“Thelma” – Joachim Trier

!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!

Thelma is a fantasy/ drama film by Joachim Trier, for which he goes back to his roots. His last film Louder Than Bombs (2015) was English, where Thelma is Norwegian again, with a Norwegian cast. The film won the Norwegian Film Critics Award, because it “excels in its distinctly Scandinavion motifs” according to the jury.Thelma2

Joachim Trier’s new feature film tells the story of a young girl going by the name Thelma (Eili Harboe), who grew up in a conservative Christian family and who moves from the countryside to the big city to go to university. As a kid she had a ‘nervous breakdown’, which she seems to have under control now, until she meets Anja (Kaya Wilkins).

After some seizures, Thelma decides to get herself examined. The medical examinations point out that she suffers from psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, which means that her attacks are not neurotic, but psychological. In addition to that, she can make people disappear according to her willing.

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The whole film is dominated by a dark, sinister and cold atmosphere, which is typical for Scandinavian cinema, at times the film’s light is seemingly clinical. Therefore, Trier is one of those talented directors who belongs in our history books on the same page as Thomas Vinterberg (Jagten (2012)), Lasse Hallström (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)), Ruben Östlund (The Square (2017)) and Lars Von Trier (Melancholia (2011)). Trier manages to visualise the symbolism in his film by the use of perspectives and mise-en-scène. So for example, the opening and closing shots, which portray Thelma in the crowd to point at the fact that she tries and succeeds to fit in with normal people despite her ‘powers’. To conclude, the narrative and visual style are in perfect balance and well-considered.

Thelma’s supernatural powers add a horror-/fantasy-aspect to the film, although I definitely consider Thelma a drama with a touch of coming-of-age. Normally, I’m not into fantasy films, especially the supernatural can’t tempt me. But what convinced me to like this film is that all acting performances are modest and most credible. Trier shows us normal human relationships involving the fear of losing control, of letting go and the fear of an uncontrollable desire for someone, which makes the whole much easier to identify with.

Thelma will be released in Belgium in November 2017.

“You Were Never Really Here” – Lynne Ramsay

You Were Never Really Here by the female director Lynne Ramsay is definitely my kind of film. A strong narrative combined with a cool soundtrack and dazzling visuals. It is an action-driven thriller, with a strong human touch thanks to the modest and natural acting performance by Joaquin Phoenix. The film premiered at the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival this year in May, resulting in 2 awards for Best Screenplay and Best Actor.

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You Were Never Really Here stars Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line (2005), I’m Still Here (2011),…) as the traumatised and tormented war veteran Joe, who now works to save women from sex traffickers until he gets involved in the corrupt rescue mission of the young Nina Votto (Ekatarina Samsona). The story is based on Jonathan Ames’ novella of the same name.

You Were Never Really Here is a rather short film of only 85 minutes, where the average duration of a feature film is around 120 minutes. The short duration is perfect for the narration though. It keeps the dialogues and the action interesting and avoids the audience to become distracted by too many subplots.

The score for You Were Never Really Here is one of the elements that makes the film so hypnotising, which is composed by Jonny Greenwood. You might know him as the guitarist of Radiohead. Ramsay and Greenwood already collaborated on her last feature film We Need To Talk About Kevin in 2011. This time, the score for You Were Never Really Here has the potential to become equally epic as Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” as the score for Drive. 

When it comes to the visuals, Ramsay and her cinematographer Thomas Townend (who shot videoclips for The Killers and Adele) go for an ambitious, almost eclectic style. The different kinds of framing and perspectives alternate at a high pace, which makes the whole a bit overwhelming, but this matches the tension and the action-driven narration. The film is mainly shot at night, which adds up to the dark atmosphere as well.

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International press already pointed at the fact that the film looks familiar as if it’s a revisitation of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) combined with the cool of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011) and Quentin Tarantino’s sadism (you could easily compare with Reservoir Dogs (1992)).Nonetheless, the plot twist in You Were Never Really Here is simply genius, which I won’t spoil. Therefore, you should just go and watch it yourself.

You Were Never Really Here will be released in Belgium on November 15th.

 

“The Killing of a Sacred Deer” – Yorgos Lanthimos

The Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos presents his new film The Killingof a Sacred Deer only 2 year after the major success of The Lobster (2015). Just like The Lobster, this new feature film is an almost absurd overall experience, definitely deserving its award for Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

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Steven (Colin Farrell) is an intelligent cardiologist, who takes the teenage Martin (Barry Keoghan) under his wing after the boy’s father died in surgery. Things turn sinister when Martin blames him for killing his father. Martin gradually disorders Steven’s family life until only one solution is left: an unimaginable sacrifice.

The film is very accessible, because it’s full of ordinary and light dialogues, like for example the opening scene where Steven and his colleague discuss where to buy watches. But still these dialogues remain consistent and straight-out witty at times. The scenario is extremely strong, without any superfluous scenes. Even these seemingly clueless dialogues make the whole more absorbing and relatable.

It’s the second time after The Lobster that Lanthimos casted Farrell in the leading role. His wife Anna in this film is performed by  Nicole Kidman. I’m not usually a big fan of hers, but she fits the role perfectly. Steven and Anna have two kids together Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic) and they live a peaceful and wealthy life. Although, you might wonder whether the family knows human emotions or the rules of pragmatics, because how they communicate can be considered apathic. Their reaction to dramatic events is a bit too ‘cool’, where a normal human being would freak out. This is clearly one of Lanthimos’ directing strategies.  Their acting-cool works distancing, but simultaneously intriguing. Barry Keoghan, who is known for his role in Nolan’s Dunkirkplays the creepy Martin, who plays an horribly sadistic eye for an eye-game. All of this gets combined with abombastic classical soundtrack, that sometimes is even overrules the dialogues, which gives them the extra punch.

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The film is full of explicit, but symbolic visuals, like the sequence of a beating heart at the very beginning. This is 1 full minute focus on an open chest and is a metaphoric way to introduce our protagonist the cardiologist,the one who has the life of others in his hands. I wonder whether mainstream audience will understand such content, but I think it’s quite genius.

 

After watching, I left the theatre with an immense ‘what the fuck’-feeling. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a psychological horror, a revenge-story. Those who liked The Lobster will think of it as finger-licking-good. But just like his last film, it’s a matter of love it or hate it. You know what you see is not real, and can’t possibly become real, but still you feel so involved. And that’s the Lanthimos-magic.

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer will be released in Belgium on November 1st 2017.

 

“The Square” – Ruben Östlund

!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!

After Turist (2014), I didn’t think the Swedish director Ruben Östlund could come up with anything more challenging for his audience, but his latest satirical drama The Square is even more poignant. It dares us to question our moral values and sense of community. The Square definitely is one of 2017’s favourites after winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May and several other awards and nominations.

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The Square tells the story of the charismatic Christian (Claes Bang), a curator at a contemporary arts museum. He is a divorced father of 2 daughters, drives a Tesla and seems to be a respectful man supporting good causes. His next exposition is ‘The Square’, an initiative to invite passers-by to meditate on their responsibility as a human being and a part of society. But Christian fails to maintain the ideals himself after he gets robbed. His response to the theft is so foolish that he gets dragged in awkward and sometimes immoral situations. In the meantime, the campaign for ‘The Square’ puts him and the museum in a critical position.

The film has a duration of 142 minutes, which is quite long, but it never feels that way while watching. Personally, I was pleased with the extremely strong scenario written by Östlund himself. It contains poignant dialogues, which are not too heavy, but light and accessible. They have a natural flow, which keeps you attentive at all times. Östlund even creates moments of pure identification or catharsis. Like for example when Christian has a one night stand with the pushy journalist Anne (Elisabeth Moss, known for the popular series Mad Men and Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise), which results in one of the most awkward, but hilarious scenes I’ve ever seen. Even afterwards when she questions whether the physical has emotional consequences, you can simply feel the awkwardness coming out of the screen.

Even how absurd or extreme the situation gets, Östlund never loses touch with the visual aesthetics. His cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel, who he also worked with on Turist, manages to captivate you and drag you into the narrative. The framing is exquisite as if you’re looking at separate photographs; the establishing shots, the close-ups,… all look like pictures in an art book. To conclude, The Square is almost flawless with its cinematography and light perfectly tuned.

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Östlund manages to hit the soft spot by pointing his audience at our increasingly uncertain world and the matter of egocentricity when human relationships become more and more slight. Along with its strong visuals and thumping soundtrack, The Square is a skilful and in your face-kind of film, worth winning the Palme d’Or.

The Square will be released in Belgium on November 22.

Check the website for more information.

“Sons of No One” – Hans Vannetelbosch

Sons of No One is the graduation short film by Hans Vannetelbosch, made for LUCA School of Arts in Brussels and is one of the lucky few that got selected for the Student Short Competition at Film Fest Ghent 2017.

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Educator Eva (Nora Alberdi Perez) works in juvie and tries to see the innocence and goodwill in each and every one of the young boys. She fights for what she believes to be just, but after an incident between a guard Marcel (Marcel Gonzalez) and one of the boys Justice (Frank Onana), she wants to stick up for the boy and figure out why and how Marcel puts him down.

In my opninion, the story is about verbal intimidation and the position of both kids and women (in this case Eva) under a patriarchal authority (in this case Marcel).

 All performances were very strong, even the youngsters came over as professional, although most of them are still very young and unexperienced. It is fascinating how Vannetelbosch makes everything work. All aspects like visuals, narrative, casting simply match.

Sons of No OneVannetelbosch manages to create a grim and cheerful atmosphere at the same time. The interior shots in juvie are dark and greyish, while the exterior shots are colourful and related to the boys’ spare time having fun together. DOP Lino Deconinck is a good partner in crime to Vannetelbosch in creating this symbolic contrast between sadness and resentment on the one hand and youthful happiness on the other hand

In my opinion, Sons of No One was the strongest short film in the selection when it comes to both narrative and audiovisual techniques. Vannetelbosch rightfully won the audience award.

“Poor Kids” – Michiel Dhont

Another film in the Student Short Competition at Film Fest Ghent 2017 is Poor Kids by Michiel Dhont, which is his graduation film for KASK in Ghent.

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Poor Kids is a story about Max (Tijmen Govaerts) and his friends (Felix Meyer, Aiko Vanparys), who come from an unstable family situation. Their fathers are seamen.  Max and his friends have to stay at boarding school over the summer, and as they form their own holy trinity, they have to find a balance between challenging the school’s authority and feeling home at the same time.

The film relies on its beautiful visuals. DOP Laurens De Geyter is very talented and a perfect sidekick to the director. I loved the open shots of the children in their boat for example (see picture above), which is a metaphor for their origin as seamen’s kids. It’s what bounds them. He turns the visual in something symbolic, which raises the level of this student short film.

Also, I should definitely mention the natural acting performances by the protagonists and the strong supporting role for Lukas De Wolf (Gent-West, Mixed Kebab,….) as the childrens’ educator Hans.

In my opinion, Poor Kids is a coming-of-age film about youngsters looking for a ‘home’. Their home is when they’re together.

 

“Croisé” – Elke Vanoost

Croisé is selected for the Student Shorts Competition at this year’s edition of Film Fest Ghent. It’s the first short film of director Elke Vanoost for LUCA School of Arts in Brussels. 

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Croisé tells the story about the 17 year-old Amine (Mountassir Khammal) and the 26 year-old Luna (played by Anouk Fortunier, who is also a director known for her award winning short film Drôle d’Oiseau) who meet on a random morning after a night out in Brussels. They talk about the perks of life and share their experiences. But Croisé is mostly about identity. Both protagonists are wondering about who they are in society, Luna doesn’t know yet what she wants to achieve in life and feels like a failure, Amine on the other hand struggles with his sense of (not) belonging.

This short film relies on its strong visuals by the female DOP Natasja Saerens. She works with a lot of close-ups to focus on the emotions of the characters. This unfortunately doesn’t weigh up to the weak dialogues. They lack structure and are sometimes even unlogical. So for example when Luna gets mad, because she has to go to work after anight out. This is where Amine gives her the counterargument that she has no right to complain, because he is the one who has no real identity as a Moroccon in Belgium or a Belgian in Morocco. This undoubtedly is very reliable for a part of the audience and in a way it is very beautiful of Vanoost to raise this issue. But this argument makes no sense in the whole of the dialogue. It felt too heavy, but we got the point. Amine wants Luna to stop complaining about her first world problems.

Another dissapointing element was the poor acting performances of both protagonists, altough I liked the Brussels accent, which is a mix of Flemish and French, including a lot of curse words like ‘putain’. This adds authenticity to the dialogues.

The plotline of Croisé about the ordinary -yet unique- event when strangers cross each other’s path is perfect for a short film. As a student film, this one is a good effort, But in my opninion, Vanoost has some work on her dialogues.

“Suburbicon” – George Clooney

Is it a black comedy, a social satire, a thriller, a film noir…? It is hard to say to which genre Suburbicon belongs. George Clooney’s latest feature film is set in post-war America in 1959, but points out its contemporary parallels as a film about social issues such as segregation and the secrets behind the classic US picket fence.

suburbicon2There are two parallel narratives here. One involving the Lodge family and the other about the Meyers, who are the Lodges’ victimised black neighbours. The people of Suburbicon live their seemingly friendly and tolerant American dream, until the black family moves in. While they try to fit in, the real evil happens in the house next door. Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) has his family torn apart after two men (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) break into their house and chloroform the entire family, overdosing Lodge’s wife Nancy (Julianne Moore), who is in a wheelchair. Nancy will soon enough be replaced by her sister Margaret (also Julianne Moore). Their sneaky little plan is about to be revealed soon when an insurance investigator (Oscar Isaac) shows up and when Lodge’s son Nicky (Noah Jupe) is suspecting something.

Suburbicon premiered at Venice Film Festival in September, but received some negative criticism. I must disagree with these. Personally, I think this is Clooney’s best work as a director up to now, compared to the disappointing The Monuments Men (2014). The script is originally written by the Coen-brothers in the late 80’s and like always, I was totally intrigued by their witty dialogues, and the way the film goes from light and easy-digestible to dark and straight-out funny at times. Moreover, the narrative reveals parallels to modern America with issues and shortcomings such as racial prejudice and hypocrisy in the white middle-class.

The acting performances of Matt Damon and Julianne Moore are bit over the top, almost losing credibility, but this is on purpose to put extra emphasis on the satirical character of the film. Julianne Moore’s character Maggie seems an overly sweet Mrs. Butt-Kiss, she is almost annoying. And I never imagined Matt Damon playing a sociopath -so how even a psychopath?-, but I guess I have to change my mind about that. His character Gardner Lodge strikes us as a decent man, grieving for the loss of his wife, but you have to think otherwise. Nonetheless, it’s the 13 years-old Noah Jupe who stands out as his introvert but intellectual son Nicky.

suburbiconAs pointed out in the introduction, it is difficult to put a label on this film. Suburbicon is the result of a passionate threesome between a classic Hitchcock-movie, Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Michael Haneke’s remake of Funny Games (2007). It contains the magical fairy-tale elements of the one and the satire and suspense of the other. So for example the numerous close-ups of guns and knives and the pounding music during a climax. Suburbicon wears the typical Coen-stamp with its authentic 50’s props and costumes. The colourful setting strongly contrasts with the sinister narrative.

The film misses the extra punch and comes over as too stiff and ‘friendly’ at times. But nonetheless, it will please the big audience without the expected Hollywood happy ending. It sets things straight after Clooney’s previous work as a director, but this is undoubtedly because he was backed by the Coen-brothers and a strong cast.

Suburbicon will be released in Belgium on December 6th 2017.