Philippe Bober

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Force Majeure Review


Excellent

With unnerving subtlety, this acclaimed Swedish drama takes a startlingly honest look at the underlying fragility of family connections. Pivoting around a split-second of panic, the film mixes earthy honesty and wrenching emotions to explore the pressure of gender roles. It's strikingly well-shot and played with unusual openness by a solid cast. And it's such a razor sharp depiction that it can't help but chill the audience to the bone.

The events unfold in the French Alps, as a Swedish family enjoys a skiing holiday amid spectacular mountain peaks and freshly fallen snow. Then one morning while having breakfast on an outdoor terrace enjoying the view, a controlled avalanche surges far too close for comfort. When the snowy powder settles, it becomes clear that the parents had very different reactions in that moment of fear: Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) dropped everything and ran, while Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) tried to protect their children Vera and Harry (real siblings Clara and Vincent Wettergren). Suddenly there's a fissure in their relationship, and neither Tomas nor Ebba can cope with the implications, privately beginning to wonder whether their marriage can survive the rest of the week.

Filmmaker Ostlund (Play) explores this heart-stopping event with remarkable complexity, continually shifting the audience's sympathies. Should Tomas be written off for a moment of blind panic? Can Ebba trust him to be there for her and the children when they need him? And as the plot develops, things only become stickier. First, the kids begin acting out as they sense their world is starting to shake. Then Tomas and Ebba turn to their friends (Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius and Karin Myernberg Faber) for advice and support, but only find that things are crumbling further. On the other hand, perhaps if they can find a way to be open with each other there may be some hope yet.

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Paradise: Love [Paradies: Liebe] Review


Excellent

The double-edged irony of the title is your first hint: this is a clever pitch-black satire that often feels like a cruel joke. It's the first in a trilogy by acclaimed Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl about the way we look for meaning in life (up next are Faith and Hope), and it's designed specifically to catch us off guard. The film also makes us squirm in our seats as it encourages us to laugh at all the wrong things while finding some haunting truths about human yearning.

It starts in Vienna, where 50-year-old Teresa (Tiesel) is struggling to cope with her lazy teen daughter Meli (Lenz). So she drops Meli off with her sister (Hofstatter) and takes a holiday at a Kenyan beach resort. Her intention is to escape from the pressures back home, but a fellow tourist (Maux) teaches her about the joys of local beach boys. With an image of true romance in her head, Teresa strikes up a friendship with the frisky young Gabriel (Mwarua). Their first sexual encounter doesn't go so well, but she's encouraged to try again with persistent nice-guy Munga (Kazungu). The question is whether real love is even possible with one of these young men. Or are they all just after her cash?

As with his previous dramas Dog Days and Import/Export, filmmaker Seidl uses carefully composed scenes that catch our eye with their striking imagery and unexpected honesty. The African coastline provides a gorgeous backdrop for characters who have such a strong visual contrast that we can't look away: chubby, pale middle-aged women and lean, muscled young black men. But it's not always apparent who's using whom here, and there are hints that both are looking for something elusive.

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Le Quattro Volte [aka: The Four Times] Review


Excellent
Italian artist Frammartino creates an offbeat cinematic experiment with this film, which surprises us by refusing to play by the rules as it explores the cycles of life in rural Calabria. It's also perhaps best seen as a museum piece.

In a small village in southern Italy, an old goatherd (Fuda) tends to his goats as he struggles with a crippling cough. Perhaps it's because he makes his nightly tea with dust swept from the local church. Meanwhile, his faithful dog tenaciously guards the goats, even from a colourful Easter procession. When one goat gives birth, the kid struggles to take its first steps, but on his first trip out with the flock, he gets lost and takes refuge under a large tree that, in the spring, has a key part to play in village life.

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Lourdes Review


Good
This off-centre film looks like a paean to devotion with its stately images of pilgrims seeking healing at a holy Catholic site. And yet Hausner quietly and cleverly undermines this with a searing undercurrent about the mindlessness of organised religion.

Christine (Testud) is a prisoner of her body due to MS, and travels to Lourdes with a tour group of people hoping for a miracle. Accompanied by a team of nurses and assistants, they visit the famed grotto, are bathed in the sacred waters, attend services and are blessed by priests. Her nurse (Seydoux) has other things on her mind, and her roommate (Barbier) is a little too helpful.

And then the unexpected happens: Christine moves. But the pilgrims question why she's the one who was chosen when clearly others are more needy and deserving.

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Battle In Heaven Review


Good
A fat man stands in front of the screen, naked as a jaybird. The camera slowly makes its way down to the fact that he is getting a blowjob from a strikingly pretty, dreadlocked girl. The camera, quite fluidly, makes its way to a nearly-impossible close-up of the girl as she continues her activity. Then, right before the title comes up, a tear drops from each one of her eyes. Yes, we're dealing with that kind of film.

Marcos (Marcos Hernandez) drives for a high-ranked general in the Mexican army and also, carts around the general's daughter, Ana (Anapola Mushkadiz). Ana is the girl from the beginning scene, which is quickly dispelled as a daydream. Marcos has received word from his wife (Bertha Ruiz) that a baby which they kidnapped (a reason is curiously not given) has died. Marcos is sullen, but not panicked. Seeing him distracted, Ana offers to get him laid by one of her fellow high-end prostitutes. When the opportunity comes, he announces that he'll only have sex with Ana, whom he quickly admits the kidnapping to. She demands he go to the police, but not before jumping his bones. He tells his wife that he must confess, but not before the annual pilgrimage which serves as the tail-end of a sucker-punch ending.

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Nói albinói Review


Good
With a population of just 300,000, Iceland is too small to play a major role in world cinema, and that's too bad because no place on Earth photographs better. See any Icelandic film, and no matter the story, the stark landscape is always a co-star.

Such is the case with Nói albinói, a deceptively simple tale of a typically sullen and disaffected teen (Tómas Lemarquis) who has the bad luck to be stuck in a tiny wind-blasted town pushed to the edge of the sea by a razor-sharp mountain that looms ominously. It's not as if Nói can go see a movie at the multiplex in the mall when he's bored.

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Suzhou River Review


Good
Extremely strange and unique Chinese film, Suzhou River tells the story of a motorcycle courier who befriends and later falls in love with a drug dealer's 16-year-old daughter, only to eventually go to jail after he kidnaps her for ransom, resulting in her leaping to her death in the titular river, a grungy waterway through Shanghai. Years later, after a jail stint, our antihero finds himself drawn to a lounge dancer/swimmer who uncannily looks like his old flame (and is played smashingly by the same actress, Xun Zhou). Voyeuristic (including a nearly four-minute, unbroken scene as the messenger watches the singer get dressed for the night) and dark, the film isn't for everyone, but its poetry is uncommon. Imagine Blade Runner set in the recent past and in a much less interesting locale.

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