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Certified Copy [copie Conforme] Review


Excellent
Like Before Sunrise, this film follows two people as they roam through a setting that's foreign to both of them. But since this is an Italian-French film by an Iranian filmmaker, it's also oddly playful and provocative.

In Tuscany, author James Miller (Shimell) finds that his latest book, Certified Copy, is more acclaimed in Italy than back home in England. A fan, Elle (Binoche), buys the book to her friends while her son (Moore) teases her that she's in love with the author. In her shop full of antiques (and copies), she meets James and the two head off for a day of visiting museums and roaming through an Italian village. And as they talk, they invent their own history as a couple.

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Summer Hours Review


Excellent
Summer Hours, the extraordinary new film by Olivier Assayas, opens on a group of kids, running and laughing around the front lawn of their grandmother's bucolic countryside manor. Their game is aimless, incorporating elements of tag and the use of a map drawn in invisible ink. Up at the house, three siblings, the parents of the brood, aimlessly wander around as the maid prepares a late lunch for them. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The silver-haired matriarch of this subdued clan -- the antithesis of the tribe of lunatics in A Christmas Tale -- is Hélène (Edith Scob), a one-time art-world staple. Her three children are just about as different as three siblings can be: There's flighty Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), a designer of sorts living in New York; young and ambitious Jérémie (Jérémie Renier), who works for Puma Sneakers in Peking; and nostalgic Frédéric (Charles Berling), the eldest, an economist who doesn't believe in economics. Sentimentalist and stubborn nationalist that he is, Frédéric laughs his mother off when she tells him he will have to sell the house when she dies, insisting the house will stay in the family.

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Woman is the Future of Man Review


Excellent
At the very, very least, Hong Sangsoo's wry comedy of manners Woman is the Future of Man understands that snow is the most sentimental of all nature's wonders. The film registers not much else outside of its knot of emotionally entangled humans -- the apartments and restaurants they frequent are nothing much to behold, just receptacles for their conversations -- but the snow, drifting and blowing and conjuring up memories of relationships past, is practically its own character here. Set over the course of a few, fairly drunken winter days, Sangsoo's film brings a trio of old friends and lovers (the lines are blurred with time and drink) back together for an ad hoc reunion that turns out to be nothing like what either the characters or the audience are expecting.

Munho and Hunjoon are old buddies just reuniting after a long time apart when the film opens. Munho is an art professor who inexpertly hides a misanthropic bitterness behind a facade of facile arrogance. His onetime friend Hunjoon has just returned from studying film at an American university; he's a quieter, less sure type, constantly checking his own behavior and capable of stupendous self-loathing. Munho chews and drinks loudly without regard for anybody else while Hunjoon smokes nervously, his legs bouncing under the table. Needless to say, the women all seem to go for Munho.

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The Color of Lies Review


Good
Claude Chabrol's late-career films haven't been entirely inspired, but The Color of Lies is one of the standouts. It begins simply enough: A young girl has been raped and killed, and her creepy art teacher (Jacques Gamblin) is the number one suspect. He protests his innocence, and wife Sandrine Bonnaire stands by him. Meanwhile, other characters -- none of whom exactly exude compassion or likeability -- enter and exit, and the teacher looks increasingly innocent. But who's the killer? The sole lacking spot here is the dead fish of a police detective (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), who's ostensibly the hero of the film yet comes off as incompetent and bumbling at best. In fact, better casting all around could have elevated this film to a minor classic.

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The Swindle Review


Grim
There's no denying that Claude Chabrol is a master of the French thriller. But every once in awhile, even the best throw up a brick. The Swindle is workmanlike at best, a tired flick (Chabrol's 50th!) that even devoted fans will shrug their shoulders at.

Judging by the title and the con-game setup, we're on alert for twists from the very beginning: Betty (Isabelle Huppert) is seen with an obvious mark at a casino. Soon she's got him back in his hotel room, drugged, and lets in an older man who's been watching the pair. He turns out to be her partner Victor (Michel Serrault), and they take 1/3 of the mark's money (not so much that he'd miss it) and vanish back to their RV. These guys are small time and they know it. Nothing wrong with that, but while planning their next move, Betty decides to take a vacation. She and Victor reconnect a few weeks later at a mountain resort, and she's apparently got another swindle going with a wealthy man carrying 5 million Swiss francs in an attache case. Obviously Betty's going to make a play for it, but is Victor going to be in on the deal too? Or is he going to try to nab it all for himself?

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Madame Bovary Review


Good
Claude Chabrol hasn't made many adaptations of classic literature, but he proves to have a capable, if stuffy, hand with Madame Bovary. Isabelle Huppert takes center stage as a poor gal who just wants to get ahead. She does so by marrying one Dr. Charles Bovary, who truns out to be a real drip. Driven by passion, she embarks on a series of affairs while taking on debt to pay for her finery, debt which eventually drives her to extreme measures. Huppert has an interesting take on the character, but the rest of the cast is rather staid. Typical period flourishes abound, too.

L'Enfer Review


Extraordinary
One of Claude Chabrol's finest films, giving us a marriage that at first looks fine. 100 minutes later, one of them is dead and the other one insane. And it's all due to jealousy. François Cluzet is excellent as a husband who's convinced his lovely wife (Emmanuelle Béart) is cheating on him, and eventually he becomes so enraged over this notion that he takes to handcuffing her to the bed. But the show belongs to Béart, who accurately portrays a woman torn by love for her husband and fear over his increasingly crazy actions.

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Signs & Wonders Review


Good
Jonathan Nossiter made his fictional writing and directing debut in 1997 with the critically acclaimed Sunday, a story of two lonely strangers who find comfort in each other for a single day.

With Sunday, the camera watches the characters with a sympathetic eye to the influence of their environment. The characters seem shot without the effects of makeup, and the camera gets so close up that one can almost imagine having a conversation with them instead of merely watching a screen. Lies are acceptable because the person receiving them doesn't mind. The two protagonists are happier for having shared that day and this evokes an infectious warmth.

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Deep Crimson Review


OK
Humanity has been attempting to explain evil since we climbed out of the sooty swamp water. From Balinese woodcarvings of gruesome crimes to modern 35mm Hollywood blockbusters about serial killers, we have a fascination with the darker side of life. It goes beyond myth, beyond religion and encompasses something innately human. Perhaps it has evolved from an animal instinct for protecting territory or securing a mate, whatever the impetus it has become a rampaging ship detached from its moorings. Violence assails out daily lives, and it's not just that the news is more prevalent than ever.

Many times violence is linked with politics, war, famine, natural disaster but sometimes it comes from nowhere and for no reason at all. This violence, the unexpected, the absurd, is most shocking. In her critical book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt outlined her thesis of the "banality of evil" to explain how the Nazis could murder 6 million Jews. Arndt believed that the evil of the Nazis was a banality to suffering and death - the failure of humanity to buck the system, to challenge immorality. The excuse, "everyone else was doing it," made the crimes all the more hideous.

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Blue (Trois Couleurs: Bleu) Review


Excellent
The only thing I remembered about seeing Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blue -- the first part of his Three Colors trilogy (see also White, Red) -- is that it put me to sleep right at the 40-minute mark.

Watched again with a more mature and critical eye nearly 10 years later I didn't nod off, but impatient types will find the film slow and difficult, and to some extent, that's what Kieslowski wanted. Based on the colors and ideals of the French flag, Blue focuses on the idea of "liberty," though not in any political sense. Rather, the film tells a deeply personal story of loss and salvation, Juliette Binoche owning the lead as a woman whose husband and daughter are suddenly killed in a car wreck. Binoche's Julie then tries to piece her life back together -- not by visiting the past, but by creating a new future for herself, free from the trappings of yesterday. But of course, it's the past that refuses to let go, as old acquintances track her down and untold truths begin to surface.

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Code Unknown Review


OK
Austrian bad boy filmmaker Michael Haneke follows up his nihilistic home invasion psychodrama Funny Games with the elusive Code Unknown. Frustrating and seemingly disconnected, Haneke's crafted one of those strange films that, at the time of viewing, inspires reactions ranging from outrage ("What a waste of my time!") to bafflement ("What's the point?"). It's certainly cold, observing an ensemble of characters tied together overtly and incongruously through the opening sequence of street violence.

Following a clearly telegraphed prologue in a classroom for the deaf where no one can figure out what a little girl is miming (theme: miscommunication), Haneke details within a single, unbroken shot four characters -- a young man, his brother's girlfriend, a homeless woman, an angry black schoolteacher -- whose paths cross on a busy Paris street corner. The young man, Jean (Alexandre Hamidi) tosses a crumpled bag into the lap of the homeless woman (Luminita Gheorghiu), a motiveless crime springing from his own insouciance. The black teacher (Ona Lu Yenke) demands the youth apologize, using physical force to make his point. The police break it up, taking the black man away in handcuffs. Race, class, righteousness, and passive observance collide, and each party involved carries the moral baggage.

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White (Trois couleurs: Blanc) Review


Excellent
Krzysztof Kieslowski's White (part two of his Three Colors trilogy with Blue and Red) features a picture of the lovely Julie Delpy on its cover, lounging in a white outfit and on a white bed. Judging by its cover we'd believe it's a love story. But Kieslowski has something far different in store for us.

Working on the theory of "equality," the story is really about a hapless Polish man named Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), who finds himself dumped and divorced by French wife Dominique (Delpy) when he is unable to consummate their marriage. Penniless, he can't even afford to return home to Poland, and eventually he enlists the aid of a helpful stranger (Janusz Gajos) to get him back -- by checking him through on a flight in his luggage. And even this goes awry, as the bag is stolen by Russian mobsters.

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Ten Review


Good
Experimental film? Confessional documentary? Fragmented narrative? Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami has created something closer to a poem with Ten, his latest step in a career turn that grows ever closer to abstract minimalism. Photographed on video almost entirely from within a car that travels through Tehran, Ten is pared down to two camera positions (one facing the driver, the other lingering unblinkingly on the passenger often for minutes at a time).

Kiarostami essentially traps us in a sardine-can automobile listening to candid talks between a young woman driver (Mania Akbari) and her varying companions: a prostitute, an old woman, a sister who has fallen in love with the wrong guy (a fairly conventional subplot), and mostly her fresh mouthed son played by the delightful Amin Maher, whose scream of, "I like shouting!" clears the air of an otherwise low-key conversation film.

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Petits Frères Review


OK
What happens when you add unchecked boredom to economically struggling adolescents? Some band together with affectionate wisecracks against peers, in an effort to prove one's ego. Others shy away from being social, reading books or entertaining themselves to forget about their depressing reality. Still others keep pushing boundaries such as sex or drugs, in their effort to find some comfort in a cruel world.

Jacques Doillon's latest film, Petits Frères, takes us through the daily adventures of a cross section of poor teenagers on the fringes of Parisian society. Shot with the touch of a documentarian eye, it is a fond portrait of kids who are forced to grow up too fast.

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La Cérémonie Review


Excellent
Tireless French director Claude Chabrol returns to top form with the existential mind-scrambler La Cérémonie, a creepy and disturbing movie that gets under your skin from the very beginning. We know something bad is going to happen -- we just don't know what.

Sandrine Bonnaire (so memorable in East/West) plays a simple maid named Sophie -- so simple in fact that she doesn't know how to read. Hired on by an affluent family living in a large estate in a small town in the north of France, she proves herself an impeccable housekeeper. But when the man of the house calls home for her to fetch files off her desk or the matriarch hands her the shopping list, she invents excuses as to why they can't be done, all in an effort to hide her illiteracy.

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