppy-love triangle and an awkwardly-handled incest theme. Larkish meta-fictional inserts featuring the actual film-makers punctuate the narrative, lending an off-puttingly smart-alec air to an enigmatic, boisterous but ultimately unsatisfactory enterprise.
Salamandra. There's apparently an unwritten rule in current and recent cinema which states that any anarchic/hippy commune must invariably be either chaotic, filthy, unwholesome or ill-conceived – or, preferably, all of the above. That's certainly the case in this intense, downbeat little study of a dysfunctional, chain-smoking mother – recently released from jail – who takes her six-year-old son to a remote Patagonian collective. Shot in the stripped-down, unadorned, hand-held, Dardennes-ish style that's become the default style for artistically-inclined moviemakers worldwide, the picture has a distractingly hazy chronological setting – and, more damaging, is almost entirely populated by annoying, unsympathetic characters.
Symptom X. Audiences who found Kobayashi Masahiro's grindingly repetitive The Rebirth a little too action-packed should seek out this even more static example of current Japanese art-cinema. A thirtish man shares a small city-centre flat with his ageing mother. They barely speak, and their daily routines only occasionally intersect. As the resentful son shows signs of losing patience with his glum, increasingly incontinent and confused parent, there's tension: will he cross the line into abuse? The climax, when it eventually arrives, is rather a deft surprise – but even at sixty-odd minutes, this arch, austere film is too much of a slog.
Tony Manero. An unusual angle on Chile's Pinochet dictatorship – the repressive police-state is shown as a social atomisation which makes it paradoxically straightforward for a murderous psychopath to go about his criminal business. The film, however, takes things a step further into offbeat territory by having the killer – a withdrawn, taciturn, fiftyish misanthrope – obsessed with the film Saturday Night Fever and its main character Tony Manero, to the extent of entering a TV contest showcasing Manero impersonators. The result is an unlikely but unsettling combination of moods and tones, which narrowly overcomes the gimmicky implausibility of its central conceits.
A Week Alone. Quietly absorbing, unobtrusively acute study of childhood and class in modern-day Argentina. The setting is an affluent, gated community patrolled by private security-guards; the principal characters a group of kids (of various ages) whose parents have gone away on holiday, leaving them under the nominal care of a housekeeper. Complications eventually ensue – the arrival of the housekeeper's brother, who is evidently of a different social stratum from the rest of the kids, exacerbates various simmering tensions – though proceedings generally unfold at a pretty low-ish boil. Even when mayhem erupts towards the end, melodramatics and histrionics are carefully eschewed.
8th November, 2008
MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY : [6/10] : USA 2008 : Barry JENKINS : 87m V, 25.10
OUR BELOVED MONTH OF AUGUST : [5+/10] : Aquele querido mes de agosto : Portugal (Por/Fr) 2008 : Miguel GOMES : 149m G, 24.10
SALAMANDRA : [5/10] : Argentina (Arg/Fr/Ger) 2008 : Pablo AGUERO : 91m M, 27/10
SYMPTOM X : [5/10] : Shorei X : Japan 2007 : YOSHIDA Kohki : 67m V, 22.10
TONY MANERO : [6/10] : Chile (Chi/Bra) 2008 : Pablo LARRAIN : 97m M, 26.10
A WEEK ALONE : [7/10] : Una semana solos : Argentina 2008 (copyright-dated 2007 tbc) : 110m V, 25.10