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The Women on the 6th Floor Review


Good
Spiky dialog and terrific characters make this French class comedy thoroughly enjoyable, even if there's not much to it. An especially strong cast and energetic direction add a zing if personality to both characters and settings.

In 1962 Paris, wealthy broker Jean-Louis (Luchini) and his wife Suzanne (Kiberlain) live in his family flat, oblivious to the Spanish maids who occupy tiny rooms on the top floor and gather in the park to gossip about their bosses. It's not until Jean-Louis and Suzanne hire new arrival Maria (Verbeke) to work for them that they discover this world of labourers. And Jean-Louis embraces it, finding new satisfaction in helping to make their lives better while flirting quietly with Maria. But Suzanne suspects something else entirely.

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Tetro Review


Excellent
Coppola delivers his most passionate film in years with this astonishing drama set in Argentina. Stylish, involving and intensely personal, the film really gets under the skin with its emotional story and powerfully visual tone.

Just before his 18th birthday, cruise ship waiter Bennie (Ehrenreich) gets some shore leave in Buenos Aires and immediately looks up his estranged brother Angelo (Gallo), a moody artist who now goes by the name Tetro and lives with his longsuffering girlfriend Miranda (Verdu). Their reunion is rather awkward, and it's not just because of the years that have passed and the tensions that remain around their relationships with their famous father (Brandauer). The problem is that Bennie thinks he can get Tetro back on track.

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Volver Review


Excellent
Pedro Almodóvar's Volver is a witty and woozy paean to the off-kilter wonder that is Spanish womanhood. Again. At this stage in his career, one isn't expecting too much else from Almodóvar than further explorations of the semi-camp, lightly magical territory that he has staked out as his own for close to three decades now; but that doesn't mean he can't still astonish. Unlike Woody Allen, who also works within a similarly rich but limited set of constraints, Almodóvar manages to make each film seem like an entirely new creation.

Volver starts with a wonderfully lyrical scene in which the old women of a rural village clean the headstones in a graveyard during a fantastic windstorm -- the blowing leaves quickly render absurd any cleaning. The village is a slightly unreal place anyway, populated mostly by the very old (in actuality, a common occurrence in Spain) and known far and wide for the wind, which is reputed to drive the inhabitants insane. The stars are a pair of sisters, Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) and Sole (Lole Dueñas) who long ago decamped for Madrid, much like Almodóvar himself did as a child (he shot the village scenes in his hometown of La Mancha). The sisters' parents died in a fire years back, but they return on occasion to check in on their elderly aunt, Paula (Chus Lampreave, who has mellowed here somewhat since her hilariously venomous turn in Almodóvar's 1995 film The Flower of My Secret). They still feel that tenuous link to their ancestral village, but with their parents dead and unfulfilling lives in the city, the two seem stuck in a hazy netherworld, home in neither place.

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800 Bullets Review


OK
There is a mythic quality to the western. It's buried in the images: a lone cowboy silhouetted against the setting sun, tumbleweeds rolling to nowhere, a Winchester spun slowly, boots kicking dust. In the 1960s, when European directors were mining film tropes, making hundreds of films a year, the Western had an élan that was nearly hypnotic. Italians, in particular, began producing western films that aped the iconic grandeur of the American west but had a zest that was undeniably Continental. There was something novel in the swagger of the man with no name. There was both a cool detachment and a hip aggression. The good guy from the Ford westerns wasn't as good anymore, now he was a beatnik with a sombrero and a twitchy trigger finger. By the time Leone released The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly the spaghetti westerns had surpassed, both stylistically and thematically, the ancestral Hollywood westerns to become what is now called, simply, the Western. (One cannot imagine an Oscar-winning film like Unforgiven without the influence of the spaghetti westerns.)

800 Bullets is Alex de la Igelsia's (the long neglected Spanish director responsible for the cult sci-fi satire Acción Mutante and the dark comedy La Communidad) ode to the eternal mystique of the spaghetti western. It is both a black comedy (de la Igelsia's forte) as well as a nostalgic look at the films that, for many, informed a generation.

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Le Pacte du Silence Review


Grim
Psychological thrillers about twins are weird enough -- now we have to have it in French? This flashback-infested, circular, and borderline-nonsensical set piece gives us Gérard Depardieu as a priest and a doctor and Élodie Bouchez as a crazy girl and a nun... only Depardieu's doctor/priest is one person, not two, like Bouchez. Taking trips that venture all the way from voodoo country to the inner workings of the Catholic church, this silly thriller's payoff is so tepid that it hardly makes the frustrating journey there worth it. Skip.

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Alice Et Martin Review


Terrible
Everything that's wrong with French cinema is on display in Alice et Martin, a daring title for a film that, when translated, means... Alice and Martin. Martin is a troubled young French man (Alexis Loret) who runs away from country home, steals fruit and eggs along the way, and ends up in Paris, where of course he instantly becomes a male model. Here he meets musician Alice (Juliette Binoche), and soon enough she's pregnant. Then he goes nuts.

I didn't understand any of this, and I don't expect anyone else to, either. That is, unless you have a psychic connection with the screenwriter. There are long shots of the countryside, slow-motion shots of waves, and an old man falling down the stairs. What does it all mean? Hell if I know. Something about love, obsession, relationships? I know a lot of crazy people, and none of them act like this.

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Valentín Review


Weak
It's a time-honored trick that's been used by any director looking to get some cheap sympathy: Insert a cute, precocious child. It helped The Brady Bunch slog through its final, awful season, and it also helped a mediocre Polish film, Kolya, get a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1995. So Valentín should be unlikeable right from the start: It's the story of a cute, precocious eight-year-old boy who is (all together now) coming of age. Though Valentín isn't particularly transcendent, it's much less exploitative than most films in the cute-kid genre. And, occasionally, it even offers some lovely scenes that are downright poetic.

Set in Argentina in 1969, Valentín (Rodrigo Noya) is struggling to understand the circumstances that created his broken home. His mother has disappeared, and his father (Alejandro Agresti) has moved away to concentrate on work and a steady stream of failed relationships. That leaves Valentín with a world circumscribed by his ailing, overbearing grandmother (Carmen Maura) and Rufo (Mex Urtizberea), a pianist who watches after him and encourages his imagination. Valentín wants two things: A mother, and a chance to go to the moon. In his spare isolated moments, he builds model rockets and plans his moon shot; one of the loveliest scenes shows him plodding down the stairs in a home-made spacesuit while a record by what appears to be the Argentinean version of the Bonzo Dog Band plays in the background.

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Alice & Martin Review


Grim

Handsome, stormy Alexis Lorent gives a memorable performance in his screen debut as the Martin half of "Alice and Martin," a bipolar young man haunted by guilt over the death of his callous father, and forever flighty from a hard childhood under dad's stern hand.

Juliette Binoche ("The English Patient") is also affecting as Alice, an inhibited and financially strapped violinist and Martin's slightly older lover who tries to quell his tortured psyche.

But this awkward drama about romance, estrangement and what people are willing to do for love is such a structural mess that it's impossible to get lost in the strength of the performances because you're too busy trying to keep up with the entangled narrative.

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