BERGEN FILM FESTIVAL 2008 : updated MON.24.NOV with link to 4th & final ‘Hollywood Reporter’ review

for The Hollywood Reporter:
   Rock Heart Beijing   added Mon 24.Nov.
   White Night Wedding
Yodok Stories

for Tribune
   overview (plus review of The Baader Meinhof Complex, shown at BIFF)

seen Sun.19.Oct

SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK : [6+/10] : USA 2008 : Charlie KAUFMAN : 124m (approx)
Eagerly-awaited directorial debut from living-legend screenwriter Kaufman is dazzlingly brilliant for its first half, but then the gas goes flying out of the balloon and the remainder is something of a dour slog. Wildly original tale of a crack-up theatre-director (Philip Seymour Hoffman) – who copes with his hypochondria and painful private-life by devising an insanely elaborate autobiographical play in an implausibly colossal New York building – explicitly unfolds within its protagonist's head, though without ever directly tipping the wink as such the viewer in the usual conventional style. Indeed, Kaufman bravely rejects convention and expectation at every turn, though even he can't avoid falling into that all-too-predictable creative trap: debutant overreach.

CRAWFORD : [6/10] : aka Crawford, Texas : USA 2008 : Paul MODIGLIANI : 75m (timed)
President Bush's small-town backyard proves an unlikely microcosm of America in this nicely-handled little documentary…
WHITE NIGHT WEDDING : [5/10] : BrĂșĂ°guminn : Iceland 2008 : Baltasar KORMAKUR : 97m (timed)
Kormakur's Jar City translated film-festival acclaim into unlikely arthouse box-office success in the UK and elsewhere, making it by far Icelandic cinema's most successful recent export. His follow-up, however, seems much more explicitly tailored for domestic audiences, who may well be tickled by its bittersweet combination of larkish wedding-day comedy and moody psychological intensity…
                      FULL REVIEW for THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

seen Sat.18.Oct.

BETTER THINGS : [6/10] : UK 2008 : Duane HOPKINS : 93m (approx)

Chilly British variant on the ponderous, slow-moving, detached form of arthouse film-making – call it, perhaps, the school of Bruno Dumont – which has become the default mode of serious cinematic expression among younger directors worldwide over the last few years. Sparse dialogue, carefully-framed images, despair-saturated mood. The story here concerns a group of young people in an unspecified town in the south of England – the countryside on their doorstep – who deal with the aftermath of a young woman's drug-hastened demise. Several use narcotics themselves to escape from their bleak situation; others seek cheap kicks by driving fast down the country lanes. Meanwhile a parallel story unfolds involving an elderly couple whose relationship has reached something of a dead end. Writer-director Hopkins' technique, though adhering closely to established forms, is often impressive, compensating for the air of mannered ennui which hovers over proceedings (line-readings are often flat to the point of stiltedness.) Tough going, and many will struggle to stay the course, but the cumulative effect is worth the struggle – the barest hint of optimism finally peeking through those oppressive clouds of negativity.
seen Fri.17.Oct.
LOS BASTARDOS : [3/10] : Mexico (Mex/Fr) 2008 : Amat ESCALANTE : 89m (timed)
Carlos Reygadas (Japon; Silent Light) is only credited as associate producer of Los Bastardos, but his stylistic "dabs" are all over this mannered, pretentious chronicle of a day in the life of two Mexican labourers in Los Angeles. The "influence" of Lisandro Alonso (La Libertad; Fantasma) is also pretty evident, right from the dramatic way in which the opening titles suddenly appear to the accompaniment of loud rock chords. The first shot – a James Benning-ish study of the LA River at dawn – promises much, but after an absorbing first half, which exposes the tough conditions for unregistered labour in the USA, writer-director Escalante loses his way when the requirements of plot kick in. We enter Michael Haneke territory as the protagonists – fulfilling Americans' worst prejudices about their Mexican neighbours – stage a brutal home-invasion that culminates in a moment of gratuitous, sickeningly gruesome violence. Performances range from perfunctory to amateurish; social analysis is cursory at best. Escalante has some talent – his film is usually striking to look at – but on the evidence of this picture has disappointingly little idea what on earth to do with it. Keeping away from his mate Carlos might be an advisable first step.

Norway 2008 : Karin WINTHER : 58m (timed)
Hour-long profile of China's leading punk band 'Subs' – and specifically its sparky, female lead-singer (and main songwriter) Kang Mao – is informative and lively, even if it never quite scales the comic or inspirational heights of, say, Sacha Gervasi's current Anvil rock-doc.
                          FULL REVIEW for THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

W. : [5/10] : USA 2008 : Oliver STONE : 129m (BBFC)
The current Bush presidency is both a ripe target for satire, and also so depressingly absurd that any satirical attack must be particularly sharp in order to compete with the reality. W., however, is an only intermittently amusing and/or penetrating enterprise, spreading its narrative net much too wide: a film about either Bush's relationship to his father, or with his wife, or with his machiavellian "adviser" Karl Rove, or his powerful Vice-President Dick Cheney, or examining his tumultuous early life, might have worked much better. Instead, the film tries to cover all of these various angles and ends up falling short on each front. What we're left with is a gallery of impersonations – of various degrees of accuracy – in forlorn search of a coherent structure. Bush remains a pratfalling doofus, and there's no real idea of how or why he was able to rise to a position of such prominence and power (puppetmasters Rove and Cheney are, surprisingly, rather let off the hook). Director Stone doesn't seem to know what to do with the material, which features several interludes of pointlessly distorted fish-eye visuals, not to mention one of the clumsiest and most awkwardly integrated scores in a recent Hollywood production. On balance: passably amusing, but a frustratingly missed opportunity.
          REVIEW for TRIBUNE

seen Thu.16.Oct.
YODOK STORIES : [7/10] : aka Yodok : Norway (Nor/Pol) 2008 : Andrzej FIDYK : 83m (approx)
  Offbeat, oblique but powerfully harrowing documentary approach to the horrors of North Korea's concentration camps. It makes for timely – and depressing – viewing in the week that the country was officially taken off the US's official "terror list," a decision which will probably appall anyone who watches this particular film. 
                      FULL REVIEW : for THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

Neil Young
16th-20th October, 2008

all films seen at Magnus Barfot cinema; public shows; complimentary press-tickets
with thanks to Henning Rosenlund