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The Reel Deal: Foreign film fest

April 9, 2014

Reviews of notable new releases …

‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ (NC-17, France)
The controversial winner of Cannes’ highest award, the Palme d’Or (Golden Palm), “Le bleu est une couleur chaude” has been hailed as one of the great movie romances of the 21st century. Freely adapted from Julie Maroh’s coming-of-age graphic novel, this vanguard masterpiece showcases the complex, tender and explosive relationship between a high school girl (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and a lesbian art student (Léa Seydoux). Unsurprisingly, “Blue” was attacked by homophobic and conservative critics even though it’s really about a young woman’s sexual awakening. Regardless, Jury President Steven Spielberg and his fellow judges at Cannes were unanimous in their decision, insisting the award be shared between director Abdellatif Kechiche and both of his leading ladies. And I’m in total agreement: “Blue” fully earns each and every drenching tear over its patient runtime of 179 minutes, with Adèle and Léa giving two of the finest performances I’ve seen in my 25 years of watching and writing about movies.

‘The Broken Circle Breakdown’ (NR, Belgium)
Lovers of bluegrass music will fall head over heels for this import based on the play “The Broken Circle Breakdown Featuring the Cover-Ups of Alabama” by Johann Heldenbergh and Mieke Dobbels. Heldernbergh plays a banjo player for a Flemish bluegrass band and accomplished singer Veerle Baetens is a tattoo artist who both share a passion for American culture – bluegrass in particular. Tragedy strikes when their daughter develops cancer, ultimately testing the love they have nurtured after seven years of marriage. Those intimidated by subtitles will be pleased to know that practically all of the songs are in English; the soundtrack includes “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn” and “Blackberry Blossom.”

‘The Grandmaster’ (PG-13, Hong Kong)
Those who have seen three previously-released “Ip Man” features may not find much in “The Grandmaster,” which takes a somewhat different angle in presenting the legendary Kung Fu master who trained Bruce Lee. That being said, the film garnered Academy Award nominations for Cinematography and Costumes, with fight sequences choreographed by the great Yuen Wo Ping, who also did “The Matrix” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” The DVD includes an English-dubbed track for those who cannot take the Mandarin Chinese subtitles.

‘The Great Beauty’ (NR, Italy)
If F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” had been adapted by the classic Italian filmmaker Frederico Fellini in the vein of “La Dolce Vita” as an ode to Rome and its colorful decadence, then it would probably look something like “La Grande Bellezza,” this year’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film. Journalist Jep Gambardella (the mesmerizing Toni Servillo) is now 65 years old, yet has never written a follow-up to the novel he published in his youth. As he reexamines his life while walking throughout the city, he begins to realize what has eluded him all these years. Punctuated by gorgeous cinematography and dazzling party/dance sequences, the storytelling is executed more through imagery and music rather than dialogue – which thankfully comprises only about a third of the entire film.

‘The Hunt’ (R, Denmark)
Best known as villain Le Chiffre from the James Bond film “Casino Royale,” actor Mads Mikkelsen (who also won an award at Cannes) owns the screen as an elementary school teacher who is wrongfully accused of child molestation in a small Danish town during the Christmas holidays. The reality is that a lie has uncontrollably sprouted into mass hysteria, leading to a witch-hunt chillingly reminiscent of Arthur Miller’s classic play “The Crucible.” The climatic confrontation (in a church) between Mikkelsen and the father of the lie’s source is a dramatic powerhouse. The one downside is the subtitles go by a bit too fast, yet “The Hunt” is ideal for multiple viewings based on its universal themes.

‘Wadjda’ (PG, Saudi Arabia)
If you were going to choose only one film out of this fine selection, then I insist you go with the family-friendly “Wadjda,” which has the unique distinction of being the very first picture in the history of cinema to come from Saudi Arabia, a country with no movie theaters. Even more astonishing is the fact it was directed by a Saudi woman (Haifaa al-Mansour, who also wrote the original screenplay), considering the fact those of her gender still have no rights. “Wadjda” is exquisite in its simplicity, as it charters the journey of an 11-year-old girl in Riyadh who wants nothing more than a bicycle. Due to a patriarchal society where women are not even allowed to drive and lives are governed exclusively by the Koran, the optimistic Wadjda must go to unusual and inspiring lengths to realize her dream. The 99 percent approval rating and consensus at Rotten Tomatoes sums it up perfectly: “Transgressive in the best possible way, “‘Wadjda’ represents a startlingly assured new voice from a corner of the globe where cinema has been all but silenced.”

(Christopher Kulik is a Bishop resident. He works at The Video Place at 251 N. Main St. and has written more than 500 film reviews for various online publications. He is also a Navy veteran and American Legion member.)

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